Tuesday, July 9, 2013

GUEST BLOG: Richard Ellis Preston

Richard Ellis Preston, Jr. (Romulus Buckle and the City of the Founders, book one of the Chronicles of the Pneumatic Zeppelin steampunk series)


No writer can escape his or her influences, although I doubt we consciously recognize very many of them.  And when you do discover an influence, you have the choice to try to run away from it (fearing it shall overwhelm your own vision) or to embrace it, which in the end may be the act that requires more courage.  One of the most important films and books of my life from very early on is Disney’s 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, released in 1954.  Harper Goff’s gorgeous Nautilus is my Nautilus.  James Mason is my Nemo.  I have read Jules Verne’s excellent novel perhaps twenty times throughout my life, but for some reason this movie version occupies the more prominent spot my imagination (usually, for me, it is the other way around).  
When I decided to set my Romulus Buckle and the City of the Founders series in the steampunk
subgenre, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was never far from my mind, whether I wanted it to be or not.   Jules Verne is considered a grandfather of steampunk and his 1870 book, with all of its Victorian-era, fantastical machines and adventurous expeditions, hints at the steampunk subgenre which appeared much later.  For me, the leap between 20,000 Leagues and my story is small, though more for story and character parallels than anything specifically ‘steampunk.’  Instead of fearing comparisons to Verne’s tale (which I would most decidedly lose) and retreating from any similarities to it, I turned the other way—and enjoyed my part in the legacy of the Nautilus and Captain Nemo.  My Captain Buckle is, in my mind, something of what I envision the young Nemo would have been—brilliant, charismatic, apparently infallible.  And readers of my second book in the series, Romulus Buckle and the Engines of War, will discover a furious battle between a flying kraken and an airship—axes and all—which is an obvious homage to the giant squid fight immortalized in the above mentioned film version of 20,000 Leagues. 

(PHOTO: James Mason/Captain Nemo photo)

Have I ripped Jules Verne off?  I think not.  Like all other writers who realize and understand that they owe something to a predecessor whose work affected them profoundly, I acknowledge that I have occasionally exulted in Verne and followed his lead.  As long as your work is unquestionably your own, there is nothing wrong with this—in fact, this kind of springboard is the lifeblood of all art.  All artists, even we pipsqueaks, strand on the shoulders of the giants who came before.  Anyone writing about King Arthur and his court owes something to Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur.  Anyone writing about vampires owes something to Polidori’s The Vampyre and Bram Stoker’s Dracula.  Flying krakens attacking airships are a familiar part of the steampunk milieu—and they all owe something to Verne, as far as I am concerned.  And as the Nautilus was Nemo’s great vessel, so Romulus Buckle has the Pneumatic Zeppelin: both are industrial-age machines of immense capacity, both at the mercy of the good or evil impulses of their captain.  The ship of war becomes an extension of the man.  And such a man in the grips of obsession is a dangerous thing.

And so here lies the Nautilus in my steampunk.  If you do honor me by taking the time to read my Romulus Buckle series (and you are familiar with 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea), you will surely see things pop up on occasion where you can trace the origin to the book and/or movie.  Maybe I did it on purpose, maybe not.

(PHOTO: The Author with Harper Goff’s original Nautilus model used in the 1954 Disney film)

Tidbits on 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea*:

1)      “Leagues” refers to distance traveled, not depth.

2)      ‘Nemo’ means ‘nothing’ or ‘nobody’ in Latin.

3)      Orson Welles picked 20,000 Leagues and Captain Nemo as his favorite story and character.  (Favorite Story radio show, 20 December 1947)

4)      The sea creatures that attack the Nautilus are often referred to as ‘Giant Squid” but they are actually poulps, as Professor Pierre Arronax correctly identifies them.

5)      The giant squid (poulp) battle was first shot at dusk on a calm sea, then reshot at night in a storm to increase drama and better hide the cables and mechanical workings of the animatronic squids (poulps).

6)      I can’t stomach the word poulp (it sounds like a tiny shrimp-thing) so I keep using the incorrect but vastly more satisfying ‘giant squid.”   

7)      In Back to the Future, Part III, Dr. Emmett Brown (Christopher Lloyd) names his sons Jules and Verne.

(*notes largely drawn from Wikipedia)

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