There is nothing wrong with vampires. I love vampires. Some of my favourite people are vampires (sure, they only exist on the page, but still). Vampires are great, but sometimes you want to read about timelessness without dealing with the bloodsucking-plot points. Immortality can take many forms and and poses some fascinating questions.
How do you deal with the times changing around you? Do you change with it or remain the same? How to deal with the deaths of your loved ones? Is having an expiration date necessary for finding meaning in your life? Is immortality worth yearning for? Different authors have answered these questions differently, by creating some fantastic characters. If a books is contains an immortal character, I will read it. Here is a list of some of my favourites:
Tomorrow, ‘Tommorow’ by Damian Dibbens
Who does not love an immortal dog? Tomorrow has lived for centuries when is master made him immortal as a puppy. He has met Byron, seen numerous battlefields, European courts and waits for patiently for the master he has become separated from, but who cursed/blessed the dog with immortality in the late 16th century. The book explores what mental strengths are required of an immortal: the optimism and joy in life it takes to not go absolutely mad as the centuries pass. Unlike so many other canine protagonists in literature, Tomorrow does not idealize his master. Sure, he loves him, considers him his pack and appreciates many of his undeniably better qualities, but much of Tomorrows journey is about coming to terms with Valentyne leaving him, with Valentine giving him immortality (for better and for worse) and with Valentine never allowing Tomorrow a dog’s life with a home, a hearth, a mate and puppies. Life with Valentyne has not been an easy one, a life of constant rootlessness and encounters with death and misery. No wonder Tomorrow’s feelings towards his master are complicated.
Cayal, ‘The Tide Lords’-series by Jennifer Fallon
Cayal is in many ways the stereotypical immortal. He is tortured and troubled, in a very attractive, way of course. Woman are attracted by his looks and, due to his royal, he has the manners and graces that could charm the birds out of the trees. Cayal definetly exemplifies what a curse long life can. When we first meet him, he is 8 000 years old and is desperate to end it. Cayal has seen it all, done it all and now he would like it all to end. The problem is that, although he is an all-powerful god, he cannot commit suicide. It is physically impossible for his body not to heal itself. But that certainly does not stop him from trying! Cayal shows us how immortality, the never ending difficulties of staying alive can lead to a srious never ending depression. The man is driven to madness and a selfishness beyond belief (really, read the books. The man is delightfully grotesque in his self-centredness)
Rachel, ‘Eternal Life’ by Dara Horn
Why are so many of the immortals in fiction men? Is it because western society generally frowns upon older women with younger men, but is much more accepting when it is an older man with a younger woman? Perhaps. I don’t know. However, Rachel proves that you can have expectational books with an immortal female protagonist. In Roman occupied Jerusalem, Rachel sacrificed her death to God so that her son would live. Her gender leads to a different type of immortal life than the others on this list; she lives through periods in which the options of women are limited. Consequently, Rachel spends millennia cooking and caring for others. After two thousand years and hundreds of husbands and children, Rachel is rather tired. She carries with her grief for all those she has lost through the years. There is only one other immortal out there, only one person that could be a constant in her life; he is the father of her first child and he loves her. But is it really this man that will give her meaning in life? Or is there something else? What does age have to do with love? For you family? Your children?
Matthieu Zela, ‘The Thief of Time’ and ‘Crippen’ by John Boyne
I’m rather fond of the debonair Monsieur Matthieu Zela, and I think his creator Boyne is too (the author of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and The Heart’s Invisible Furies), because Zela appears in two of his books. Unlike Rachel or Cayal, Matthieu does not see his immortality as a curse. He enjoys his extremely long life. He inexplicably stopped aging in the early 19th century when he was in his late forties, and rather than looking for a way to die or search for an explanation, he has simply continued relish being alive. Wherever or whenever there is high-culture, elegance and luxury, you can be certain the charming and sophisticated Zela will be there with wry comments and gentlemanly graces. Zela never ages and his personality never changes. He always remains the same and somehow he always fits into whatever society he chooses to live in. Zela exemplifies the unchanging nature of the human condition; despite what we may think now, the people of the past are pretty much the same as us today.
