This week, we received the news that Joe Dever, a prolific gamebook author most notably known for his Lone Wolf books, had died. Having grown up reading Joe's books, and continuing to read and enjoy them to this day, I'm going to presume to speak for the community of Lone Wolf fans in saying that this is a death that strikes a personal chord. The world has lost a number of great artists this year, but we're going to miss Joe Dever in particular. He was our guy.
And maybe that's because fantasy gamebooks are a pretty niche area, and the superstars stand out. Or because Joe was extremely active on social media in recent years, personally interacting with fans and adding a huge amount of background information on the books and world he'd created. Maybe it's because he toured extensively to promote the books, allowing him to meet a broad section of his readers in person. Maybe it's thanks to his phenomenally generous gesture of essentially giving away all his work, granting Project Aon a licence to make online versions of his books available for free. Whatever the reason, he was a huge part of the gamebook community, and a familiar face to many of his readers. I think I'm not alone in feeling great sadness at his death.
I didn't know Joe well. I met him on two occasions, when I was interpreting for him at gaming trade shows in France. He struck me as extremely professional, and knowledgeable about every aspect of writing and publishing. He'd give us pointers on where we should display our signs for our stand, how to be more conscious of the direction of movement of visitors, things like that. He spent a great deal of time with visitors to the stand, and visibly enjoyed talking about his books, and the process of creating the world of Magnamund. For me personally, he was an inspiring example of the work ethic, and the level of focus, necessary to be a successful fantasy author. In quieter moments, he patiently answered my questions as well – he mentioned, for instance, how he developed the Giak language by placing toothpicks in his mouth, to see what sounds he could articulate if he had long, sharp teeth. He also told me a story about how, after his work on the multi-million selling Playstation game Killzone, Sony sent him an angry letter, accusing him of stealing the 'Helghast' in the game, 'from some fantasy series that some guy wrote in the 80s...'.
My own experience with Lone Wolf began when I was ten or eleven years old. I received 'Flight from the Dark' and 'The Jungle of Horrors' as Christmas presents one year. I'd never heard of the series before, and yet the level of detail in the books grabbed my attention at once. Magnamund was not a patchwork, generic fantasy world; it was a unique creation, with thousands of years of backstory to take into consideration. There were no Tolkienesque orcs or elves here; rather, it was home to Shianti, and Gourgaz, and Nadziranim. Lone Wolf himself, the psychic warrior monk on a personal mission to restore the glory of his slaughtered order, was a fascinating protagonist. The books were unlike any gamebooks, or for that matter any fantasy, I'd come across before.
Throughout my teen years I searched out the rest of the books – to the extent that, when I did my slightly cliché 'backpacker year abroad', I soon began carrying a satchel of Lone Wolf Grand Master books all over Australia, which I'd been unable to find in Britain. And this was because adding books to the collection, and so expanding the adventures of Lone Wolf, carried a special thrill. Not least in gameplay terms; each book developed Lone Wolf's abilities, making him more knowledgeable, more skilful, more powerful. Yet more important than this was the keen sense of continuity that pervaded the twenty-book arc. A supporting cast of recurring friends and villains surrounded Lone Wolf – enemies such as Vonotar the Traitor, and Darklord Gnaag; pals such as Banedon the magician, and poor, ill-fated Paido the Vakeros. A gamebook is rarely a lengthy medium, and yet staying with Lone Wolf over the course of twenty-plus books (a good arm's length on a bookshelf) gave these characters the opportunity to breathe, and grow. It gave the reader a chance to really settle into the world of Magnamund. Simply put, it was easy to become deeply invested in Lone Wolf's world, and in his friends and foes that peopled it.
I can only speak with any authority about my own experience with Lone Wolf. For my part, that initial sense of astonishment has never completely disappeared, even as I approach the tail end of my thirties. The extended republication of Flight from the Dark evoked it again a few years back; so did the release of the newest (and twenty-ninth) Lone Wolf book, The Storms of Chai, just a few months ago. These days, I store my character sheets on my hard drive, and I use a random number generator rather than cheatily hitting zero after zero on the Random Number Table. But holding a new Lone Wolf book in my hands still has the power to turn me into an over-excited teenager once more.
Joe Dever made a colossal contribution to the realm of fantasy gamebooks and interactive fiction, and his absence from here on in will be keenly felt. I mentioned above that Joe was 'our guy'; in truth, it's more accurate to say that, in sharing the books and the world of Magnamund with us – in showing us Lone Wolf's heroic vision of right and wrong – he added a little wonder and nobility to all our lives.
And that made us his guys, his people.
(Post by Paul Gresty)