My Latest News
Search this site
Contact Me & Newsletter Sign Up
This form does not yet contain any fields.


    >My new video "A HARD DAY'S KNIGHT," in which I don chain mail to find glory, donuts and spare change for my quest. BIGGER SCREEN ON YOU TUBE

    CLASSIC BOOK trailer! [bigger screen on YouTube]

    more videos here


    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.” — | Geek Dad

    “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

    “Imagine this: Lord of the Rings meets Jack Kerouac’s On the Road….”—National Public Radio’s “Around and About"

    “A suprisingly moving memoir and ode to geek culture. It’s also a great book to give to friends and relatives who don’t understand the appeal of this subculture … This book rolled a natural d20 (and the wonderful design gets a +2 bonus)” — Make magazine

    "Ethan Gilsdorf's quest for himself leads through the fantasy world of millions of gamers in a breathless adventure/quest/memoir that is uniquely contemporary. This is at once a primer on the world of gaming, a self-help manual, and a wistful meditation on the passing of real time in a (nearly) virtual world." –Andrei Codrescu, NPR commentator and author of The Posthuman Dada Guide

    “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

    "This is a delightful book—more fun than being a Dungeon Master to a group of high-level mages and thieves." —A.J. Jacobs, New York Times bestselling author of The Know-It-All and The Year of Living Biblically

    "Intensely personal yet universally appealing, Gilsdorf's work speaks to the geek in all of us. Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks, with its exploration of an emerging marginalized culture, rolls a natural 20." –

    “Gilsdorf is an engaging and personable guide. Like many who will pick up his book, he’s got one foot squarely in the real world, the other in the fantasy one. This is a journey well worth taking.” —Booklist

    "For lovers of fantasy, it is almost too easy to empathize with every "freak" and "geek" the author encounters. But even those for whom this book will be an introduction will find it engaging and eye-opening."–Christian Science Monitor

    "Witty, downright funny, poignant, honest and ... well, wistful. Anyone who has ever embraced 'escapism' will understand, and those who haven't taken that leap of imagination will want to after reading Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks…. Reading Ethan Gilsdorf's tale conjured my own Dungeons & Dragons and fantasy experiences, vividly, right down to finding some of my old character sheets in a 3-ring binder a decade and more after I had stopped using them." –R.A. Salvatore, New York Times bestselling author of forty novels, including The Dark Elf Trilogy, Paths of Darkness,The Hunter's Blades Trilogy, and The Cleric Quintet and lead storyteller, 38 Studios game company

    "Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks is anything but an exposé about the dangers of roleplaying and related hobbies but rather a surprisingly affecting memoir, travel journal, and cultural analysis of the imaginary realms in which so many of us dwell."Grognardia 

    “Journalist and ‘avowed, out-of-the-closet geek’ Ethan Gilsdorf embraces his love of J.R.R. Tolkien, Dungeons & Dragons and all things fantasy, embarking on a quest to discover what motivates those who devote significant portions of their lives to what many others dismiss as escapist fantasies. The book is also a journey of self-discovery.... engaging, occasionally poignant and emotional.” —Boston Globe

    “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 fun, quirky and fresh perspective for those wanting to know more about the amazing world of gaming." –David Brin, winner of the Nebula, Hugo, and Locus Awards, and author of The Postman, Kiln People and The Transparent Society

    "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

    "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.'" —Massachusetts Book Awards

    “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)

    "An orcs-and-all journey through geekdom, told with affection for every elf, wizard and Dungeon Master it meets along the way. Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeksis for anyone who's ever been lured by the enchantment and secrets of faraway fantasy worlds; meticulously researched and lovingly told, the book gives a personal face to the cloak-swishing, wand-wielding, lightsaber-rattling gamer in us all." —Melissa Anelli, author of Harry, A History: The True Story of a Boy Wizard, His Fans, and Life Inside the Harry Potter Phenomenon

    “Master geek theater.” —The Times of Trenton

    “Books about escapism and gaming too often swerve into cautionary tale territory. Negative and holier-than-though, they tend to lecture at length about the drawbacks to such pastimes and ignore the benefits of escapism. Thankfully, Gilsdorf’s book is different. It tells the story of Gilsdorf’s own journey back into the fantasy fold and his analysis of why we all seek out alternative realities. He spends time with SCAdians, LARPers and MMORPGers alike, and he does it with respect and poignancy….”—

    "Ethan Gilsdorf looks critically at gaming and fantasy and finds out how wonderful they can be for bringing people together across wage, ability, and ethnic divides, or from disparate places around the world, for developing imagination and creativity, and all in the name of fun! Cogito Ergo Geek."—The Tolkien Society

    **** (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

    “In his book, Gilsdorf — who, perhaps wisely, hid his monster manual and graph paper in a closet when it came time for college, co-eds, and keg stands—simultaneously reconnects with his geeky past and takes stock of this brave new world in what amounts to an immersive role-playing travelogue to the planet’s nerdiest places.” —Boston Phoenix

