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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Exploring adolescence... with a vorpal sword
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...
Published on 16 Jan. 2009 by Jonathan

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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Charisma - 7
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...
Published on 19 Oct. 2009 by Sam Tyler


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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I attack Billy, 16 Jan. 2009
By 
E. A Solinas "ea_solinas" (MD USA) - See all my reviews
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For the record, I have never played Dungeons and Dragons. What's more, I wouldn't have the slightest idea where to even start playing.

Fortunately this didn't keep me from understanding the basics of what is going on in "The Elfish Gene: Dungeons, Dragons and Growing Up Strange," which is basically all about coming of age in 1970s England with the help of then-new-and-impressive Dungeons and Dragons. Mark Barrowcliffe gives the constant impression that he was intensely annoying and possibly insane, but it's a fun little read about the passionate obsessions of youth and the appeal of ubergeekery.

In the summer of 1976, Barrowcliffe was aspiring to be cool and edgy, with a burgeoning interest in the opposite sex. Then he discovered wargaming in school.

And by attempting to weave more fantastical stuff into his wargames, he inadvertently fell in with a new school club that was playing an utterly new kind of RPG -- Dungeons and Dragons. Soon Barrowcliffe was not only a gaming fanatic for anything fantastical, but was also enamored of "Lord of the Rings," Michael Moorcock, Led Zeppelin and anything else with a faraway fantastical edge. Suddenly everything else in life went to the wayside to make room for a strange world of dungeonmasters, elves, magic-users and primal bad guys.

Unsurprisingly, that level of obsession tends to cause a bit of annoyance -- from family, friends, and members of the opposite sex (well, what do you expect when you greet a "slattern" with a cry of "What, fair maiden?"). And Barrowcliffe soon discovered the downsides of D&D as well as the upsides -- including oblivious parents, dabblings in chemical "magic" and an egomaniac dungeonmaster -- as he struggled through an adolescent's rapidly changing world. Hoo boy.

"The Elfish Gene" is fundamentally a book about "growing up strange" -- it's definitely saturated in Ye Olde Role-Playing Games from beginning to end, and Barrowcliffe's obsessions are undeniable ("I'd already begun to suspect that the D&D system might not be the EXACT recreation of real life that I'd taken it to be"). But in many ways, it's the adolescent journey of a highly imaginative adolescent who's struggling to find his place in the world, and uses D&D (and many accompanying games) as the doorway to that.

And Barrowcliffe is fearless in exposing all the dorky, dumb things he did as a teenager. It takes some real guts to show the world that you were once immature, irritating, enslaved by the concept of "cool" and tended to dress like a total dork. Fortunately he's able to strike a nice balance between self-deprecating mockery (both then and now) and rosy-hued nostalgia for the 1970s, his hometown and the feeling of being an overenthusiastic young boy ("I think the idea that women might fancy good-looking, well-adjusted men who are nice to them is too much for the average fantasy-head to bear").

But despite his adrenaline-charged forays into strange worlds full of mystical beings (and apparently a lot of ethereal maidens), the real drama here is in the real world. Barrowcliffe roams through shops, makes (and loses) friends over his beloved D&D, and has it shape every single part of his persona. Most shockingly, he gets kicked out of his first group by the chilly, egomaniacal Porter, and though he finds a haven with older gamers there's still plenty of tension and conflict. Call it a cautionary tale for people who try to misuse their dungeonmaster power.

But despite the clashes between gamers (usually because of Porter's inexplicably dislikes), Barrowcliffe crams the book with funny story after funny story. You can't make this stuff up -- chemical "fireballs" in a bathroom, RPGing with cosmetics, purple prose, teenage Nazis, and the distinct lack of breeks. And he has a knack for funny, wry prose in any situation ("I will make your flesh sing a song of ecstacy such as will echo through the caverns of your soul. Happily shalt thou spend thy sweet seed." "Right, cup of tea?").

"The Elfish Gene: Dungeons, Dragons and Growing Up Strange" is an off-kilter, ubergeeky memoir of adolescence in the world of Dungeons and Dragons, and Mark Barrowcliffe knows how to keep it fun and interesting.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars so much bitterness, but what's to bame?, 26 Feb. 2010
This review is from: The Elfish Gene: Dungeons, Dragons And Growing Up Strange (Hardcover)
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.
In my opinion, he is using that as an excuse.
The tone of this autobiography is one of sneering condescension. His attitude toward anyone who indulges in gaming (portraying them all as sad, rules-obsessed loners, incapable of forming meaningful relationships) and his dismay that an ex-gaming buddy has become a christian (a particularly barbed Dawkins-esque sneer) show that his much loathed and gaming-blamed casual cruelty is still very much a part of him, one wonders what his excuse is these days.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Porter was a mate of mine..., 11 Feb. 2009
By 
Amazon Customer (UK) - See all my reviews
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When Mark Barrowcliffe tires of his weekly wargaming club he is enticed by the magical and mystical game of Dungeons and Dragons. Armed with a basic rulebook and a few polyhedral dice, he persuades other boys to join him in a game. Far from being a replacement for the Friday night wargame, roleplaying becomes an all-encompassing obsession for the teenager. He spends all his money and all his spare time on the game, and it dominates his conversation to the point of interrogating his gran on the relative merits of succubae and harpies.

The memoir explores the social mores of teenage boys in the seventies and provides several wry observations on the outlook of the British Working Class of the 1970s. This was my era and I remember it well - I even lived only a few miles away from Coventry and remember several of the places he mentions.

