The Elfish Gene: Dungeons, Dragons And Growing Up Strange
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The Elfish Gene: Dungeons, Dragons And Growing Up Strange

3.25 of 5 stars 3.25  ·  rating details  ·  453 ratings  ·  124 reviews
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. Arme...more
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published 2007 by MACMILLAN
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I wanted to read this book because I have the 'elfish gene' myself (although I never played D&D), and now that I *have* read it, I'm not sure how to rate it. Yes, I did find it a compulsive read, but by the end I was alternately disliking the author and feeling sorry for him. Though he claims to have 'grown up', he seems exactly the same as he was as a teenager, with all the accompanying and annoying character traits. For instance, as a teen, he found his own way of claiming 'coolness' by re...more
(Note, read the authors comments in the comments section, he points out a few factual errors in this review that I think are worth noting before taking my review seriously.)

I picked this book up because I was a huge dork in high school and middle school - the dorkiest, and hung out with some fairly damaged individuals. I was looking at a book to wince at my own memories as I share someone elses, and also in a way celebrate that time.

Barrowcliffe has...issues, though. He has a tende...more
John Fletcher
I picked this book up because I, like the author, starting playing D&D at an early age. (I think I was 14 instead of 12 when I started). Unlike the author however, I still play D&D about twice a month with a group of co-workers and friends.

My feeling for this book is that the author, while on the one hand fondly reminisces about the game and credits the game for many aspects of his adult personality, on the other he clearly holds and demonstrates a certain amount of disdain and ridicule...more
Not badly written, but not a very fun read. Barrowcliffe treats his subject (himself and other adolescent D&D players) with disdain, which makes what should be an entertaining read much less enjoyable.
I picked this book up in an airport while traveling and thought it would be a fun, humorous look back on life as a gamer. I played RPGs in middle and high school, though I apparently wasn't as hard core as the author was. By the end of chapter 1 I found that the only humor the author included was mean spirited and belittling. As I said before, I expected some self effacing humor, and humor at the sake of gamers he played with, but this book amounted to a prolonged bitchfest where the author does...more
Kari Mathias
This book is ridiculous. Barrowcliffe spends half of the book telling us that being a geek is pathetic and sad, and the other half... trying to prove some kind of point to the people who made fun of him in high school, I think. "I was a TOTAL geek in high school and I grew up to be successful AND married. But I'm not a geek anymore, don't worry, guys."

I picked it up because I wanted to love it, being a D&D player myself, but I ended up sorely disappointed. Mark Barrowcliffe can repress his i...more
It takes a particular type of person to wallow in one's misspent youth, to trot it out, warts and all, for all the world to see. Having escaped the embarrassments of adolescence, most people to some degree disavow their younger selves. This is usually accomplished through mere omission. Life goes on, we meet new people, and we conveniently forget to tell them about those horrid moments that define our adolescence. We recreate ourselves, we leave our pasts behind. Not so with Mark Barrowcliffe, a...more
Paula Lyle
I would have liked it a lot more if the author had not felt the need to tell us how different his adolescence would have been, if only he had been grown-up at the time.

Barrowcliffe describes Dungeons and Dragons, at the height of its fame, as being played by millions of boys and two girls. Well, I was one of those girls. And that's ok, I'm comfortable in the fact that I was and still am, a total nerd. And a memoir about Dungeons and Dragons in quite unique.

Barrowcliffe was introduced to Dungeons and Dragons at a young age. And once immersed he stayed in the life for quite awhile. In fact, he became obsessed with it. All his pocket money went to D&D figurin...more
Stuart Nachbar
The Elfish Gene was a fun story that made me think about the question: what is a nerd? Webster’s dictionary equates a nerd with a gearhead, a person who is extremely interested and knowledgeable about computers, electronics, technology, and gadgets. But Dungeons and Dragons is a card and board game; it has absolutely nothing to do with modern technology and computers.

And I must add that people who bury themselves in other interests, including role-playing games, politics and football statistics...more
Melody May
As many of you know, I am a Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) enthusiast; so was Mark Barrowcliffe until he decided that it was the cause of all his problems. This book really should have been called, Gaming Obsession and How Not To Play.

