Leaving Gee’s Bend

The Elfish Gene

By Mark Barrowcliffe


The Elfish Gene

By Mark Barrowcliffe


In the summer 1976, twelve-year-old Mark Barrowcliffe had a chance to be normal. He blew it. While other teenagers were being coolly rebellious, Mark-and 20 million other boys in the 1970s and 80s-chose to spend his entire adolescence pretending to be a wizard or a warrior, an evil priest or a dwarf. He had discovered Dungeons & Dragons, and his life would never be the same. No longer would he have to settle for being Mark Barrowcliffe, an ordinary awkward teenager from working-class Coventry, England; he could be Alf the Elf, Foghat the Gnome, or Effilc Worrab, an elven warrior with the head of a mule.

Armed only with pen, paper and some funny-shaped dice, this lost generation gave themselves up to the craze of fantasy role-playing games and everything that went with it-from heavy metal to magic mushrooms to believing that your bike is a horse named Shadowfax. Spat at by bullies, laughed at by girls, now they rule the world. They were the geeks, the fantasy wargamers, and this is their story.

What the critics are saying:

“Barrowcliffe… wonderfully captures the insensitivity, insecurity and selfishness of the adolescent male. His eye for the oddities of 1970s British life is equally astute…. Barrowcliffe renders all the comedy and sorrow of early manhood, when boys flee the wretchedness of their real status for a taste of power in imaginary domains.”
– Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

“Mark Barrowcliffe, author of the uncomfortably confessional memoir The Elfish Gene, lived the geek life back in the ’70s, when it was a plague on your house. See, he fell into the world of Dungeons & Dragons … during that precarious period between boy and man. Thanks to his immersion in D&D, Barrowcliffe was an emotional and social wreck. Luckily, he emerged a funny one, and his gently knowing style makes the pain of identification a pleasure.”
-Entertainment Weekly

“The Elfish Gene is a marvelous read. Mark Barrowcliffe’s brilliantly self-deprecating humor perfectly skewers coming-of-age during the first wave of Dungeons and Dragons. It’s a good thing he didn’t become a cartoonist, or I’d be in real trouble.”
– John Kovalic, creator of Dork Tower comics


“As the recent cult documentaries ‘King of Kong’ and ‘Darkon’ have shown, geeks make for great entertainment – even for those who don’t necessarily share their weird interests. Mark Barrowcliffe’s humorous, self-deprecating memoir of his misspent youth, The Elfish Gene, is another welcome addition to the growing nerdsploitation genre… He is far from alone, and that’s where the book’s appeal lies. Many of the experiences he describes resonate because they are universal to adolescence. Gamers, especially, will recognize themselves in the author’s follies…His ability to look back at his experience with humor and grace is what gives his story a happy ending.”
-Associated Press

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