“Fewer and fewer Americans possess objects that have a patina, old furniture, grandparents’ pots and pans — the used things, warm with generations of human touch … essential to a human landscape.”
– Susan Sontag
You might think this quote came from a book on steampunk. Actually, I found it while reading a book on Wabi Sabi, the Japanese worldview that celebrates transience and natural imperfection.
Yet in this exploration of an eastern philosophy, I found a powerful reminder of why I love steampunk so much.
Literary and cultural arguments abound over whether steampunk is science fiction or fantasy. I personally fall into the latter camp. And among the possible other genres of fantasy, I often find steampunk to be the most accessible and human.
But why? When you think about it, airships, armored corsetry and ray guns are (for the most part) as “unbelievable” as Arthur pulling a sword from the stone, or a certain magical schoolboy chasing down all those ornery horcruxes.
Yet somehow, it feels more real to me.
Now I know why.
Because unlike the world of most other fantasy, I feel a tangible link the Victorian Era. My great-grandparents were born in its heyday. Growing up, I was surrounded by reminders of their lives and legacy—both of their devout faith and their bygone manner of living.
I even remember sitting on their laps as a wee girl, eating ham sandwiches at their kitchen table while they talked about snowshoeing to school and getting “modern contraptions” for the first time.
Now, as an adult, unfortunately I no longer have access to them personally, only their memories. But I live in a Victorian house. On the shelf behind me right now, there’s a faded photography from 1889, found between two walls when we were remodeling. The child in the photo was the beloved daughter of the family who first built our house.
Her legacy, and her parents’, is in these walls still.
It’s these kind of people that steampunk—no matter how wild, whimsical and fantastical it becomes—is inspired by. People whose lives have actually touched mine.
As much as I love medieval fantasy (and always, always will!) . . . I just don’t have medieval relics lying around my house. I have absolutely no idea who my family were that many generations back; consequently, the medieval characters I create are one more step removed from my personal DNA.
Through my Victorian relatives, and my home, I am surrounded by actual “used things, warm with generations of human touch.” And I am blessed with the opportunity to blend that legacy with the wonders of imagination to create something entirely new.
It is this, if nothing else, that makes steampunk so beautifully accessible. Because for me, and I suspect for many others, it is not just another outlet to scratch the fantasy itch. It is a way to connect with and celebrate a past whose influence we feel directly in our everyday lives.
Steampunk is an altered version of our “human landscape:” the creation of our fantasy and our nostalgia.
One creation I hope we never lose.
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What about you? What family memories and “old things” are in your life
that inspire your steampunk stories, costumes, and activities?