Basically, the book is a memoir of his awkward early years spent lost in his own reality, obsessing over the one outlet he found for his intelligence and imagination: D&D. Some of the anecdotes included are hilarious, for example the time he nearly sets his fr...more
The late 70s was a particularly grim time. Economic crisis, terrorism, unemployment, an unpopular labour government - is this all starting to sound familiar? What more natural response than to turn your back on the whole mess and escape into the world of fantasy? That is exactly what author Mark Barrowcliffe did when he discovered Dungeons and Dragons, and threw himself headlong into for most of his teenaged years.

In much the same way as Andrew Collins mirrored my life of late 60s and early 70s...more
Kathleen Dixon
The title of this grabbed me - I was walking through the library having selected the books I wanted/had reserved, and just happened to glance to my right as I passed one of those display shelves they have specifically with the intention of luring you over. I was lured.

When I was in my early 20s (30 years ago, she says, revealing her age) my then-husband and I were curious about Dungeons and Dragons. But we didn't know anybody else who was remotely interested so we never got involved. That was po...more
This book had me laughing out loud at moments. Although I really think that you need to have experienced this world to truly appreciate the humor and the truth of this memoir. It speaks to anyone who has felt different tried so hard to be accepted and not accepted at the same time. Extra stars for the fire ball chapter... I know too many boys who fit this description!
I was sucked in by the title, but the rest of the book did not disappoint. There was some clunky writing and it could have done with some restructuring, but I loved reading about the world of a nerdy Northern teen in the 70s.
If you grew up a Dungeons and Dragons dork (like me), this book will make you laugh and cringe at the same time. If you weren't into D&D, this will give you some humorously disturbing insight into those who were.

Although the main theme of the book was about the author's experiences growing up as a D&D dork, he ventures off into other territory. It is a very engaging and entertaining read, but there are some dry spells between the laughs. Don't expect edge-of-your-seat writing or constant...more
Jeff Raymond
A British man’s childhood with Dungeons and Dragons. It had its moments, but I think my expectations for this book failed to match the reality.
David Peters
Why I read It
I have read two of Barrowcliffe’s previous novels (Girlfriend 44 & Infidelity for First-time Fathers) and enjoyed them. I was doing a periodic check for his books on my library’s computer catalog and saw this one.

The Good
On its surface this is a memoir by a stand up comedian discussing his fascination with D&D growing up. On a deeper level this is a fantastic look on what it means to be a young man striving for adulthood. Particularly good was his recounting the loss of his...more
Jody Mena
This book is unique in my view. Biographies, autobiographies, memoirs, these always seem to be by or about people who are leaders rather than followers, who stand out rather than blend in, and who tipify quailities and goals that are either generally praised or universally loathed by the society. This book is about one boy with an overactive imagination who is pretty much the 'everyman' of the 'nerd' world, and pretty much the antithesis of the above. Yet at the same time, this manages to be an...more
P. Aaron Potter
The author is under the impression that Dungeons and Dragons caused, or exacerbated, his social problems as an adolescent and young adult. As other reviewers have noted, there's plenty of evidence that he has reversed cause and effect: fleeing his own maladjustment, the author escaped to a venue of fantasy and action which was easier for him to understand.

This would be bad enough, but the real tragedy of this book is the degree to which the author bends over backwards to ignore all the evidence...more
May 17, 2010 David added it
This is the funniest book I’ve read for years. The sort where if you’re reading it in a public place you have to bite your lips or cover your mouth. So much rang true, and even the photo on the cover flashed me back to my friends of those days. I never played D&D but I went through a few years of Napoleonic war games, where we’d meet every Sunday at a friend’s gaming room on the second floor of the lighthouse his parents lived in. But it was mostly his living in a fantasy world for his entir...more
Got this for Christmas and *cough* I really enjoyed it. I think anyone who grew up playing D&D or some variation of it would as well. Funny, honest, and at times sad, "The Elfish Gene" definitely brought me back to years 9 through 12 when I played it with what could only be described as maniacal zeal. The storytelling, for someone who can empathize, can be also a bit embarrassing at times, as you identify with the ridicuously over-the-top geekiness he describes--and realizing, years later, t...more
In The Elfish Gene: Dungeons, Dragons and Growing Up Strange, author Mark Barrowcliffe presents his memoir of what it was like to grow up during the 70s in Coventry, England and being utterly, hopelessly, and unhealthily obsessed with the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons. As someone who was himself once obsessed with D&D to the point of being able to recite entire blocks of text from the Monster Manual or tell you how many level 3 spells an 8th level Magic-User could cast, this was a...more
MJ Nicholls
I’m doing some early research for a possible creative non-fiction book about gaming addiction. I spent my childhood hooked on Sega Mega Drive and Playstation games, withdrawing from the outside world into a realm of spinning hedgehogs and spinning bandicoots.

