The Jungle of Horrors

The Jungle of Horrors – Conclusion

Well.

On a preliminary basis, I briefly note the extensive discussion of spiders in the comments to the last post.

It brought to mind this relevant question :

What do you get when one of the top songwriters of the modern era has a nightmare about being eaten by a spider?

Answer :

Enjoy.

[EDITED TO ADD – Some people may have trouble viewing the embedded clip.  Just go to YouTube and search “The cure lullaby music video”]

Back to the book.

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Let’s talk about sidekicks for a bit.  The trope of the ‘NPC’ who accompanies the protagonist is a staple of gamebooks.  They serve to provide exposition, humour and can often act as a deus ex machina as required.

In order to provide stakes and a patina of emotion, said companion is frequently killed, kidnapped, injured or otherwise put out of commission in course of the gamebook. However, for the calamity which befalls the sidekick to hold meaning, the character needs to have been adequately fleshed out beforehand.  Failure to do so is both average writing and sub-par gamebook.

The silliest uses of this trope introduce the sidekick as a ‘lifelong friend’ or some such, and then promptly kill the character off in the first paragraph or two, as if this will provoke a burst of pathos on the part of the reader (Island of the Lizard King is an example which springs to mind).  The finest writers can make us care about doomed characters using only a couple of pages (Frank Miller, at his peak, comes to mind).  The economy of gamebooks doesn’t usually allow such artistry, and they frequently fall prey to the trap of telling, not showing.

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Crafting the adventure so that a sidekick that is present for the whole adventure, such as Paido, is perceived by the reader as valuable shouldn’t not difficult. All that is needed is for mention to be made of Paido’s role during combats (and other difficulties), setting out  the way in which the companion is assisting, with corresponding adjustments (as appropriate) to enemy statistics to keep the gamebook’s difficulty at an appropriate level.

By contrast (and you knew I was getting back to Jungle of Horrors eventually) Paido is frequently portrayed as nothing less than a buffoon.  He is hardly ever depicted as assisting Lone Wolf in a meaningful way, and the glowing description of him at the start of the book is rendered laughable by the course of subsequent events.

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Joe Dever, to be blunt frequently uses Paido as an ‘easy’ way of creating obstacles for Lone Wolf, by way of (nearly) starting fights, treading on twigs, getting poisoned and so forth.  Corresponding examples of Lone Wolf being saved from himself by Paido are few and far between.

On the book more generally, it really does ‘peak’ at the approximate mid-point.  The two paths that can be taken at the start of the book are both rendered with detail and imagination.  The puzzles on the barge, coupled with the bloody confrontation with the wanted necromancer, add interest and challenge to the initial sorties.  The alternate initial method of travel by road, with the varied cast of characters and possible encounters also held my interest.

This built to a ‘bottle-neck’ whereby the character Lone Wolf had a ‘compulsory’ encounter with a malevolent servant of the Darklords.  The obviousness of the poisoned meal was a little heavy-handed (it did everything but have a flashing neon sign saying “DON’T EAT ME.”) but the scenario was atmospherically constructed and delivered at an appropriate level of difficulty.

To be honest, the rest of the book was a little bland.  What would presumably be a harrowing trek through the jungle actually became fairly non-descript, with no real challenges involving endurance, the need for fresh water, difficulties with the temperature or lack of food.  Contrary to my expectations that the Disciplines of Nexus and Huntmastery would prove vital, they hardly got a look in.

To be fair, I was lucky (!) enough to have made it through the jungle part of the adventure on my first try, so I might have managed to evade all of the more outre encounters.

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The end was a definite anticlimax.  After strolling straight into the temple, I was expecting some kind of fearsome guardian or some other test as left by either the Elder Magi or the Darklords. However, all that was needed for a triumphant conclusion was a victory over some unexceptional Vordaks and making an obvious choice of throwing clearly dangerous cubes over the side.

As I made ample mockery of in the last entry, the ‘cliffhanger’ is hardly one that adequately tugs on the heartstrings.  You’ve saved Paido’s life about five times already, so coming back for a sixth is hardly shaping up as a thrilling ride.

Next : THE CAULDRON OF FEAR!

PS. Oh yeah – We’re back!

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8 thoughts on “The Jungle of Horrors – Conclusion

  1. I agree about the first half of the book being better than the second half (and the irony in the fact that the book is named after the Jungle of Horrors, but the most challenging and interesting half doesn’t involve the jungle).

    Perhaps Joe was working on a deadline and had to rush the second half. It has that feel to me.

    That being said, I did find the jungle scenes a bit more atmospheric than you did. You successfully avoided some of the more gruesome encounters, and the reward for your wisdom and skill was a more boring book. 🙂 There were also a couple more interesting encounters you could have had in Tharro.

