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Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks: An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms Hardcover – Bargain Price, September 1, 2009

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Editorial Reviews


Named a Must-Read Book by the Massachusetts Book Awards

“For anyone who has ever spent time within imaginary realms, the book will speak volumes. For those who have not, it will educate and enlighten.” —

“Gandalf’s got nothing on Ethan Gilsdorf, except for maybe the monster white beard. In his new book, Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks, Gilsdorf . . . offers an epic quest for reality within a realm of magic.” —Boston Globe

“Master geek theater.”—The Times of Trenton

“A breathless adventure/quest/memoir that is uniquely contemporary.”
Andrei Codrescu, NPR commentator

“Imagine this: Lord of the Rings meets Jack Kerouac’s On the Road….”—National Public Radio’s “Around and About"

“What does it mean to be a geek? . . . Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks tackles that question with strength and dexterity. . . . part personal odyssey, part medieval mid-life crisis, and part wide-ranging survey of all things freaky and geeky ... playful ... funny and poignant ... It's a fun ride and it poses a question that goes to the very heart of fantasy, namely: What does the urge to become someone else tell us about ourselves?” —Huffington Post

“More fun than being a Dungeon Master to a group of high-level mages and thieves.”—A. J. Jacobs, author of The Know-It-All and The Year of Living Biblically

“Gilsdorf is an engaging and personable guide. Like many who will pick up his book, he’s got one foot squarely in the real world, the other in the fantasy one. This is a journey well worth taking.” —Booklist

“Journalist and ‘avowed, out-of-the-closet geek’ Ethan Gilsdorf embraces his love of J.R.R. Tolkien, Dungeons & Dragons and all things fantasy, embarking on a quest to discover what motivates those who devote significant portions of their lives to what many others dismiss as escapist fantasies. The book is also a journey of self-discovery.... engaging, occasionally poignant and emotional.” —Boston Globe

“Witty, downright funny, poignant, honest and ... well, wistful.”
—R. A. Salvatore, New York Times bestselling author of The Dark Elf Trilogy

“Gilsdorf rekindled his childhood fascination with Dungeons & Dragons as a launch point, and then proceeded to wander the country exploring MMOs, LARPs, and other non-acronym endeavors in order write his fascinating memoir/travel/geek-world exploration.” —The Onion A.V. Club

"Where there is a story to be found, Gilsdorf found it, talking to fantasy enthusiasts from all walks of life… [A]nyone with even a passing interest in fantasy games should pick this up. Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks provides a unique and affectionate overview of fantasy gaming from the trenches.” —Realms of Fantasy

“Considering that we are fantasy freaks, [Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks] feels right up our alley.” —Wizards of the Coast’s D&D Insider

"As much a personal quest for the author as an investigation in to the fantasy culture, Gilsdorf not only brings the readers along for the ride, but also makes gets them emotionally invested…. Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks,” shines a whole new light on the fantasy culture and explores it as only an insider can. … a great read. Funny and charming, he avoids all the negative stereotypes of gamers and instead paints a more realistic picture of the gaming community."

“This guy knows his fantasy and gaming cultures. Why? Because he has lived it. In Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks rather than mocking the world of the nerd he celebrates it. Bravo.” —City Pages (Minneapolis)

From the Inside Flap

Forget Frodo—Ethan Gilsdorf guides readers through fantasy lands far more enchanting than anything you’ll find in Tolkien’s books.
—Pagan Kennedy, New York Times Notable author
Fantasy. Science fiction. Role-playing games.

Tens of millions of people around the globe turn away from the “real” world to inhabit others. Movie fan-freaks design costumes and collect Lord of the Rings action figures. Some attend comic book conventions and Renaissance fairs, others play live-action role-playing games (LARPs). The online game World of Warcraft (WoW) has alone lured twelve million users worldwide. Even old-school role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) are still wildly popular.
Who are these gamers and fantasy fans? What explains the irresistible appeal of such “escapist” adventures? And what could one man find if he embarked on a journey through fantasy world after fantasy world?

