Since December of 1843, Charles Dickens’ “Ghostly little book”, A CHRISTMAS CAROL, has never fallen out of favour, or been out of print. Endlessly adapted, its journey of redemption has broad appeal for its secular focus, rather than sacred invocation.
– Caledonia Skytower
These are the words Cale uses to introduce The Dickens Project SL for 2016, and they are a fitting way of opening this preview for what has – very rightly, in my opinion – become a firm Staple of the Second Life Christmas experience – and if you haven’t shared in it yourself, I strongly urge you to do so this year.
Truth be told, a Christmas Carol has always been a part of Seanchai Library’s calendar from the year it was founded. However in 2012, and coinciding with the Dickens Bicentenary Year, Seanchai took the step from reading the story to presenting it in a 360-degree immersive environment designed to visually capture the essence of the novel, within individual staves (chapters) read by Seanchai volunteers over the course of several days, with visitor free to listen to the presentations, and then explore more about the life and times of Charles Dickens.
Since then, The Dickens Project SL has reappeared in Second Life each Christmas, with new opportunities to enjoy the story, new events to share and more opportunities to discover the rich treasure of Dickens’ work, explore the lasting appeal of A Christmas Carol and learn about Victorian England from a literary standpoint.
I’ve followed the project throughout, including the special 2013 virtual / live cross-over performance, featuring artists in Second Life and the physical world. For 2016, it is being hosted by Kultivate Magazine at their headquarters region on Water Haven, where an expanded set has been constructed, offering a broader, more immersive setting for the story, with supporting activities and events. While The festival officially opens to the public on Saturday, December 10th, I was delighted to be able to have a preview tour of the project with Cale, taking the opportunity to talk with her about this year’s presentation.
“The first thing I’d like to emphasize is that the goal of The Dickens Project SL is literary, not documentary,” Cale said as we entered the wintry realm of London in the mid-1800s. “What we’ve built here isn’t intended to be 100% historically accurate; other ventures in the virtual media excel in that. Our aim is to reflect the emotional essence of A Christmas Carol by providing a visual framework for those listening to the story, and which encourages them to explore more of Dickens’ life and times.”
To this end, and making full use of the half region put at their disposal by Kultivate Magazine, Seanchai have built a number of interlinked story and activity areas – Christmas Present, Christmas Past and Christmas Yet To Come / The End of It – where individual staves of the book will be read, Dickens’ writings explored, and entertainments presented. Each has its own look and feel, helping to immerse visitors more deeply in the tale.
“We’ve been able to expand the programme this year,” Cale said. “The opening weekend on December 10th and 11th will feature music events and readings from Dickens’ popular novels short stories and related pieces. Then on Monday, December 12th, we commence reading A Christmas Carol, with two sessions of each stave or staves per day, through until Friday, December 16th.”
The event will be rounded out over the weekend of the 17th and 18th December with more music, the traditional Fezziwig’s Ball and The Big Read – all of the novel over three-and-a-half hours. A marathon it might seem – but one very mush worth hearing!
“In all there will be 20 hours of events during the festival, ” Cale continued. “And the Community Virtual Library has created a Resource Centre to support us, where people can learn more about specific elements of the story: what was Tiny Tim suffering from, for example. We also have teleport portals connecting us to other themed locations in Second Life, such as Get Scrooged, at HKU’s Education Island.” A further addition to the 2016 programme is the Eight Days of Dickens mini-hunt.
The Dickens Project SL is free to attend and explore. The twice daily readings are designed to help reach as wide an SL audience as possible, and will be presented by different volunteers, each giving his or her interpretation of the story and the characters, and visitors are welcome to attend as many readings as they wish. Donations will be accepted on behalf of Team Diabetes of SL throughout the week, to coincide with their Winter Showcase events.
A Christmas Carol is, as Cale noted in the quote opening this article, an enduring, endearing piece; a work of fiction with which we are all familiar; I asked Cale for her thoughts on why this should be. “The core of what makes it so are the words – very precisely chosen, very powerfully arranged words,” she replied. “A lot of what we think of today as ‘traditional’ to this time of the year can be traced back to this work, and Dickens’ own re-imagining of what the holiday could be and mean.”