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The Elfish Gene: Dungeons, Dragons and Growing Up Strange Paperback – Unabridged, 4 Apr 2008

3.5 out of 5 stars 35 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Pan; 1 edition (4 April 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0330445510
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330445511
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 2.3 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,255,397 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


'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.

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

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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By Sue on 29 April 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I knew some of these people although a bit later. I cetainly remember "Billy" who I lived with for almost 3 years.

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.
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Format: Paperback
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 skills, or ability to relate to others, it didn't last long, as he ended up bedding 40 women by the time he was 40! They didn't seem to mind his 'elfish gene'. Kind of makes me wish I had tried a bit of D&D now.... if those were the results. So methinks he doth protest too much.

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.
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