    Combined with the great first half, I find it one of the better Lone Wolf books, and at least Paido didn’t get killed off quickly like most of LW’s travelling companions.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I should also add that the final decision would have been more interesting if Paido had been a better developed character. I imagine Joe’s intent was to make you feel conflicted emotionally between helping save your friend’s life or focusing on the cubes.

    It also serves as another example of the “the big picture matters more than one person” morality that Joe applies throughout the series.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. “What do you get when one of the top songwriters of the modern era has a nightmare about being eaten by a spider?”

    TIM 😀 I didn’t think you’d like my Carry On parody so much … oh, right…. ok well I like The Cure also, but I tried watching that video once

    and I’ll have to gear myself up more before I can do that again (definitely prefer Lovecats).

    “The silliest uses of this trope introduce the sidekick as a ‘lifelong friend’ ”
    Funnily enough I also immediately thought of Island of the Lizard King. It is irritating in some shows/books where someone is introduced for two seconds as someone lifelong friend who they just never happened to mention before only to then have them killed off or put in danger as though we’ll care.

    “(Paido) is hardly ever depicted as assisting Lone Wolf in a meaningful way”

    Just by some page flicking rather than a comprehensive search

    Section 41 “You may add 5 points to your COMBAT SKILL for the duration of the fight as Paido is fighting alongside your”.

    Section 70 “Paido kicks open the and rushes out into the storm with you at his heels … emits a shout far louder than you ever imagined could be made by a human voice. The force of the shout hits the man in the chest and slams him to the ground like a limp rag doll.

    “Vakeros power word”, explains Paido, in answer to your unasked question. “Someday I’ll teach you the technique Kai Lord”

    Section 71 “He tends your raw blistered face and bandages your hands with strips of cloth torn from his undershirt”

    Section 216 “‘Those patches’, says Paido pointing across the wild landscape, ‘are Quicksand'”.

    Section 247 (After a fight where he wasn’t mentioned it says) “Paido dispatches his enemy as quickly as you put paid to yours”

    Section 309 “Paido covers your escape with his battle magic, wafting a blinding shield of flame towards your pursuer. You seize the opportunity to dive into the thick undergrowth bordering the track. Paido notes your escape and together you crawl…”

    That doesn’t include two I can’t remember where they are, one was his killing Kezoor’s(?) the necromancers spiders with his Battle Magic and another where you fight together against a force of mounted Drakkarim who were going to attack the refugees from Syada.

    Nym90 said above “You successfully avoided some of the more gruesome encounters, and the reward for your wisdom and skill was a more boring book.” and that applies to the depiction of Paido as well as the trip through the Danarg.

    “uses Paido as an ‘easy’ way of creating obstacles for Lone Wolf,…. Corresponding examples of Lone Wolf being saved from himself by Paido”

    Ok, this is a separate issue and to be fair you’re right. There certainly could be more mention of Paido in the fights that you did actually fight (you skipped quite a few fights), but it also touches on the “Where YOU are the hero” problem. Specifically, what is a hero? Is a hero someone who can take on all odds and conquer (e.g. like Superman/Spiderman etc,) or is the hero someone who wins by being supported by others (e.g. like Buffy. I think you said you watched it, if you did there was a scene in the Glory series where the Watchers were disappointed at the suggestion that Buffy needed help from others (“No Friends”)). Honestly I got caught up with this craze, computer games often play to the idea also, you alone against the world. It meant I got quite irritated for a while at stories where the Hero actually needed help from others (for instance the Lone Wolf Books particularly grated with me over that, the excellent Lost Fleet series by Jack Campbell (top rate Space Naval Sci-Fi War story if you like that sort of thing) also has a universe shattering hero captain, but he emphasises he needs others to get things done, it helped me get my head in order over the matter). Joe Dever had a balancing act of teenagers who wanted to be the Standalone Hero and trying to have sidekicks being of use.

    Could he have done better with Paido? Frankly MY playthroughs had Paido quite useful, but yours … didn’t. So he could have done better but he wasn’t as bad as you feel.

    You did have a more bland playthrough with the second half, but that again was partly based on your choices. Good safe choices to get you through alive, not so great for swashbuckling adventure (IMHO you really miss out on not getting “SHAAG DRAKKARIM!!!”). But, again like Nym90, I found all the scenes more atmospheric as a teenage to mid 20’s than you did now. How would I find the playthrough now as …. I’d rather not say 😉 would be instructive to me.

    Looking forward to Cauldron.

    P.s. I tend to talk alot about the points we disagree on, because all I can really say on the points we agree on is “I agree” and that would just make my posts even more boring than they already are.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Pointing to several examples where Paido’s assistance was noted doesn’t negate the issues with the many instances where his presence is ignored. It isn’t much to ask for the presence of a companion to be dealt with (even in a throwaway sentence) in EVERY encounter.

      Other examples of ‘lifelong’ friends dispatched immediately include Wu Han in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and the entire team in Mission : Impossible.

      Liked by 1 person

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