Sunday, August 5, 2012

On Steampunk, Jules Verne and the General Squishiness of Octopuses

            Why the Octopus – Origins:
                It seems like everywhere you look steampunk octopuses are popping up. You’ve got cephalopod inspired jewelry, clothing, sculptures and drawings. Why has the octopus become the unofficial mascot of the steampunk world? It certainly has a lot to do with Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The book was inspired by an alleged incident between a French naval vessel and a giant squid.

 Lovecraft was also octopus obsessed it would seem. The creation of his terrifying monster “Cthulhu” was heavily octopus influenced. These two writers are very central to the steampunk culture, so you don’t have to be Nancy Drew to make the connection.

                Some people will tell you it’s not the Octopus, but the Kraken that takes the name of mascot. The Kraken is much more adventure oriented then its counterpart. It’s larger, scarier and it sinks ships and eats soldiers. Tales of the Kraken originated sometime in the 12th century, when Norwegian seafarers reported attacks from giant, tentacled sea monsters. The stories were likely greatly exaggerated, as they were reported to be “as big as islands” and people claimed to have seen them wrap their tentacles around large man-of-war ships and pull them to the bottom.  The tales became less common as time went on, but attacks by giant squids were still reported as late as world war two (apparently at least one soldier was eaten).

                Steampunk seems to concentrate less on high seas drama and more on airships, so the genre has come up with the fearsome “air kraken” just to keep things balanced.
                So who exactly is the official mascot? The Kraken, the giant squid or the octopus?
Since steampunk is about breaking the rules, there probably never will be an “official” one, so pick what you want. Whichever creature you prefer, as long as it’s sufficiently slimy and packing tentacles.

Prime Candidate…
There are other reasons that steampunks favor the octopus. They really are neat creatures. Not only are they wonderful to look at, with their squirmy tentacles and big, black eyes, they’re smart. Steampunk is about invention, innovation, creating your own solutions and just…creating.  And cephalopods are some of the most inventive creatures that live. Did you know an octopus will collect the empty coconut halves that fall in the water? After he gets one he’ll scoop it underneath himself and sit in it, effectively creating a little boat that he floats along in, propelling himself along with his tentacles. He takes the shell home and drops it off, and then he goes back for another half. When he’s got both halves back to his place, he sits back down in the shell and places the other half on top, giving himself protection while he takes a snooze. Not only that, but the squishy little guys have the ability to learn. In studies the octopus has proven its adaptability, not only learning how to open a plastic box to get the crab inside, but learning from simply watching his buddy do it. Some humans aren’t even that smart.

                The Eyes Have It:
                It’s not all about looks, but the octopus sort of just looks steampunk, with his big, goggle-like eyes, sticky cups and multi-use tentacles. It’s hard to think of anything else in the animal kingdom that’s more unique than that! Try looking up videos of them, watch them cruise along the ocean floor, or wrap their arms around an unsuspecting diver in a giant hug. Don’t you wish you had eight arms?

                And so…
                In conclusion, the steampunks have adopted the octopus for a multitude of reasons. It may have begun with Verne and Lovecraft, but has continued on due to its innate curiosity and inventiveness, which the steampunk community admires and relates to.

                                                                                                     -Erin Latimer, the Steampunkette


  1. Sometimes people just accept the things because someone else's said that's the way things must be, without even wondering why.
    Thanks for sharing this interesting article.

  2. Lady with her octopus is Tracey Ernst, our 'Ernst'-while leader of the Vancouverites for Steampunk Group and Community.