This is a group of children's books by Eleanor Cameron, several of which have been described as classics--a point I'm disinclined to argue with. The series takes place partly on the planetoid Basidium, which circles the Earth but can't be seen with ordinary telescopes. As a boy I stumbled on the second book (Stowaway) in my school library, and loved it--I desperately wanted to read more, especially the first book in the series, but was only ever able to find one other, A Mystery (the fourth book). So years later as an adult I was excited to track down and finally read the entire series. I've enjoyed sharing them with my daughter, who's inherited some of my interest in space.
This is a great bunch of books for any kid who loves space and dreams about space travel. Of course the series began prior to the Space Race, so it reflects our early optimism about space travel and how accessible it might become in a few years (boy did we get that wrong!). But for a kid who loves this stuff, a fantasy about taking a spaceship to a little planet with inhabitants your size, who treat you as a responsible adult and a distinguished visitor--it doesn't get much better than that! The books even make amusing reading for grown-ups--while the science falls down in places, it's not bad for the time it was written. It isn't pure fantasy: you can tell the author made an effort to work in some scientific elements.
One good example is the space bodies that orbit Earth in the Mushroom Planet universe. The planetoid Basidium circles 50,000 miles (80,000km) up (about 1/5 the distance to the Moon), and we eventually get a plausible explanation for how it can have enough mass for an Earthlike gravity and atmosphere: it's composed largely of brumblium, which is nearly twice as dense as uranium (Planetoid, p. 46). Lepton, at left, is an airless rock (actually an iron asteroid, which allowed them to attach to it with magnets) with negligible gravity orbiting a mere thousand miles high, apparently with a vague resemblance to Hyperion. In addition, there is a stranger phenomenon up there, between the orbits of Lepton and Basidium, which the books call the "hole in space": possibly a small wormhole or black hole (though realistically a black hole wouldn't simply suck in meteors the way this does, and wouldn't be a gateway to another place), and predating Larry Niven's series. Later it is revealed to be an opening to a "negative universe" composed of antimatter (which would make it a wormhole, not a black hole): the general public often confuses black holes with wormholes, so this isn't too surprising. You get the feeling the author made an earnest effort at scientific plausibility within the limits of the science of her day and what would be accessible to an educated layperson. (What I'm saying is that while it's well known today that a universe composed of antimatter would annihilate a space traveler from here, that may not have been so obvious at the time.)
The series can be divided into two very different parts. The first two books, which fittingly have the Mushroom Planet in their title, focus on the novelty of making a space flight to the titular planetoid and establish the boys' special relationship with it and its people. The rest of the series (except the short stories) have Mr. Bass in their title, and they delve deeper into him and the race of people he belongs to. The first of these (Planetoid) is really transitional. You can tell that the novelty of space travel itself is starting to wear off, as they go to a different destination this time, while deeper information about the Mushroom People is starting to come out. The books don't really get into mystical goofiness until the last two, but it's also in those last two books that we see real development of the spore people and their society.
One interesting bit of terminology is the books' names for the Mushroom People. Residents of Basidium are known throughout the series by the less than imaginitive term Basidiumites. Their kin on Earth are also occasionally called that, and both populations are referred to as mushroom people or spore people. Later, beginning with the fourth book (A Mystery), Ms. Cameron introduced the much better term Mycetian for those on Earth. The question arises several times how there can be mushroom people on both worlds. Mr. Bass implies vaguely that they reproduce by way of spores, and that these spores are surprisingly durable (Wonderful Flight, p. 48). It is further speculated that they may have arrived as spores on Earth from Basidium millions of years ago (Wonderful Flight, p. 48; Planetoid, p. 220-221), or on both worlds from the wreckage of the planet that formed in what's now the asteroid belt and was torn apart by Jupiter's gravity (Planetoid, p. 142-143; Jewels, p. 26). We know today that Jupiter's gravity prevented a planet from ever forming there, but at the time this was thought a plausible origin of the asteroid belt. Again, you see the author's focus on providing a scientific background to the series.
Personally I always thought the first two books were the best of the series, though that's partly because I love the wonderful "anything can happen" feeling of the beginning of an adventure and partly because Stowaway was the first one I read. It seems I wasn't too far out of the mainstream there, since the first two are still readily available (as unillustrated paperbacks) while the rest of the series is out of print. You can still get them, and the first two books with illustrations (which are worth having), as old library discards. They're hardback, some of them can be a little pricy, but in my experience they're usually in good condition when you can find them. Or better yet, you can download them from here! If you have access to reprographics equipment, you can even make nice bound book-size copies using my "reprographics" versions. If not, at least Jewels is short enough that you could bind it with a heavy-duty stapler.
As it happens, in mid-2012 I sat down and re-read the series start to finish, including the two short stories this time, in preparation for creating this page. As I re-read the books I found to my surprise that my preference for the first two didn't ring so true any more; I developed an extra appreciation for each of the stories, and today I'd be hard-pressed to pick out an actual favorite. The last three books have so much more depth to them that I've started to appreciate their sophistication over the more sugar-sweet raw adventure of the first two. So, let's get into a brief description (with links!) of the parts of this series.
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En español (Kindle)
|The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet (1954)|
Illustrated by Robert Henneberger
Our two protagonists discover a mysterious but friendly little man, Mr. Tyco Bass, who has them build a spaceship and fly it to a tiny planetoid he has discovered in an orbit 50,000 miles from Earth. The planet is visible only with a special filter he designed; he names it Basidium-X (X for the unknown), later shortened to Basidium. There they discover the local Mushroom People, who need help which only the boys can provide. (How about that for a child's fantasy?) Luckily they manage it, thanks to their grasp of basic science, which is a new concept to the Mushroom People.
Ms. Cameron wrote this in response to her son David's wish for a story about him and his best friend Chuck Fabian going to a little planet just their size. These are, of course, the real David Topman and Chuck Masterson.
