Sunday 10 May 2020

Scholastic Reissues: Schedule 1


Reviewed by Mark Lain

When the news broke in 2017 that Fighting Fantasy would be getting yet another reissue and that this, like Wizard’s two runs of reprints, would include more brand new titles, fandom was understandably excited. However, when the books appeared, the reaction was at best muted and at worst outright hostile towards Scholastic’s approach to the series.

Scholastic’s first tranche of releases began with (in their new numbering system) #1 The Warlock Of Firetop Mountain and #2 City Of Thieves along with the rather unsuitably-numbered (considering that it was part of the first trio of releases) completely new title #6 The Port Of Peril. WOFM being number 1 is de rigueur as it was the very first FF book, is co-written by both main authors, and introduces the system and its concepts in a vanilla way as it was from the period before any world-building had begun and all the individual titles existed in bubbles. Plus, as an introduction to the series, it is very very good, is not too hard on the player in terms of instadeaths (there are only four), and it is well-balanced, even though it makes very little sense, the Livingstone half is much better in my opinion, the Maze Of Zagor is torture and will put a lot of people off ever finishing the book, and the overarching plot of killing a little old man and pinching his treasure is a bit morally dubious. But where better to start for a new generation of readers (probably the offspring of the original 80s generation of FF fans) than with this book? Some might argue that having CoT as the second release is less obvious but, as The Port Of Peril is its sequel, CoT had to be released as the second book otherwise PoP would have made no sense in terms of plot flow. Plus, as CoT is a genuine masterpiece, Scholastic has been savvy in reprinting two of the series’ most iconic titles straight off the bat alongside their shiny new offering. It might seem odd that two-thirds of the first trio are Ian Livingstone’s efforts, but Scholastic would soon redress the balance between Jackson and Livingstone’s titles as its release program progressed.

The textual content of Scholastic’s versions is unchanged from the Puffin/Wizard editions and I have considered these in the write-ups on each individual title, so the purpose of this post is to look at what has changed, in particular with focus on the artwork. For this reason, the brand new titles are not included here as they too have their own separate reviews on this site.

The most obvious change on first seeing these new editions is the revised cover art. Wizard had already reworked the covers for every title they produced (the bulk of which were done by the hugely talented Martin McKenna) to give them a more “contemporary” feel (their justification, not mine) so it was interesting to see where Scholastic would take this. Wizard’s new covers were all rather dynamic whilst maintaining the elements of fantasy and terror that Puffin’s covers had but were mostly inferior to the Puffin originals, with one or two exceptions. Scholastic, given its involvement in the education sector, went for a rather less threatening approach with the emphasis on uniformity and bold colours. Robert Ball was the new artist of choice for the revised cover art, a man known to some from his Game Of Thrones work and I can see both positives and negatives in Scholastic’s decision to achieve a consistent look across the series’ covers. The obvious plus here is that it makes the books instantly recognisable on the shelf and it helps greatly in creating a sense of a unified world where these books are set. Puffin’s large pool of cover and internal artists made for a mixed-bag but it did give each book more of a look and feel of its own and I personally liked the idea that some artists’ work would appeal more or less than another’s and this was one of many draws to the Puffin editions. Plus specific styles suited specific titles/themes better (or worse in a few cases) and this did add a lot to the experience of the Puffin versions. With the Scholastic editions there is the danger of immediately alienating someone from the entire series purely because they do not like the art of the one and only artist currently working on either the covers or the internals. For me, Ball’s covers are undeniably bold and colourful and are definitely suited to the intended audience (remember, these books are, in commercial market terms, for kids not middle-aged fanboys) and I gather from peer feedback that the intended target age group really like Ball’s covers so, regardless of what the older fans might think, Scholastic has clearly nailed this aspect and this shows that they mean business with the series rather than this just being another tired necro-release run. The return of the classic FF logo is very welcome (I never liked Wizard’s silver button badge logo) and the bold black and yellow YOU ARE THE HERO banner is a nice touch that adds a consistent design element in the same way that the green (or red in the case of Sorcery!) banner or the dragon did with the Puffin series. Similarly, the iconic Puffin green spines are aped with Scholastic’s classy gold spines with black lettering. However, the gold spines would prove to be a bit of an own goal as the gold comes off on contact with skin and bares up to hardly any handling meaning that, if you actually want to hold the books and have them stand up to any amount of use, the spines quickly rub down to white leaving you with ruined spines that are a patchwork of gold and white with black lettering. Shoddy.

