Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Elfish Gene: Dungeons, Dragons And Growing Up Strange” as Want to Read:
The Elfish Gene: Dungeons, Dragons And Growing Up Strange
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Elfish Gene: Dungeons, Dragons And Growing Up Strange

3.28  ·  Rating details ·  583 Ratings  ·  142 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
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published 2007 by MACMILLAN
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Elfish Gene, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Elfish Gene

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
Rating details
Sort: Default
Dec 23, 2008 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir, nonfiction
(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
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
Sep 24, 2011 rated it did not like it
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
Oct 31, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
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.
Kari Mathias
Nov 28, 2011 rated it did not like it
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
Paula Lyle
Nov 10, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011
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.
Jul 13, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 26, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir, non-fiction

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
Nerine Dorman
Nov 19, 2014 rated it really liked it
Warning: If you’re hoping this is a book extolling the virtues of fantasy roleplaying as a positive outlet for socially marginalised teens then WRONG. This is not the book you’re looking for. Step away while you still can and go read some fanfiction. What The Elfish Gene is, however, is Mark Barrowcliffe’s memoirs of growing up in Coventry during the 1970s, and how as a completely gauche, socially maladjusted teen he fled into the world of fantasy RPGs because he simply couldn’t cope with realit ...more
Melody Randolph
Jan 13, 2010 rated it it was ok
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
Stuart Nachbar
Nov 25, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Feb 15, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: book-a-week-2009
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
May 07, 2016 rated it it was ok
There is some witty writing to this book, I wish it could have been done as a blog, series of articles, maybe even as a comic. But as a connected story it is a total loss - in Mark Barrowcliffe's retelling of his youth, all we ever get is a series of stories, mostly embarrassing, in which he never changes or develops. It is also, eventually, unpleasant to read, as Barrowcliffe (and most of his friends) are unpleasant little jerks, too. I might have cared if there had been some kind of story arc, ...more
Emily Jane
May 24, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Kathleen Dixon
Feb 28, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Rupert
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
Dec 20, 2009 rated it really liked it
Oh, Dungeons and Dragons. Yes, I too once owned a 100 sided die. Mark Barrowcliffe has written an autobiographical novel about his obsession with the game while growing up in Coventry, England in the late seventies and eighties. And The Elfish Gene is very funny, indeed. There is a section involving balloons, butane (he calls it lighter gas, but I'm assuming it's butane) and matches as an attempt to throw fireballs that so well written, I cringed, shook my head and laughed at the same time. Barr ...more
Jan 13, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Keith by: Al Billings
Fairly extensive coverage of the very early days of table-top role-playing games in a working-class region of the UK, in a narrative autobiographical style. The author was clearly scarred, and seems in part to blame the gaming culture, though he was clearly no less of a mess before discovering D&D, and not much less of a mess after moving on. "Bitter" doesn't begin to cover it though; his deprecation of both self and other quickly passes mere cynicism and speeds on into obnoxious prat. Never ...more
Feb 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I can't give this any less than 5 stars as it just reminded me of my youth. Not with Dungeons and Dragons games but other teenage boy obssessions. My main was was running imaginary football leagues and cups such as world leagues etc all with dice and paper. This has been superseded now by computer games just like the dungeons and dragons games. This book is so well written as it follows the writers obeseeion right through to the moment when he decides he has had enough. I suspect it was a book M ...more
Jan 20, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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!
Jul 20, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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.
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.
Apr 13, 2009 rated it it was amazing
On the Monday the school term began, and by the Tuesday the dark forces would take me. Family, friends, girls, food, everything would become as bright images receding into a void as I slipped into a shadow world from which I have never truly emerged. I would discover Dungeons and Dragons.

The thing is that, had I known my fate, I wouldn't have run away. I would have run towards it.


