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Hard cover
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Year Published
Hard Cover
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319 pages
6.25 x 9.25 inches
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Come commune with your inner fantasy fan or gaming geek with Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks: An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms. The award-winning, travel memoir-pop culture investigation is a funny, poignant, and enlightening road trip through fantasy and gaming subcultures, from Dungeons & Dragons gamers and live-action role-players, to Harry Potter wizard rockers and World of Warcraft players. It also explores Gilsdorf's own lifelong (and at times twisted) relationship to fantasy and gaming.

Praised by, the Boston Globe, the Huffington Post, The Onion A.V. Club and NPR; authors and thinkers such as Andrei Codrescu, R.A. Salvatore, Henry Jenkins and AJ Jacobs; Realms of Fantasy magazine and Wizards of the Coast (the company behind Dungeons & Dragons), Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks was also named a "Must-Read" book by the Massachusetts Book Awards.

Role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons, online games like World of Warcraft, Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings are all popular, topical but often misunderstood. On a pop culture-infused quest that begins in his own geeky teenage past and ends in our online gaming future, former D&D addict Gilsdorf crisscrosses America, the world, and other worlds—from Boston to Wisconsin, France to New Zealand, and Planet Earth to Middle-earth to the realm of Aggramar. In search of answers, asks game-players and fantasy fans—old, young, male, female, able-bodied and disabled—what attracts them to fantasy worlds, and for what reasons.

PRAISE AND REVIEWS for Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks:

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

“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

"A fascinating book, Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks … tackles some of popular assumptions about fans and gamers head on … exploring the complex cultural practices [fans and gamers] have developed, explaining the ways that their fantasy lives become interconnected with their social lives and personal identity, and ultimately constructing a positive account of the value of "escapism" and popular entertainment. Gilsdorf is an engaging and thoughtful writer." --- Henry Jenkins, author of Convergence Culture and Fans, Bloggers and Gamers

"A readable and enlightening look at the gaming world, its various lore, arcana, and substrates, driven by the author’s candor and insight into one manifestation of a human need to 'deny death and provide a vacation from everyday thought.'" -- The Massachusetts Center for the Book/Massachusetts Book Awards

"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

“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)

        • (Four Stars) “This book is the magical doorway into the ultimate geek universe .... ultimately disarming and inviting ... [T]his cross-genre book is quite satisfying and thorough in its consideration of fantasy worlds and the creatures (and people) who inhabit them. Not just anyone could serve as our guide through this story—it takes someone like former D&D junkie, Ethan Gilsdorf, now age forty, to know how best to get at what matters for this culture.” —California Literary Review

“[Gilsdorf] has taken his love of all things nerdy to the next level with Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks.” —San Francisco Bay Guardian

“Quite potent ... heartbreaking ... Emotionally affecting ...” —Washington Monthly

“Ethan Gilsdorf brings the same hunter’s instinct to uncovering what makes gaming geeks tick, that he once brought to being totally sweet at D&D. Part memoir, part investigative cultural journalism, Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks is earnestly not just for nerds.” —The Portland Mercury

“Fun, quirky and fresh.”
—David Brin, winner of the Nebula, Hugo, and Locus Awards

“Gilsdorf’s guided tour through the gaming underworld is fascinating. ... what Fantasy Freaks does illustrate is that fantasy, in all its myriad incarnations, is always available to us, even if we only want to go as far as our comfortable armchairs. Gilsdorf does a fine job of reporting from the front lines. ... I found myself rooting for him by the end.” —The Rumpus

“An orcs-and-all journey through geekdom.”
—Melissa Anelli, author of Harry, A History: The True Story of a Boy Wizard, His Fans, and Life Inside the Harry Potter Phenomenon


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) alone has lured twelve million users worldwide. Even old-school, "pencil-and-paper" 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, France to New Zealand, 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 late into the night. He seeks out those who dream of elves, long swords, and heroic deeds, and mentally inhabit far-away 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.

Ethan Gilsdorf is the 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.

After playing Dungeons & Dragons religiously in the 1970s and 1980s, Ethan Gilsdorf went on to become a poet, teacher, critic and journalist. In the U.S. and in Paris, he’s worked as a freelance correspondent, guidebook writer, and film, book and restaurant reviewer. Now based in Somerville, Massachusetts, he publishes travel, arts, and pop culture stories regularly in the New York Times, Boston Globe, and Christian Science Monitor, and has been published in dozen of other magazines, newspapers and guidebooks worldwide, including National Geographic Traveler, Psychology Today, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Australian Financial Review, USA Today, the Washington Post and Fodor's travel guides. He is a book and film critic for the Boston Globe, his blog "Geek Pride" is seen regularly on, and he also blogs for's Globetrotting, an Gilsdorf has also been a guest as a fantasy and escapism expert on radio programs such as Air America's Inside Story and NPR's "Around And About"; has lectured at universities such as MIT; appeared at conventions such as Pax East, Gen Con and DragonCon; and read at book festivals nationwide. Follow Ethan’s adventures at