In an enthralling blend of travelogue, pop culture analysis, and memoir, forty-year-old former D&D addict Ethan Gilsdorf crisscrosses America, the world, and other worlds—from Boston to Wisconsin, New Zealand to France, and Planet Earth to the realm of Aggramar. On a quest that begins in his own geeky teenage past and ends in our online gaming future, he asks gaming and fantasy geeks how they balance their escapist urges with the kingdom of adulthood. He questions Tolkien scholars and medievalists. He speaks to grown men who build hobbit holes and speak Elvish, and to grown women who play massively multiplayer online games. He seeks out those who dream of elves, long swords, and heroic deeds, and mentally inhabit faraway magical lands. Gilsdorf records what lures them—old, young, male, female, able-bodied, and disabled—into fantasy worlds, and for what reasons, whether healthy, unhealthy, or in between.
Delving deeper and deeper into geekdom, our noble hero plays WoW for weeks on end. He travels to pilgrimage sites: Tolkien’s hometown, movie locations, castles, and archives. He hangs out with Harry Potter tribute bands. At a LARP, he dresses as a pacifist monk for a weekend. He goes to fan conventions and gaming tournaments. He battles online goblins, trolls, and sorcerers. He camps with medieval reenactors—12,000 of them. He becomes Ethor, Ethorian, and Ethor-An3. He sews his own tunic. He even plays D&D. What he discovers is funny, poignant, and enlightening.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Lyons Press (September 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1599214806
  • ASIN: B005FOG4PQ
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 5.8 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,487,525 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

ETHAN GILSDORF [] IS A JOURNALIST, MEMOIRIST, CRITIC, POET, TEACHER AND 17TH LEVEL GEEK, and author of the travel memoir / pop culture investigation Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks: An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms, named a Must-Read Book by the Massachusetts Book Awards.

Based in Somerville, Massachusetts, Gilsdorf's work regularly appears in the New York Times, Boston Globe,,,, Washington Post and He has published hundreds of articles, essays, op-eds and reviews on the arts, pop culture, gaming, geek culture and travel in dozens of other magazines, newspapers, websites and guidebooks worldwide.

A core contributor to the blog "GeekDad" at, his blog "Geek Pride" is seen on, and he is a regular contributor to Boston NPR affiliate WBUR's Cognoscenti blog. He is also a book and film critic for the Boston Globe, and is the film columnist for Art New England.

He and author Noble Smith geek out and wax nostalgic about D&D and other pop culture relics at Dungeons & Dorkwards []. He is a lover of ELO and a hater of littering. Sometimes he wears a tunic and chainmail, or grampy pants.

As an expert on geek culture, Gilsdorf frequently appears on TV, radio and Internet media, including PBS Off Book, The Discovery Channel, the French TV network Arte, and several nationally-syndicated National Public Radio programs and in documentary films. He lectures at universities, schools, libraries, film festivals, gaming conventions and book festivals worldwide. Also an award-winning poet, Gilsdorf is co-founder of Grub Street's Young Adult Writers Program (YAWP) and teaches creative writing and journalism workshops for adults at Grub Street, where he alse serves on the Board of Directors.

To research various writing projects, Gilsdorf has interviewed Sir Ben Kingsley, Steve Carell, Viggo Mortensen, Andy Serkis, Seth Rogen, and Sister Helen Prejean, among other cultural figures. He has acted as an Hollywood extra, walked across Scotland, mountain biked the French Pyrenees, worn a tunic for two weeks while camping with 12,000 medieval reenactors, and (in his most challenging quest) successfuly drank champagne with Kate Hudson.

Follow Ethan's adventures at &; Facebook:; Twitter @ethanfreak.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

37 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Andrew H. French on December 13, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I'm 40 years old, having been a gamer since I was 10. I'm also a husband, a home-owner, have held a professional job for over years, and I don't personally have any difficulty reconciling my love of fantasy and role-playing games with my normal, day-to-day life. It seems that the author has had difficulty in this, and this book seems to be essentially his rambling and occassionally awkward attempt to find out if it's possible to be both mature and have a love of geeky, escapist hobbies.

