Review – The Very Old Witch and the Turnip Girl

This short hypertext story punches above its weight. It’s not that much to look at for the most part: the typography is unremarkable, there are the usual hyperlinks, and the text is displayed is reasonable chunks of a paragraph or two. It looks as plain vanilla as can be, and as it gets rolling, it wouldn’t be unreasonable for the reader to think that this will pan out as a typical fairytale involving a witch.

However, this is a modern story; it just happens to involve a witch. I realized that we were headed in a different direction when she complained not so much about the infirmities of old age, but the coming to pass of four live action chipmunk movies. What a world, what a world.

[Some spoilers follow beyond this point]

In a sort of late-life witch crisis, the quirky witch realizes that random acts of mischief are no longer entertaining, and creates the titular girl  — out of turnips. After the textual equivalent of a montage of growing up as the ward of a witch with no parenting skills, the girl goes off to university.

When she comes home after four years, The Turnip Girl enlists the witch in helping her friends with something that matters: opposing nazis. Whoa. Did this story just jump the shark and smack headlong into Godwin’s Law? No, not at all.

The witch’s reaction is what the story is all about: Well, of course the witch would oppose nazis and their ideology, stick up for civil rights, and in general, do the right thing. Even a witch knew which way to go on this. She may have been stuck in her turnip patch for the last few decades and out of touch, but when it came to recognizing right from wrong, this witch was able to make the judgement call and find her voice. If a Very Old Witch can manage this, why can’t our politicians?

How have I played half the games in this year’s comp and not come across anything that touched on politics? Is there some sort of unwritten law that says that it’s off limits in the comp? Have we self-censored ourselves and drawn a line around certain sensitive topics like religion and politics to avoid dealing with these issues on our forums? Our forums are very civil and friendly, and maybe some of us are still shellshocked from the flamewars of RAIF days — some of those usenet embers are still glowing and faintly radioactive.

I don’t think that’s the case. I think we could handle more stories that come at politics in a direct or sideways manner. Our community has done a pretty good job about addressing issues of social inclusion, gender discrimination, and mental health.

On the other hand, maybe authors figure that with a global IF community, stories that center on politics would come across as too parochial and would not interest a large portion of the audience.I suppose there could also be a concern that any story based on current events would not age well or that we don’t have enough historical perspective to write a period piece set in the “now”.

Without discounting these concerns, in my opinion, it’s a matter of the writer’s skill — is there a good story to be told perhaps drawing parallels to a current situation, or coming at some serious world issues through satire?

Stepping down from the soap box, and turning a more analytic eye towards this particular work, as I played through the story, I realized that a large portion of the functionality that had wowed me in Harmonia was also present in this story, but with a less polished look and feel: the ability to modify inline text, cycle through alternative text, and to remember state. As in Harmonia, this work features two types of links: those that provide additional information or expand text and those that represent choices where the story diverges. In TVOWATTG, these two types of hyperlinks were typographically distinguishable: the former was rendered in normal text, the latter in italics.

The underlying development system is Squiffy, which I hadn’t heard of (maybe I need to get out of my Turnip patch more often), but seems reasonably mature as a project. It’s “the other” development system on, and I have to say that I find it very appealing. It’s a domain-specific scripting language that provides a lot of utility without the steep learning curve of something like windrift. It isn’t as extensible, but I think the feature/ease trade-off is one that most people would be willing to make. Another feather in its cap: it can be written online and published directly to the web, written and compiled on OS-specific standalone platforms, or even from the command line.

I think I’ll be looking into this a bit more…


Story: 8

Voice: 9

Play: 8

Polish: 9

Technical: 8


Preliminary Score: 9.4



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