The Elfish Gene: Dungeons, Dragons and Growing Up Strange Paperback – Unabridged, 4 Apr 2008
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'It's a lovely book, far funnier and more enjoyable than its
slightly terrifying subject matter might suggest.' -- Daily Mail --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.
The book is authentic, funny and accurate. It is life as the teenage boys lived it at the time. As a rare girl who played D&D I well recall the interminable male arguments over the rules and "Billy" being the most brilliant and creative DM ever.
This is a very funny book. Buy it.
Seriously though, while it's an interesting attempt to portray nerdy youth from a British perspective (most nerd culture is distinctly American) it ultimately fails. Why? Well, throughout the book Barrowcliffe rightly highlights the arrogance, bitterness, one-upmanship and pettiness of a male subculture and hobby. He learns, he grows, he gets beyond it. Then comes the coda. He's trying roleplaying again as a grown-up to see if he remembers what his teenage self got from it. Does he look back wistfully with a wry smile and offer the warmth of matey camradery, advice or sympathy to his fellow roleplayers? Nope: he realises he is superior to all the other middle-aged men there and declares (in a smug way) that he is going home to be with his wife and child, (I have wife! and kids! I have people who care about me! unlike those saddos!) and write some more books (proper publishers and everything!). But not before telling them this. So he still can't resist getting one over on the other role-players, proving he is king, even at this stage of his life.
He's mean, and mocking about role-players in general. Before anyone also accuses me of being 'over defensive' I certainly have no axe to grind when it comes to gaming, as I never enjoyed or understood role-playing.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Not so much an autobiography as a painfully honest memoir of Barrowcliffe's teenage years in 1970's Coventry, 'The Elfish Gene' explores what it's like to grow up with the very... Read morePublished 4 months ago by madaboutbooks
Engaging story of adolescence and D&D. Easy to read, well-crafted casual-sounding dialogue and narrative style which brings you into the mind of the main character (the author as a... Read morePublished 4 months ago by Moonstalker
As someone who played a lot of Role Playing Games as a kid this book stood out for me. However, it's much more than that. Read morePublished 7 months ago by Friedland
The story of a smug, arrogant, judgemental and unlikeable boy who decided to stop playing DnD. The author seems to thinks that his decision made him a better person, which is... Read morePublished 9 months ago by Khroumir
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
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 morePublished on 10 Jan. 2014 by Jan Johansen
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 morePublished on 3 Sept. 2013 by C. V. Gidlow
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 morePublished on 4 Oct. 2011 by Rerevisionist
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