27 July 2016

Preiddeu Annwn

Designed by Hypatia Pickens, a professor at the University of Rochester, Preiddeu Annwn is a spectacularly beautiful sim woven with intrigue and history that explores the poem "Preiddeu Annwn" from the 14th century Welsh manuscript Llyfyr Taliesin (The Book of Taliesin) ("a mysterious poem," as she described it to me). Constructed with the participation of five students in Hypatia's spring 2016 media studies class ("I forced them to read Welsh poetry," Hypatia laughed), the multi-level sim takes visitors on a journey that ranges from a brilliant pastel sea (image above) to darkly shrouded scenes (lower images), many of which are accompanied by explanatory texts in Welsh and English. As the parcel description says, "What better place to stage the Otherworld than in the immaterial Otherworld of Second Life? A visual representation of a medieval Welsh poem from The Book of Taliesin, that begins with the prisoner Gweir. Find him in the four levels of Annwn and a way out of the labyrinth."

"'Preiddeu Annwn' ('the spoils? or the cattle? of Annwn') is found in The Book of Taliesin (ca. 1300)," explained Hypatia, "and I was given a small grant by the [University of Rochester] Rossell Hope Robbins Library to maintain its virtual presence in SL as long as I taught a course using it. Taliesin is a poet said to have been court bard to Urien Rheged of the sixth century, famous for his praise poems but also his unintelligible challenges to readers — who he intends to baffle with his arcane knowledge. My students brought together the materials of skillful artists in Second Life to make a labyrinth in which one hunts for the mysterious prisoner Gweir who sings till Judgment his bardic prayer before the Spoils of Annwn. Six stanzas repeat the refrain 'except seven none rose up/returned from the Fortress of X.' The last two seem to chastise monks for their lack of esoteric knowledge. We made this together from almost nothing, black ink on a page, dark hints, many translations, much critical reading, and all the materials of poetic inspiration."

The extensive vignettes encountered throughout the sim seem to go on almost endlessly, and their rich content warrants repeated trips. Visitors will encounter four distinct locations: the starting point, where one receives information and directions on how to experience the sim; the sea (from here, sit on the mound below the ships); the underground Annwn/Annwfn (a term of uncertain origin explained in one of the rooms); and finally the "Isle of Gweir," the castle where Gweir is imprisoned, reached through a teleport door beyond the Door of Hell — the only way out of the sim.

While exploring, please be sure to have advanced lighting model turned on with shadows (sun/moon + projectors), as well as the parcel media stream, which features sonic material developed by the class. "We did the first two stanzas [of the poem] in Welsh and then one of the students did the voice over," Hypatia explained. And, she adds, at Isle of Gweir, "In one of the rooms you will find selections from the papers my students wrote about the poem and the project."

Yesterday, Hypatia published a machinima, long in the works, that documents the build and provides additional layers of interpretation. Visitors who are interested in learning more about the Rossell Hope Robbins Library, a special collections library focused on medieval literature, history, philosophy, theology, demonology and criticism, can visit its virtual location in Second Life here in the lovely sim Verdigris. Beyond its sheer beauty and fascination, Preiddeu Annwn exemplifies the possibilities of Second Life in higher education, which deserves renewed examination.