    “[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 reports on role-play culture around the world in his new book, Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks, sized for easy carrying in your rune pouch.” —Boston Magazine

    “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

    “Gilsdorf manages to blend the best of cultural criticism, travel writing and memoir ... to provide some fascinating answers to his fantasy-driven questions.” —Iowa City Press-Citizen

    “A worthy read for anyone involved in a fantasy subculture or anyone who wants to understand what it’s all about.” —Fringe Magazine

    “[A] fantastic book detailing [Gilsdorf’s] global travels through geekdom ... a thoughtful discourse ... Revelatory and balanced ... Gilsdorf takes a Kerouac meets Cliffs Notes approach and gives us On the Road for the Star Wars generation.” —PopTen

    “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

    “Ethan Gilsdorf explains how gamers balance escapism with adulthood.” —Publishers Weekly

    “GARRR thinks, me likes book. Pages taste good. Cover not so much. But Ethan no chump. Writes good. Talk about lots of people and they like him too. Me likes big battle Pennsic. GARRR win battle no question. Maybe next time GARRR be in Ethan’s book. But first GARRR need to impress Ethan. Next year at big humie meeting in Indianapolis, GARRR out drink Ethan, prove GARRR strong, then GARRR have own chapter. Ethan friend.” —GARRR the Orc Barbarian at Big Iron Vault



    >"Do you have shelves of three-ring binders full of detailed D&D quests and character sheets? Do polyhedral dice hold a special place in your heart? Or maybe it's the SCA, with its costumes, courts, and traditional handicrafts, which absorbs your attention after your mundane day is over. Perhaps you can't wait for lunch to go on a WoW raid in the Eastern Kingdom. Should you be embarrassed about any of these pastimes? Gilsdorf says not at all .. With real affection, Gilsdorf introduces readers to kids, teens, and adults around the world who have two distinct existences: IRL and the game." --- Juneau Empire

    >"Super nerd (and gamer) Ethan Gilsdorf takes on childhood memories and gets, again, into the world of role playing games, MMORPGs and LARPs ... Ultimately Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks is a joy of recognition. ... Gilsdorf's story is very readable, entertainingly written with typical nerd jokes and at some times just hilarious." ---- (Dutch gaming site) 

    >"Throughout the book, Ethan writes candidly about his experiences, the games he played and the people that he met on his journey. We get to know the subjects of his exploration quite intimately. … I was quite happy that Ethan “got it”, an aspect of the book that was clear from the outset of his adventures. Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks shouldn’t be looked at as some kind of exposé book; it’s a book about a man’s journey to find again what was lost to adulthood, to responsibilities and to all the other things that us as “matured” people are supposed to do on a day by day basis. … completely engrossing. … a valiant and successful attempt at unravelling the gamer psyche and it is definitely worth a read." --- Big Iron Vault

    >"When I discovered that journalist Ethan Gilsdorf had written a book about gaming and fantasy culture, my first reaction was to curse his name for beating me to the punch. But if anything, Gilsdorf’s Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks proves that the topic of why people chose to inhabit imaginary realms is so meaty that a single book couldn’t possibly cover everything. Gilsdorf’s tome operates as a sort of survey of the fantasy world. ... He finds that there are many answers to the question, “Why do people get involved in imaginary worlds”? ...  He treats his subjects with respect, striving to understand the reasoning behind their hobbies. A worthy read for anyone involved in a fantasy subculture or anyone who wants to understand what it’s all about." ---- Fringe Magazine

    >"A fascinating read. ... Gilsdorf’s writing was witty, informative, revealing, and honest. You do not have to be either a fantasy freak or a gaming geek to enjoy this book. It is for anyone who’s ever had a rough childhood, who’s every felt like a misfit or wanted to escape the trials and tribulations of the real world. In short, it is for the dragon slayer that lurks within us all." --- The Internet Review of Books

    >"After an aneurysm drastically changed his mother’s personality when he was in his teens, Gilsdorf found refuge in the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons. Eventually he left the RPG (role-playing games) world behind, and became a successful writer. Then at age 41, he rediscovers his old gaming paraphernalia and decides to take a trip deep into the world of fantasy, hoping to get to the heart of its allure. Gilsdorf’s quest takes him to gaming conventions, medieval reenactments, fantasy-inspired concerts, and even to Middle Earth itself—the New Zealand setting that served as the backdrop for Peter Jackson’s enormously popular Lord of the Rings films. Along the way, he meets a wide variety of people of all ages and social backgrounds who, like him, in some form or another seek an escape from the mundane reality of the modern world. Gilsdorf is an engaging and personable guide. Like many who will pick up his book, he’s got one foot squarely in the real world, the other in the fantasy one. This is a journey well worth taking. — Booklist 