I was surprised to learn recently that these books were translated into Spanish. Alfredo Lutgen-Conti from Argentina was kind enough to scan The Wonderful Flight and send it to me for inclusion on this site.
|Stowaway to the Mushroom Planet (1956)|
Illustrated by Robert Henneberger
David and Chuck meet Tyco's cousin Theo Bass, who helps them build a new spaceship and return to Basidium as they've wanted to do ever since their ship was destroyed at the end of the first book. While on the planet for the second time, the boys visit the Hall of the Ancient Ones...and, of course, throughout this journey they have to deal with the reality that an unwelcome stranger has come to the Mushroom Planet and may reveal its existence to the people (and explorers, and mining interests) of Earth. They're also made aware of the Hole in Space, something Tyco had discovered and which poses serious threats to space travel between Earth and Basidium. The boys see a meteor swarm disappear into the Hole, confirming Tyco's discovery.
The first book cried out for a sequel, but the real David was apparently mortified by the stowaway aspect of this story. He came around, though, as the plot took shape.
|Mr. Bass's Planetoid (1958)|
Illustrated by Louis Darling (illustrator of the Henry Huggins series)
Here we are introduced to another spore person, Prewytt Brumblydge. The boys need to use their spaceship again, but this time they travel to a small airless rock orbiting the Earth, which Mr. Bass had also discovered. Their mission is of the utmost importance; previously they saved the Mushroom People, but now the fate of Earth itself might be in their hands.
Mr. Bass named the rock Lepton; it orbits a thousand miles (1600km) overhead, compared to Basidium's 50,000. From there the boys take off and land on a tiny island in the Outer Hebrides. I've tried to identify the island, but without success. The map on page 157 shows it as one of, or immediately south of, the Monach Islands, just west of Benbecula and northwest of South Uist. The latitude and longitude are given on p. 157-58, which I thought might help me find it: 57°, 19' North, 7°, 40' West, which works out to 57.3167,-7.6667 in decimal. However, that appears to be open ocean south of where the map in the book shows, southwest (not west) of Benbecula and west (not northwest) of South Uist, a little north of the point sticking out from the western shore on the book's map. I don't know if that was imprecision on Ms. Cameron's part (or on the part of the artist), or if it was a clever way to avoid identifying a specific island, while still getting the location about right. The latter would seem out of character, since the books aren't shy about mentioning specific locations; however, in the book the island features the ruins of a broch, and as far as I can tell there are no brochs in that immediate area; the closest seem to be on Barra, which is inhabited. It's possible (though very speculative) that obscuring the island's location was a way to let the boys land on an uninhabited island in that region with a broch, since that was important to the story.
To put Lepton's orbit in perspective, it's toward the high end of what's today considered low-Earth orbit, which is everything up to 1200 miles (1900km). The International Space Station orbits about 200 miles up (300km), and Hubble is about 370mi (600km). Polar-orbiting satellites stay at 430-1050 miles (700-1700km), so Lepton would be a serious hazard for those in higher orbits. Geosynchronous satellites are much farther out (just over 22,000mi/35,000km), nearly halfway to Basidium. See here for a display of orbital heights.
|A Mystery for Mr. Bass (1960)|
Illustrated by Leonard Shortall
Prewytt Brumblydge can't seem to keep himself out of trouble, and this book (as you might expect) reads a bit like a mystery novel. The boys venture again to Basidium and return with a rather distinguished visitor, as you can see on the cover. Prewytt faces trial for some of his more unconventional scientific endeavors, and we learn that there is a large community of mushroom people living on Earth, especially in and around Wales. They are governed by the Mycetian League, and there is a secret burial ground where all Mycetians are laid to rest, at Llanbedr in northern Wales. We also discover that a few Mycetians live to be very old indeed, and that a very few of them also have the ability to travel by thought.
On this flight to Basidium, the boys' liftoff is delayed by a few seconds, which causes them to land off-target. They come down in an ancient, deserted city, the remains of a civilization much more advanced in construction and astronomy than the planet's current inhabitants. The Lost City is spoken of in legend, but the tales insist it is forbidden to go there. Ta, encouraged by the things he's learned from Theo about science and history, is eager to find and explore the city, and is delighted that it's been found. We don't get to follow him on that adventure, however, as it happens after the book--and we only briefly see the city's restoration as a work in progress later on in the final book. As a side note, I think Ta and Theo's initial exploration of the city would have made a fine short story and I'm disappointed Ms. Cameron didn't write it up and include it with the other two below--but, I suppose it might have required a lot of background explanation, and the short stories were written to stand on their own without a lot of exposition.
It's here that we start to really see mystical elements coming into the series. For instance Wyrd (Fate) will follow and punish anyone who disturbs the ancient resting place of the Mycetians. Also this book further develops the theme that (notwithstanding the very distant and ancient nature of their connection via panspermia), the mushroom people on Earth and on Basidium have some inherent empathy, even to the point that Mycetians recognize the King of Basidium on sight. There is an odd contrast here between the two planets: the threat of Wyrd for violating the burial ground is deadly serious (even Ta treats it with respect, though that may have been simply out of respect for the Mycetians), yet the warnings against visiting the Lost City are groundless. This seems to fit the general pattern of the series portraying the Basidiumites as silly and superstitious, whereas Mycetians seem to be rather wise, possessing a longer memory and deeper understanding than most humans. Another contrast is that while the Mycetian burial ground is absolutely prohibited to humans, the Place of Stillness on Basidium carries no such restrictions.
This book's conclusion is rather hurried, wrapping up all the loose ends (such as returning Ta to Basidium) in a few paragraphs in an almost deus ex machina fashion. I get the impression the author was under pressure to meet a publication deadline. Too bad too, since some of those loose ends would have made for great reading, though they would have lengthened the book.
|Jewels From the Moon and The Meteor That Couldn't Stay (1964)|
Illustrated by Vic Dowd
This is a very rare little book indeed, and little known even among fans of the series. It consists of two short stories which are tangential to the series proper. In Jewels from the Moon, the boys meet a kindly though mysterious lady who takes them on a dream voyage (see cover); her identity is never made clear, but she certainly seems to be a Mycetian. The story ties into some of the mystical ideas in the last two books, so it fits well between them. In The Meteor That Couldn't Stay, David accompanies Prewytt on an expedition to recover a brumblium meteorite; this story focuses more on the down-to-earth sciency aspects, and feels like it would fit better between the third and fourth books. It makes me wonder if it was actually written back then, but set aside for a few years--especially since by the end of the fourth book Prewytt is now getting brumblium directly from Basidium, which should make it unnecessary to chase meteorites for more. Meteor is also remarkable for being the only part of the series where the boys aren't together, as Chuck doesn't appear in this story. Another memorable bit is where their guide brews up a batch of Basko soup for supper, which Prewytt practically chokes on. He also sings Shady Grove, which appealed to me since the Kingston Trio covered that song on its second album.