I've always had the habit of carrying something to read with me, never knowing when an opportunity might present
Chris Faenger
Nov 28, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book for all the memories it stirred in me. In a way the book is very sad. In this era of resurgence for D&D, the author could have celebrated his past (make lemonade!) but instead chose to be embarrassed by it and see it as the reason he never got dates and was laughed at or picked on by the other kids. True, D&D may have been the prime cause, but I think there ought to have been a way to rescue some of the experience and focus on the positive traits it gave him a little mo ...more
Ned Leffingwell
The Elfish Gene is a memoir about a boy growing up in England while being a pretentious nerd who is obsessed with Dungeons and Dragons. The author is brutal about his past. He was a teenage boy who spent his youth around other teenage boys arguing over armor class and alignment. There is a lot of exaggeration and many characters (the author included) come off as obnoxious and hard to like. I am certain that there is a cultural factor to the book that my American mind did not understand.

The book
Christy Beal
Jan 03, 2017 rated it it was ok
Stopped reading about 1/2 way in. I love D&D. This guy does not. Very irritating.
Dec 09, 2009 rated it liked it
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
Tom Lucas
Oct 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: autobiography
What attracted me about Mark's book was the the subtitle: Dungeons, Dragons and Growing Up Strange. That and the local library had placed it prominently on a table marked "Nerds." I attempted to dodge the demographic tractor beam, but I failed the roll.

In the late 70s, I discovered two wonderful universes: Star Wars and Dungeons & Dragons. I was solidly hooked by both. I spent my childhood through teen years gaming -- first fantasy, then sci-fi, superheroes, horror, humor...there was no genr
May 17, 2010 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
May 09, 2015 rated it it was ok
The Elfish Gene: Dungeons, Dragons and Growing Up Strange by Mark Barrowcliffe I thought was going to be some written reflections on growing up while playing Dungeons and Dragons the role playing game in the 1970's. And it is. But Mr. Barrowcliffe's reflections are not nostalgic or humorous about the game but rather this book ends up being more of a scathing indictment of his English neighborhood friends who played the game with him. Dungeons and Dragons i.e. D&D does not escape his wrath e ...more
P. Aaron Potter
Apr 20, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: geek
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
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • The Science of Battlestar Galactica
  • The Smart Aleck's Guide to American History
  • Everything I Need to Know I Learned from Dungeons & Dragons  - One Woman's Quest to Trade Self-Help for Elf-Help
  • Cats Have No Lord
  • True Porn Clerk Stories
  • The Trouble Begins at 8: A Life of Mark Twain in the Wild, Wild West
  • Hats & Eyeglasses: A Family Love Affair with Gambling
  • Not All Black Girls Know How to Eat: A Story of Bulimia
  • My Mother's Keeper: A Daughter's Memoir Of Growing Up In The Shadow Of Schizophrenia
  • 703: How I Lost More Than a Quarter Ton and Gained a Life
  • Growing Up Jung: Coming of Age as the Son of Two Shrinks
  • Insomniac
  • Sleuth on Skates
  • Could It Be Forever?: My Story
  • Dungeons & Dragons for Dummies
  • The Happiest Days of Our Lives
  • The Way the Future Was: A Memoir
  • Gimme Shelter
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 about Mark Barrowcliffe

