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Choose Your Own Adventure

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R.A. Montgomery, author of the Choose Your Own Adventure children’s book series, has died. It is impossible to overstate how awesome these books were when I was 10 or 11 years old. Hopefully, Montgomery’s path to Heaven or Hell doesn’t include such similarly precarious choices as the many where the Maya would kill you, which seemed to happen a lot to me when I read the books.

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  • Turkle

    I loved these books when I was a wee one. I remember riding my bike up to the library almost daily in the Summertime and checking these books out, then riding to the park and spending hours at a time with them.

    In case you haven’t seen it, this is a great analysis of the form and structure of the CYOA books:

    http://samizdat.cc/cyoa/

  • howard

    I was looking for something new for the 10-year-old to try.

    • Jackov

      Do kids still read Encyclopedia Brown or Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys?

  • Just_Dropping_By

    I loved these book as a kid, but I had somehow overlooked that there was a single writer for the series (if someone had asked me, I would have guessed that they were written by a team or pool of writers). I’m also delighted to see that apparently there are boxed set reprint editions of the books available these days: http://www.amazon.com/Abominable-Snowman-Journey-Nabooti-Adventure/dp/1933390948/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1415982425&sr=1-1&keywords=choose+your+own+adventure

    • Fighting Words

      If I recall correctly, most of the early CYOA books were written by two people: R.A. Montgomery and Edward Packard.

      Sadly, and this is pure speculation on my part, I read somewhere that both authors had an acrimonious split later on.

      • Joe_JP

        The split is cited in this discussion which is more a general discussion of the books:

        http://www.hoodedutilitarian.com/2010/09/9447/

        • matt w

          Yes. In fact (it seems a bit crude to mention it now, but hopefully Montgomery had a long and happy enough life that it’s OK to say it), I think Packard has a bit more title to the claim of the the inventor of CYOA than Montgomery; he wrote the first one (“Sugarcane Island”) and Montgomery published it, then Montgomery arranged the major-press publishing deal for the series but he and Packard wrote them about equally.

          Probably it’s most accurate to say they both started it together, though I have a bit of a bias toward Packard because I liked his books better (like the poster in the link says, they were more fair and internally consistent).

    • Baby Needs-A-Nym

      Yeah, me too. I guess I always assumed that “R.A. Montgomery” was a corporate pseudonym like Franklin W. Dixon or Carolyn Keene.

      • John Revolta

        CAROLYN KEENE IS REAL YOU SHUTTUP SHUTTUUUPPP!!!!

  • Fighting Words

    Sad day. I loved these books as a kid. Growing up in the 1980’s, there was always someone in class who would ask if they could do a book report on a Choose Your Own Adventure book.

  • Marek

    Mostly read the Dungeons and Dragons ones myself. For some reason I couldn’t get my own kids that interested in them (regular or D&D). I blame the internet.

    • The fact that your children entertain themselves by reading LGM is not something to be ashamed of.

      • nostack

        Children do love pancakes.

  • I’m sure there’s some sort of complex psychological explanation for this, but I always read these from cover to cover, instead of following the story. Did anyone else do that?

  • Richard Gadsden

    In Britain, we had Fighting Fantasy, by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone. Warlock of Firetop Mountain was, and is, fantastic, and there are several other classics in there.

    Never read the CYOA books,

    • NonyNony

      Fighting Fantasy came a bit later and was definitely more advanced that CYOA. We had about the first 20 or so Fighting Fantasy books over here as well and I graduated from CYOA books to FF around the same time I started getting heavily into Dungeons and Dragons (probably about age 10 or 12).

      CYOA were heavier on the “instant death for making a poor choice” school of interactive fiction than later series were – at least when I started reading them. I used to love to read through the books after I’d “beaten” them to find all of the ways you could possibly screw up and die in a particular book. (Obligatory link to the You Chose Wrong tumbler here.)