And this shoddiness of production quality does not end at the disintegrating gold spines. The interiors of Scholastic’s editions are poor to say the least. The paper is cheap-looking, dark and oily, and smells very peculiar (none of that lovely bookshop fresh smell here), and for some unknown reason a designer at Scholastic thought it would be a good idea to mark the page edges with black splodges that are meant to create the effect of burned paper smuts but actually just look like printing ink has gone everywhere. Ugly. To add insult to injury, Scholastic commissioned the original cartographer from the Puffin run (the consistently excellent Leo Hartas) to draw a new map of Allansia which was wisely included from WOFM onwards, but forgot to get anyone who knew the series’ lore to check it resulting in a typo on the name of Salamonis. OK, I know only the experts would notice, but still, get it right Scholastic if you want to create a new generation of devoted fans in the same way that Puffin did.

So, now to look specifically at each title in Scholastic’s first batch of books, starting at the beginning with their version of WOFM. I really like Robert Ball’s new cover of Zagor (in true form as opposed to his old man guise) casting what looks like Force Lightning on a background of Firetop Mountain. Scholastic’s decision to put the FF logo over the top of the mountain’s rather important firy top seems a bit stupid. But overall the mix of oranges and yellows makes for a really impacting and very bright cover that definitely makes me want to see more and look inside. So far so good, then. For me, one of the things that really hooked me to FF as a child was Russ Nicholson’s internal art in WOFM and, due to this, his art IS the visual epitome of FF for me and I was both intrigued and concerned when I learned that, for the first time as even Wizard did not touch the internal art, FF had all-new artwork inside as well as on the covers. I opened the book with a mixture of hope and trepidation to see what awaited me inside and, words failed me on first sight – What was this abomination that I saw before me? Was this a joke? The artwork was always as important a feature as the text in gamebooks and FF always seemed to aim for quality and integrity with its choices on internal artists so what was the thinking behind replacing such brilliant and iconic imagery with the work of someone called Vlado Krizan? Krizan’s art is the single biggest bone of contention with Scholastic’s reissues amongst the gamebook community. I read one very amusing comment on Amazon saying that Krizan has won a Blue Peter competition to get the honour of showcasing to the world just how bad an artist he is and, if his work in WOFM is an indication, this could well be true. I am not au fait with the story but various theories abounded that maybe VK was a Scholastic house artist which meant he was a cheap option and, whatever the reason, I just cannot understand why FF thought that hiring him for WOFM to replace Nicholson’s art was remotely a good idea. But it is not fair to simply dismiss VK’s greyscale art as awful without going into a bit more depth of just why this is the case. For me, the underlying problem is twofold: firstly, the greyscaling makes for very dull, lifeless, and detail-less images that do not draw the viewer in at all; secondly, a mixture of cartoonish looks and oddly emaciated figures with angular, very “digital”-looking forms, give such an unrealistic look to the art that it is hard to see it as anything other than the product of a mid-90s computer.

It is interesting to note that Scholastic also drastically reduced the number of internal images in every reissue (not just WOFM) which, whilst this means we do not have to have anything like as much of Vlado’s terrible art inflicted upon us, it does mean the books are text-heavy which hugely detracts from the experience. For thoroughness, the images that appear in both the Puffin and Scholastic versions are as follows (listed by section number):

1 cave entrance, 36 old adventurer, 71 sleeping orc, 106 dragon, 122 boathouse zombies, 143 sandworm, 168 orc chieftain whipping underling, 179 minotaur, 189 painting room, 193 iron Cyclops, 218 river crossing area, 227 dwarf card party, 251 bats, 266 Giver of Sleep, 275 ghoul, 348 troll, 358 Zagor, 370 orc booze-up, 383 skeletons, 394 giant spider, 400 treasure

….which means, conversely, that these images have been removed completely and have no new equivalent in the Scholastic edition:

11 animated tools, 58 Rest Ye Here bench, 84 mazemaster, 97 blue candle shop, 134 two helmets, 155 armoury, 205 crypt, 240 snake in a box, 287 rats, 308 grille, 311 hands and stars floor, 326 key, 336 boathouse man and dog

