I’m actually not a great fan of the Halloween season. I’m not sure why; it’s just something that has never really held any significant appeal. However, within Second Life, there is one part of the spooky season (to use the overworked expression beloved of local news anchors on the TV) that I absolutely do enjoy each year – and that’s the annual Calas Galadhon Halloween region that Tymus Tenk and Truck Meredith put together as a creative tour de force for everyone to enjoy, both by exploring it and in attending the entertainments they and their team lay on throughout the month.
For 2020, Ty and Truck bring us Return to Darkwood, which takes as its foundation a theme we first saw in 2014 (see: Along the paths of the Darkwood, where the nightshade lay). However, I would suggest “return” is a bit of a misnomer, as it implies a revisit to a place seen before, and that is certainly not the case here: this is a wholly new take on the Darkwood theme. As such, I see it more of a continuation, offering us a further glimpse of a part of that realm that has – until now – remained hidden.
Occupying a single region, Return to Darkwood brings us everything that makes Truck’s an Ty’s designs special. Exploration can be carried out on foot and there is the traditional tour – this one via elven boat along the waterways of the wood and then through the air to reach (eventually) the events pavilion. Along the way there are numerous nods to the season, both dark and light, as well as touches of Tolkien, horror, dark fantasy and even The Scottish Play (in the form of three weird sisters who may well be asking one another, when shall we three meet again, in thunder, lighting or in rain?)
The landing point tells you all you need to know about exploring the region. Chief among these is that ALM should be used – but you can disable shadows so as not to take a huge performance hit, as under the ambient lighting, these are simply not required for general appreciation of the setting (but can obviously used for photography). Do make sure local sounds are enabled, as once again there is a immersive sound scape to enjoy throughout the setting, whilst for those who like a little music, a carefully selected audio stream has been put together. Torches of the flammable and battery varies are also available (together with a backpack gift for Calas group members), but whether you need one of these or not is a matter of choice.
From the landing point it is a short walk to both the start of the boat tour and the path that winds through the Darkwood realm. Which you take is up to you – but I do recommend taking both, if not necessarily back-to-back; part of the joy with the Calas themed regions is they offer plenty of opportunities for return visits than can add to the experience.
Certainly, the boat tour will give you a feel for the region as it winds through the rivers and creeks of the land before finally taking to the air to offer a touch of Tolkien (“the eagles are coming!”) and eventually delivering you to the floating islands where the events pavilion resides. The ride takes about 30-40 minutes, so if you’re heading for one of the region’s music events, why not arrive early and use the tour to explore and ride up to the music?
For those on foot, the way is marked (mostly!) by a path that winds through the shadows of the the trees and over and under rock and across mires and mists, lit periodically by flaming torches with the route occasionally hinted at by sign-posts. How helpful these might prove to be is a matter of following them; while they might point the way, their notation tends to be variable – “?” for example, or “Don’t Get Lost” – all of which add to the fun.
Nor is the path necessarily direct; forks are to be found, some of which lead to major features of the Darkwood – such as the mouldering village on the mire. Others, however might appear to offer a quick route through a spot – but as Tolkien once noted, short cuts can make for long delays, and at least one of these routes may have arachnophobes like me shivering and turning back or hurrying on as rapidly as possible!
Not that it is all darkness and scares. Like Mirkwood of The Hobbit, there is a tale to tell with the Darkwood, one that reveals it was once a brighter, more welcoming place. Within one clearing, for example, can be found memories of an elven presence: an ageing pavilion with a sculpture of elven lovers close to hand, while just beyond, light still pours forth from a symbol of hope which – for me at least – carries a wonderful mythological symbolism from Tolkien: the Earth cupped in Yavnna’s hands, held aloft in light as the Ainur circle it and Eru Ilúvatar looks on.
Ultimately,of course, the aim is to reach the portal that will carry you up to the floating islands. To find that, all I’ll say is (and going totally off-topic to quote Star Trek!) climb the stairs, Jim! (Hey, Star Trek isn’t so off-topic, remember Catspaw?!). The portal will deliver those who find it a short walk to the pavilion proper, whilst for those arriving by the boat tour,the walk is a little longer – but it will carry you past the arrival portal, allowing you to easily hop back to the landing point and start explorations on foot if you wish.
Visitors to the Darkwood are encouraged to dress for a visit – although this is not an absolute requirement. The choices are many, from outright horror to fantasy to dark elves and drow to – as I witnessed during my return to take photos – characters from Tolkien and other fantasy works (seeing Balin the Dwarf exploring with Jon Snow close by was interesting!).
The schedule of events for Darkwood is above, and I’ve included a direct SLurl to the pavilion for those who wish to hop to an event and then explore afterwards.
Enchanted Rock is rated Moderate.