    • Fighting Words

      There were some other more advanced options that were similar to (and, in my opinion, much better than) CYOA. Lone Wolf (by Joe Dever), Grail Quest, and Way of the Tiger (without the awful ending in book 6) to name a few.

  • nostack

    My recollection is that there were a large number of similar books trying to cash in. CYOA must have been the first in book form, and always seemed extremely weird and bizarre to me: several of them seemed genuinely perverse or mean, to me as a kid.

    I know that TSR, Inc., the publishers of Dungeons & Dragons, had a line called “Endless Quest,” which basically got kids into the idea of role-playing and various D&D concepts.

    Building on that, there were the Lone Wolf books by Joe Dever, which were sort of like game-books: you made up a little character, and it was the same from book to book, rolling a dice (or randomly plunking down your pencil on a chart) as needed for certain outcomes. These I remember as being really compelling as a child.

    There was Fighting Fantasy, and at least a couple more brands.

    But there were some licensed ones involving Conan, the A-Team, and probably others too.

    All of this, of course, is happening pretty much co-eval with the various Zork text-based video games and their descendants.

    Apparently “interactive fiction” is still a thing on the Internet; I heartily recommend Treasures of a Slaver’s Kingdom which is a loving spoof/pastiche.

  • Malaclypse
  • Linnaeus

    I think it’s fitting that the obituary for Montgomery is rendered in the same font that the books were printed in.

    • allium

      Souvenir – associated with the 70s, but created back in 1914. I also remember it being used in the late 70s-early 80s Dungeons and Dragons Basic and Expert sets (the red and blue boxes with the Erol Otus art).

      • Linnaeus

        I remember those. Basic & Expert modules from that period had that font, too. When TSR revised the D&D Basic track in the mid-80s, they changed fonts to Baskerville (I think).

  • deptfordx

    Several of the classic Fighting Fantasy books are available on Itunes as Apps.

    If you have any nostalgia for them at all i highly recommend the App of the Sorcery! FF books. The first two of the tetralogy have been released with the others to come.

  • Fosco

    Have you read Ryan North’s CYOA retelling of Hamlet? It’s called To Be Or Not to Be and it’s amazing. You can play as Hamlet, Ophelia, or Hamlet’s Ghost Dad. There are all sorts of fun choices. There’s even a secret recipe for stew hidden in one of the choice paths. He also did a companion piece where you play as Yorick, and the only way to “win” is to die in the correct way so that Hamlet can later find your skull.

    • Warren Terra

      I did the Kickstarter for that. Though more for a gift than to read it …

  • Pingback: If you Rest in Peace, turn to page… | and that's the way it was()

  • joe from Lowell

    Can anyone think of another genre of literature primarily written in the second-person?

    • TribalistMeathead

      Actually, no.

      But it did remind me that Bright Lights, Big City would’ve been a lot less annoying if it wasn’t written in the second person.

  • TribalistMeathead

    I remember getting in an argument with a substitute teacher in grade school because I wanted something else to do because I’d finished reading my book. She asked me how I’d finished so quickly and I responded “because you don’t read it cover to cover” and she responded “I read every book cover to cover.”

    It’s always nice to know by the age of 10 that everyone around you is an idiot.

    • matt w

      Well you’re supposed to go back and lawnmower through all the choices.

      Did you ever reach Ultima in Inside UFO 54-40? That was the best.

      • NonyNony

        I found it because I was searching for horrible end scenes.

        I remember vividly my 8 year-old self trying to figure out the choices that could get me to that ending. Searching page after page for the “Turn to page XX” for the page with that entry on it.

        I have no idea how old I was when I finally figured out the joke. Old enough to appreciate it, I think, because I don’t remember being pissed off about it :)

  • Matt

    I loved them in grade school. I tried to propose a “choose your own dissertation” format while in grad school: (“If you think X follows, turn to page 56. If Y, turn to page 47”) but was told that it was not acceptable. Stupid old-fashioned rule-followers.

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