Super Mario Bros.: A Literary Criticism

Shigeru Miyamoto’s masterpiece Super Mario Brothers is truly a classic work of modern literature; borrowing heavily from Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and an obvious inspiration for Trainspotting, this work of unadulterated genius demonstrates the initial joy but the eventual mental and moral decline due to heavy drug usage.

Like in classic Greek drama, much of the story is implied. Because the setting is not a part of our common mythos, however, it comes with a small supplemental text which fills in the history for the reader: the evil dragon Bowser Koopa (a metaphor for a drug kingpin) has invaded a once-prosperous kingdom, and those residents who did not join him and become goombas (the local slang for dealers) were turned into blocks — that is, they were embedded in concrete, to sleep with the fishes, as it were.

Enter Mario, the fallen hero. At the very outset of his adventure, he is doomed, as almost right away he steals a dealer’s mushroom (obviously mixed with peyote) and begins to hallucinate, that he is big, that he is powerful. As though on PCP, he finds it easy to break solid bricks by punching it and does not perceive the pain; however, when dealers, pushers (personified by turtles much like Thompson’s literal lounge lizards), and other minions of the kingpin catch up with him and retaliate for his original drug theft, he immediately loses the empowering effects of the peyote, and in fact, seems very small and vulnerable, and must desperately seek out another hit. When he is not seeking out a hit of peyote, he is seeking out much more powerful stuff indeed — a flower (the opium-giving poppy) or a star (a hit of LSD), both of which further his delusions of being invincible.

Right after he has apparently slid down a flagpole (a strong reference to receiving anal sex), he finds himself in the proverbial sewers, already feeling a deep low from his initial hits wearing off. But after more anal sex, he is high in the mountains, which psychadelically appear as gigantic mushrooms, an obvious result of his hallucinatory state. And then, after even more anal sex, he finds himself in a castle, but it is of his own imagination, built up of his drug-induced isolation, for at the end he thinks he has confronted the kingpin Koopa, but he quickly finds that it is but another hallucination, merely a pusher goomba, though he only discovers this after, in a drug-crazed rage, he kills this apparition of his nemesis.

His trials and travails continue along his slide into dementia, with such powerful imagery as being underwater (drowning in desperation) and along a long suspension bridge with flying fish (skirting death at every corner). After chapter 3, which describes a night of terrors, and chapter 4, another full day, he finds himself in another castle delusion, but this time he is so hopelessly lost in his mind that it appears to him as a maze, where if he does not climb the correct stairs in the right order, he is trapped and seems to endlessly repeat the pathway; obsessive-compulsive disorder has set in, implying that he has also been making use of crystal meth.

Much more of the same continues, showing the repetition and mental deadness of a drug-induced haze, with some intermediate powerful imagery as a landscape so bleak and gray that it appears to be frozen, causing our fallen hero to psychosomatically slip on what seems to be ice. At many points, he is also unwittingly caught up in drug-related urban warfare, bullets careening across the landscape, although in Mario’s stupor, the inanimate metal slugs appear to be living, almost sentient things.

Finally, he enters a final castle which appears to be real, but it is quickly apparent that it is not, for it is filled with all of his prior hallucinations, but twisted into much more nightmarish images, again arranged in a maze as some of the castle-hallucination-nightmares before (although this time with the strong symbolism of the magic number 3), and at the end, when he finally destroys what he believes to be the kingpin Koopa and rescues who he believes to be the princess, it becomes obvious to the reader (though not to Mario, still in a state of dementia) that he was only a hapless pimp and the “princess” his charge, who (at our hero’s expense) direct him to start his hapless Quixotic quest from the beginning, only this time, all the drug dealers are wearing bullet-proof jackets (who have appeared as gigantic beetles to our hallucinogenic hero all along).

And so, the cycle of depravity begins anew, but much more difficultly for our pathetically-pathos-pumped plumber.

However, due to the massive amounts of thematic repetition which are present in this work, the author does occasionally insert hints which invite the reader to simply skip ahead to later chapters. Although neophyte readers may be tempted to do this in order to escape some of the monotony, they will find themselves quickly overwhelmed by the sudden jump in the dissonance of the imagery, and it is recommended that at least on the first few readings, one should read the entire work all the way through. Additionally, it should be noted that one of the hints for skipping ahead accidentally leads the reader to an impossibly-long passage which simply loops back on itself; although this is compelling in its own right, it is unknown as to whether this was a deliberate attempt at misdirection by the author, or if it is something which was simply an overeager misinterpretation in the overactive imagination of an eager student of this genre of literature.

Of course, this plot summary only begins to scratch the surface of this epic novel. One really must complete it on their own in order to truly appreciate its depth and challenge, trying to sort out what is real and what isn’t.

There is, of course, a like-minded series following this book (although the immediate sequel is a blatant last-minute search and replace job on Miyamoto’s shelved novel entitled Doki Doki Panic); there are also several TV adaptations, a movie (which completely missed the point and took major liberties with the plot), several spin-off series, and, at one time, there was even a breakfast cereal, in a monstrous twist of consumer-driven poetic irony. Regardless of this sensational consumerism, however, the original story has withstood countless readings, and will forever remain a timeless literary classic.

I originally wrote this for Everything2. This version is improved somewhat.


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