Guest Review: Fighting Fantasy

Guest Writer: Tim Meyers

 

When I think about create-your-own adventure stories, I immediately think back to one of my all-time favorite books. I don’t recall the exact name and it wasn’t very advanced (I was around 8–10 years old when I first picked it up), but I would read it again in a heartbeat. What’s more, I would probably read it several times before putting it down for a few months again. No matter that it’s a book for very young readers, I would gladly step back in time to relive those days. I would love to introduce my boys to them; I think they would also have a good time reading and rereading them. My first was about a World War II RAF pilot who was shot down during the war. Depending on the choices you made, he could safely land back at the base, be shot down and killed over France, or anything in between. Some of the endings would occur after only a page if not less, while others would continue until that pilot made his way home through occupied territory and across the English Channel. Once in a while, he made it back home, but more often than not he was captured by Nazis, shot down over the Channel, part of an underground Allied resistance movement in occupied France, or any of dozens of other happy, and often unhappy, endings. I remember reading that book until the pages fell out. I then pieced it back together, put duct tape on the spine, and continued reading it for a while longer. No other book graced my bookshelf for anywhere near that length of time in my younger years, although I have books now that are much older.

Original cover of the title The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, Puffin Books (1982). Image taken from the 25th Anniversary Edition of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, Wizard Books (2007). Art by Peter Andrew Jones.

Original cover of the title The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, Puffin Books (1982). Image taken from the 25th Anniversary Edition of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, Wizard Books (2007). Art by Peter Andrew Jones.

Fighting Fantasy gamebooks are just slightly different: you don’t exactly decide the fate of the main character as you read, instead you use two six-sided dice. The dice rolls determine how your adventure progresses. I don’t know about the rest of you, but these delighted me when I was first learning to read bigger books (beyond the 20-page early reader books children start out with) and I still find enjoyment in them. I can easily say that these were the first books I read that really made me hungry to read more. With many titles starting with The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, Puffin has delighted readers with these treasures for over a decade (1983-1995). I’ve recently gotten back into reading books about just such adventures and I had forgotten how much fun they were. They sparked an imagination that would later run wild in role-playing games. The ability to affect the storyline toys with a child’s imagination, coaxing possibilities forth many writers would never dream of including. Puffin Books delivers weeks of entertainment and escape as the dice rolls lead to one door hiding treasure and the next only death and defeat.

This series starts out with The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, by both Steve Jackson and Ian Livingston. You play the part of a solo adventurer as you explore a mysterious mountain known to be inhabited by a sorcerer! By the end of the adventure, you have vanquished the sorcerer and plundered his treasure. What more could you ask for in a story? Not much I’d say; the hero wins and his enemy loses. A clear victory by any standard.

As the years go by and you become wiser in adventuring, these trials and tribulations grow into legends. Puffin created something magical with these tales; these were the first such books I ever read, but they were far from the last. Oh, how I would love to travel back in time to relive those days once more. These books are a joy, from the first to the last. In more than 30 years of reading everything from encyclopedias and cookbooks to silly Dr. Seuss tales and science fiction novels, I have never seen such fantastic books, nor have I seen a series I would enjoy seeing reborn more.

Tim is a happily married father of two from the great wilderness of northern Michigan. As much as he enjoys this scenic habitat, you can find him with his nose buried deep in a book on most days, when higher education or work does not restrict him from such frivolous reading.

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