This was designed as a school reading book; each story is followed by questions for reading comprehension and English language skills. The two stories, while set in the Mushroom Planet universe and involving many of their characters, are almost apart from the series in that they don't have any effect on what comes after them. You wouldn't notice anything was missing if you didn't know about them, which may be part of why many fans of the series are unaware of their existence.
|Time and Mr. Bass (1967)|
Illustrated by Fred Meise
The final book in the series, this volume wraps it all up in a big overarching drama reaching back in time to the Arthurian period, involving Mr. Bass's connection to an old ancestor and taking him and the boys on a quest to right an ancient wrong. This book does get a little out there in some ways, but then, it was written in the Sixties.
Mr. Bass and the boys travel to his ancestral home of Carn Bassyd in the Rhinogs of northwestern Wales, right near the Mycetian burial ground. From there they drive to Stonehenge and London to retrieve stones from a stolen necklace. Then they fly to Basidium to find the key to decipher an ancient scroll belonging to the Mycetian League. They see the Lost City being excavated and restored, and return to Earth for a very important meeting of the League. During their time in Wales, the author does her best to reproduce the goofy Welsh accent; apparently Welsh expressions can be a little Yoda-like: "There is strange it is" (p. 49, 204) and so forth.
In this book we learn that Mr. Bass has the gift of second sight, and is able to occasionally see things that took place in the distant past and possibly sense happenings in the present and future. He has seen visions of one his ancestors, whom he calls Elder Grandfather, one of King Arthur's bards and founder of the Mycetian League, who was murdered and buried in secret. The dishonor of an important Mycetian being kept from the traditional burial ground somehow damaged Mycetian society and sent it into decline over the succeeding centuries, both in population and in cultural achievement. Mr. Bass sees an opportunity to find the grave and restore Elder Grandfather to the burial ground, which will allow Mycetian society to recover its former greatness. Unfortunately he's not the only one with an interest in this grave, as the spirit of the murderer lurks, brooding and hating, desperate to keep the location secret.
Notwithstanding some of the mystical elements there (which were taken more seriously then, before things like ESP had been scientifically tested), there is some good solid stuff in this book. Ms. Cameron gets Arthur's time period right (5th-6th century) and even identifies the sort of armor that would have been worn in his day: mostly chainmail (actually, other forms of mail would have been worn too, especially Roman-style banded mail, but she got it close enough I don't want to quibble). The full plate armor we saw in Excalibur was closer in time to us than to Arthurian Britain. She even points out that Stonehenge had nothing to do with druids (or at least, it wasn't they who built it), which the general public doesn't quite get even today. The book provides some historical background to Mycetian society, and with a little suspension of disbelief at some of its fluffier parts, it's as enjoyable to read as the rest of the series--though it is a much darker story than the others.
First I did the PDFs in two formats: one is a straight copy you would read on your computer or in an e-reader; the other is what I call a "reprographics" copy. These are put together in such a way that you can print one out two pages/sheet and double-sided, cut the pages in half and then bind them together in a regular-size book instead of having a big ugly stack of 8½x11 pages on your bookshelf. (Of course it helps if you have access to reprographics equipment, which can bind them with something like thermal binding such as fastback and trim them up nice and neat.) Maybe most people won't be interested in the reprographics copies, but they're available for anyone who'd like to try them.
Later (December 2013) I redid the straight-copy PDFs in a lower resolution to make them more suitable for e-readers. I realized that if I wanted to email myself one of my PDFs from this page (to convert it to, say, native Kindle format), most of them are much too big (>50MB). So these new low-res ones are shrunk down to around 10MB to allow that sort of thing.
The books aren't dated to a year, though they're obviously meant to take place about the time they were written. I've always assumed they were meant to start around when the first book was published, which would have the series run from April 1954 to June/July 1955. It's certainly clear that the first book happens during the early part of the space era. Stowaway happens nearly 2 months later (p. 4), in June (p. 34), and seems to finish around the end of July (p. 212); Planetoid begins a month later (p. 25), and takes place over a space of about 5 weeks (p. 95). A Mystery starts in September (p. 13), seemingly right after Planetoid, and ends "Months later" (p. 229). Time begins in June (p. 1) and lasts just a few days or weeks.
The short stories don't say what month they start, but they do give the season. Jewels
must be sometime after Stowaway because the boys talk to Mr. Bass, who is by then an old
friend--which suggests it must take place toward the end of the series. I don't see any reason not
to place it chronologically, between the last two books, and it's said to happen in the spring (p. 3),
which would fit neatly between them. Meteor seems to have taken place earlier, between
Planetoid and A Mystery, for reasons mentioned above, though it's a bit tight to sandwich
it in there since the two books are so close together. The story begins during a summer fog (p. 40),
which could perhaps work for sometime in September.
|Wonderful Flight||April 1954|
|Planetoid||Late August - September 1954|
|A Mystery||September 1954 - early 1955|
|David Topman and Chuck Masterson are the main characters of the series. Each book or story
has the two of them off on some adventure--except The Meteor That Couldn't Stay, which didn't
include Chuck for whatever reason.