It is worth tempering this mass cull of illustrated sections with the observation that, with one or two exceptions (58 Rest Ye Here and 336 boathouse), most of the missing images are secondary and not that interesting in terms of subject matter so their removal is no major disaster to the experience. Thankfully, Scholastic kept the most interesting and/or iconic imagery in place so the key moments are still maintained visually, but what of the execution? To pick just a few of VK’s versions that struck me the most: 36 is now far too dark and shadowy, 71 seems to have become cute and friendly, 168 does not look remotely like 71 to the point that I’m not convinced they are the same species (so much for visual continuity then), 189 has a shaft of light coming from the left which is impossible as we are supposed to be under a mountain, 193 has made the iron cyclops look like a fawn from Narnia, the dwarfs in 227 wear shrouds and look almost Satanic, 275 is a skeleton not a terrifying semi-decayed ghoul, 358 is actually quite good in context and does at least capture all the important elements of Zagor, the giant spider in 394 has a lot more horror in it now and is genuinely effective, the treasure chest in 400 is from a weird perspective and looks like a house now. This shows that Vlado’s art here is not 100% awful but his failing does seem to be more in that things look too cute, are too thin and elongated, have odd inconsistencies in them, or are too dark and gloomy to have any real impact. The botching of the very iconic zombie and iron cyclops images is a definite disaster, but the greyscaling of everything and the unrealistic look is the killer overall. Gone is the life and the awe that Nicholson put into the originals and WOFM is now just text, excellent text I grant you, but just text as the visual impact is now a thing of the past.

One last point on the changes to WOFM before we move on is that there are two versions of this first batch release. Scholastic produced a bookclub-exclusive version with a variant cover layout where the title and FF banner are switched. Sadly this does mean that we now see even less of the mountain so the all-important top is still not bloody visible on the cover! Having a variant does make life more interesting for collectors though and this version came with an exclusive FF logo key ring stuck to the front cover (using a sticky gel that can be removed without destroying the cover so Scholastic does have someone working for them who is conscious of quality control!)

I cannot extend my liking of Ball’s WOFM cover to his new cover for CoT. Iain McCaig’s original cover is one of my absolute favourite FF covers so any change to this would be a problem for me. I found Wizard’s cover boring and fairly irrelevant subject matter-wise but RB’s version is terrible. The blue-black-yellow pallet is nice enough and, again, it is bold, but the interpretation of Zanbar Bone is not in the slightest bit frightening and looks modelled on something you would see in an episode of The Simpsons. In no way does this new cover drive me to open this book, yet open it I must to see what the new internal art has to offer and we have the following sections illustrated in both the Puffin and Scholastic versions:

1 city guard, 31 bridge, 62 Black Lobster, 88 serpent queen, 148 pillory, 171 street scene, 182 Jimmy Quicktint, 203 Zanbar Bone, 224 J Wraggins, 239 cart, 250 man-orc, 265 hag, 271 sleeping pirates, 307 Sourbelly and Fatnose, 329 Nicodemus, 344 Azzur’s coach, 349 fire imp, 385 skeletons

Which means the following images are missing from the Scholastic version:

17 lunatic, 27 skull pill Russian Roulette, 40 bays ball, 80 lizardine (I always preferred this to the conceptually-similar serpent queen), 113 toys women, 135 gas egg man, 178 ogre, 292 vampire girl, 319 sarcophagus, 356 rats, 370 black lotus, 398 cannonball man

Interestingly, we see here for the first time Scholastic actually adding new images for sections that were not previously illustrated in previous editions, in this case two sections:

