Friday 18 September 2020

Blast from the Past! The Forest of Doom

 A straw poll asking for subjects for today's post produced a plethora of suggestions, and once the votes had been tallied Creature of Havoc and Dead of Night were in equal fourth place, House of Hell and City of Thieves were in joint second place, but topping the list was Ian Livingstone's first solo Fighting Fantasy gamebook - The Forest of Doom!

First published in 1983, the tale has the hero braving the perils of Darkwood Forest in order to recover the pieces of the stolen Hammer of Stonebridge, fashioned by the Dwarfs to protect their village from the predations of Hill Trolls.

“I’d thought about writing another dungeon crawl,” says Livingstone, “but coming out just months after Warlock, I decided to set the adventure above ground. But where? I had two ideas in mind. One had a working title of Blackhill Manor and the other was called Doom in Darkwood Forest. I finally decided on the forest adventure. Blackhill Manor would have to wait. Thirty years on and Blackhill Manor is still not written, but the synopsis was influential in part for City of Thieves and Caverns of the Snow Witch.

“For the book title, I had a shortlist of three; Doom in Darkwood ForestThe War Hammer of Darkwood Forest and the third – The Forest of Doom.”

Ian Livingstone’s original notes for The Forest of Doom.
(© Ian Livingstone, 1983 and 2014)

The book introduced several characters and locations that would reappear later throughout Livingstone’s contributions to the FF series, including the village of Stonebridge, Darkwood Forest of course, and the wizard Gereth Yaztromo.

Livingstone: “When writing Fighting Fantasy books, I like to create names and places that are both descriptive and evocative. Readers would know what to expect when they read the words The Forest of Doom or Darkwood Forest. The creature on the front cover of the book I named the Shape Changer as that was exactly what it was when it metamorphosed from a goblin into a flesh-ripping reptilian man-eater! I also came up with names that had something to do with my own world. The grand wizard Yaztromo is a good example of this. Ridiculous as it may seem now, the name was made up by combining the nickname of a baseball player and a spaceship!

“Unusually for a Brit, I used to follow baseball. I saw my first game in 1976 at Fenway Park, home to the Boston Red Sox. The Red Sox’s hero at that time was Carl Yastrzemski, a power hitter whose nickname was ‘Yaz’. I watched in awe as the fans went crazy when Yaz launched one of his mighty home runs into the right field bleachers. So I became a fan too. A few years later I saw Ridley Scott’s Alien for the first time. The atmosphere and suspense he created on board the Nostromo was powerful and it became my favourite science fiction film. So it was a simple matter of adding ‘Yaz’ to ‘tromo’ to give my grumpy old wizard his name!”

Yaztromo was the most commonly recurring character in the Fighting Fantasy series, appearing in numerous gamebooks and novels, even out-doing Zagor the Warlock in terms of the number of guest appearances he made.

Ian Livingstone’s handwritten first draft of The Forest of Doom.
(© Ian Livingstone, 1983 and 2014)

Illustrated by Malcolm Barter, The Forest of Doom was the last Fighting Fantasy gamebook to have every full-page illustration accompanied by a caption that gave the number of the paragraph depicted alongside a short extract from the text, until Scholastic Books reinstated them when they took over publishing the series in 2017.

“The commission came via my then agent John Craddock,” says Barter. “I remember, along with a couple of other illustrators I was asked to submit a sample picture, as the original artist Penguin had intended to use was unavailable… I was fortunate enough to get it.”

Stingworm, by Malcolm Barter.

But what of the book’s seminal cover?

Livingstone: “When I finally finished writing the adventure, I wanted to make sure that the art reflected my own vision of the creatures of Darkwood Forest. It was at that time when I was lucky enough to meet a young artist called Iain McCaig who visited us at Games Workshop looking for a commission. I looked at his portfolio and asked Iain if he would like to illustrate the book cover, and was very happy indeed when he said yes. We talked about the cover a lot and settled on the Shape Changer as the central character. It is still one of my favourite Fighting Fantasy covers, beautifully painted, full of threat and atmosphere. I purchased the original painting from Iain – an amazing water colour – and today it hangs proudly in my home with my other Fighting Fantasy book covers.”

Shape Changer, by Iain McCaig.

Steve Jackson's The Citadel of Chaos and Ian Livingstone's The Forest of Doom were published together, and in March 1983 the first three titles in what was fast becoming the Fighting Fantasy series topped The Sunday Times bestseller charts.

“Puffin’s ‘star author’ was Roald Dahl, whose books always topped the Children’s Bestseller charts,” explains Jackson. “In March 1983, WarlockCitadel and Forest topped the Children’s Charts in the Sunday Times... Roald Dahl had finally been out-sold…”

All three titles are in print again today, thanks to Scholastic Books, and there is even a video game version, courtesy of Tin Man Games.

So will you go down to the woods today?

Map of Darkwood Forest sent to Ian Livingstone by a fan.

No comments:

Post a Comment