In my search for reading material for the wee one, I came across a post by Sarah Laskow of Atlas Obscura on “Choose Your Own Adventure” books. These can feel like being lost in a maze and running through twists and turns only to find dead ends, switchbacks, and disappointment. In the books—for those not familiar with them—you read until you come to a decision point, which prompts you to flip to another page, backward or forward.
The early books in the series, which began in 1979, have dozens of endings, reached through branching storylines so complex that that trying to keep track of your path can seem hopeless—no matter how many fingers you stick into the book in order to find your way back to the key, fateful choice. You might end up back at an early fork again, surprised at how far you traveled only to reemerge at a simple decision, weighted with consequences that you couldn’t have imagined at the beginning.
The last installment of the original “Choose Your Own Adventure” series came out in 1998, but since 2004, Chooseco, founded by one of the series’ original authors, R.A. Montgomery, has been republishing classic volumes, as well as new riffs on the form of interactive fiction that seemed ubiquitous in the 1980s and ’90s. The new editions also carry an additional feature—maps of the hidden structure of each book.
For years, fans have been creating visualizations of the forking structures of “Choose Your Own Adventure” books. Often, they’re interested in the types of outcomes at the end of each path. One map labels each ending as “new life, return home, or death,” and another separates them into “cliffhanger, solution, or death.” Christian Swinehart’s extensive graphical analysis of the books labels the endings as “great, favorable, mediocre, disappointing, or catastrophic.”
On the official maps, however, the endings aren’t coded in any way that reveals their nature. Instead, they operate according to a simple key: each arrow represents a page, each circle a choice, and each square an ending. Dotted lines show where branches link to one another.
In Journey Under The Sea, you’re trying to locate Atlantis, and while each of the 42 endings is distinct, they can be grouped into categories.
There’s disappointment: You give up the search and someone else finds Atlantis, you don’t quite get there, your ship is destroyed, your eyesight is damaged.
There’s hope: A mysterious submarine saves you, you give up the search but get a second chance, you glimpse Atlantis in the sky.
There are sea dangers: You might ride a whale, get eaten by a fish, escape a shark, get eaten by shark, die by poisonous snake bite, escape a whirlpool and find your ship, escape a whirlpool but die in the ocean, get spit out of a whirlpool and find your ship, or explore a deep hole that you can’t escape from.
There’s Atlantis itself, but you might destroy it before you get in. You might meet Atlanteans and, in a rare case, end up back on the surface. More often, you stay with Atlanteans, who appear in different guises in different endings. You might travel through space-time with them, be an advisor to their king, lead a revolution, end up in a dungeon, get gills implanted, live out your life in a Atlantean zoo, or become a blob of light, an Atlantean farmer, Atlantean musician, or Atlantean historian.
Oh, and there’s also a secret deepwater laboratory.
This book is particularly tough on readers. One analysis found that more than 75 percent of the endings are unfavorable or deadly. One of the most poignant endings is the one where you choose to pull back from your search and someone else finds Atlantis. You regret giving up your search, but, the book says, “You didn’t really have a choice. Did you?”
You can check out the book on Amazon.