I wrote to Tableau, the magazine of Australian Mensa. It got a couple of answers:
Lee Kennedy asks why lilies are associated with death in the great artforms of cinema and cartoons.
An American friend of mine read his letter and her comment was "Gee, Mensans are dumb!" Naturally I nodded my head sagely as she explained this mystery. (the mystery of the lilies, not why mensans are dumb).
Apparently, the lilies often flower around Easter, notably the once common "Easter Lily". Thus, lilies became associated with Easter and hence with the resurrection of Christ.
By extension then, lilies became associated with human death and the hope of a life thereafter.
Lee can justify his ignorance to his children by pleading that this is a purely northern hemisphere phenomenon, due to their inverted seasons.
Robin Craig, Queensland.
Ignorance!! I couldn't let that go un answered:
What a pity Robin Craig (and his American friend) did not read my letter before they answered it. They would then be a little more reticent with the 'dumb' and 'ignorant' broadsides.
In the letter I asked why "the white arum lily has has such a grim association with death"
Not Easter lilies. Not Lilies of the Field. The white Arum lily.
The October issue of tableaus informed my that asparagus is of the lily family, but you do not often see the dear departed clutching a stalk of the lightly poached.
Another answer had more sense to it:
The reason I was given for placing a white Arum lily in a dead person's hands is: the smell of the lily disguises the smell of death.
Lyn van Amstel, Nth Adelaide.