Geek Gateway Drugs of the 70s and 80s

For most people my age (I'm 40) and older, their gateway drug into fantasy was  the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. I was a little bit different, for me it was C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia. When I was in kindergarten my family was in the process of moving from upstate New York to Connecticut. During the transitional period my father spent his time in Connecticut while my mother and I lived with my grandparents in Brooklyn, New York.

My mother and grandfather often took me to the Brooklyn Public Library - I think it was the Sheepshead Bay Branch but I could be mistaken. I remember always being drawn the collection of Narnia books they had - I seem to recall they had them on their own special display - though at the time they were a little above my reading level, though I was an early reader.

During that same period and before I got around to reading the Narnia books (which definitely did happen) another geek milestone occurred - the release of Star Wars (Just Star Wars. No Episode IV. No A New Hope.) During the summer that summer after I finished kindergarten my uncle took me to see it. I was, to say the least, stunned. I think I saw that movie a gazillion times that summer. When we moved to Connecticut in July one of the first things my parents did was take me to see it in the local theater- a single screen theater that sadly did not last much longer and became a roller rink.

With no VCRs, DVDs, or streaming when Star Wars left the theaters there was no way to watch it again. There was a narrated audio cassette version of the film my uncle got me which included dialogue and music from the film that I listened to over and over. (I still remember you'd flip it over as the Millennium Falcon  was captured by the Death Star). When the Star Wars storybook came out a year later I was all over that. I suspect that's the source of my being convinced I saw Biggs in the movie as I'm pretty certain he was featured in it and I read that book two gazillion times.

There was also a Scholastic Star Wars book which came out about real space travel. I can't find a link to it by scouring the internet so it must have been pretty obscure. It came out in the late 70s or early 80s and was the same format as the storybook above. It had information about the Viking probes, the space shuttle, O'Neill Colonies, Voyagers 1 & 2, etc. This is probably what got me interested in "real" science and put me on the path to becoming an engineer.

Inevitably, I did rediscover the Narnia books. My parents used to go to a flea market and I'd usually be able to get a matchbox car out of the deal. One time I found someone selling all the Narnia books and convinced my parents to let me get them (oddly, something I've noticed both as a parent and a child - parents are a lot more willing to part with money for books than for matchbox cars.) I of course loved the magical world of Narnia - though like many, not a huge fan of the final book. I'm guessing my elementary school self was not quite up for a fantasy version of the Book of Revelations. As an aside, I enjoyed the books as a fantasy story vs. the Christian metaphor they were written as, something I became aware of as I grew older.

Take your d20. Use it. Give in to your geekiness.
The stage was now set for the final step into the world of geekdom. I think it was in 4th grade that my next door neighbor got a copy of the D&D Basic rules for Christmas. Their family found it a rather confusing game. As I flipped through it I thought it was amazing. Confusing too mind you. "So big numbers are good. Except when you are rolling for thief abilities or for AC. And levels can refer to spells, characters, dungeons...".  But in short order I managed to get a copy of it - this was at the beginning of the D&D popularity surge of the 1980s. I still have a fond place in my heart for my first version of the D&D Basic set with the Erol Otus cover featuring the sorceress and warrior fighting the green dragon.

I do wonder what kids today use as their gateways. I have a hunch that the younger adults first encountered fantasy through the Harry Potter novels. With my two daughters (aged 9 and 6 with birthdays soon approaching for both) I've noticed that both have eagerly consumed the Barbie Fairtopia series of movies and books. And as they grow older there's the Twilight series (not if I can help it - Buffy yes, Edward no) and books like The Hunger Games. There's now RPG tie-in novels, something that did not exist when I first entered the hobby - and something of a mixed blessing, given the uneven quality of them. I thought they were awesome in high school though having flipped through a few in my adulthood I find they have not aged as well as Narnia or Middle Earth...

One thing I've noticed is the whole "geek culture" is a lot more mainstream than it was when I was a kid. Oh where were the trendy geek girls back when I was in high school...

Note -Originally I'd planned on using Saturday postings for more "real-world" issues. But I ran into the difficulty of making such topics fit thematically with the rest of the blog. So for the time being I'm planning on making Saturdays more of an open topic day which may overlap with other themes and also may touch on real world issues.


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