Where did STEAMPUNK come from?

Steampunk is a genre inspired by a mixture of the real industrialization of Victorian and Edwardian England and the science fiction literature penned during the period.

Authors such as Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle are all considered influences of the genre. Ask anyone who has written a Steampunk story and they'll admit to having read some or all of these authors. I have.

The term Steampunk came about in the 1980's Until that time, the genre was called cyberpunk or just Victorian Fantasy. Writer K.W. Jeter was given credit for the Steampunk moniker. It was an apt description because of the steam powered engines developed during the Victorian Era and the manipulation that writers of the 1980's through today use to hype the history to include more and more fanciful inventions that pushed the genre.

Because the stories written during the real Era were so imaginative and built around that grain of truth that all good stories have to make it realistic, the television industry jumped on the band wagon and developed television dramas and movies of almost each and every story.

I think I've seen every film version of H. G. Wells's The Time Machine. The one with Rod Taylor is still my favorite though Time After Time with Malcolm McDowell and Mary Steenburgen had the interesting twist of having H.G. following Jack the Ripper into year 1979.

The Invisible Man was published in 1897. A combination of horror and science fiction that hasn't lost its appeal even today. The first movie I saw of The Invisible Man was the with Claude Rains and Gloria Stewart. The last one I saw was the remake with Kevin Bacon and Elizabeth Shue titled Hollow Man but did you know there was an invisible Man series with David McCallum and a couple of others too. And even one titled Memoirs of the Invisible Man. Can you even imagine Daryl Hannah playing in such a corny movie but what else could you expect from Chevy Chase.

War of the Worlds saw three incarnations on film. The first movie was with Gene Berry and Anne Robinson. Which, despite not having all the special effects the Tom Cruise movie did, is still my favorite. And the series that came from the book starred Adrien Paul from Highlander fame.

Maybe the reason these earlier versions are my favorites are because they rooted inside my impressionable young mind and encouraged my own flights of imagination.

How many versions have we all seen of Frankenstein--a book pinned my Mary Shelley in 1818.

I feel Shelley has never been given nearly as much credit as she deserves since the book fell squarely into the Victorian Science Fiction genre and explored the use of electricity to reanimate the body. She was way ahead of her time. I've probably seen all of Boris Carloff's renditions of the creature. Then there's Robert De Niro's attempt.   One with Parker Posey. And how could any of us forget Young Frankenstein with Gene Wilder. 

Dracula written by Bram Stoker fell within the Sci/fi horror genre too. The book was written in 1897. There was a second story title Dracula's Guest that followed.  
And Edgar Allen Poe's poetry and stories were published around the same time. 

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle began publishing his Sherlock Holmes stories in 1887. Over the years I've watched several series and movies inspired by his character. The first movie I saw was with Basil Rathbone. Then there was the series with Jeremy Brett.   And there's a new series starring Benedict Cumberbatch.I loved the movies with Robert Downy Jr. Sherlock Holmes and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.  I enjoyed the Robert Downy movies as much as I did reading the stories. And they were perhaps the only movies I've ever seen Jude Law in that I've liked him. What made these movies so good were the totally Steampunk additions of unusual machines and inventions that helped the characters survive as well as the fight sequences that mirrored the genre too.
And lets not forget the new series titled Elementary with Johnny Miller and Lucy Liu. I love the series and the Holmes character is as tormented as Conan Doyle's Holmes character was, but it lacks the unusual technology a Steampunk series would need.

Which leads us directly to The Wild Wild West.  The original series was filmed between 1965-1969. It was  a kind of Wild West James Bond and had the unusual technology like the Bond movies to live up to the hype. (Where did you think the ideas for James Bond's tech came from?) And Robert Conrad and Ross Martin were a wonderful duo. It was a real shame that Martin had a heart attack and missed completely the fourth year of the series. James West and Artemus Gordon the characters were perfect Steampunk characters. So when the movie Wild Wild West staring Will Smith and Kevin Kline came out, I wondered how they would top the original. It was fun and entertaining and had some of the elements of Steampunk the original series had in it, but it wasn't the series. 

