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?
[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.
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 craftsmanship.
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.
Crafting the adventure to ensure that a sidekick that is present for the whole adventure, such as Paido, is perceived by the reader as valuable shouldn’t be too 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.
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.
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!