Reading Around: Fantasies, Tamed and Not

Elizabeth Hand's Errantry, Jon Peterson's history of Dungeons & Dragons and role-playing games

“The game is played basically with paper, pencils, and a reeling mind,” one convert reports in a 1974 newsletter. Elsewhere, UC-Berkeley kids complain of having to ransack every Bay Area game shop before finally finding one copy of the first edition—which, like many early adopters, they promptly photocopied.

Peterson’s account stops before D&D has become a mass-marketed phenomenon and the source of those batshit '80s devil-worship controversies. But his account of its intellectual history is exhaustive, and, if you were to plow straight through, exhausting. Still, there’s much here to fascinate even readers with only a cursory interest in simulated dragon-slaying. All it takes to get caught up in this material is curiosity about why the trolls of Peter Jackson, which are of the high-def world of video games, seem so at odds with the trolls of Tolkien, which hail from the murky, unknowable world of fairy tales.

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