As described in the first book, "David was tall and quick, with freckles and sun-bleached brown hair that flopped over his eyebrows. Chuck was shorter and squarer with brown skin and dark hair. David liked to plan things and draw and talk, but Chuck just liked to get right in and do them without saying much." (p. 22) They're best friends, like their real-life namesakes, but they do get into fights twice, in the second and third books. In Stowaway it was in frustration at having unwittingly brought an interloper on their trip to Basidium and their inability to do anything about it (at left). In Planetoid it was again a matter of frustration, this time at the difficulty of searching the whole surface of Earth for a small object.
|These are David Topman's parents. His father is a physician who still makes house calls (remember, this is the '50s and '60s). His mother is a housewife (again, typical for the time). Why they would let their son fly off in a spaceship he built himself to some world that even modern astronomers are unaware of, I can't fathom--except that it's a boy's perfect fantasy, of course. Re-reading the books as an adult, I'm struck by the way David disrespects his own mother--he sometimes talks back and treats her as if she were foolish or ignorant, and nobody calls him on it. But again, this was a different time and it was just accepted then that women weren't fully responsible adults. (If you can believe it, as late as the 1960s a wife couldn't make big purchases, like new carpet without her husband's signature.)|
|Cap'n Tom is Chuck Masterson's grandfather. Chuck's parents have gone on a trip around the world and his grandfather is taking care of him. As his nickname suggests, he's a retired sea captain, and he uses enough nautical terms to sound convincing. He's good at fixing things and is generally pretty laid back, as grandparents often are with the grandkids. He has a wry sense of humor and an earthy personality--or maybe I should say "salty", given his background. Chuck's parents are away from home for the duration of the series, barely. They left on their round-the-world trip (which was expected to take a year) shortly before the first book; in Time they have conveniently extended their trip by a couple of months, so we never see them.|
|Mr. Tyco M. Bass is a Mycetian, one of the terrestrial branch of Mushroom People.
Tyco is many things, including a brilliant astronomer, chemist, and inventor. He's a kind-hearted old
man who takes an instant liking to the two boys and sends them on some incredible adventures. He turns
out to be one of the Old Ones, one of the few Mycetians who lives for centuries. Born on June 28,
1580, he is currently the oldest of the Old Ones and is held in very high regard by the Mycetian community.
He has been head of the Mycetian League since 1605; he also, it turns out, has the gift of traveling by thought,
and now spends much of his time on a planet in
(hopefully not around SN 1993J)
on an unidentified errand for the spore people's Ancient Ones.
Tyco describes himself as the oldest of all the Old Ones. Yet in Jewels Miss Bronwen intimates that she grew up in the time of the Druids some two millennia ago. Since she's Welsh (Jewels, p. 17), that puts her birth date at sometime before the Roman conquest of Britain, ca. 48CE. It seems though that she has moved around a great deal through time, skipping much of it, and has lived a shorter life than Mr. Bass, perhaps around three centuries. She seems to travel through time a bit like Mr. Bass travels through space (another gift from the Ancient Ones?), or perhaps she doesn't have total control of when and where she is. She and Mr. Bass say that time doesn't have quite the same meaning to her as it does to other people, that it has a fluidity which others don't experience. She states that "the universe is my garden" (Jewels, p. 17), implying that she does control her passage through time, and she certainly has the ability to take Chuck and David on that dream voyage. Yet her departure at the end of the story seems to have been unexpected or even unwilling: she had invited them back for lunch but was gone within a week. Perhaps she was called away by the Ancient Ones; that would be in character for the series. In fact Mr. Bass doesn't seem surprised that she's disappeared, which would make sense if he has known her to vanish like that in the past.
In the first book, Mr. Bass is made to look absent-minded, an old cuddly fellow who invents marvelous things but couldn't reproduce them because he doesn't write down (or even perhaps pay attention to) how he put them together. This is later retconned as a way for him to keep his inventions secret from the outside world, since their discovery would give away the existence of Basidium, which would be disastrous for its inhabitants. Or something like that.
|Mr. Theodosius M. Bass is another Mycetian, Tyco's younger cousin and another of the Old Ones. He is a seasoned traveler, having searched the world over for the right place to make his home. He finds it on Basidium and chooses to stay there. He has much of Tyco's intelligence and engineering ability, and sometimes stands in for Tyco on the boys' adventures. He dresses characteristically in old-fashioned clothing, including cape and top hat, though on Basidium he adopts the local robes instead. Although an Old One like Tyco and able to read Basidiumite writing (see below), he does not have the ability to travel by thought and does not seem to have the gift of Second Sight.|
|Prewytt is yet another of the Old Ones, though much younger than Tyco and Theo--he seems to have been
born somewhere around 1800. He grew up in
Aberystwyth, a coastal city in west-central Wales which became a major educational center in the late
1800s. He is a dedicated and hardheaded scientist, refusing to believe in such superstitions as
Wyrd, and like Tyco he uses his science to create some amazing inventions. Unlike Tyco, he has
a habit of naming his creations after himself: brumblium, the Brumblitron, the Brumblydge Theory of the
Universe, and so forth. On the other hand, while Tyco tinkers in his basement creating nifty gadgets
for his own use, Prewytt focuses on inventions that can help the world (such as desalinization) and
discoveries that will advance the cause of science (such as a new way of dating artifacts). His
Aunt Matilda is rather wealthy and owns a ranch in Texas; she is also an Old One and is very sensitive to
having that fact made public, but we know little else about her.
Prewytt is conspicuously absent from the final book, perhaps because it was centered entirely around the Mycetian League, in which he was never active.
