Friday, 13 March 2020

Blast from the Past! Return to Firetop Mountain

Between the years 1984-1988, Puffin Books published as many as six Fighting Fantasy gamebooks a year from, along with a number of other titles that expanded the FF world in one way or another. But by the early 1990s releases were down to three a year.

“There was a certain cost involved in publishing a new FF book,” explains series co-creator Steve Jackson. “Author advances, artwork, production work… You had to be sure the book would sell enough to break even at least. It was becoming a close thing whether it was worthwhile to publish more than 50 books.”

It was decided between the team at Puffin Books, Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone, that the publication rate would be ramped up again, with the intention that the release of the fiftieth gamebook, planned to coincide with the tenth anniversary of the publication of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, would draw the series to a close.

With this in mind, Ian Livingstone set about writing Return to Firetop Mountain, an adventure in which the hero would return to the eponymous mountain and encounter such legendary FF characters as Zagor the Warlock and the Darkwood’s guardian Gereth Yaztromo one last time.

As the title might suggest, Return to Firetop Mountain had the hero returning to that part of Allansia where Fighting Fantasy had begun all those years ago, whilst adding details to the area, especially with the chance to visit the town of Kaad. The diabolical sorcerer Zagor has returned from the dead, ready to wreak his terrible revenge upon Allansia, and so a brave adventurer - YOU! - is dispatched to enter the labyrinthine tunnels beneath Firetop Mountain once more and face the resurrected villain in his lair.

The book’s highly detailed cover, showing the various degenerate denizens of Firetop Mountain, was created by fantasy art legend Les Edwards, while Martin McKenna provided the black and white internal illustrations.

Chaos Beastman, by Martin McKenna.

Livingstone dedicated Return to Firetop Mountain to the crew of his sailing boat, an Ultra 30 ten-man racing dinghy, that was sponsored by Games Workshop and which won The Daily Telegraph Ultra 30 Grand Prix UK Championship in both 1990 and 1991, as well as the Ultra 30 World Championships held in Falmouth in 1990. A stylised illustration of the boat even appears inside the gamebook, as do the crew, the names of the characters they represent being Fighting Fantasy versions of their real names.

The buzz surrounding the landmark ten-year anniversary had an unexpected side effect on the FF series. “Return to Firetop Mountain sold better than the last few titles,” explains Jackson, “so Puffin agreed to continue the series.”

Did you know...?
Ian Livingstone makes a cameo appearance in one of the illustrations in the book, as the Inquisitor, who guards the path to the inner sanctum of Firetop Mountain. If the hero passes the Inquisitor’s trial he is invited to peruse the guardian’s library. Five of the books in the Inquisitor’s collection are named. One is Casket of Souls while another is Eye of the Dragon.

Did you also know...?
One of Kev Crossley’s illustrations for Blood of the Zombies includes an appearance by Return to Firetop Mountain on a shelf in Goraya Castle’s library.

Goraya Castle’s library, by Kev Crossley.

To find out more about the stories behind your favourite Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, pick up a copy of Jonathan Green's YOU ARE THE HERO - A History of Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks today.

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