The Cheery, Eerie World of Christian

leishman__deviant_the_possession_of_christian_shawDeviant: The Possession of Christian Shaw, is the electronic literature piece I have chosen  from the ELC1 to review this week. Deviant is a visual narrative, a with story with no words or voices, simply an interactive animated story. It recreates the true story of an 11 year old girl in 1696 Scotland who was believed (at that time at least) to have become possessed by evil spirits. She blamed up to twenty local townsfolk for her possession, accusing them of being witches; an investigation was held and seven were found guilty. One of the men killed himself in jail, the other three women and three men were strangled, their bodies burned. It is now generally thought that Christian was most likely manipulated by the local priest and doctor.

Donna Leishman’s Deviant is as strange as the story of Christian Shaw. The story starts with an upside down tree. When reader clicks it an odd little town appears. There are four large buildings, a treed area with a lake, a church and a small house on the left, apart from the rest of the town, as well a large hill in the foreground. One of the trees has a ladder going up to it, like a tree house. The reader, who must seek out clues with the mouse on the screen to see parts of the story, first notices that the buildings make music when you run the mouse over them, eery electronic organ music that makes some of the trees grow larger and blossom. The blossoms can be knocked to the ground by the reader. This weird, childish activity sets the tone for the story.

This is the first electronic piece that I don’t want to give to many details about what unfolds because it is a story, with a beginning and end, although possibly not ordered like one would find in a book; to tell you what happens would spoil it. I will say that Leishman has created the first piece of electronic literature that really got to me. It was scary, not in the horror movie sense, although maybe it actually was a little bit, but mostly in the tension that is created by the cheerful yet disturbing  design and churchy music. It made me feel the same way I did when I saw the movie There Will Be Blood, tense and on edge. It was so atmospheric that I felt like something fucked up was going to happen at every movement of the mouse. And every time I watch it I see a new clue, another glimpse in strange Christian’s childlike (and possibly demonic) mind, which adds to the haunting feeling it evokes. This is the first piece of electronic literature that uses the platform perfectly. It is my favourite so far.

Jordan Harbord

ADDENDUM:

I know the author, Donna Leishman, has discussed Deviant: The Possession of Christian Shaw in this blog, but I have chosen not to read it until after I am finished my review, and then any extra things I have to add after reading her post I will put in the comments section.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “The Cheery, Eerie World of Christian

  1. harbord

    I want to add that the piece Agnes and McKenzie looked at today, Girls Day Out, was also effectively creepy in tone. I can’t figure out why it works so well, or a story can be so haunting, in the digital format. I would think it would be the opposite.

  2. harbord

    Ok, after this I will stop commenting on my own blog entry:

    In Grade 12 English I spent a year studying diction, which I hated. We basically had to analyze why authors’ chose the words, sentence structures, and rythms that they did. Personally, I never thought that writers worked this way; did Jane Austen really use run on sentences to achieve something, or was it just something she did, or a mistake we could overlook because the story was good enough? And I still sort of think this way for most literature. The errors, flaws and foibles become part of a writer’s personal style, and most likely this is not intentional, at least in the beginning. But when I interact with e-lit, and poetry I guess (and I have never looked at either before this English class), I see that words, structures and rythms are placed with purpose and therefore have meaning.

    After reading Donna Leishman’s post in the Culture Net blog about Deviant: The Possession of Christian Shaw, I was surprised by how much symbolism and meaning I had overlooked. I love to read, but I am a lazy reader. I often sense there are dual or multiple, literal and symbolic meanings to placed events and things and people, allusions that add to the tone and atmosphere of a the story, but I don’t work very hard to name them. When someone else, the author or anybody really, points out these messages, I am always interested but not surprised; mostly I am glad because I have a deeper understanding of the story without having to doing much work.

    I had considered this piece as simply a modern recreation of a historical tale told from an eleven year old girl’s perspective, which may be true on one level, but my to build my review on a couple of one dimensional readings is shallow. It is too bad that this is my last e-lit review, because I think I might finally be allowing myself to be curious enough about poetry to actually reconsider the importance of diction. But maybe that would be too much work.

    https://culturenet.wordpress.com/2008/11/13/deviant-the-possession-of-christian-shaw-under-the-skin/

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