    >"Gilsdorf’s guided tour through the gaming underworld is fascinating. If you’ve been out of it for a few years, like me, you might be surprised to learn many of its participants are also fully engaged in the real world ... 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

    >"What makes Fantasy Freaks And Gaming Geeks so arresting is not only the diverse, vibrant role-player communities which Gilsdorf introduces us to and provides insightful commentary on, but the hybrid nature of his text – both on a substantive and emotional level. Gilsdorf effortlessly bounces between fun, vivid-picture-painting journalistic narrative jam-packed with juicy facts and anecdotes of others, to deeply personal confessions about his own real life." --- Fiction Writers Review

    >"Journalist and former Dungeons & Dragons obsessive Gilsdorf explores the imaginative alternate realities populated by fantasy gamers worldwide. ... Maps, photographs and a glossary illustrate the popularity and seriousness of this interactive form of entertainment. Gilsdorf is an informative, personable guide ... A vicarious peek into an escapist pastime."–Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 2009

    >***1/2 (three and a half stars) "his conclusions are astute and revelatory.  ... a great book to introduce non-geeks to the wonders of fantastic pop-culture." --- Pencil Neck Geek

    >"As much a personal quest for the author as an investigation in to the fantasy culture, Gilsdorf not only brings the readers along for the ride, but also makes gets them emotionally invested. “Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks,” shines a whole new light on the fantasy culture and explores it as only an insider can. ...  Gilsdorf’s writing ability makes the book a great read. As funny and charming, he avoids all the negative stereotypes of gamers and instead paints more realistic picture of the gaming community. The book is informative and gripping. As much a journey in gaming as a personal quest for meaning in ones life, Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks is a fantastic read for gamers and non-gamers alike." --- Boston Comedy Examiner 

    >"Gilsdorf ... weav(es) in fantasy terminology and geekspeak that invokes a slightly twisted, mellow sadness in the reader. We escape with him, and his unorthodox descriptions shine brilliantly in their ability to showcase the addictiveness of and the need for reprieve from his world." --- Weekly Dig

    >"Highly readable and incredibly timely." --- Book Notes New Hampshire/Center for the Book at the New Hampshire State Library

    >Chosen for a Kirkus Reviews' "Big Book Fall Preview" feature, August 1, 2009. A highlight: "Gilsdorf, spurred on by the discovery of his old D&D guides, decided to dive elf-ears first into the deepest geek pools ... 'It’s all about a sense of belonging,' says Gilsdorf. And maybe a bit about killing stuff." Larger view of story


    [Read the entire Kirkus issue here]

    and Publishers Weekly Fall 2009 list of "Hardcovers: Contemporary Affairs"

    >"Awesome, fun, and heart-warming. A definite 'must get' ... a uniquely descriptive work that I was easily able to 'relate to." I think anyone lucky enough to secure a copy will be VERY glad they did." -- Chris Clark, game designer, founder of Inner City Games Designs

    >**** Four stars: Listen to the Podcast: Games in Libraries – August 2009 (begins at minute 14:15) and here's the transcript on Hip Librarian's Book Blog: "Gilsdorf is a solid writer and good storyteller - no surprise there, for someone with his role playing background. He juxtaposes his personal story with strong journalistic reporting, and infuses everything with a dose of integrity.."

    >"The book will be of interest the geek, the freak, the sociologist, and many of us readers who will wind up looking in the mirror at our oh-so studied hip faces, and remember at one time we were denizens of other places."---Doug Holder, Boston Area Small Press and Poetry Scene / The Somerville News.


    "Vivid, moving, evocative, intriguing, engaging." –Chris Castellani, author ofA Kiss from MaddalenaandThe Saint of Lost Things

    "Forget Frodo; Ethan Gilsdorf guides readers through fantasy lands far more enchanting than anything you'll find in Tolkien's books.Donning his cloak of invisibility, he takes readers along on a mind-blowing tour of nerd universes—from a knighting ceremony in a Pennsylvania park to vampire slayers in a Marriot Hotel.The result is a compassionate, humorous and magical trip that makes reality seem like a poor substitute for the realms of imagination." –Pagan Kennedy, author ofNew York TimesNotable BookBlack LivingstoneandThe First Man-Made Man

    "This book—part memoir and part insider's guide—is both poignant and hilarious, baffling and informative, disturbing and entertaining.It is a must read for anyone whose idea of a good night involve dragons, spaceships, or one-eyed monsters dripping with slime." –Jake Halpern, NPR Commentator and author ofFame Junkies

    "Ethan Gilsdorf takes us on a vivid, funny, poignant trek through geekdom . . . and somehow, before we've caught on to his tricks, he makes a genuinely important contribution to understanding fantasy, pop culture and their roles in our emotional and cultural lives.Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeksis entirely worthy of that 'fantasy Pulitzer Prize' the author's been coveting." –Gerard Jones, author ofKilling Monsters: Why Children Need Fantasy, Super Heroes, and Make-Believe ViolenceandMen of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth of the Comic Book