|Ta is King of the Mushroom People, though he does not seem to be one of the Old Ones. He is, however, very intelligent, reasonably wise, and kind-hearted. Like Tyco he takes well to the boys, though he is often dismissive toward his own people. He talks down to them when they're being superstitious and frightened, and his treating them like children is in direct contrast to how he is with the boys--he treats them like adults and listens carefully to what they have to say, even when they're telling him something completely outside his experience. In fact, considering that he's spent his lifetime isolated on Basidium with superstitious subjects, he's remarkably open-minded. Of course if he weren't, that would change the stories dramatically. Ta is the only Basidiumite known to have visited Earth.|
|In the first book, Mebe and Oru were Ta's Wise Men--"The Wise Men Who Weren't Very Wise", as the chapter title describes them. When the special mushroom crop failed and the Basidiumites began to sicken, Ta assigned them the job of finding a solution to the crisis. Distraught that they had failed to do so when the boys figured it out almost immediately on their arrival, they resigned and went off into the wilderness for a time. Ta found replacements, fellows with good heads on their shoulders who gave him sound advice--and didn't screw up cooking the eggs the Basidiumites needed to replace the sulfur mushrooms--but they bored him. We never see Ta's new Wise Men, Keeg and Oique (Stowaway, p. 115), which might be an indication how colorless they are as individuals, even if they do give good counsel. So when Mebe and Oru returned, though they were no longer his Wise Men they stayed on as members of his court in some capacity. Later they were tasked with watching Tyco's special lantern that allowed communication with David and Chuck on Earth, a job in which they took special pride.|
|Towyn Niog is the assistant head of the Mycetian League. He first appears in A Mystery as an antagonist, effectively the prosecutor at Prewytt's trial, since the official judge--Mr. Bass--was basically recused as he was partial to Prewytt. In Time, he is a sympathetic character and we learn his position in the League. As its assistant head, he runs the League's affairs and looks after its headquarters (Mr. Bass's family estate, which he donated to the organization) in Tyco's absence. While not enthusiastic about the boys' involvement in the book's goings-on, he is fair enough to admit he underestimated their abilities. The books never show an explicit picture of Towyn; my guess is that he's the one on the left in this picture of the Mycetian League at Prewytt's trial.|
|Book/Story||Travel To||Travel By||David||Chuck||Tyco Bass||Theo Bass||Prewytt B.||Great Ta||Mebe&Oru||Towyn Niog||Other important characters|
|The Wonderful Flight||Basidium||Spaceship #1||X||X||X||*||X||X|
Hole in Space (Horatio only)
|Spaceship #2||X||X||X||X||X||X||Horatio Peabody|
|Mr. Bass's Planetoid||Lepton; Outer Hebrides||Spaceship #2||X||X||X||*||X||*||*||Dr. Frobisher|
|Mystery for Mr. Bass||Basidium; |
Hole in Space (Prewytt only)
|Spaceship #2||X||X||X||X||X||X||X||X||Dr. Shellworthy|
|Jewels from the Moon||Big Sur; Deep space||Car; Dream/Vision||X||X||X||Miss Bronwen|
|Meteor That Couldn't Stay||Mesquite, AZ||Car||X||X||Clem Peachtree|
|Time and Mr. Bass||Wales; England; Basidium||Spaceship #2; |
Car (to England)
|X||X||X||X||X||X||X||Morfa Niog, Penmaen Parry, "Narrow Brain"|
The homeland of the Mushroom People is the planetoid of Basidium, which orbits 50,000 miles (80,000km) above the Earth. There is also a substantial population here, seemingly more numerous, though it's never said how many spore people are on Basidium. Mr. Bass tells us that those on Earth number around 5,500, centered on the British Isles, and mostly in Wales--which is the ancestral home of the terran branch (A Mystery, p. 39-40). The population of Basidium is unknown, but probably in the hundreds to (maybe) thousands. Ta's city seems to be the biggest (or even the only) one there, and it's always described as being rather small. The planetoid is only 35 miles (56km) in diameter, with a total area of 3,846 square miles (6,189km) (A Mystery, p. 115), so the population can't be substantial--it's less than half the size of Wales, including mountains and any bodies of water it may have. It contains only one inhabited city that's ever mentioned, though the boys do speculate that there should be others--and even that city's size is unknown.
Both groups are often referred to as Mushroom People, especially in the first two books. Both are also called spore people, though the term is rarely used for residents of Basidium--instead, they're mostly referred to by the less imaginitive term "Basidiumites". Those on Earth are known in the first three books simply as mushroom or spore people, or occasionally Basidiumites, but the last two books use the term Mycetians, which I just love--it's distinctive, and it fits them so well. I was surprised Ms. Cameron never used that term for those on Basidium--it would have fit both groups nicely, but this must have been deliberate, since she was consistent about it. In Time (p. 8), Tyco specifically says that the Mycetians are the "spore people of earth", and in The Green and Burning Tree, the section "A realm of one's own", she states that "the Mycetians are the spore people of earth as the Basidiumites are the spore people of Basidium" (p. 62-63). So on this page I will use "Mycetian" and "Basidiumite" accordingly.
The Basidiumites have a preindustrial society; science, technology, and even machinery are unknown there. The inhabitants dress in robes made from treelike mushrooms that sprout all over the planetoid. They tend to be very naive and superstitious, probably due to their isolation. Ta stands out over them like a giant with his cosmopolitan nature. By contrast, the Mycetians, like Ta, are very worldly (probably out of necessity) and adapt to whatever society they find themselves in: apparently you can easily tell what country a Mycetian comes from (see A Mystery, p. 172-3).
When a Mycetian dies, he/she is brought back to Wales and interred in the secret Mycetian burial ground near Llanbedr, which humans are prohibited from visiting. In fact, humans are actually unable to find it on their own (A Mystery, p. 44). The only human known to have set foot there was Morgan Caerwen, who was assisted by Prewytt Brumblydge (p. 200) in an act of scientific defiance of Mycetian legends warning not to disturb those laid to rest (p. 195-6). Similarly, when a Basidiumite dies, he or she is brought to the Hall of the Ancient Ones, to a large chamber known as the Place of Stillness, and left there following a ceremony of song and poetry. Over time the dead lose their look of age and appear young and peaceful (Stowaway, p. 134). So on Basidium, they never decay--unlike the situation on Earth, where only bones remain from the ancient burials. Another contrast is that while Wyrd will punish anyone who disturbs the dead in the Mycetian burial ground, the Place of Stillness doesn't seem to be so protected. Horatio did blunder through there, but he was made forgetful because of his general lack of respect and the danger of him revealing Basidium to the people on Earth. He was never punished for visiting the Place of Stillness, and the boys viewed it without consequences.
Mycetians seem to have typical European style names: First, Middle, Last, the first being their given name and the last being their family name. The middle one is different, though--all Mycetians carry the middle name Mycetes: "It's a custom", as Theo declares; apparently it's a badge of their identity as a separate people (Stowaway, p. 53-54). Basidumites' names are simpler. They seem to have only a single given name, and no family name, though Ta, Mebe, Oru, Keeg, and Oique are our only examples. There doesn't seem to be the same connection to family on Basidium, and of course on the Mushroom Planet there would be no need for a symbol of their separate identity.
