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The Elfish Gene: Dungeons, Dragons And Growing Up Strange Hardcover – Unabridged, 6 Apr 2007

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Macmillan; 1 edition (6 April 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1405091266
  • ISBN-13: 978-1405091268
  • Product Dimensions: 14.4 x 22.4 x 3.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 784,216 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


'It's a lovely book, far funnier and more enjoyable than its
slightly terrifying subject matter might suggest.' -- Daily Mail

Book Description

Coventry, 1976. For a brief, blazing summer, twelve-year-old Mark Barrowcliffe had the chance to be normal. He blew it. While other teenagers concentrated on being coolly rebellious, Mark – like twenty million other boys in the ‘70s and ’80s – chose to spend his entire adolescence in fart-filled bedrooms pretending to be a wizard or a warrior, an evil priest or a dwarf. Armed only with pen, paper and some funny-shaped dice, this lost generation gave themselves up to the craze of fantasy role-playing games, stopped chatting up girls and started killing dragons. Extremely funny, not a little sad and really quite strange, The Elfish Gene is an attempt to understand the true inner nerd of the adolescent male. Last pick at football, spat at by bullies and laughed at by girls, they were the fantasy wargamers, and this is their story.

Customer Reviews

3.5 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Jonathan VINE VOICE on 16 Jan. 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a very curious book. It's essentially an autobiography. Strangely, it tells us next to nothing about the author's family, early childhood etc and even less about his adult life. It's an autobiography of Mark Barrowcliffe's adolescence, growing up in Coventry in the 1970s. I've got to admire the author's pluck: just remembering adolescence is difficult and squirm-inducing; writing about it must have been an ordeal in mortification.

Strangely, though, the book isn't just autobiographical: it's also an unflinching psychological examination of fantasy roleplaying and the teenage culture that grew up around these games in the '70s and '80s. In particular, it explores the impact Dungeons & Dragons had on the author's social and emotional development (a pretty disastrous one, if he's to be believed)... and by implication, a study into nerd-ishness in general.

Fortunately, it's often very funny. Not laugh-out-loud funny, but that sort of cringing comedy-of-humilation funny that we Brits enjoy. It helps, I guess, if you've had some experience with D&D in your youth, but Barrowcliffe is a lucid writer and makes light work of all the exposition so even outsiders should get the gist (even if they don't quite get the point...).

As an autobiography, then, this is pretty powerful stuff. Barrowcliffe does not spare the lashes in his depiction of '70s Midlands as a dump - riven by class divides, steeped in casual racism and kneejerk fascism, empty and limiting and soulless and bleak.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Rotgut VINE VOICE on 20 Aug. 2009
Format: Paperback
This book is worth buying for its title alone, some of the chapter names are nearly as good, e.g. "Lord of the Ringbinders" or "Come to Mordor, It's Nicer Than Where You Live." The book itself is a funny and often sad (in every sense of the word) tale of teenage obsession in the hinterland of 1970s Coventry.

Our hero, or at least the central character in the book, is consistently shown in a terribly bad light, no social skills, irritatingly over-enthusiatic, in turns a coward and a bully, wasting his youth in pointless pursuits. Strange then , that this is an autobiographical piece, and the protagonist of Mark Barrowcliffe's book is none other than Mark Barrowcliffe himself.

Looking back at the adventures of his younger self, a kid who encouraged his friends to call him "Spaz", the author is contemptuous of the boy he was. It is tempting to see this as mechanism to prove to himself that he has grown up, he's not the puny adolescent needing the crutch of Fantasy (in this case actual fantasy in the shape of Dungeons & Dragons) to get through life.

Two passages are illuminating here, "every cell in the human body renews itself completely once every fifteen years... I'm not even the same person physically as I was then..."(p.180) Also, the very last image of the book, showing the author running from his past quite literally.

When not examining his own (often excruciatingly inappropriate, admittedly) behaviour, Barrowcliffe is admirably even handed, p.166, for example gives a concise and fair summation of the attractions of Role Playing.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Sam Tyler on 19 Oct. 2009
Format: Paperback
Mark Barrowcliffe is a former stand up and current writer of comedic fiction; this is what I gleaned from the inlay in his books and tbh this was perfectly enough for me. However, not for Barrowcliffe as `The Elfish Gene' is a book about his teenage years and his obsession with the RPG game `Dungeon and Dragons'. For the most part the book is a sweet, but slightly self indulgent, look at growing up as a dweeb. I myself was no social butterfly and enjoyed the camaraderie in the book. The book is about growing up, but also heavily D&D, to the point where I do not fully understand who the book is aimed at. For people not into the past time there is far too much description of game playing and they will get bored. For fans of D&D they will find an unpleasant book that has a nasty feel.

The problem with the book does not really come about until towards the end when Barrowcliffe mentions his later years - university until becoming a writer. In about 50 pages he manages to undermine the entire book. The moments of selfishness and stupidity that plague his life as a teen are seemingly due to hormones; you think. Turns out that Barrowcliffe is just a unpleasant man who spent university bullying others then leading a life that he dismisses as dull (I'm sure all his former colleagues who look fondly on these years are very happy). He claims to be a better person now, but then rips into others with a venom that left me uncomfortable. As a stand up I must assume his act was to be mean to other people and not self deprecating. Barrowcliffe was a teenager who lived in a fantasy world and had an inflated sense of his own importance; now he is an author who lives in reality, but is still inflated.
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