It was almost a decade ago that members of the Seanchai Library in Second Life – “Seanchai” means “storyteller” in Irish Gaelic – had the idea: “What would it be like to walk in the steps of Ebenezer Scrooge?” It was a concept that provided the foundation for what is now The Dickens Project which, in its latest incarnation with the sponsorship of Patch Linden and Linden Lab, kicks off on December 1st for the month.
The Dickens Project, even in those earliest days, was conceived as an “event” – one which today comprises a month of storytelling, music, dance, roleplay and much more – but in fact, according to co-founder Caledonia Skytower, “we built a community that has become an event”: a community that in its own way mirrors the plot journey of A Christmas Carol. Now – how did that happen?
“We started with what we had: readers and voices,” says Skytower. “We recognised that those readers and voices constituted a community that we could build, as well as an audience for the readers.” Seanchai’s first move was to look for partners who could relate to what they were planning. First came the Community Virtual Library, who provided the land for the first event in the “Dickens Project” format in 2012. Other groups and organisations have since been drawn to the Project over the years, expanding it to its present impressive variety and depth.
This 2019 incarnation encompasses an entire region in Second Life, featuring a realisation of Dickensian London, including story-related builds and creations, from Scrooge’s door-knocker metamorphosing into Marley’s face to the graveyard where he discovers the stone that might define his future.
The region is broadly divided into three, representing Christmas Past, Present and Yet To Come. A horse and cart will take you on a circuitous path around the whole region, past buildings and locations that reference the Carol story – and past Victorian shop-fronts whose names cunningly embody Dickensian literary references, if you’re sharp enough to catch them.
And this year there’s also an audio trail: wear a special HUD and follow the ‘Story Path’ around the region and you’re treated to audio clips from the book, effects and atmospheric sounds that help bring the story to life, even when there’s not a reading going on at the time.
The popular “Carol Week” returns, with a section of Dickens’ book read aloud live each day in a “Story Tour” around the locations inspired by the tale, as does the “Urchins In Dickens’ London” roleplay experience.
And of course, there’s Fezziwig’s Ball on the 21st.
Alongside readings from The Book, culminating in “The Big Read” on the 22nd, when the entire work is read aloud from the beginning to “The End Of It”, several other organisations are presenting related features, with the Community Virtual Library providing a Resource Centre and The Dickens Library, special productions from Idle Rogue Productions and Misfit Dance & Performance, and Fantasy Faire Radio with a live reading of their adaptation of another eerie Victorian tale, that of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. There are contributions from Ce Soir Arts, Innsmouth (of Lovecraft fame), Radio Riel and more.
Have Caledonia and her dedicated group of co-workers achieved what they set out to accomplish a decade ago? “It really has become a community now,” she says. “And if a visitor discovers something they were looking for from one of our community, it’s a win,” Caledonia goes on. “If someone goes back and reads A Christmas Carol again, that’s a win. And if someone picks up a book – any book – by Charles Dickens and looks at it fresh, or for the first time, that’s a huge win,” she concludes. So that would be a “yes”.
The Dickens Project is an impressive achievement that should go straight on to your Winter Places list. Visit The Dickens Project in Second Life during the month of December.
For full details of features and special events, visit the Seanchai Library’s Dickens Project web pages
Photos by Aoife Lorefield & Caledonia Skytower