Do the two populations know about each other? The Basidiumites are certainly unaware of the Mycetians--or any inhabitants of Earth--until the boys' arrival in the first book, but they know about them afterward. But the other way around? The series is inconsistent about the Mycetians' knowledge of Basidium. In the first three books, it seems the Earth dwellers don't know of their connection to the planetoid, and only exceptional individuals have even an inkling of it. In Wonderful Flight (p. 47), Mr. Bass says he has a suspicion he must be of a different kind from other people on Earth. In Stowaway, Theo has a restlessness and a desire to find a place that feels like home--which turns out to be Basidium--but he was unaware of its existence until the boys told him about it. In Planetoid (p. 216-217), Tyco informs an astonished Prewytt that he is a spore person, though Prewytt had always thought there was something different about himself and his family due to their skin color. This is all retconned in the fourth book, A Mystery, where the connection to Basidium seems to be common knowledge among the spore people of Earth (who now have a new name, Mycetians, and are governed by the Mycetian League). We also learn that Prewytt must have known it all along since he was well over a hundred but looked in his thirties, knew that his aunt was another of the Old Ones, and even guided a human to the Mycetian burial ground to dig up bones he knew were different from homo sapiens--and knew that bringing an outsider there was prohibited. Ah well, I guess we can't expect perfect consistency.
The Mushroom People are short, about the height of boys in their early teens, and have large eyes and heads for their size and tend to have long, thin fingers. Basidiumites have pale green skin when they're healthy, which turns gray when they fall sick (Wonderful Flight, p. 108). By contrast, Mycetians' skin is similar to humans', but with a faint green tint which is noticeable only on close examination and which also turns color when they fall ill (Planetoid, p. 215-216). The reason for the difference is never elaborated, but is perhaps due to differences in diet rather than genetic drift between the two populations.
Mycetians (and, presumably, Basidiumites) live a bit longer than humans, about 125 years (Time, p. 94). However, a few of them, called the Old Ones, have an extraordinary lifespan of up to four or five centuries (Time, p. 89). A very few of them are also granted--by the Ancient Ones, and near the end of their lives--the ability to travel by thought, to teleport themselves instantly from place to place (A Mystery, p. 217-8). And of them, only two, according to Mr. Bass (himself and Elder Grandfather), have been able to teleport anywhere outside Earth (Time, p. 94). Travel by thought is limited: those with the ability can only think themselves to places they have seen, or places the Ancient Ones reveal to them (Time, p. 24-25). Some Mycetians--those born after dark and before midnight--have the gift of second sight (Time, p. 87). Mr. Bass and his Elder Grandfather had all of these abilities; Theo and Prewytt have only longevity. An Old One with second sight will often be chosen to head the Mycetian League, as is the case with Mr. Bass; the precedent for that was set early on, as Elder Grandfather was the founder and first head of the League (Time, p. 89). However there are times when it's headed by a more ordinary Mycetian, as Mr. Bass's "Younger Grandfather" did so but was not an Old One (Time, p. 93-94).
Incidentally, there is one earlier reference in the series to someone Tyco identifies as a grandfather. When the party is trapped in the Hall of the Ancient Ones in Stowaway, Mr. Bass mentions that his grandfather had once led him through a secret passageway, which they then use to escape (p. 148). For a while I thought that must have been an early reference to Younger Grandfather. However, later I realized it couldn't have been, since the Hall of the Ancient Ones is on Basidium and Younger Grandfather was an Earth dweller without the ability to travel by thought (Time, p. 94). No doubt this isn't something Ms. Cameron sat down and thought through at the time, but it leaves us with a puzzle if we want to take it seriously. Two possible retcons occur to me. One is that perhaps Tyco saw Elder Grandfather use the secret passage in a vision, similar to his vision of the old fellow on p. 94-96 of Time. Another idea is that maybe there was a Basidiumite whom Tyco saw as a grandfather figure, who showed him the secret passage. This would mean Mr. Bass must have visited Basidium prior to the second book, though that's problematic: anyone who could be a grandfather figure to him must have lived in his youth, in the late 16th century--yet Tyco only received the gift of travel by thought at the end of the first book (Time, p. 9), in the mid-20th century. So I would favor the first idea, that he saw a vision of Elder Grandfather taking the secret passage years ago.
On a sadder note--I suppose this had to come up someday--Tyco and Theo Bass will probably die in a few decades. Tyco says that the Mycetian Old Ones have lifespans of four or five hundred years, and he and Theo seem to be lucky enough to reach toward the upper end of that--so since Tyco was born in 1580, he should pass on sometime around 2080. The books never give Theo's birth year, but he is apparently Tyco's younger cousin--and not much younger, as they're both depicted as boys on the tapestry commemorating the completion of Carn Bassyd in 1593 (Time, p. 144). So he must have been born sometime in the 1580s and should be taken to the Place of Stillness somewhere around 2080-2090 or thereabouts. This raises the question of who will replace Tyco as head of the League. It's unlikely to have been Theo, since he wished to end his days on Basidium, and in any case he wouldn't have outlived Tyco for very long. My guess is that leadership would pass to Tyco's assistant, Towyn Niog, if Tyco died a little early. Now Towyn isn't an Old One as far as I can tell, and he seems to have been in his 30s-50s during the time of the books, which would put him roughly in his 80s-100s today, and if he stays in good health he would probably live until around 2015-2035. But assuming Tyco lives to around 500, I'm sure another capable assistant head of the League will be available to take his place. At this point I'm straying pretty deeply into supposition territory, so let's move on.
