Monday, November 29, 2010


Prepare for a somewhat rambly post on a topic that is only tangentially related to my normal routine.

In what is perhaps most evidently an artifact of my age and when I grew up, I was a big fan as a kid of the various gamebooks that came out, many of them through the mainstream publishing houses. By gamebooks, I mean books where you, as the reader, take the place of the protagonist and make choices that influence how the book will end. The most famous book of this type is, of course, the Choose Your Own Adventure series (of which I probably owned almost fifty entries at some point or another--I still have at least 25-30) but there are many others too.

I've had, as I said, probably close to fifty of the Choose Your Own Adventure series, half a dozen Endless Quest D&D flavored CYOA's, two or three Which Way books (a competing series that as a coup, had Edward Packard's book Sugarcane Island, the very first book of this format republished. That was one of the ones I had, by the way.) I had over half a dozen Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks, almost three or four TolkienQuest (later renamed Middle-EarthQuest) books, seven or eight of the Lone Wolf gamebooks, several of the Escape from Tenopia/Escape from Frome books, and at least half a dozen Time Machine books, which were historical fiction versions, featuring time traveling protagonists who visiting famous people or places in history--and at least one that traveled forward in time to a solar system and aliens space opera future.

Today, I have one Fighting Fantasy gamebook left (which I rebought after giving away or selling my original copy) and about half of the Choose Your Own Adventure books, having sold away the others (including, sadly, some of what are among my favorites) and nothing else. As a teenager, I decided I was unlikely to care about most of these, or for other short-sighted reasons, gave them away, and now I frequently pine for what I no longer have.

In fact, partly because I specifically missed some of these titles early own and regretted getting rid of them, I've become a notorious pack-rat who is unwilling to part with anything that I've once liked, just in case I turn around and wish I still had it. Of course, I could always scour Amazon and eBay to get replacement copies, but that's quite a staggering expense. I might yet consider it for a "select few" of the titles that I really miss the most, but I know in my heart of hearts that if I do that, I'll barely glance at them again once every few years at best.

Sadly, I think for years I considered it a moot point that my own kids would one day fall in love with the Choose Your Own Adventure series the same way I did, but that hasn't really happened. Now, two of my kids are probably too old to ever have that happen them anyway, but the other two have expressed little interest in them, and I haven't pushed. Sad, really. What was such an icon of my childhood during most of the 80s (I tailed off before the series did) seems to have had such a faddish life cycle. Although the series is back in publication, it's a shell of what it once was; the R. A. Montgomery titles are back in print, revised and with new (and inferior, in my opinion) illustrations, and they linger as obscure, niche products, where once the Choose Your Own Adventure and similar titles were entire shelves at every library and bookstore in the country.

I'm not 100% sure what prompted me to ramble about these books. I think that there was a connection between my love of them, and my love of the potential inherent in gaming. In fact, the TolkienQuest, Lone Wolf and Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks were probably my favorites as I got a bit older, both because they were "meatier" in content, but because they were more likely to focus on fantasy themes. The very first Fighting Fantasy Gamebook, in fact, was quite obviously heavily inspired by the D&D paradigm--The Warlock of Firetop Mountain is nothing more nor less than a do-it-yourself dungeoncrawl. (As an aside, I never actually liked that one that much. My favorite were always still the first two that I got, Forest of Doom and City of Thieves, although Scorpion Swamp, by the other Steve Jackson--you know, the GURPS one--was another really solid entry as was Talisman of Death by Jamie Thompson and Mark Smith.)

Several of these later entries had very overt ties to the roleplaying industry, which was also going through it's "Golden Age" of pseudo-mainstream popularity at this same time. The TolkienQuest books had a real RPG-like system and character sheets and everything, as well as having compatible stats for use with MERP, their RoleMaster influenced Tolkien-based roleplaying game. Lone Wolf also had rather detailed chargen, and the Fighting Fantasy series even split off into genuine roleplaying products, and later even into video game products.

Sadly, I think it's another idea who's time as come; with today's entertainment options available to them, this kinda reading, kinda roleplaying hybrid is probably something that few kids will be interested in anymore. Wizard books have takent to republishing some of the titles, with new cover art, but to me it's not the same as the originals.

Is there a point to all this? I guess it's just this: be careful not to be too hasty when making decisions about what to keep or not keep. For at least twenty-five years now, I've regretted letting some of these titles out of my reach, and getting them back again is a pain in the rear.

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