Steampunk in the Harry Potter Series

Though Not the Main Theme, Steampunk is Found Throughout the Harry Potter Movies and Books

Hogwarts ExpressI was watching the movie Harry Potter and Prisoner of Azkaban last weekend for the umpteenth time with the rest of my family, (Harry Potter is one of the few movie series that we all like), when it occurred to me how much steampunk was part of the the Harry Potter series.

We have been watching the entire Harry Potter series of movies, one each week in order, for the last three weekends, and it was the Prisoner of Azkaban that really drove the realization home regarding how much steampunk was part and parcel of the entire series. Then when I looked back at the previous movies, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, I realized how much I had missed of the steampunk embedded in all of the movies.

In the Era of Steam Engines

When you dig down to what steampunk really is, steampunk is the mix of the components of the steam era like steam locomotives, with elements of fantasy, science fiction, and out of time elements.  And if you think closely about the Harry Potter series, what could be more out of time, than a series of books about a wizard world hidden from the real world.

If you stop watching the main action in the movies, and you look at the side action, the setting, and the details, that happen around and behind the characters, then you really start to see how much steampunk is really there.

The Hogwarts Train

As the audience, we are well aware that the Harry Potter story exists in an older time than now, just from the way the characters dress, and the style of living.  However, the most evident and blatant steampunk element is the Hogwarts Express train.

Although you read about the train in the books, the movies do a wonderful job at presenting the majesty of the Hogwarts Express steam locomotive as in pulls into the train station, and as the Hogwarts Express travels on the train tracks through the countryside.  Living in an age now when trains are a rare form of transportation, and where steam engines are a thing of the past, it is easy to forget how majestic the steam locomotives were.

Quidditch Uniforms

The quidditch uniforms in the Harry Potter movies are another place where we see steampunk directly. The quidditch uniforms are a cross between the wizard robes and aviator costumes of the World War I era.

The goggles shown to the right are from the quidditch uniform, and are a distinct steampunk symbol. If you search steampunk sites, you will see the aviator goggles appear over and over again, as replicas and as authentic goggles.

The Hogwarts Clock Tower

The Hogwarts clock tower is an integral part of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, as part of the theme of time travel. In the scenes where Harry and Hermione go back in time to free Buckbeak and save Sirius Black, the views of the gears driving the clock in the clock tower are repeated. The ticking and bonging runs through the scenes. The clock movement is a driver in the scenes because the entire rescue must be completed in a short amount of time, time that is stolen from the regular day. This again is the essence of steampunk, or a place out of time.

Even the time turner that Hermione uses to go back in time comes from a pocket watch design crossed with an hourglass design, another symbol of the Victorian era. Today, pocket watches and hourglasses are only used for effect, not for checking the time.  Who needs to use an hourglass, when you can just check the digital readout on your cell phone? When you think about it, the fact that Hogwarts is a castle, not just a school, is another symbol of past eras, especially to Americans who do not have castles in their native land.

Steampunk Takes Us Back to a Simpler Age

Steampunk as a movement, comes from the wish to go back to a simpler age, when our lives were not ruled by computers, and gadgets.  The wish to live a simpler, less worrisome lifestyle than we have now is natural especially when you mix in the desire to recycle, and spend less money due to our current economic situation.

Harry Potter’s world, while much more complex in the fact that magic is an part of life that can be learned, manipulated, and controlled, is still placed in a time when life was simpler than it is now.  And the wizarding world is even more based in the past with their mail delivered by carrier owls, and candlelit hallways.

By taking the story out of place, and back in time, J.K. Rowling forces us to really focus on every detail of what is happening to the characters, and how they interact with the world around them, which is so very much not the world we live in.  After all, if Harry Potter was writing this article, he would be using a parchment and a quill, instead of typing on a computer.


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