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The Elfish Gene: Dungeons, Dragons And Growing Up Strange [Unabridged] [Hardcover]

Mark Barrowcliffe
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)

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Book Description

6 April 2007
Comic novelist's laugh-out-loud funny memoir of his nerdish, fantasy addicted youth in 80's Coventry


Product details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Macmillan; 1 edition (6 April 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1405091266
  • ISBN-13: 978-1405091268
  • Product Dimensions: 21.6 x 13.8 x 3.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 132,690 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Review

'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.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Exploring adolescence... with a vorpal sword 16 Jan 2009
By Jonathan Rowe VINE VOICE
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
4.0 out of 5 stars Sent To Coventry 20 Aug 2009
By Rotgut VINE VOICE
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
2.0 out of 5 stars Charisma - 7 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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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Very enjoyable
I found this a highly enjoyable listen - particularly with Marks excellent narration.

I am not a D&D player, and never have been, but I could still relate to the... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Ian Blackburn
1.0 out of 5 stars Faux memoir misses the Mark
Technically this is a well-written book. Sometimes funny, and the characterization is superb. Sadly, it characterizes a monstrously unlikable character, who refuses to learn... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Jan Johansen
4.0 out of 5 stars Been there, done that.
I am a year younger than Barrowman, so entered all the D&D phases a year after him, but aside from that this is the story of my role-playing life, presented in laugh-out-loud and... Read more
Published 7 months ago by C. V. Gidlow
2.0 out of 5 stars Not much insight or charm
2007 book, now remaindered, but with an eye-catching title. The author seems to have been born about 1966 - my best guess from this book. Read more
Published on 4 Oct 2011 by Rerevisionist
1.0 out of 5 stars The worse book i've ever read
Arrogant, smug, no it all, tries to blame DnD for being a arrogant smug no it all. ASNIA

Only achieves confirmation that DnD has nothing to do with him being a ASNIA, it... Read more
Published on 13 Dec 2010 by Grogmir
1.0 out of 5 stars so much bitterness, but what's to bame?
The author claims that it was playing D&D that made him an insufferable, socially-inept, belittling, smugly-superior, arrogant, casually-callous and unlikeable person. Read more
Published on 26 Feb 2010 by Broch Gwrthryfelwr
5.0 out of 5 stars Witty & moving
This certainly took me back to my D&D days, and my (like the author's) misspent youth. What elevates this beyond a mere chuckle at strange roleplayers is the touching innocence of... Read more
Published on 24 Nov 2009 by Scrybe
2.0 out of 5 stars Unpleasant
This book was fine and dandy until Barrowcliffe's 'Mr Wrong' came out. If, as this book (and especially the jacket) seems to tell us, D&D somehow stunted Barrowcliffe's social... Read more
Published on 10 July 2009 by sosickofstudying
5.0 out of 5 stars Very funny and a little bit sad.
Mark Barrowcliffe, with affection and humour, details the world of a little understood interest group - the teenage Role Playing Game enthusiast. Read more
Published on 6 May 2009 by Stucumber
4.0 out of 5 stars If you over a certain age, and played D&D when you were young, this...
This book was so engaging I finished it in one sitting.

At least three times during reading this book I was physically crying due to laughter. Read more
Published on 6 May 2009 by Aaron Richardson
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