    "With the authority of an initiate and the curiosity of the seeker Ethan Gilsdorf leads us through the world of role-playing games that—for both better and worse—provided the arena for his coming-of-age. Part memoir, part travelogue, part investigative report,Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeksis a compelling exploration of a moment in our cultural history. What you learn about the games and the players is considerable, but stands as nothing compared to what you learn about the human heart." –Richard Hoffman, author ofHalf the House: A Memoir

    "After his mother's brain injury Ethan Gilsdorf saved his childhood through the Dungeons and Dragons game. Now Gilsdorf sets out on a quest to revisit his childhood and to explore the expansive post-Tolkien landscape in this fascinating travelogue. Potter Rock in Harvard Square, Bilbo Baggins in New Zealand, and much more." –Douglas Whynott, author ofGiant Bluefin, A Country PracticeandFollowing the Bloom

    "Ethan Gilsdorf'sFantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeksis alternately hilarious, surprising, poignant, and odd, but always utterly compelling.Beginning with his own teenage geekdom and addiction to Dungeons & Dragons, Gilsdorf transports us to the fantastical worlds of live-action role playing, Harry Potter tribute bands, creative anachronism, andLord of the Ringstourism, reminding us that these substitute realities are not just amusements, but at times, life-savers.A must-read book for trolls, orcs, hobbits, or anyone interested in the quirky corners of popular culture." –Dinty W. Moore, author ofThe Accidental BuddhistandBetween Panic and Desire

    "Ethan Gilsdorf is a poet and explorer, a gentle soul with a spirit for adventure. He is a deft storyteller, too, and here he leads us into realms real and imagined, personal and universal. It is a moving journey for fantasy freaks and gaming geeks, and for anyone curious to wander into their world." –Tom Haines, award-winning travel writer,TheBoston Globe

    "This is at once an affecting memoir, a thorough survey of the subculture of fantasy gaming, and an immersion journalist's journey into strangeness.It's also a wincingly honest self-portrait of a man who reaches forty and resolves to confront the role-playing escapist adolescent hidden not so very deep within him." –Carlo Rotella, author ofCut Time: An Education at the Fights

    "If you think fantasy culture is just a bunch of pimply-faced kids shouting about dragons in a finished basement, you haven't been paying attention. From wizard rock to chic French geeks, Gilsdorf catches you up on everything you need to know about the modern state of make-believe. And he does it with such humor, honesty, and, yes, cool, you'll almost wish you had an orc-slaying, princess-saving past of your own to suppress." –Yael Goldstein Love, author ofOverture: A NovelandThe Passion of Tasha Darsky

    "Intensely personal yet universally appealing, Gilsdorf's work speaks to the geek in all of us.Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks, with its exploration of an emerging marginalized culture, rolls a natural 20." –Larry D. Curtis,

    "Unfortunately for the establishment, the geeks—like Frodo and Sam slipping into Mordor quietly and unobserved by the Dark Tower—have come out of the quiet and peace of the Shire, or the gaming dungeon, and merrily taken over a large portion of the world, as illustrated by this book…. Ethan Gilsdorf looks critically at gaming and fantasy and finds out how wonderful they can be for bringing people together across wage, ability, and ethnic divides, or from disparate places around the world, for developing imagination and creativity, and all in the name of fun!Cogito Ergo Geek."—Ian Collier,The Tolkien Society

    "Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeksis a lively exploration of the fantasy realms into which boys and grown men retreat. Moms of teenage boys will find new insights about what makes these worlds so compelling as well as some encouraging stories about the friendships and communities they foster." –Michelle Seaton, co-author ofThe Ways of Boys: Raising Healthy Boys in a Challenging and Complex World

    "For every adult hiding his D&D books like they werePlayboymagazines, behold Mr. Gilsdorf as he undertakes his Greatest Adventure, one that any geek will envy. Gilsdorf takes a Kerouac meets Cliffs Notes approach and gives usOn the Roadfor theStar Warsgeneration, sharing his impressions while allowing the people he meets to share theirs. Chapter after chapter, the author puts the geek psyche on the dissection table, and tries to get to the root of our escapist society. It's fascinating to watch him peel back each layer, and wildly entertaining to cavort with the motley cast of outcast characters he digs up. In his more introspective moments Gilsdorf remembers his own troubled youth, and a love/hate relationship with his own geekhood. It's a self branding that seems all too familiar, as we all have difficulty with who we are. Too many of us will find this book hitting joyously close to home. Call it 'Confessions of a Closet Geek.'"–Juan Carlos and Victor Piñeiro Escoriaza, creators of the award-winning documentarySecond Skin