Fighting Fantasy

When legendary Puffin books editor, Kaye Webb stood down from her role in 1979 it was partly because she could see a new wind was blowing through the world of children’s publishing. She had presided over a second golden age, heavily influenced by the books she had grown up with in the 20s and 30s, which had their own roots in the Victorian era. 

As an editor she held out for many years against books that were written for a generation of ‘hard to reach children’ who were more interested in television, and increasingly computer games. ‘It meant taking on books you wouldn’t have particularly liked yourself,’ she told Woman’s Hour in 1972. The Fighting Fantasy game books that followed in her wake were perhaps the most striking symbols that a new age, rooted firmly in the modern, had begun. 

Warlock of Firetop Mountain illustrations by Russ Nicholson

The series was conceived by Games Workshop founders Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone as a guide to the role playing games they were already selling by the truck load. But as they began writing they realised there was a better way of getting people into the games. Steve Jackson says ‘we came up with the idea of describing a game in action and ultimately decided it would be best done by letting the reader make choices. It was much more interesting than writing the RPG manual!’ 

The person tasked with editing the books was Philippa Dickinson, a junior Puffin editor who had started out working for Kaye Webb’s Puffin Club. Although she was very much part of the Puffin family (as the daughter of ‘Changes’ author Peter Dickinson), Philippa was central in developing the series and modernising Puffin. She eventually took Kaye’s old job before moving on to become chair of Random House books. 

Beginning with The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, the first seven books in the series were written by Jackson and Livingstone alone, but their huge popularity meant they were unable to keep up with demand. The eighth entry in the series, ‘Scorpion Swamp’ was written by a new author (confusingly also called Steve Jackson), and many more followed. Out went the classical Puffin design in favour of a gaudy green border and a zig-zag banner, making it feel even more like a game than a book.

You can find all seven of the original editions, plus Steve Jackson’s introductory book and some later titles in the #TygertaleVintage bookshop.

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