Wednesday, March 26, 2008

We Tell Stories

For the most part, literature has made an uneasy transition onto the Internet. Generally, it is presented as if it were printed on a page, and though there is a different physical interaction, clicking the mouse instead of turning the page, the actual reading experience is no different online than on-paper. Furthermore, most attempts to merge the two media end up simply mashing them together, like hypertext poetry for example, rather than seeking out a new mode of expression that uses the best of both. The only thing that I've come across so far that comes close to a real new "online literature" are the Internet games, like the one we hosted for our Raw Shark Texts event last year, or the one based in the universe of, but not officially sanctioned by, the Matrix movies, where competitors follow clues through a number of different websites to solve some mystery. That is until I came across We Tell Stories.

We Tell Stories is a project of Penguin UK, where six short stories based on classic works are presented with the tools of the internet. The first installment is called "The 21 Steps" and is based on the novel The 39 Steps. The 21 Steps uses Google Earth to literally follow the protagonist around the UK. Wherever the protagonist goes on his adventure, the reader is taken there on the map. The prose is enclosed in the Google Map bubbles and includes additional pictures, audio, and video that augment the story. It is a seamless meshing of the two media into something entirely new. The second story "Slice" is based on The Haunted Doll's House and is told in two blogs (including the comments); one on LiveJournal and one through WordPress, with additional material available through Twitter and Flickr. The story started on March 25 and will end on March 28, but it will remain on their archive. What you see in both are all the hallmarks of literature with verbal images, characterization, plot, and interpretative potential and all the hallmarks of the internet with constant update, access to vast amounts of information, and (potentially simulated) reader interaction.

"Slice" will be followed by works based on Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen, Therese Raquin by Emile Zola, Hard Times by Dickens, and Tales from the 1001 Nights. If the first two stories are any indication this is a project to watch for.

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