The Fool, ‘Realm of the Elderlings’ by Robin Hobb
The Fool is by far the most enigmatic character on this list. He goes by many names: the Fool, Amber, Beloved and Lord Golden, amongst other names. We do not know how old he is, only that he is very, very old. And we do not know how long it is possible for him to stay live. We do not know even the gender of Beloved. He is presented as a boy to Fitz, the first protagonist in Hobb’s Realm of the Elderlings-universe, but later on in the books Beloved comfortably lives as a woman. The Fool truly challenges us to consider what should be considered private. Do we owe those we love to reveal our life stories? Or even our gender? The Fool does not think so. He does not even seem to think backgrounds and sex that important (He memorably dismisses gender as a matter of plumbing at one point). The Fool’s relationship with Fitz is one of the most rewarding and unforgettable friendships in the fantasy-genre, in my and many other’s opinion. I cannot recommend Hobb’s books with the Fool enough! He has a sense of homour and mysteriousness that makes spending time with him worth your while.
Francis Damory, ‘Farundell’ and ‘Fate’ by L.R. Fredrericks
Sometimes you get more than you bargained for. That is what happened to Francis Damory, 18th century gentleman with a keen interest in alchemy, a lot of money and a fascination with a mysterious immortal ancestor. Damory somehow manages to be both the stereotypical rational man of the Enlightenment area and at the same time an alchemist, living his life in a fairytale-like world with mysterious women, vanishing mansions and visions. Damory’s immortality comes in the shape of the loss of his corporal body (one of the many things he did not know would happen when he signed up). And when we meet him in Farundell, he has become a ghost in his former home, watching his descendants live out their lives. In that book, Damory is only a supporting character. It is Fate that gives us the life story of Damory proper. We know from the start that Damory will achieve his goal of immortality, but that is not the point of his story in. This door-stopper of a book is about the life choices that could lead someone to want immortality and how bloody minded you would have to be to find such an elixir.
Tom, ‘How to Stop Time’ by Matt Haig
I am not alone in thinking that Matt Haig is a brilliant author. He has penned several stories of magical realism (The Humans and The Dead Fathers’ Club to mention some). Now he has created Tom who only ages slowly. He is born in 15th century France but as a teenager he seemingly stops aging, which terrifies his community into burning his mother as a which. Tom is not under some spell or curse. His condition is genetic and leads to extremely slow aging. In the 21th century, he is a middle-aged history teacher in London. One of the many problems that immortality poses for Tom is the many memories he must deal with. Our human brain is a powerful organ, but it can only store so much stuff, and Tom’s huge amount of experiences seem difficult to keep track off. Memories of lost loves, Shakespare and journeys with Captain Cook assault Tom constantly, leading to confusion and headaches. Last I heard, How to Stop Time was being made into a movie with Benedict Cumberbatch in the lead. I hope that does not happen, Haig’s book deserves better.
Marianne Engel, ‘The Gargoyle’ by Andrew Davidson
We never quite know whether or not Mariann is immortal or just plain schizophrenic, but I choose to believe the former. The narrator of the book is in hospital, recovering from a terrible fire, when Marianne shows up and tells him that they were lovers in medieval Germany, that she has waited for him for centuries to return to her and that he was a mason who taught her to make art from stone. Over the next months, Marianne tells our narrator incredible tales – not only about their lives together in Germany, but also lush and tender love stories from different times and places (e.g. about a gay Viking in Iceland and a doomed couple in Japan) and always we wonder ‘Is this really true?’. Marianne is talented, has charm and is extremely clever. She does not need anyone to save her, rather she is a woman saving her man from physical as well as mental harm. It is extremely refreshing!
Do you know of any other great immortal characters? Please tell me, I am always scouting for new ones 🙂