If you're someone who put the dice away a long time ago and are wondering whether it's okay to feel like dusting them off again...or if you never were involved in such hobbies and are wondering if it's okay for your significant other to be...then this book may be written just for you.

If you're still avidly into these pursuits, then you may come away from this book feeling a bit unsatisfied. I felt like I'd read a book that said "It's okay for you to be into this stuff", and I was saying, "Well...yeah. I knew that. Thanks." It's still worth reading the book, as he has a lot of enjoyable stories along the way...just don't hold your breath for any deep revelation at the end.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Wolvercote on August 21, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Being a "closet gamer/fantasy geek" myself I completely related to Ethan's book. His story is my own and I'm sure a large number of other guys out there. Trying to balance the desire to immerse yourself in fantasy, (be it Tolkien, D&D, or online gaming) and living in "reality" with its expectations of what is considered "normal" is a recurring theme in the book and in my own life.
I felt the angst that Ethan dealt with as he slipped back into gaming and fantasy after years of self-denial. Anyone who has felt that twinge of embarassment over being a gamer or fantasy fan will enjoy Ethan's journey and obeservations.
I certainly did.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By P. Brusa on January 8, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I do not want to delve into too much info on the book and spoil it for others, but being a gamer since the age of 13 and now almost 40, I thought this book with make a sincere connection with me - and it did. Like Ethan, I too went though similar issues being a geek and since then, have boxed by geekdom in a shoebox (figuratively speaking as it is more like a chest)in my closet only to crack it open later in life to look for some kind of mid-life re-connection. And I applaud him for telling us his story - but I think there are a ton of us out there that also have very similar stories like his.

The book confused me a little and like a previous reviewer mentioned, you read and are left with "....well, and now what - what did I learn?" He identified an issue with his mother early on and I think he should have embraced that a bit more in his findings and carried through MORE - maybe the fact that there are many people he met who also were geeks and they all lived through this fantasy life at one point, but each of us have moments of harsh reality that will either not allow us to continue on on this path (for him, his mother's failing health) or you embrace it and become a geek regardless in the open. There were moments of this, but lots of empty pockets.

Hard to say, but the book was just flat from mid way (the online gaming part) through the end. Maybe for me there is no issue here for me - I am a geek in my heart and I also made that trek 3 years ago to my local gaming shop to see what has changed after 15+ years and I was ok with that. Did Ethan finally find the right balance here? Hard to say - maybe a second book will improve on a few of the issues I picked out.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Epileptic Tarrasque on February 25, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
In what could have been, with a little more work, a tremendous insight and very poignant look back at a life affected and in some ways effected by a strong, early exposure to fantasy fandom, Gilsdorf produces in a manner of speaking two books in this volume.

In the first and admittedly more readable piece, he outlines in tones of sad nostalgia the affliction of his mother, his escape from that and his marginalization at school, and the repercussions he feels now in his forties at choosing the easier road of escapism over trying harder to be there for a mother who was at the same time both suffering and very difficult to love. He provides through carefully chosen and striking imagery a potent glimpse into awkward adolescence in the 1970's even for a reader who wasn't alive then or did not experience the same difficulties, and is at once both emotional and objective. In this former part, he shows the roots of his entrance into fantasy fandom and much of his sentiment about how it affected him. It is, in and of itself, a touching memoir.

The second part, hinted at when he first speaks of going off to college and growing up past the phase of Dungeons & Dragons and J.R.R. Tolkien and begun at full speed after the near-cathartic moment involving the blue cooler, is rather like listening to a tape on a machine that's running out of batteries. The narrative begins strongly, connected through Tolkien to the world of fantasy fandom at large, but steadily slowing down and dwindling in energy and enthusiasm to the end, by which time we're left with the unfortunate impression of a grown man playing with toys in the woods and growing continuously more pissed off that he can't get a decent girlfriend who shares his interests.
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