In the last installment, I mentioned how my fascination with Choose Your Own Adventure books did not quite blossom into a full blown love of reading. But even if it did not get me there, in many ways it led me into what did, and that’s what I intend to focus on in this article.
You see, for me, the experience of reading books in which I got to influence what was happening was a lot like a game. Indeed, the first computer games I ever played were nothing more than glorified Choose Your Own Adventure books. If anyone remembers “Zork”, you’ll know what I am talking about. At the time, I don’t think I saw that much of a connection between games and books, but looking back there was far more overlap than I realized.
It was actually my discovery of a new kind of game in the seventh grade which allowed these two paths to converge and which ultimately sparked my real entrance into the realm of literature. And as had happened with those historical biographies a few years earlier, this came through a fortuitous discovery in school. My speech teacher had a copy of Dungeons & Dragons in his cabinet, I think because he thought it would be educational. Well, it turns out he was right.
The game’s the thing
I had grown up playing Monopoly, Clue, Sorry, Parchesi, and such, the typical games American families have access to. But I had never really thought of them as telling a story, with one exception. The characters in Clue sparked my imagination to the point that I actually planned on staging a little drama surrounding them in the fourth grade, but nothing much came of it. (Turns out it’s awfully hard to recruit actors when you’re barely double digits, have no training, and no budget) Back to the games, though, I think by the time I was thirteen I was feeling like I needed a little bit more of a challenge from games. So when I was presented with a game that, just by the size of the rule book, I could tell was not for the faint of heart, I was ready to jump in.
In order to play the game, someone had to be the Game Master and tell the story to those who were playing the characters. For whatever reason, that role fell to me. Although I’m sure the stories I made up for the game were almost entirely without merit, we did have fun. More importantly, I think I can trace my genesis as an author back to that experience. As I and my friends bumbled through our attempts at learning this complex game, I took my first steps as a fledgling crafter of tales. It did not take long, however, for me to realize that the well I had to draw on was not that deep. I needed more material if I was going to tell better stories and all I really had for inspiration were some vague impressions I had picked up along the way from exposure to Arthurian Legends and Greek Mythology.
Loot from the dragon’s hoard
In my quest for narrative treasure I found in the back of one of those very same rulebooks a list of novels which were recommended further reading for anyone interested in fantasy settings. This was really the final turn of the key in the lock which opened up for me the world of reading. And while I ended up reading several books on that list, the very first one I chose turned out to be the best, and after reading that story I never really looked back.
The first story I chose was a little book entitled, The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien. You may have heard of it. I have often said that I fell under this book’s spell on the first reading and never looked back. I fell in love with its larger than life characters and setting from the very first page. Here was an adventure which I did not mind in the slightest being led upon for I was conducted by such able amicable guides in Bilbo and his companions that I could not have chosen better paths had I been in their shoes. The book remains, to this day, one of my all time favorites. The only reason it does not top the list is because I cannot differentiate between it and its successors, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion. I love them all so equally well that to choose between them would be like choosing favorites among my children. An impossible task!
So there you have it. It was Mr. Baggins and his companions who first ushered me out of my reading recalcitrance. But there were many more adventures to be had beyond this one, oh yes, many more to be sure. And I will speak of some of those in the next part of the series.