Snow White. Sherlock Holmes. Luke Skywalker. The best characters and stories live on forever. We read – and some of us write – for a chance to take part in this transcendent process.
These days the idea of immortality in popular fiction is dominated by the vampire. I used to be into vampires, back when their breed (race? species?) was championed and their stories told most popularly by Anne Rice. Truth be told, I’m only a fan of her first two vampire books: Interview with the Vampire and The Vampire Lestat. I found Queen of the Damned a bit schlocky and dropped the series there. Today’s Abercrombie & Fitch vampires? No thanks. Not for me, mainly because they gloss over (at best) the central issue of immortality in lieu of what I find to be far more superficial themes.
Of course a story and its characters have to be engaging, but themes are what it’s all about for me, because it’s whatever aspect of the human condition being explored that connects author, work and reader. This existential exploration has been around since people could first process their own wonderings. (aka: a very long time). By way of example, I’ll touch upon an idea from a major historical celebrity.
In my opinion Jesus was the most misunderstood, most exploited philosopher in the history of the world, and let’s not kid ourselves, his chroniclers borrowed from vampire mythology, which predates Christianity by thousands of years. (Drink my blood and you’ll live forever. Sound familiar?) Regardless, I think JC had it right when he talked about finding the Divine in yourself. What about you can and will outlive you? Sounds like a paradox but it’s anything but. The question is always there.
My boy/girl twins are reading Tuck Everlasting in their 5th grade class. The discussion focused first on whether or not the students would want to be immortal. Both my kids declined, not wanting to continually and endlessly grieve the loss of loved ones. (I’m paraphrasing, but that was their reason.) Then they were asked if they had to become immortal (like the title character in the novel), at what age would they choose to stop aging?
When a classmate said 16, my daughter balked because “you wouldn’t even be able to drink or go to Vegas.” (Yikes!) My son, who is in a separate class, also mentioned “Vegas” in his thinking. He ended up with 28 years old, “because you could drive, drink and go to Vegas, but you’d be mature enough that you wouldn’t spend all your time at a bar party.” Never too young for serious study of literature.
What I think would be an even more interesting question is this: at what actual age do people stop choosing an older age and begin choosing one younger than they are. Hmmm…
So . . . is true immortality within our grasp? Not by a long shot, regardless of our diet* and exercise routines. But a legacy is, and the reading, sharing – and in my personal case, writing – of fiction plays a role in that quest.
What’s your immortality age? What are your thoughts on the theme? Over-hyped? Overdone? Barely scratching the surface? What books and/or stories do you think treat it well?
*That’s the “vegetables” part of the title. Like how I snuck that in there?