Friday, February 18, 2011

The Best Essay You Will Ever Read About a (Sadly) Dead Narrative Form

I tried for a long time to write something about this amazing essay on Choose Your Own Adventure books, but it is so fantastically thorough and so beautifully put together that there's not much to add. It is perhaps the single best thing I have ever read about narrative and I encourage you to have a look. Mindblowing. Books! Computer Science! Video games! Media theory! Statistics! Charts and graphs! The charts and graphs alone make this essay worth a look. Here are a couple to whet your appetite:

In the Mystery of Chimney Rock, the reader is carried inexorably forward.
In House of Danger, many are the twists of fate.
Also, don't miss the animations and the gallery that can be reached from the navigation bar at the top left of the page. You can even play the CYOA version of the classic computer text adventure Zork.

Since I grew up in the 80s, these books are a part of my reading experience which I will never forget, especially not the ending in the Lost Jewels of Nabooti that finds you shoved into a pit without anything to eat and drink. After three days of hunger and thirst, you have given up. Your lips are parched and cracked. All you can think about is water. And then a miracle: it begins to rain! Sweet, sweet relief! Within moments the rain becomes a torrential downpour, and the walls of the pit collapse, entombing you and drowning you in mud.

R. A. Mongomery, you are one cold-hearted jerk. I never did find the Jewels of Nabooti. I didn't want to die like that more than once.


  1. I was just reading this interview with Mike Mignola, the creator of Hellboy. He is talking about setting and he has this to say: "I want it to feel like there is more to the story than can be told." It reminds me of what Swinehart points out in the beginning of the essay: "A narrative was all well and good, but more interesting to me were the books that laid out a set of places and situations that could outlive their attendant plots — stories that provided scaffolding for my own imagining."

    I love ideas like this, that we the reader are really looking through a keyhole of narrative into a completely different world. I guess it's because that's how I see myself: I get little details and glimpses of life, the world, the universe, outside of my own senses, but I'm still just me, looking through a keyhole.

  2. I once had one of those books! It was about going to the bottom of the ocean and exploring the Titanic. No matter what I did, I always either got eaten by a monster, ran out of oxygen, or I was taken by the people who lived in Atlantis and put in a zoo as a prisoner. My problem was that I would go back to where I messed up and try again. No luck. I always got so frustrated! But I am glad you enjoyed them!

  3. Hey Morgan,

    When my wife was pregnant and was on doctor's orders not to leave her bed, a friend sent us a bunch of choose your own adventures to keep her mind busy, and that one about Atlantis was my favorite! But just like you I never managed to get the good ending. The best I could do was get back to the surface without finding anything, which wasn't too satisfying. At least it passed the time :)

  4. Hahaha, well at least you got to the top safely! I only chose to return to the surface of the water when I got completely fed up with dying, so I know what you mean when you say that it is unsatisfying! ;)

    ^forever and always my favourite one. It reinforced my love of jaguars/the Amazon/the Incas/Peru which has been an ongoing obssession for years.

  6. I always loved that cover too; it appears to be the oldschool version as I had to do some digging to get past the more boring reissued cover illustration.

  7. I think that the jaguar is about to pounce on the two kids for trying to steal the tomb the jaguar keeps safe or some other reason related to an ancient Egyptian tomb.

  8. Or maybe the jaquar is the Egyptian mummy AKA Egyptian juquy Jaquar/mummy i think poor little kids are gonna get it