Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Elfish Gene - Book #95

Title The Elfish Gene: Dungeons, Dragons, and
Growing Up Strange

Author Mark Barrowcliffe
Genre Memoir
Pages 277
Publisher Soho Press
Copyright 2007

Synopsis (from web-site)
In the summer 1976, twelve-year-old Mark Barrowcliffe had a chance to be normal. He blew it. While other teenagers were being coolly rebellious, Mark—and 20 million other boys in the 1970s and 80s—chose to spend his entire adolescence pretending to be a wizard or a warrior, an evil priest or a dwarf. He had discovered Dungeons & Dragons, and his life would never be the same. No longer would he have to settle for being Mark Barrowcliffe, an ordinary awkward teenager from working-class Coventry, England; he could be Alf the Elf, Foghat the Gnome, or Effilc Worrab, an elven warrior with the head of a mule.

Armed only with pen, paper and some funny-shaped dice, this lost generation gave themselves up to the craze of fantasy role-playing games and everything that went with it—from heavy metal to magic mushrooms to believing that your bike is a horse named Shadowfax. Spat at by bullies, laughed at by girls, now they rule the world. They were the geeks, the fantasy wargamers, and this is their story.

Why I read It
I have read two of Barrowcliffe’s previous novels (Girlfriend 44 & Infidelity for First-time Fathers) and enjoyed them. I was doing a periodic check for his books on my library’s computer catalog and saw this one.

The Good
On its surface this is a memoir by a stand up comedian discussing his fascination with D&D growing up. On a deeper level this is a fantastic look on what it means to be a young man striving for adulthood. Particularly good was his recounting the loss of his best friend.

At the end of the day we cycled home, Billy ate his chips at the bottom of the hill but said he didn’t fancy coming back to my house for more gaming; he’d had enough for one day. Finally, it penetrated. Something was really wrong.
“See ya,” he said.
“See ya,” I said.
I did. Twenty-five years later.

The Bad
Being a comedian he is very funny, sometimes a little crassly so. If I could fault this book for anything I would have wanted him to push the D&D a little bit more into the background and focus on the human story a little more. But that is just showing my bias.

The Ugly (my opinion)
A funny book that is a good look at what it meant to be a youth in the earliest days of D&D, the cutting edge so to speak. Working out your own rules and helping in some respects to bring the whole role playing gaming world to where it is today.

It also helps understand (a very little bit) all of my peers who seem to be totally enamored with D&D as adults. I mean, I understand the appeal of participating in a fantasy world, the camaraderie of hanging out with your friends, and being somebody your not. It is just at the end of the day I prefer the sex with women (or in my case the woman).

FWIW, this book is not dismissive or unfair to D&D at all. So if you do play the game I think you will find this very enjoyable.

The Truth? (other reviews)

Mormon Mentions
None. But for me this was fun on a slightly different level. I spent five months of my church mission in Coventry, so my Mormon experiences opened up this story in special ways.

Author Biography

Mark Barrowcliffe grew up in Coventry, England. He worked as a stand-up comedian before writing his first hit novel, Girlfriend 44. He has written two other acclaimed comic novels, Lucky Dog and Infidelity for First-time Fathers. He lives in Brighton, England.

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