I’ve mentioned before that – contrary to popular belief – the mushroom on which the hookah-smoking caterpillar sits in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is not likely to be an Amanita muscaria. Both Lewis Carroll’s original drawing in Alice’s Adventures Under Ground and John Tenniel’s now iconic illustration in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland show a bland, unspotted mushroom with a shape that is not quite right for that species. It is only the psychedelic associations of both the fly agaric and the Alice books that creates the connection in some minds.
But, just to add a little more evidence in favor of this perspective, I recently was re-reading the books and noticed that Carroll adds another detail about this mushroom – it is approximately three inches high. As you can see from the excerpts below, the mushroom is the same height as Alice, and she complains to the caterpillar that she is three inches tall.
Alice looked all round her at the flowers and the blades of grass, but she did not see anything that looked like the right thing to eat or drink under the circumstances. There was a large mushroom growing near her, about the same height as herself….`Well, I should like to be a little larger, sir, if you wouldn’t mind,’ said Alice: `three inches is such a wretched height to be.’
If you look at photographs of Amanita muscaria, they are pretty much always significantly taller than three inches by the time they are fully spread out like umbrellas (three inches may be accurate for their earlier stages, when they are barely more than egg-shaped, but that’s not how the mushroom is represented in the drawings).
Of course, this is probably far more thought than was put into the original description or illustrations, but I do so hate when people jump to conclusions about psychoactive drugs being present where they’re clearly not, just because the theories are exciting to discuss.