Flashback Fridays: You gotta go where you wanna go, do what you wanna do . . .

You come to the entrance to a mysterious cave  that holds the secrets of time travel itself.  You are faced with a choice go forward or backward in time?  Either way will result in adventure!

Do you remember

The Cave of Time by Edward Packard (Bantam, c1979)

This was the very first Choose Your Own Adventure story, published in 1979 by Bantam.  In truth, this spectacularly different sort of reading experience was the brain child of two writers: R. A. Montgomery and Edward Packard.  Edward Packard came up with his first story to introduce multiple endings and a second person perspective a few years earlier with a book called Sugarcane Island (later to become CYOA #62).  From what I’ve read, the idea came to fruition from two particular points of inspiration.  The first was Packard’s own children, whom he created a version of the Sugarcane Island adventures for as a bedtime story.  The second was the popularity of role-playing games in the 70s.  I’m suspecting particularly the advent of Dungeons and Dragons.  While it was Packard who came up with the first text, it was Montgomery who got the idea to set up and publish this new format of fiction and it  was R.A. Montgomery who eventually took the: Adventures of You idea to Bantam books where it became what we know of as Choose Your Own Adventure stories.

Thus we have the first Choose your own adventure, an interactive book set in the second person narrative.  It makes YOU the star of the story.  You get to pick between two possible ways the story will go, and then continue branching off with each following decision.  Reluctant reader friendly, engaging, interesting and with a wide range of genres!  Many of those with science and science fiction elements were based on actual scientific ideas and principles (rather than simply inventive narrative).

When the series first came out, it took some time to catch on.  But I bet most of you who were reading children’s books in the 80s encountered them.  Between 1979 and 1999 there were over 150 original titles published in the Choose Your Own Adventure Series. The original publisher put out  the last title in 1998.   A few years later, R. A. Montgomery  began republishing Choose Your Own Adventure titles under his own publishing company: Chooseco LLC.  Since 2005 they have revised and republished 40 of the original titles.    So you’ll very likely still see many of these titles on the shelves.  And they’re still being read by the young patrons who come into the library!

I think the influence of these books can sometimes be overlooked.  Yet according to the founder’s website, this series is the 4th best-selling children’s series of all time.  That’s pretty impressive.   And from a genre perspective, these things are pretty awesome.  Packard and Montgomery weren’t just shuffling around a couple of scenarios.   They knew how to construct science fiction elements into a story.    And what kid doesn’t want the chance to have his own adventures in time and space?  A lot of these books have multiple plot lines and possibilities of dozens of different endings.   It’s a heck of writing job to put it all together in a single book and have it work.

We’re coming to another crossroads with these books now, and you can see the ideas of where interactive fiction may go by what’s being developed.  Edward Packard, rather than continue with R. A. Montgomery’s publishing house, has chosen to go a different route.  He republishing some of his classic titles with new and updated material under the series name: U-Ventures (Simon & Schuster) .  These publications exist not only in print form, but they also are offered as iphone apps–allowing the readers to experience the interactive fiction not just with text, but with sounds and effects and images thrown into the mix. To date there have been three of these made, but I haven’t seen the apps myself.   The Choose Your Own Adventure Website currently has a Kickstarter going to fund creating its own Choose Your Own Adventure app for the Ipad and Iphone.  This would be a series of interactive comics rather than simple text.

And there are plenty of websites that have picked up on the idea of CYOA books;  iamcal.comChooseYourStory.com, and The Addventures to name but a few.  Others out there in pursuit of creating new types of interactive digital books . . . some are freelance and looking for funding to start their projects, others are looking to work with publishers.   The great thing about the new world of ebooks is that interactive stories like these are no long limited by page count, nor do readers have to flip through the book back and forth to experience their chosen adventures.  Add in all the details that can be constructed, and I think this format has a lot to offer readers in the years ahead!

So what were your favorite adventures?  Did you cheat and read straight through?  Would you go back and start again if it were a bad ending the first time around?  Comments are always welcome!

About Stephanie Whelan

I'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.

Posted on August 16, 2013, in Flashback Fridays, General Posts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. The very first one of these (a medieval cave of time one, I forget the title) I made sound, rational choices that resulted in the best possible ending. But all the ones I tried afterwards rewarded my sensible choices with death, so I gave up. I am surprised to find myself still a bit peeved!

    • LOL! I tend to cheat a bit, I keep hold of the page I was on and check where a certain choice will take me. I was reading an interview somewhere and a caller admitted he like the bad endings better than the good. I guess it’s all a matter of taste.

  2. I loved those books as a kid, I remember that Journey Under The Sea cover. In sixth grade I even wrote my own choose your own adventure story!

    • Neat! How many endings did you have for your story?

      • If you can believe it, it was over a hundred pages, but on each page was only a few sentences or a couple of pages had some paragraphs. I still have it. My older bro helped me type it and I mailed it to the publisher with a letter saying maybe kids would like to read a book written by another kid! They sent back my first form letter rejection ever :). It’s why I remember those books so fondly. I think mine had a spaceship on one story line, a dragon on another, and I can’t remember the others . . .

      • That’s impressive! A first rejection letter is a badge of honor in the field of writing and few manage to do it while they’re kids! I was way too shy with my stories to do anything but write them in indecipherable (to everyone but me) handwriting.

        Do you remember if you had to plan it out first? I remember reading an interview with Packard where he said he’d sort of diagram the whole thing out first, like branches on tree.

  3. I loved these books as a kid, they were always part of my summer reading! I read all that my library had. I do remember being angry with the stories that were clearly aimed at boys & liked the ones that kept “you” gender neutral – apparently I was a feminist even then. And I also remember cheating in the vampire story & reading all the endings & working backwards because I kept being killed.

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