115 chained legs man, 296 thieves

It makes perfect sense to add an image of some thieves and I always found it curious that the McCaig art never included any of these, given the title of this book, so this is a neat inclusion. Add to this the fact that the thieves look sinister and quite effective, and you get a useful inclusion. I cannot say the same for the inclusion of section 115’s image though as this just seems to be a bit incidental. Indeed, as with WOFM most of the excised images were pretty incidental and non-essential meaning all of the important stuff is still illustrated but I really like the idea of the vampire girl and the two old women fighting over toys as these did add a touch of weirdness so missing these out is a pity. As for what is still here, a few observations would be: the city guard in 1 is well worked and does look like a medieval guard (but McCaig’s was far more threatening), the bridge in 31 is from completely the wrong perspective as you approach it from the side not straight down the river, the serpent queen in 88 is terrible as it is far too angular and not remotely natural-looking, the street scene in 171 is no longer a detailed panorama reduced as it now is to basically just a boat, Jimmy Quicktint looks better now in my opinion as he is more like a modern tattooist than McCaig’s Ghost of Christmas Present version, is J Wraggins in 224 intended to look like Robert Ball as he definitely does?, the man-orc in 250 and the sleeping pirates in 271 are very close to the originals and other than the greyscaling dulling them down are not bad, Nicodemus now looks terrified in 329 rather than terrifying and the huge amount of elaboracy in the McCaig original really made this image stand out for me (but not anymore). My biggest problems by far are with the illustrations of Zanbar Bone (203) and Sourbelly and Fatnose (307): Zanbar is just awful now – gone is the threat and the horror, to be replaced with an emaciated and frankly pathetic-looking non-entity that you could probably just push over and he would shatter; As for Sourbelly and Fatnose, the originals were full of repulsive and grotesque character, but now are just two shady and very similar outlines that do not warrant any more than a cursory glance.

Naturally, trying to make comparisons with Iain McCaig’s art is unfair as IM is a master of creating very perfect-looking images. Krizan’s versions are a mixture of pretty effective, dull, and simply inferior reinterpretations. If we can take a positive from this it is that Krizan’s versions are all full page whereas the McCaig ones were far too small in some cases and, again, most of the really important and/or iconic images are still here but a really important and instantly apparent feature of Krizan’s versions is that he seems to think the book is set at night given how dark each image is. Yes, I know that is what his trademark greyscaling does but this changes the feel of the piece quite considerably and not for the better. But, as I have already observed, competing with McCaig is impossible so it’s interesting to see that Krizan chose, for the most part, not to even bother trying!

Hot on the heels of the first three books came a second trio to complete Scholastic’s first release schedule. This time the balance of credits went Steve Jackson’s way with two of his titles and a further Livingstone book giving us: #3 The Citadel Of Chaos, #4 The Forest Of Doom  and #5 House Of Hell.

I was never particularly comfortable with any of the previous covers for CoC. Emannuel’s black Big Bird leading the hordes from the Black Tower lacked any animation and just looked silly, Ian Miller’s whirlwind woman was beautifully painted but the subject matter was so incidental as to be almost irrelevant, and Kevin Jenkins' hydra on the Wizard version just did not capture the feel of the book for me, so of all the first five reissues CoC was the one that had the most mileage in getting another new cover image. The decision to put the book’s most famous and most feared enemies (the dreaded ganjees) on the cover was a definite win and Ball’s versions do look evil and devious, plus the inclusion in the background of a painting of Balthus Dire himself is a neat touch. The red toned background also harks nicely back to the star cover edition which was itself red so, intentional or accidental, this works well for me. Without a doubt, of all of the first six Scholastic covers this is probably my favourite as it seems closest to how I see the concept of the book being encapsulated on the cover.

Vlado Krizan’s approach to the internal art for this book is also slightly different in that these versions are very much carbon copies of the Russ Nicholson originals in terms of structure (even down to stances, positions, views, and the direction things are looking in), but with some added (read “unwanted”) greyscaling and none of the detail or character and impressive flourishes of the RN versions. As is the case in the previous books, almost all of the art that has made the cut is the important/iconic material as we can see from the list of what is included:

1 ape-dog and dog-ape, 13 witches, 40 butler, 64 Balthus’ kids, 118 rhinoman, 144 black elf, 156 tentacle, 182 ganjee, 210 O’Seamus, 222 injured man, 234 calacorm, 245 wind woman, 257 stone golem, 304 gargoyle, 316 wheelies, 328 hydra, 339 courtyard gathering, 352 gark, 362 chalice chamber, 374 Balthus Dire

Leaving the following removed images:

25 trench and chest, 52 Gambling Hall door, 79 bush, 90 ghosts, 169 dining room, 196 larder, 269 arguing men, 281 scouts, 292 Mrs Dire, 386 tunnel

Of the excised images the only one I would advocate keeping would be Mrs Dire as she helps to create the overall concept of Balthus’ family unit and there is an opulence to her room that works well and suits the idea of her character. Unlike CoT, Scholastic added no new plates to this book but this kind of works as I’m not too sure what other moments are really important enough or arresting enough visually to have been illustrated, so I think Scholastic got this one right bar the removal of the picture of Mrs Dire.

