As individual experience, Steampunk can be as you want it to be. The Decimononic team knows that this ‘individuality’ is one of the exciting elements unique to the style- It really is ‘tailor-made’ to its wearer! One is able to literally make it up as one goes along. But surely there must be elements, links that we can base our look on?
Everything is covered, Steampunk is inspiration for fashion, art and lifestyle so it’s not just about aviator hats and goggles. This was abundantly clear as I looked through the thousands of images. We know the elements that make up the style of the Victorian cyberinventor or that bumbling air pirate look that we all love.
Another question cropped up during this research: How has the Steampunk ‘word’ spread? One way is through the media, more importantly through popular culture. I wanted to get to the very beginnings of the media aspect for Decimononic, and where better to start than in literature?
1.- The relationship between Steampunk and Literature
The archetypal Science Fiction authors most likely were unaware of what they were beginning as they were published. The distinct lifestyle look began life as a small seed stemming from the imagination of these authors. Most notably two of the earliest pioneers of Science Fiction: Jules Verne and HG Wells.
17th Century French author Jules Verne is the first example, known for his ‘Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea’ and ‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth’. His works include high adventure, fantastical machinery, the likes of which the world has never known.
However of all his works, the most ‘Steampunk’ in nature is ‘Around The World in 80 Days’ published in 1873. It is fantasy to it’s very core, the tale features Victorian inventor Phileas Fogg as the hero. There is travel via various means: Steam engines, ship and air. The novel like many of Verne’s works were before their time and have even been known to inspire today’s scientists in their endeavors.
HG Wells is also another author known for anticipating Steampunk in his works. One cannot forget the mechanical alien pods that emerge from the ground in ‘War of the Worlds’ published in 1898. Or ‘The Time Machine’ of 1895, where the ‘Time Traveller’ is described as a gentleman inventor. He discovers the notion that ‘time’ itself is simply a fourth dimension that can be travelled through. With his time travelling machine he moves back and forth through time, visiting the same world. Wells captured the imagination again through a fantasy that had not yet been realized by the science of the time.
The novel has been turned to time and time again in reference to all things Steampunk. This genre has evolved to more than a mere interest in past times to become an entity in itself. While this is so, the basis will still be strongly linked to these writers and their fantasies. But the gentlemen novelists were men of science fiction, for a more specific approach the following authors generated the breeding ground for the first Steampunk-inspired works:
- K.W Jeter’s ‘Morlock Night’ published much later in 1979, ‘Infernal Devices published’ in 1987. The Steampunk style was streamlined in these works with emphasis on hybrid science fiction creatures, clockwork and this hyper-Victorian fantasy.
- There is also ‘The Anubis Gates’ by Tim Powers (1983) is the quintessential time travel fantasy, with an alternative history merging Egypt with an almost Colonial British history, a twist on the traditional Steampunk story line.
- James P. Blaylock penned ‘Lord Kelvin’s Machine’ in 1992. The third installment of the series, this novella is specifically set in Victorian London. Invention and dastardly plots are run rife in this work making it essential Steampunk reading.
2.- The relationship between Steampunk and Cinema
We cannot forget those cult films and TV. Visual media is one of the most powerful and important mediums in today’s society. Some would argue that the importance of visual has surpassed written media in so many ways. We are talking not just movies but also now gaming, graphic novels, art in all it’s forms!
If we take the example of ‘movies’, they certainly are big business all over the world amassing millions in revenue. Steampunk is a very visual style, so it has naturally lent itself to featuring on the silver screen. As a style there are qualities closely linked to the Gothic, they have the ability to add an intriguing curiosity to any script.
The perfect example of this can be seen in Mervyn Peake’s Gothic tale ‘Titus Groan and Gormenghast’. The BBC’s 1990’s version particularly so, its visually a stark combination of a disturbed Gothic back ground with Steampunk-ish personalities. Jonathan Rhys Meyers plays the conniving Steerpike desperate to climb the ladder of success. An all too common tale of austerity that is given a dark and mechanical twist. Steerpike himself wears the typical mid-Victorian garb with a Gothic twist. Patent black leather, buckles with loose silk shirts, long hair tied back. The erotic figure also had a real sinister quality that is seen to be so appealing.
Now to a more well known character in popular culture: ‘Edward Scissorhands’ (1990) is a curious mix of all things dark and machine-like with the bright 1950’s chirpy middle America, told through a romance filled love story. The mechanical robots that live with Edward and his maker/father again showcase the lone gentleman inventor figure and his creations. Edward himself is a melancholic artificial man, created as a sort of companion for the lonely inventor. With mechanical hands created from scissor blades, he never fully becomes human, the human that he so longs to be.
Although ‘Return to Oz’ (1985) is not technically a ‘Steampunk’ film, there is no denying that there are very fantastic mechanical aspects throughout the film. The wheelers: Half human and half vehicle minions of the evil queen Mombi. Tik Tok is a robotic member of the army of OZ, everything about Dorothy’s shiny friend is clockwork! He needs to be constantly wound up to be able to do anything- whether it is thinking, marching or even fighting. Tik Tok’s design really is the stuff of Steampunk fantasy.
But even to more recent times we see ‘Hellboy 2 : The Golden Army’ (2008), Asimov’s ‘I Robot’ (2004), and ‘Wild Wild West’ (1999) are superb examples of how Steampunk as a style has been and continues to be found all around us. Whether it is in the movies or through graphic novels, Steampunk is as popular now as ever!