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Tuesday, January 29, 2008Filed in Reviews

Review: Othar’s Twitter (28 January 2008)

Title: Othar’s Twitter
Grade: B+
Recommended for: Fans of Girl Genius, pulp heroes/adventures, and/or narration by friendly, intelligent psychopaths
Database entry: /stories/othars-twitter

[Sidebar: An interview with Phil Foglio]

Preliminary notes

  1. Othar’s Twitter is written on Twitter, a personal status-message syndication service. Twitter has a 140-character limit for posts, which Othar’s Twitter works within rather than attempting to circumvent.
  2. Othar’s Twitter is a prose side-story to the popular webcomic Girl Genius. It contains at least one minor spoiler for Girl Genius (for the end of Volume 3) and may not be entirely comprehensible without having read at least some of the Girl Genius background material.
  3. This review will have to repeat the minor spoiler for Girl Genius volume 3, as it is important to understanding Othar’s Twitter.

They called him mad

Othar Tryggvassen, Gentleman Adventurer, is a hero. He is quite sure of it. How could he not be? He battles the (presumably) evil overlord of Europe when not ending the reigns of terror of the mad scientists (or “sparks,” as they are called) who plague the countryside. He is equally sure that being a hero means that he will always win. Unfortunately, he also believes that all sparks, regardless of circumstances, are inevitably evil and must be killed . . . including, eventually, himself. This friendly, intelligent psychopath is the narrator of Othar’s Twitter, written as if he was actually providing status updates on his life via Twitter.

It is often interesting to read a story narrated by someone who is insane. It is almost always interesting when the narrator realizes that they are insane, particularly if they are not entirely clear on the nature or extent of their madness. It is also very difficult to write such narration in fiction, and Phil Foglio et al. deserve praise for managing it. However, in this case it is more than just good writing, it is a key part of the underlying goal of the work.

During my interview with Phil Foglio (see sidebar), he said that “A large part of the Girl Genius meta project is an attempt make people aware of the difference between ‘history’ and ‘narrative’, and how different people see the same thing in different ways.” Othar certainly sees the world differently from many people, but not from all. Indeed, he is a folk hero in the Girl Genius world because he actually does rescue innocent villages and towns from oppression and impending destruction at the hands of mad scientists, even if he’s viewed as a dangerous psychopath by those who feel that less-dangerous sparks should be considered innocent until proven guilty. However, it is not clear to me that Othar’s Twitter is always effective in getting across the moral that Phil stated in the interview.

Othar’s Twitter‘s storylines has steered clear of the main Girl Genius plot, and it of them, meaning that neither work provides an alternative viewpoint on the other. Although Othar does seem to be capable of comprehending others’ viewpoints on some level, there haven’t been many in the Othar’s Twitter stories so far. The first story arc does not include Othar being confronted with any worldviews other than his own. The second does show Othar being confronted by alternative points of view, but one of the two major ones has already appeared in Girl Genius proper and the other seems to be the result of one side not having all of the facts regarding a previous incident. (It is possible that there is more at play there, but if so, Othar’s madness renders him incapable of realizing and transmitting it to the audience.) I’m not sure that a difference in views based on a difference in knowledge of the facts presents an effective argument or example for the stated moral.

Moral aside, Othar’s Twitter is a highly entertaining read, especially for a fan of Girl Genius. The short entries are well-crafted, use an unusual but interesting narrative structure, and are easy to keep up with. They are also rather silly. Insofar as its immediate goal is to entertain and engage people who are or might be interested in Girl Genius and one of its best-loved side characters, Othar’s Twitter is a resounding success. I will be reading this one for the foreseeable future.

Othar’s Twitter receives full marks for entertainment and technique. It also achieves its immediate goal of entertainment and engagement. However, although it does make some progress towards helping with the message of the meta-project that it is a part of, it mostly fails at that goal, keeping it from qualifying for a grade in the A range. While it may improve in the future, for the moment I have to give Othar’s Twitter a B+.

posted by CrazyDreamer  

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