It goes without saying that the Krizan versions aren’t a patch on the Nicholsons, but at least VK has given up changing perspectives so that they no longer make any sense or trying to reinterpret things himself and screwing it up. The flipside of this is of course that if you are going to just copy the originals but in your own greyscaled, detail-less, and lifeless style, what really is the value in changing the art other than to achieve mediocre visual consistency across the series? And another thing, why the hell is everyone and everything smiling in the Krizan versions? Well, at least Scholastic scored points with the cover art this time.

Iain McCaig’s cover for the Puffin FoD is, along with his cover for CoT, a truly stunning creation and is often cited as the greatest FF cover ever by fans, which means that, by changing this, no matter what Scholastic did, the reaction would not be a good one. Even Wizard decided to stick with the shapechanger but just had Martin McKenna rework it. In other words, if a single image works well to encapsulate the book (which the shapechanger does) then don’t mess with it. With WOFM Scholastic’s cover was the same but different (ie Zagor in a different context to the Puffin or Wizard covers), for CoT they took the main baddie again but canned the McCaig montage idea and made him look deeply unthreatening as he stood alone in the street, and for CoC they took a book that had never had a fully suitable and satisfactory cover image and actually found something that worked at last. So it was that with FoD they played it safe and we got another illustrator’s take on the shapechanger which was of course Robert Ball for reasons we have already established. The first few times you look at Ball’s shapechanger, it seems to be doing a star jump, but closer study shows that it is striking an aggressive posture from behind the tree branch that is another key component of all iterations of the FoD cover. Again, this is a bold and bright cover but it just does not look anything other than awkward and cartoonish and, whilst not a trainwreck like Ball’s CoT cover, it has none of the effective impact of his efforts for WOFM or CoC and I simply do not like it.

I have always been quite vocal too about my dislike of Malcolm Barter’s original internal art for FoD, but this is mostly down to it not doing MB justice as he is a superb illustrator with a unique look to his work. His internal art for the two Webs Of Intrigue gamebooks and his Yaztromo piece for The Trolltooth Wars graphic novel are testimony to his ability. His output for FoD was, I understand, turned around in a very tight timeframe and is what it is: rushed. There are several superb pieces in there (Yaztromo’s tower, the fire demon, the stingworm, the wyvern) but there are also some dire images (the hobgoblins, the gremlins, the fishman, and in particular the dreadful catwoman) so I was actually quite interested to see what Vlado Krizan might produce for FoD – would he redeem himself?

No, Vlado Krizan would not redeem himself. Instead he would do what he did with CoC and just trace the originals, remove any detail, dump a load of greyscale on the top, switch the lights off, and make organic forms look computer-generated. Oh dear. On the plus side, his annoying habit of having everything smiling seems to have finally gone.

For the record, these sections remain illustrated:

1 Yaztromo’s tower, 15 stingworm, 29 orcs, 49 gremlins, 57 wyvern, 90 hillmen, 107 fire demon, 142 centaur, 160 Vermithrax, 170 wizard, 181 fishman, 212 attack of the clones, 230 ogre, 253 trapped man, 265 forest giant, 277 treeman, 285 werewolf, 360 bandits

Leaving these sections now devoid of images:

38 witches, 69 underworld, 99 arm wrestle man, 118 wild boar, 130 catwoman, 195 apeman, 204 Stonebridge, 294 room, 317 hobgoblins, 340 angry dwarf, 351 crypt, 378 gnome, 384 pinned-out barbarian   

Unlike the other books in this batch of releases, several important images have been removed, especially Stonebridge and the crypt, which are both crucial to the true path and the plot. I would have been interested to see what Krizan would have made of the catwoman though as this was not MB’s greatest moment, neither are the hobgoblins which I would also have liked to see get the Krizan treatment, if only out of very morbid curiosity.