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Jules Verne's Journey To The Center Of the Earth has been revered as the hallmark of a Steampunk story and was published in 1874. It explores civilizations and their mores, explores new worlds or an unusual setting, and though it has very little technology involved, it does open the imagination to all sorts of possibilities and has inspired a number of movies. The first in 1959 with James Mason and Pat Boone. Then there's the one with Brendan Frasier. There was another one titled Return to the Center of the Earth with Guy Pierce as well. 

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20,000 Leagues Under the Sea followed the same premise. An unusual environment, a civilization with it's own rules and ideas of morality. The movie made in 1954 starred Kirk Douglas and James Mason and was filmed by the Disney studios.

 File:Princess of Mars large.jpg

Edgar Rice Burroughs penned his John Carter's Adventures on Mars and created his jungle hero Tarzan of the Apes during the time Jules Verne was writing about disappearing into the center of the earth. Again a new environment, new creatures, a new morality. 


And though John Carter has only found success lately starring Taylor Kitsch, Tarzan was serialized on television in a series of movies that spanned 60 years or longer. The last Tarzan Movie made was a cartoon in 2002. Pretty good for a series that was begun in 1912. 

So, the elements of Steampunk are Unusual Environments, Unusual Mechanized Technology, and An Unusual Civilization with its own morality.  But the genre encompasses a  wealth of imagination as well. And in fact the Steampunk Genre has inspired a movement that embraces  an unusual wardrobe, unusual inventions, jewelry and much more than I can list in this blog since it's already grown longer than it needs to be.

I hope I've given you some food for thought and a great list of books you'd like to read. 

Read on,
Teresa Reasor


Barbara Bettis said…
Great post with good definition of Steampunk. Lots of interesting information on the books you mentioned, too. When I consider that genre, my first thoughts are the TV series Wild, Wild West and the Sherlock Holmes of Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law.

I'm recommending the post for a couple of CPs who were talking about this very issue earlier in the week. Thanks ;)
Thanks for reading the blog. And I'm glad you got some useful information in it and have shared it.
I appreciate it.
Teresa R.
I had no idea. But now that you mentioned the older movies, I can see it. Thanks so much for this post! I tweeted.
Emma said…
Sherlock will always be my favorite! I never thought of him as steampunk in any of his incarnations but, yes, you definitely have a point.
Thanks for stopping by ladies. And Sir Arthur Conan Doyle didn't have Steampunk in mind when he wrote the mysteries, but his character lives on in the Steampunk genre he inspires.

Write on,
Teresa R.
All these books that I've linked to my blog are freeto download on your kindle. Which makes them a bargain and good reading.
Susan Macatee said…
Very interesting post, Teresa! I've seen most of these movies and or read the books. It's a really fun genre!
Thanks for stopping by Susan. And yes, it's an interesting genre. And I discovered a lot of interesting things about it.
Teresa R.
Sheila Currie said…
What a truly interesting piece of research you've done! Enjoyed the whole thing and am now interested in how it will influence your writing.
Sheila Currie said…
Sorry, I thought my name would print with my gmail address.

Nancy C. Weeks said…
Hi Teresa,
Very interesting post! I have the entire selection of Sherlock Holmes and H. G. Wells on my bookcase. Both collections a fifty years older than I am. They were my husband's grandmother's favorite books. I love them and have read them numerous times to my kids over the year. I have to wonder why I don't try my hand at Steampunk.
Juli D. Revezzo said…
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea too. That's one of my favorites. :) Allan Moore's From Hell borders steampunk a little bit.

The Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes is great, as Barbara said.

Ella, check out The League of
Extraordinary Gentleman if you can. That too is a great Steampunk movie.
Oh, I forgot about League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Good suggestion. I've seen that movie at least a dozen times.
If anyone can think of any others be sure to put them out there.

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