Prewytt Brumblydge seems to have been born around 1800, which gives him until somewhere around 2200-2300, so he'll be here long after we're gone. I find that reassuring, after considering the fellows above. We never know his aunt's exact age--which is how she would have wanted it--but I'm guessing she wasn't some kind of great-aunt, so she's probably less than 50 years his senior, putting her birth date in the second half of the 1700s and her death somewhere around 2150-2300. It's tempting to speculate that Prewytt might succeed Tyco as head of the League, but he doesn't seem to have been involved in the organization, and we can be pretty sure from events in A Mystery that he wasn't a member. I suppose that as an Old One and a man of learning he would have been of the right caliber for the job. However, he seems uninterested in the League and in fact got himself in serious trouble with it by openly flouting some very serious Mycetian taboos, so it's unlikely he'd be considered for the position--especially with dedicated members like Towyn available to fill it.Known Heads and History of the Mycetian League
|ca.700-ca.1550||(League recreated, but details unknown)|
There is some question as to whether Old Ones are born on Basidium--or, for that matter, if any Basidiumites have the gift of second sight or the ability to travel by thought. You'd assume so, but it's never stated one way or the other. One hint is when Mr. Bass explains that "the Welsh have always believed that a child born after dark and before midnight will have second sight" (Time, p. 87): does that mean that second sight occurs specifically among the Welsh and those associated with them, or do the Welsh have this tradition because of their contact with the spore people? Oddly, Ta never expresses surprise at Tyco's and Theo's great age (surely Theo must have mentioned it during their long talks), or at Tyco's uncanny ability to simply appear out of nowhere from thousands of miles away. That hints that Old Ones and travel by thought may not be unknown on Basidium...though we never meet any Old Ones there, and instantaneous travel seems almost superfluous on a world that size.
|Known Old Ones||Lived||Introduced in|
|Elder Grandfather ("The Bassyd")||ca.100?-542||A Mystery|
|Tyco Bass||1580-||Wonderful Flight|
|Prewytt's Aunt Matilda||Late 1700s?-||Planetoid|
|Prewytt Brumblydge||ca. 1800-||Planetoid|
In A Mystery (p. 216 and 218) Tyco says that he has a brother living in Galaxy M81. In Wonderful Flight (p. 204) Tyco wrote that "Aside from a cousin by the name of Theodosius Bass . . . I have no kith or kin to whom to leave my possessions." This could be explained as a sibling who had already gone to M81, probably an older brother, since there'd be no point in leaving possessions to someone out there. Now this would add another to the list of known Old Ones above, except that this brother is never mentioned in any other part of the series; even Time, which comes after A Mystery and has several references to Tyco and Theo growing up at Carn Bassyd, never mentions either having any siblings. More substantially, Tyco has stated that only he and Elder Grandfather have traveled by thought beyond Earth (Time, p. 94), which pretty much nixes the idea of a brother who has also done so. I considered a nonliteral interpretation, where maybe there are other races who serve the Ancient Ones, and they form a sort of brotherhood. So his "brother" would be a non-Mycetian (and probably non-human too). However Daniel Harden reminded me that Tyco talked about him and his brother discussing "our family's past", which essentially rules out my idea for a retcon. I guess we'll have to live with this as another contradiction in the series; since it's mentioned only twice and doesn't substantially affect the story I think I could be content ignoring the references to his brother as if they were a misprint.
The Basidiumites speak a language of their own, which is described as sounding like Chinese, "High, light, singsong" (Stowaway, p. 183), "high and delicate and far away like the tinkle of wind chimes" (Wonderful Flight, p. 94), "with the words going up and down as the Chinese speak" (Wonderful Flight, p. 174), and having "thin, high, resonant tones" that form "curious words full of liquid l's and v's." (Time, p. 165) However, language barriers aren't an issue in the series; when people travel to Basidium they fall asleep on the journey and wake up speaking Basidiumite instead of English. On the return trip, they wake up speaking English again and are unable to remember any of the other language--all they can recall is how it sounded. Of course this is outlandishly far-fetched, but really no more so than the usual approach of aliens who just happen to speak English, even among themselves; at least Ms. Cameron gets points for trying something different. Basidium has its own writing system as well; the pages of Tyco Bass's Random Jottings are described as resembling "minute pothooks, like nothing so much as the trail a delirious and inky ant might leave in its progress across the page" (Stowaway, p. 25). Horatio describes his own Basidiumite writing as "hen-tracks" (Stowaway, p. 193). "Random Jottings" is Tyco's ironic name for his notebook, which contains a great deal of information about his scientific discoveries and is anything but random (Stowaway, p. 29). As with speaking, a visiting human would write in Basidiumite during their stay, then be unable to read their own writing on their return to Earth (as we learned in Stowaway, p. 192-3). Mycetians don't seem to speak Basidiumite either unless they journey there, though some of them, those "with special abilities", are somehow able to read the writing while on Earth (Planetoid, p. 218). That doesn't make a lot of sense, but this secret writing system is used as a plot device several times in the series. People named as having those "special abilities" are Tyco, Theo, and Prewytt, so maybe only Old Ones can read the writing, at least on Earth. Presumably anyone on Basidium could read it.
Somehow, the language barrier doesn't affect communications between here and there. Theo brings one of Tyco's special lanterns to Basidium, and with it he can communicate with the boys using a special code developed by Tyco and written on a sheet of paper he left on his workbench (Planetoid, p. 26). The code is never described in detail, but uses short and long dashes, like Morse. Apparently it "makes just a few flashes mean several words at once" (Planetoid, p. 26), which would make messages much shorter, but they must be devilishly hard to look up, since that would take a much larger number of codes than a straight cipher like Morse. An example of a translated code, from when the boys were trying to get in touch with Tyco in Planetoid, is "Can't reach. Hunch. See R.J." (p. 32). As you can see, Tyco also included codes for the letters of the alphabet (Planetoid, p. 33), which would further complicate decoding. The latter part is also problematic given the different language and alphabet of Basidium. Of course, only Theo is known to have used the letters between planets, and he was an English speaker; the books never specifically say that a Mycetian such as Theo will forget English while visiting Basidium the way humans do, though you'd expect so. One clue (in the other direction) is that on Basidium, Ta uses both words for something: "our metal, which we call Grillia and which you call Brumblium" (A Mystery, p. 138). Of course, Brumblium is a new word made up by Prewytt, so maybe it's not the same as a standard English word and so the boys wouldn't have forgotten it. Once on Earth, Ta uses "Brumblium" exclusively, but at the time he was talking to the boys and had just had a long conversation with Prewytt about the metal, so it may have seemed natural to use Prewytt's term. Most of the boys' lantern communication is with Mebe and Oru, who are native Basidiumites--but probably they rely on the whole-phrase part of the code. Realistically, of course, the whole issue of language difference in lantern communication probably never even occurred to Ms. Cameron, or she decided it wasn't important to resolve in a children's story and I get the Nitpicker's Badge of Shame for bringing it up.