An important point to mention is that FoD is the second Scholastic release to acquire an extra image, that being the pterodactyl in section 303, the presence of which in this adventure never made much sense to me, although it did finally get clarified in The Port Of Peril, which could be why it got included as an illustration in this version of FoD as it adds to the new continuity of the series. We have no benchmark of comparison for this image and it is workmanlike enough but suffers from all the lack of detail and surfeit of greyscale that all Krizan’s FF work does. I wonder what a Barter pterodactyl looks like if he’s given the time to really go at it? I think I’d like to know…

House Of HellI was always going to give Scholastic issues. The devil worship and sacrifice subject matters alone are at odds with Scholastic’s rather pc approach to playing it safe with their FF releases. Even WHSmith refused to carry it in the 80s which made it something of a cause celebre for fans. I cannot be certain if a similar problem blighted the Scholastic edition, but finding it is not easy compared to the other Scholastic FFs and it does seem to be rather elusive. Another bone of contention with it is that is really has nothing to do with FF. OK, it uses the system, but its modern day setting and its Old Dark House themes are at odds with FF’s medieval fantasy tropes and its roots in D&D. The counter argument to this of course is that it is regarded as a masterpiece of the series so it would be an important title to release, is very challenging and a satisfying puzzle to unravel, and shows the potential for FF far beyond the Tolkien-esque material. So Scholastic bit the bullet and included it in their rebooted series, which is to be applauded.

And it seems that, at least for the cover, Scholastic went all-out with this title, putting the hell demon’s head front and centre on the cover, with the Norman Bates-like house itself in the background. All in all, Robert Ball has done a great job on this cover – it maintains the look of the other five books in this first batch so the standardisation is there, but it also punches home the horror and demonic themes that are the book’s core. Without a doubt, this is not a patch on Ian Miller’s brilliantly-weird Puffin cover, but it certainly does the job and is effective in its own way.

Tim Sell’s internal art for the original version never quite did it for me. Some images worked well and were full of horror (the ghost woman, the headless ghost, the hell demon), others seemed less successful (skeletons, hanged man, etc) but, overall, the original internals were not my thing. I suspect Scholastic had to tone down the graphic horror of the original art brief which means that I would imagine that the majority of the more Satanic and/or disturbing imagery was removed by necessity. This resulted in the following sections no longer being illustrated:

14 great danes, 27 hanged man, 71 man in cell with goat’s head, 98 tumbling corpse, 154 white-haired man, 209 prisoners, 250 Duchess of Brewster, 264 naked sacrifice, 305 man in cell, 345 kitchen

Removing the naked sacrifice image was inevitable as even Puffin excised this one from later printings and it seems that anything involving imprisonment is gone too. Indeed, unusually for the Scholastic versions, they have chosen to play it safe rather than removing the less important images as is the case with the other books, which does leave several secondary images intact.

The sections that remain illustrated therefore are:

1 the house, 41 skeletons, 56 hunchback, 85 fire sprites, 112 torture chamber, 126 ghoul, 139 Morgana in Abaddon, 169 headless ghost, 181 hell demon, 195 study, 222 goathead, 236 zombie, 277 Franklins and the Earl, 291 George the Vampire, 318 Franklins and the Earl attack, 332 ghost lady, 358 lab, 373 hunchback (again), 387 Satanist dressing room, 400 burning house

As the blood and gore has been considerably reduced, several images have lost much of their horrific impact: the headless ghost no longer drips blood, the surrounding hellfire detail on the hell demon is gone, the zombie and the goathead outside the front door are far less frightening (due mostly to darkening through greyscale), the ghost lady is basically just a person now and has none of the non-corporeal ghostly transparency of the original, and the Satanist dressing room is much less animated. There is a peculiarity with George the Vampire too as he is absolutely identical now to the Earl of Drumer – is this an error or is he actually his twin or something?

Krizan’s versions overall are a mixture here of his carbon copying and his own interpretations. The ghoul in section 126 for example is very different to the Tim Sell version, but as usual, all of VK’s art here is dulled and detail-less due to masses of greyscaling and the impact is diminished to the point of the art serving little real purpose in terms of adding anything to the text. A horror book needs horror imagery, not this insipid PG certificate stuff. It might have been better if Scholastic had not bothered including HoH in its roster if it was going to deaden the effect this much. This is a shame too as the Ball cover is very good.

