When I heard that a biography of Gary Gygax, the father of Dungeons & Dragons had been published, I of course rushed to get it. Just for the off chance that you are unaware who Gary Gygax is, as I said, he is the inventor of Dungeons & Dragons, the first tabletop (pen & paper) role playing game.
Thus, he created a genre that would spawn everything from Advanced Dungeons & Dargons, to Star Wars the Role Playing Game, to Magic the Gathering and every computer and online role playing game you have ever played. He set it all in motion, it started in a small house in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Gary Gygax is the godfather of one of the greatest popculture phenomena of the 20th century.
Now for the content of the biography: Empire of Imagination tells the story of Gary’s life and it tells it in a very fitting way: Like an adventure. Every chapter has an intro from a scene of a role playing adventure that reflects the situation Gary is in at the moment. It is just beautiful and sets the mood. The biographical data is deep and broad, I learned plenty about Gary’s life that I had never heard of before, like him being a Jehova’s Witness. I also found the genesis of the first Dungeons & Dragons set fascinating, but I am not going to spoil it for you if you have no idea about the history of role playing games. Let’s just say, even before role playing games, you could be a game nerd and there were plenty around and Gary was one of them.
I guess Michael Witwer took some liberty imagining some of the scenes in the book since some of the information in the book is probably very hard to come by, especially with 40 years of time passing between Gary coming to prominence and the event. It does not matter, though, after all, Empire of Imagination: Gary Gygax and the Birth of Dungeons & Dragons is about a guy with a highly active imagination, so there can be imagination in the book as well.
The biography is also really engaging, well done, Michael Witwer, you really feel with Gary. It is like you are looking over his shoulder the whole time. You are not a distant observer or historian, you are part of his life. You dive into this biography as if Empire of Imagination was a novel and Gary the protagonist. Every time something good happened to Gary, I cheered inside. I felt warm inside my chest when he got married or when one of his children was born and every time his tumultuous handed him lemons, I felt sad. When Lorraine Williams reared her ugly head and booted Gary out of TSR, I was seething, but like every epic adventure, there is some light at the end, a recovery and it ends with Gary passing on a living legend.
Empire of Imagination: Gary Gygax and the Birth of Dungeons & Dragons is a book no geek or role player of any sort should miss out on. Get it! It is an excellent read and you owe it to the creator of the genre to read the story of his life. It is also a very motivating tale, because Gary always managed to work himself out of bad situations by his own strength.
So many layers to this book, such an epic life, Gary lived, so many lives he touched…