I can relate, then, to the author of this memoir, who spent his teenhood hooked on Dungeons & Dragons. The central difference between an addiction to an RPG like this and video games is human contact. The RPG involves interacting with o...more
Emily Jane
Frankly, this book is hilarious. Please read it.

Although there are some fundamental differences between myself and the author (I am a girl who came of age in the 1990's and have never played D&D, while he is a boy who came of age in 1970's and had no life outside of D&D), ultimately we had plenty in common. Like him, I was fundamentally a good kid who just couldn't figure out how to fit in with the mainstream of "cool". So I invented my own.

For me, this came in the form of Xena: Warrior...more
Craig a.k.a Meatstack
I don't think this book is for everyone.

I think you had to spend 20 hours straight sitting around a table in someone's garage, every weekend, eating nothing but the worst kind of junk food, with people 45 degrees off of normal, and then be driven back home in the backseat of your friend's car with Iron Maiden blaring so loud you get sick in the stomach to get some of this book.

I think you have to have dug a hole in your back yard and jumped in and out of it every day, and every day you dug it a...more
Synopsis: The coming-of-age story of a late 20th-century D&D nerd in Great Britain.

Thoughts: Gosh, I rather liked this one. Picture the scene: Coventry, England, late 1970s to early 1980s. British nationalism is on the rise; so is Punk, and Two-Tone Ska. Life is bleak and gray, and the country is paralyzed by a series of strikes by hospital workers, garbage collectors, and even grave diggers. Our author takes solace in the only way he sees available to him—tactical wargaming, and, eventually...more
If I had grown up in the time period, this might have been my life. For me, it was the computer, some low level programming and the animated adventure game, rather than the D&D games of his youth. Which makes me identify quite easily with the author, a nerd who made no effort to hide it, and in fact was quite proud of his different interests, which were not shared by many of his peers. One difference, though, and I think a very interesting one -- his "strange" (word from title) obsession was...more
Apparently Mark Barrowcliffe was much more obsessed with D&D than I was, and he gives a very funny account of what that is like. At times it is pretty hard to sympathize the young Mark, although the older Mark does recognize that he was a major ass as a teenager. At times he wants to blame a lot of later unhappiness on his wasted youth, and he repeatedly describes himself and his gaming buddies as "addicts" which I guess is possible but seems a little over the top.

Anyway there are some fairl...more
I never played Dungeons and Dragons growing up, but have always been curious what the experience was like. As a kind of geeky/nerdy/dorky guy, I figured it was probably something I would have played if I'd been exposed to it. But Mark Barrowcliffe, in his witty and engaging memoir, has shown me that I never would have liked it at all.

There are a number of things I like this book. It's funny. It's shows me a world I would otherwise never have experienced. And it's a wonderfully unsentimental auto...more
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Aka M.D. Lachlan.

He grew up in Coventry and studied at the University of Sussex. He worked as a journalist and also as a stand-up comedian before he started writing his first novel, Girlfriend 44. He lives and writes in Brighton, England and South Cambridgeshire. Ron Howard secured the film rights for Girlfriend 44 and Infidelity for First Time Fathers is in development with 2929.

Barrowcliffe achi...more
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“ obsession is a way for damaged people to damage themselves more.” 31 likes
“It's an odd fact of life that you don't really remember the good times all that well. I have only mental snapshots of birthday parties, skiing, beach holidays, my wedding. The bad times too are just impressions. I can see myself standing at the end of some bed while someone I love is dying, or on the way home from a girlfriend's after I've been dumped, but again, they're just pictures. For full Technicolor, script plus subtitles plus commemorative programme in the memory, though, nothing beats embarrassment. You tend to remember the lines pretty well once you've woken screaming them at midnight a few times.” 5 likes
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