In summary then, Scholastic’s first batch of reissues gave us five bona fide classics with a range of difficulty levels (FoD is very easy, HoH is exceptionally hard), different settings (dungeon, urban, tower, forest, house), different rule sets (standard, Magic, Fear and having no weapons), different designs (true path/item hunt, hidden section puzzle, endless restarts notwithstanding the reset button problem), and obviously two different writing styles, all of which makes for a good variety of playing experiences, and showcases what FF can offer in terms of variety. I think the choice of titles is pretty sound and it’s good to see the risk being taken with HoH even if the art was unsuitable for this book. In fact, Krizan’s art is unsuitable for FF period, but it does have its supporters even if the FF old guard will always (understandably) prefer the originals. Robert Ball’s covers though are mostly good and I do support the idea of visual consistency for the covers and internals across the series even if this does remove the variety and stylistic suitability that existed with multiple artists on the books. Surely Scholastic was happy enough with the results of the reboot to decide to release another batch of FF books…


  1. Even WHSmith refused to carry it in the 80s
    Not where I grew up. I remember inadvertently spoilering myself on the identity of the Master by looking through a copy of HoH in the local branch of WHSmith.

    There is a peculiarity with George the Vampire too as he is absolutely identical now to the Earl of Drumer – is this an error or is he actually his twin or something?
    Given the implications in the text that George married and killed the Earl's sister, suggesting a fraternal relationship adds whole new levels of wrong to the set-up.

    1. WHSmith definitely banned it in all the places that I sourced FFs from in the 80s which was all of Newbury, Oxford, Wells (Somerset), Nottingham, Devizes, and Bath. None of these stocked it, I tried to get it in all of them, and they all refused to order it, hence in the end, I finally got it from the long-gone giant Games Workshop that used to be in the Broadmarsh Shopping Centre in Nottingham.

    2. Perhaps they stopped carrying it after the controversy started. It was pre-Christmas 1984 when I read bits of the book in the Tunbridge Wells WHSmith. Was it later than that when you tried and failed to obtain a copy from the branches you could access?

    3. It will definitely have been well into 1985 as my frequent visits to Nottingham started in about May or June that year

    4. That leaves a window of several months during which WHSmith could have stocked it like any other FF book, only to get cold feet and blacklist it once people started alleging that it was causing nightmares, self-harm and devil worship.

      Another indication of how the book wasn't an issue until the complaints began is that there was an ad for House of Hell in the Daily Mail's cartoon supplement around the time it came out. That's one piece of FF ephemera I've not seen in decades - surely there must still be an existing copy somewhere.

    5. I'll defer to you on the DM ad thing. I can't say I was much of a Daily Mail reader when I was 9, or ever for that matter lol

    6. A friend's parents got the Mail, and they used to pass the Sunday edition's cartoon supplement on to me because of the Dangermouse strip it contained. And then one week there was an ad for House, followed a week later by one for Puffin's non-FF RPG Maelstrom, which rather bizarrely implied continuity between the two. "So, you escaped from the House of Hell, but now you find yourself transported centuries into the past for new adventures" or words to that effect. Even my pre-teen self thought that was weird.

  2. Must've been at a much later year if they did Mr Jolley, definitely post 1990. Had to get mine from an independent stockest.

  3. I love those memories of specific times, dates and places.

    That DM ad does sound fascinating - hopefully someone will put up an image online.

    I don't recall any ban on HoH here in Ireland back in the 80's. Even my local bookshop had it.

    And yes Malthus , HoH IS exceptionally hard to complete, like all of Steve Jackson's books.

  4. It's quite funny how we differ on this. I personally was raised on the Wizard edition books, and I came to love the uniform designs. In fact, if I spotted the distinctive logo on the silver spine in my bookshop, I would almost guaranteed squander my pocket money on it! However, I despise the Scholastic versions massively. Although I don't mind the layout, I cannot abide the cartoony drawings. Part of what drew me into FF was the feeling of risk; I could die at any moment if I wasn't careful. It was unlike any other book, which shied away from such morbid topics. The brilliant artwork would always add to this, and I would spend many hours tracing the pictures, particularly the ninja in DD. But the scholastic artwork is too cartoonish and detracts from the experience. I can't take any enemies seriously, and all the masterful threat and tension built up is gone.