I enjoyed this book immensely for both the memorabilia of the background and the memories of Dungeons and Dragons (though I didn't get into RPGs until I met some boys who played AD&D in the eighties.) I even nodded in amusement at the authors scathing criticisms of the game's illustrations.

I give this book a 4 out of 5 stars, but if you've never grown up in 70's Britain, or never been in a room until the early hours of the morning because you didn't trust your friends not to kill off your character, you won't enjoy is as much.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Title, 6 Nov. 2007
This review is from: The Elfish Gene: Dungeons, Dragons And Growing Up Strange (Hardcover)
Yes I thought it is a great title, really caught my eye. Though I have never played D and D, I am a girl after all, I have been caught up in the video game world of Dungeon Master on to Oblivion so some of the technical stuff made sense.

However I liked this is a coming of age book, especially since it was set in the seventies it brought back all those memories of "Sale of the Century", sweeties, heavy metal. Actually I didn't really want to remember sale of the century, but hey ho.

We see how Mark came into contact with D and D and introduced it to his friends, who promptly took it up and then excluded him. There is also a wonderful sense of his driving passion for the game which echoed the kind of passion most of have as teenagers, though it is not usually for role playing board games.

It really felt as if the author was being very honest, especially as the picture he paints of himself is an annoying little oik. It's really good storytelling that does draw you in to keep on reading. And also some very funny moments, the laundry basket comes to mind!

Good writing from the days of the selfish elf!
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well worth a read, 4 May 2007
By 
David Gee (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Elfish Gene: Dungeons, Dragons And Growing Up Strange (Hardcover)
Mark has a very engaging writing style and as I read I found myself transported back to my adolescence. I think the experiences Mark shares are common to a lot of males of that age and era, whether or not they were consumed by D&D. I did laugh out loud on several occasions and found the book "unputdownable".
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5.0 out of 5 stars Very enjoyable, 5 Feb. 2014
By 
Ian Blackburn (Kent, Engliand) - See all my reviews
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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 characters and their experiences through adolescence. I did go to school with Mark however (he is a year older) and so that may have something to do with it; though I actually think not - it's just a very good book, and exceptionally well written and funny. I tested a few parts out on my wife, who has never met Mark, and she agreed - so that's that then.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very, very funny!, 3 Jan. 2008
By 
Paul99 (Southampton) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Elfish Gene: Dungeons, Dragons And Growing Up Strange (Hardcover)
I got this book for Christmas. Just finished reading it in the New Year. It was very, very funny. As an ex-D&D-er the jokes and insights had the ring of truth to them and I recognised lots of the characters and situations. I would definitely recommend this book.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very funny and a little bit sad., 6 May 2009
By 
Stucumber "Stucumber" (N. Wales) - See all my reviews
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Mark Barrowcliffe, with affection and humour, details the world of a little understood interest group - the teenage Role Playing Game enthusiast.

Though a little younger and not quite as obsessive as Barrowcliffe in his youth, I found his memoir to contain many semblances to my own life, not least the flight from reality that that obsession brings. A few scenes reminded me, cringingly, of moments in my own life.

The pseudonymous portraits of his friends and enemies bore strong likenesses to the people I met rolling funny shaped dice and they have all the strange reality that fiction rarely captures.

The humour is deployed well and is not (despite what one over-defensive reviewer contends) at all spiteful or vengeful but good-natured and forgiving. A couple of times I caught a fit of the giggles, which returned a day or two later when offered a smokey bacon crisp.

If you are or have ever been a geek, then this will help you to reflect on what makes us, us.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Witty & moving, 24 Nov. 2009
This review is from: The Elfish Gene: Dungeons, Dragons And Growing Up Strange (Hardcover)
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 the times, the people and memories of a slightly-forgotten era ... 80s heavy metal, rules lawyers, terror of females and obsession. Very, very funny and, in a strange way, quite moving. You don't have to be a games nut to read this. In fact, I think my wife should read it and she'd understand me better! Also brought back memories of Cov(entry) in the 80s.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You'll like this is you know what a D20 is..., 18 Jan. 2009
By 
Andy Phillips (Leicestershire, UK) - See all my reviews
I personally loved this book, but I fear that it might be aimed at a minority audience and not to everyone's tastes. However, I'm not saying that's a bad thing as there's no book, film or piece or music that everyone loves, is there?

The other reviewers and the synopsis given in the book's description tell you pretty much everything you need to know about this book, so I'll keep this short. It's an autobiographical book about a teenage boy growing up in Coventry in the UK in the 1970s. He is a bit of a social outcast but finds 'friends' and relief in the newly released Dungeons and Dragons. He quickly becomes obsessed with game and soon starts talking and dressing like his character and looking at the real world as if the rules of D&D somehow govern real life.

If you can identify with any of this or you know someone who was/is strongly into wargaming, or particularly roleplaying, then you'll probably enjoy this book. It's an interesting read in itself, but it does go into some detail about the game that will probably pass most people by if they're not at least vaguely familiar with sci-fi/fantasy/RPGs/fantasy or something similar. There are some really funny anecdotes in the book, as well as a few sad ones, and I couldn't wait to read the next chapter every time I was forced to do something else like eat or sleep.
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The Elfish Gene: Dungeons, Dragons And Growing Up Strange
The Elfish Gene: Dungeons, Dragons And Growing Up Strange by Mark Barrowcliffe (Hardcover - 6 April 2007)
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