The spore people are, apparently, physically compressible. That is, they can squeeze through tight spots and can even slip through a captor's hands--or arms, at any rate. The boys first speculate about this in Stowaway (p. 151-4), when they are unable to follow the others through the final part of the tunnel to escape the Hall of the Ancient Ones. Mr. Bass denies it, saying their rough human clothes impeded them--and indeed, once they put on Basidiumite robes they have no trouble getting out. The idea reappears in the next book, however, when the boys tackle Prewytt and he easily escapes their grasp (Planetoid, p. 60). They later put two and two together and realize he must be a spore person because he is compressible (p. 141). Mr. Bass mentions their compressibility in A Mystery (p. 46), which book also confirms definitively that the spore people have bones (the boys had speculated in the previous two books that they must lack them). In Time (p. 89), Mr. Bass mentions that the Mycetians' ability to evade capture due to their compressibility made them a valuable asset as spies and messengers for the Britons under Arthur and his father. How one can have bones like a human yet be substantially compressible is never explained.Known locations on Basidium
Length of the Basidiumite day: It is never mentioned how long the Basidiumite day lasts, maybe partly because the boys never spend more than two hours there at a visit. Now I don't know the math on this, but I think that a body the mass of Basidium that close to Earth would have become tidally locked by now, meaning one side of the planetoid would always face toward Earth--like our Moon and, in fact, most moons in the solar system. If that's the case, the Basidiumite day would be as long as it takes the planetoid to orbit the Earth (the Moon's day is 28 Earth days long, for instance). According to "Kepler's Third Law Ultra Calculator", with an orbital height of 50,000 miles (80,470 km), Basidium would orbit every 63 hours--so if it's tidally locked, its day would be about two and a half Earth days long. Here's a thought: if the same side of Basidium always faces us, that would certainly make it easier for the boys to land in the same place on each visit.
Wildlife on Basidium: The largest known animal is the morunbend, a slothlike creature which is very shy on its own, but insatiably curious in packs (A Mystery, p. 150). Morunbends are a bit faster-moving than sloths, though, as the boys find when they're chased by a herd of them in A Mystery (p. 127-128). The lala (right) is a bird-equivalent, "like small jeweled lizards" (Stowaway, p. 129). The moorvleerno is a close relative of the lala. The tlillning is a horselike animal the size of a cat, much like the horse's early ancestor, but with an unnerving ability to literally disappear when startled. The vlilseena and frayoomnairo mimic mushrooms--the former, when startled, will scamper away quickly; the latter, when picked up, sends unbearable prickling feelings through one's body (possibly using electric fields). Two animals named but not described are the vrodilrinads and tleelalingas. (Time, p. 182-184)
Basidiumite Cuisine: The boys never spend more than two hours at a time on the planetoid, so they never really need to eat there. There are a couple points though where they taste the food on the planetoid. In A Mystery (p. 150-151), when the boys return with Ta to the city, his people lay out food for them, all of it mushrooms. Theo explains to the boys that a certain pale pink mushroom tastes like ripe avocado, a deeper pink one tastes a bit like roast chicken, a pale green one is like cheesecake, and a brown one tastes like pineapple sherbet. In Time (p. 192-193), David has a mouthful of one that tastes "a little like apricots, but also a bit like fresh pineapple with a touch of peach", and they have a pale brown one that they aren't sure whether it tastes like buttered waffles with syrup "or more like hot buttered toast with peanut butter and plum jam." It is implied, though never explicity stated, that fungi make up all of the Basidiumites' food.
Mushroom Planet Canon: It may sound out of proportion to talk about what's canon in a series this brief and obscure--and a children's story at that. Still, when writing this page I've had to make certain choices about what to consider official, and what to give priority when two sources conflict. I've taken it as a given that the five books are canonical; I considered the two short stories as also part of canon, but less authoritative: the books are bigger, seem to be more thought-out, and are much better known. As it happens, the stories don't really contradict the books, so that's sort of a moot point. More relevant is what to do when the books are inconsistent with one another. I've generally gone with the later sources over the earlier ones; they're more fully developed and they're what the author intended as her alternate universe matured. More importantly, regarding the single biggest continuity issue in the series, the last two books just don't work unless the Mycetians are fully aware of their separate identity, so it was simply impractical to insist that the earlier books are authoritative.
Illustrations: The Mushroom Planet books use a variety of artwork styles, since only two of them share the same illustrator. So while we're on the subject of canon, it's worth giving some thought to the pictures. The characters look very different from one book to the next, so what if any would I consider the most "true" likenesses? It's tempting initially to go with the first two books since they're the only ones that were drawn by the same artist--but in those the Mushroom People look a bit...cartoonish, and Mr. Bass looks downright creepy with that ambiguous smile and his hands hanging down from his wrists like a Hollywood monster (see above). Planetoid is the only book with a famous illustrator, which sounds promising at first, but a lot of its drawings seem seriously off, such as the one above with Prewytt digging up his brumblium meteorite. The illustrations in Jewels and Meteor aren't bad, but the short stories seem a poor choice when we have whole books to choose from. That brings us to the last two books, A Mystery and Time. Now the drawings in those two are similar to one another, and they also seem much better developed, especially in the shape and features of the Mycetians' heads and faces. If I were to choose an "official" look for the characters in the series, I would go with those in Time and, especially, A Mystery. The latter seems to have made extra effort to show the Mycetians' distinguishing features, such as the long thin hands, and their heads seem especially on target--in particular that they have large balloon-like heads with small faces. In these books the Old Ones also somehow look like they carry many years behind them, at least to my eyes.
I've recently learned from www.eleanorcameron.com that apparently, she "regarded him as the definitive artist for the series. She especially delighted in his his heavy-lined ink depictions of the Basidiumites and of Mr. Bass. She said on more than one occasion that she wished Henneberger had done all five books in the series." Who knew? I can see the allure of taking the first books' illustrations as definitive, especially since they were done by the same artist, and the author's stated opinion certainly should carry some weight in the matter, but for me personally, the two final books just look more like Mycetians, for the reasons mentioned above. I think this may have to be something every reader needs to decide for themselves.