I’m 31 now and remember with great fondness my days spent reading the works of Mr. Livingstone & Mr. Jackson. Like hearing an old song or, less flatteringly, an old smell, those books take me back to specific events or times spent back in my home town of Skipton; memories with friends and family that I cherish. I first got introduced to Fighting Fantasy books at around the age of 7 if I recall correctly. A friend of mine had some bizarre metal figures in his drawer at school, an orc, a mummy, some sort of warrior… I had no idea what they were, but on further investigation I was told about role playing games, and more specifically, the idea of game books. I still didn’t fully appreciate what it all entailed, but being an impressionable young thing, I wanted to be a part of this.
So, after school one day, I told my mum about the new interest I had and thankfully the desire to read something was encouraged, although I’m fairly sure my mum probably had an even looser grip on what a Fighting Fantasy book was than I did. We went over to Alley Books in Skipton and investigated their collection. Alley Books is a tiny shop, tucked away down, yes, an alley and remains there to this day.
I no longer live in Skipton and have since returned to the shop, it seems very odd being in there again, it felt much bigger as a 7-year old, but I do hope they are stocking Blood of the Zombies. If I continue this project down the road I intend it, we may revisit Alley Books on a number of occasions.
But I digress, my mother and I wandered into the childrens section and found a small run of soon-to-be-familiar green-spined books that were the Fighting Fantasy series. Unfortunately, on going over the titles in stock, we made an error. Ever the sensible, cautious thinker, mum noted that one particular book was a rule book, teaching the reader how to play. This of course turned out to be The Riddling Reaver and was what I initially took home with me that afternoon.
The Riddling Reaver is an advanced set of rules for those wishing to get into multi-person role-playing using a Dungeon Master, akin to Dungeons & Dragons – it wasn’t exactly what I was after! After a rather perplexing hour on getting the book home, we returned to the shop and were allowed to exchange the book for a traditional Fighting Fantasy title, which turned out to be #37, Portal of Evil.
And so it began… nearly 25 years later and I’m still remembering those events. I’m fairly sure that reading Fighting Fantasy shaped me a lot, my interest in fantasy and gaming of all varieties remains, and I’m fairly sure the exposure to reading, logic and maths that the books brought into my spare time improved my mental abilities too. Something I don’t think escaped my parents as they continued to encourage my interest in them for years to come.
Eventually I ended up with a pretty full collection, but as I got into my teens, other interests began to take over. In a moment of pure youthful stupidity that I still regret to this day, I sold my collection, save for a couple of titles, on the now defunct Yahoo! Auctions for around £40. This was so I could take out a girl. I’ll state right now on the record; it wasn’t worth it.
It has long been a desire of mine to re-buy my collection, the old books have since been republished, and without the old cover art, just aren’t the same. I want the old school ones.
To the present day then, where I sit with a brand new Fighting Fantasy title, the idea came to me to go on a little journey back in time. When I have finished reading Blood of the Zombies, I intend to go back through the Fighting Fantasy series one by one, in order, and document my progress here. I’ll be raiding eBay, charity shops, wherever I can to get the old books. Then I’ll talk through my experience of the book as well as any specific memories the book presents to me from when I first read it in my younger days. I don’t claim to be an expert on the books, I’ll probably learn a few things on the way myself, I’m sure there is a wealth of information out there already if you want to know the nitty gritty. This is just a personal account of a fan who wants to conduct an experiment.
Hopefully I’ll get through the whole back-catalogue, but one step at a time, eh? Now excuse me, I have some zombies to slay…