Bibliophilia – Fighting Fantasy

No Paris Hilton this time, I promise. Instead I think its time for another bout of bibliophilia, a series of posts in which I dive into the dusty realms of the bookshelf for inspiration and discuss the primary symptom of the disease, our papery friend the musty old book. This time I give you a guilty secret (though perhaps not surprising given my already professed love for the hobbit): Fighting Fantasy.

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As it says in the blurb the Fighting Fantasy series of books were choose-your-own adventures that were:

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Who me? How could 10 year old Gentleman Administrator resist the temptation? Plus unlike actual role-playing games they were so simple to play, particularly as:

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Of course I’ve since discovered that constantly having to make decisions is one aspect of being an adult that wears thin pretty bloody quickly, particularly as you can’t leave your thumb in a previous page in order to cheat in real life. Actually, I’m still pretty convinced that most major decisions should be made with the aid of two dice, a pencil and an eraser.

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The books were written and designed by Ian Livingstone (some with Steve Jackson) in the early 1980s. Ian Livingstone was a stalwart of the Role Playing Game (RPG) game world when I was a child, having been the founder of Games Workshop. He was also one of the founders of computer games giant Eidos, which brought us the Lara Croft and the Tomb Raider series of games as well as Championship Manager, the football management simulation game. On reflection it’s fair to say that over the years, and more than any other single factor, Ian Livingstone is to blame for a considerable proportion of the wasted hours and determined under achievement in my life. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

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The books inhabit the wonderful, generic Tolkein-revival fantasy world of the late 1970s that gave birth to role-playing games and a cornucopia of fantasy titles with trippy artwork and illustrations. The artwork of the Fighting Fantasy books were a key factor in their appeal to me. The internal illustrations of ‘The Forest of Doom’ were drawn by Malcolm Barter and punctuate the book at crucial moments, bringing the tale to life:

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Illustration by Malcolm Barter

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The ‘Forest of Doom’ is the one copy I’ve held onto over the years for two reasons. The first is that I remember exactly when I first played it, as I was off school sick with one of my annual childhood bouts of influenza. I’m not exactly sure how I’d got a copy as my parents were quite opposed to fantasy books and role-playing games having recently become evangelical christians. They would not have been pleased with my choice of literature. I can distinctly remember being huddled on my bedroom floor, wrapped in a duvet, clandestinely and feverishly dipping my toe into this dark and dangerous quest. The sense of risk (the role of a dice!) and achievement (killed the forest giant, Yes!) was palpable at the time. The second reason that this particular edition sticks in my head is the front cover illustration by Iain McCaig (see above). Aside from being a great bit of art I was genuinely frightened by the picture of the changeling, I mean it’s looking straight at me… We all know how children love to be scared and that illustration has stuck with me as a cherished childhood memory (ok, ok it still freaks me out *turns book over and continued typing*).

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The funny thing is I never really graduated onto proper desktop role-playing games, but I suspect my initial love of interactive fiction is the root of my later, and ongoing, love affair with computer games.  So, having tested you luck and rolled a three, turn to 2:

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Damnit, I forgot to put my thumb in the page *grabs rubber and flicks back to the beginning*.

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