Nonfiction Deals

  • Masters of the Air: America's Bomber Boys Who Fought the Air War Against Nazi Germany
    $15.99 $3.99
  • The Monster of Florence
    $10.99 $2.99
  • The Westies: Inside New York's Irish Mob
    $9.99 $1.99
  • April 1865 (P.S.)
    $11.74 $1.99
  • Jesus Is ______: Find a New Way to Be Human
    $7.99 $0.99
  • Scent of the Missing: Love and Partnership with a Search-and-Rescue Dog
    $17.99 $1.99
  • Lab 257
    $8.74 $1.99
  • How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids
    $9.99 $2.99
  • Girl in the Woods: A Memoir
    $11.99 $1.99
  • The Power of When: Discover Your Chronotype--and the Best Time to Eat Lunch, Ask for a Raise, Have Sex, Write a Novel, Take Your Meds, and More
    $14.99 $2.99
  • The Last Lecture
    $10.99 $2.99
  • Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived
    $12.74 $1.99
  • Not Tonight, Honey: Wait 'Til I'm A Size 6
    $10.99 $1.99
  • The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter--And How to Make the Most of Them Now
    $11.99 $2.99
  • Heroes, Gods and Monsters of the Greek Myths
    $9.99 $1.99
  • Ladies of Liberty: The Women Who Shaped Our Nation
    $5.99 $1.99
  • The Ends of the World: Volcanic Apocalypses, Lethal Oceans, and Our Quest to Understand Earth's Past Mass Extinctions
    $12.99 $1.99
  • Feast: True Love in and out of the Kitchen
    $4.99 $1.99
  • The Last of the Doughboys: The Forgotten Generation and Their Forgotten World War
    $15.99 $1.99
  • Vaccinated: One Man's Quest to Defeat the World's Deadliest Diseases
    $10.99 $1.99
  • Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology
    $12.99 $2.99
  • An Appetite For Wonder: The Making Of A Scientist
    $7.99 $1.99
  • Letters of Note: An Eclectic Collection of Correspondence Deserving of a Wider Audience
    $27.99 $2.99
  • Waiter Rant: Thanks for the Tip-Confessions of a Cynical Waiter
    $8.74 $1.99
  • Dakota: A Spiritual Geography (Dakotas)
    $13.99 $1.99
  • Restless: Because You Were Made for More
    $7.49 $1.99
  • Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany's, and The Dawn of the Modern Woman
    $10.24 $1.99
  • The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinctions
    $16.99 $2.99
  • Happiness: The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After
    $13.99 $3.99
  • Man-Eater: The Life and Legend of an American Cannibal
    $5.99 $2.99
  • Pukka: The Pup After Merle
    $17.99 $1.99
  • Buddhist Boot Camp
    $11.99 $1.99
  • Flour: A Baker's Collection of Spectacular Recipes
    $21.99 $3.99
  • The Longest Day: The Classic Epic of D-Day
    $12.99 $3.99
  • Van Gogh
    $9.99 $1.99
  • Woman's Worth
    $9.99 $1.99
  • Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet
    $5.99 $1.99
  • Do the Work
    $4.99 $1.49
  • The Lost Tribe of Coney Island: Headhunters, Luna Park, and the Man Who Pulled Off the Spectacle of the Century
    $4.99 $1.99
  • I Suck at Girls
    $10.74 $1.99
  • The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women
    $14.99 $2.99
  • A Mind of Your Own: The Truth About Depression and How Women Can Heal Their Bodies to Reclaim Their Lives
    $18.99 $1.99
  • In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens: Prose
    $14.99 $1.99
  • Journal of a Solitude
    $17.99 $1.99
  • Living by the Word: Essays
    $17.99 $1.99
  • The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question?
    $17.99 $1.99
  • Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler's Eagle's Nest
    $12.99 $3.99
  • Peace Is Every Breath: A Practice for Our Busy Lives
    $9.49 $1.99
  • Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism, and Michael Rockefeller's Tragic Quest for Primitive Art
    $14.99 $1.99
  • Londoners: The Days and Nights of London Now--As Told by Those Who Love It, Hate It, Live It, Left It, and Long for It
    $7.24 $1.99
  • The World's Last Night: And Other Essays
    $7.99 $1.99
  • A. Lincoln
    $13.99 $1.99
  • Tracks: One Woman's Journey Across 1,700 Miles of Australian Outback
    $17.99 $1.99
  • Daring to Drive: A Saudi Woman's Awakening
    $13.99 $1.99
  • Hell's Princess: The Mystery of Belle Gunness, Butcher of Men
    $5.99 $2.99
  • Life
    $11.99 $2.99
  • Seeing Further: The Story of Science and the Royal Society
    $13.24 $2.99
  • Grace, Not Perfection (with Bonus Content): Celebrating Simplicity, Embracing Joy
    $8.99 $1.99
  • The Promise and the Dream: The Untold Story of Martin Luther King, Jr. And Robert F. Kennedy
    $9.99 $1.99
  • Through the Eyes of a Lion: Facing Impossible Pain, Finding Incredible Power
    $9.99 $1.99
  • Why We Run: A Natural History
    $9.49 $1.99
  • Edgar Allan Poe: The Fever Called Living
    $5.99 $2.99
  • The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple
    $12.99 $2.99
“ obsession is a way for damaged people to damage themselves more.” 53 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
More quotes…