The Problem with Immortality

Vampiric_RomanceThere’s a new show this fall called “Forever.” The main character, for unknown reasons, can’t die. He dies, but then he comes back. So, he has made it his life’s mission to figure out why he can’t die by studying death, his own–every time he dies he writes down a record of the experience–and other people’s deaths. He’s been alive for 200-something years, and when the show takes place he’s a medical examiner in New York. Essentially, he’s the best M. E. ever because he’s had so much experience. And, of course, there’s a girl, because there’s always a girl.

That makes me think about other stories of people who are immortal, like the old Highlander shows or the current vampire fad, and one of the major flaws with that kind of storyline. You have these characters who have been around for hundreds, sometimes thousands of years, and yet they don’t really ever change. They’re the same person they were when they died the first time, however many years ago. Their minds, like their bodies, are frozen in time.

This doesn’t make a lot of sense, if you think about it. Even if your body stayed 25, your mentality wouldn’t. One of the major problems I have with the Twilight series story world (and there are many, even though I did enjoy the story for the most part) is that Edward Cullen and his adopted siblings are perpetually in high school. It’s even a running family joke. They just keep repeating high school. Can you imagine being in high school for a hundred years? I don’t care how good the school is or how important it is for you to maintain your cover, no one has the patience to repeat high school for a hundred years. If I had a hundred years or so, I wouldn’t spend it repeating the same things I’d already done. I’d travel. I’d get doctorate degrees in every field I thought was interesting. I’d paint wrinkles on my face and dye my hair gray just so I’d fit the part if I had to. I’d travel and experience a lot more than high school over and over.

And, since I’d be doing all this living, I probably wouldn’t fall in love with a high school student, because we would have nothing in common.

Vampire romances have been hugely popular the last ten years or so, from Buffy to Twilight to the Vampire Diaries and so on. And one common thread is the teenager falling in love with the monster. It makes for great teen angst, but it really doesn’t make sense. Even though physically they may look the same, the immortal is infinitely older. Have you ever seen one of those couples, where it’s say a sixty-five year old man with a twenty-five year old woman? Is your first thought, “Aw, how sweet that they found each other!” or is it something more along the lines of “gold digger” or “daddy issues” or “dirty old man”? Sure, there are those rare couples who are compatible despite their disparate ages, but for the most part, those are not the healthy relationships because those people rarely have enough in common to make a lasting relationship work.

Think about it. Is your grandpa interested in the same things as your teenage daughter? Probably not. Now, double that. Instead of a forty or fifty year age gap, imagine a hundred year age gap. Or two. It doesn’t work. The longer an immortal is alive, the less they’d have in common with the average angsty teenager, no matter how mature or down to earth that teen is. Realistically, if you’re immortal, unless your entire existence is based on getting your next meal (in which case there’s no reason to fall in love because all you’re doing is eating for the next two hundred years), the longer you’re alive, the less you’ll have in common with anyone else on earth. There is literally no human who is your equal.

Just food for thought. I hope I haven’t ruined you for vampire romances from here on.

About Avily Jerome

Avily Jerome is a writer and the editor of Havok Magazine. Her short stories have been published in various magazines, both print and digital. She has judged several writing contests and is a writing conference teacher and presenter. She writes speculative fiction, her ideas ranging from almost-real-world action/adventures to epic fantasies to supernatural thrillers.

22 comments on “The Problem with Immortality

  1. There is so much Win here, I can’t even…

    • 😀 Thanks Kristen

    • That may be one of the most awesome pictures ever lol – great article Avily – well said!

      • There was a time Will, when I was a kick butt girl and would be represented in such a photo. But then time and too many world conflicts and losing too many people in my life and I tend to find such images too hard for my mind to wrap itself around it. So I try to shine where I can and when I can. Imperfectly yes. But I try. That is one of many problems I have even with Vampires or such things. I use to enjoy such things, but now it wears on my mind. In part I use to know of a couple back in Minneapolis who professed to be the world’s idea of Vampires. It was freakish. And they were scary in some demonic sort of way. And one use to like to have military type paintings and blood and gore stuff. Yikes! I can see why God forbids it.
        yisraela ❤

    • If I still find a photo which is simultaneously a tad more peaceful and just as conceptually effective with regard to Facebook “likes”, I’ll use it. 😀

  2. No, you didn’t ruin vampire romances, because that’s essentially all I can ever think about whenever I see a vampire romance. 🙂

  3. Good points. Once you start thinking about it too deeply, the premise does start to fall apart. I haven’t read or seen any of the Twilight books/movies, but I guess the idea could be that the vampire is the ultimate “bad boy”, perhaps.

    • Indeed. The Bad Boy is always a fun character. And I’m not against vampire romances–sometimes I even enjoy them–but the flaw in the character development remains.

  4. Strictly speaking, traditional vampires and the “Immortals” of Highlander are not immortal. They can die. Unless you’re a Twilight “vampire,” stick a vamp in broad daylight and let’s see what happens. Lop off the Highlander’s head and it won’t grow back. Whereas I loved Highlander, what’s behind the “immortal” push recently is really the old lie “You surely shall not die,” as well as a fascination with evil. It sounds like the character on this newest TV show takes all this to its logical end, there is no death. Ah, but there is. God wasn’t kidding when He said “You shall surely die.” Thanks for pointing out some of the pitfalls in these tales, and it’s interesting your take on how these immortal guys never really change. A shrewd observation. Most shrewd.

    • True, they can die. But they don’t die of natural causes, they keep on living and not aging until their heads are chopped off or they’re staked through the heart or whatever the one weakness of their personal brand of immortality happens to them. The point remains that they still act like seventeen-year-olds in perpetuity for hundreds of years, and it’s a little silly.
      Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good story if it’s well done, but this particular plot hole seems to be across the board when dealing with immortal beings.

      I totally get your point about the Biblical ramifications based on that original lie of “thou shalt not surely die”. But, that’s why it’s fiction. As with most fiction, it deals with the reality of mortality (hey, that rhymes…) and as such can be useful in exploring character depth.

    • the old lie… Great observation, Harold!

  5. I’ve been thinking about this all day.

    I think the phenomenon you describe is why The Doctor having crushes on his companions in the new series has not really worked for me. Especially Rose. Gag. Just not plausible that a guy 900 years old would find anything relatable in a 20-year-old. The original series, where he treated all the companions like kids (regardless of how old they were) was more like it. Way more believable. Even Romana, who was as close in the original series as any companion came to being his equal, was treated like a kid. Because to him, she was.

    River was different because of her special connection with the TARDIS. She was someone he could better relate to. But I’m still not sure that was realistic, because honestly—she’s still only lived a couple of lifetimes to his millennium. Which is of course why I said before that the TARDIS is the only girl for him. 😉

    • I’ve never seen the old ones, but I like that idea that he treats them all as kids. I imagine living/working in close quarters would enable bonding, but yeah, they would be just kids to him.
      Except River. 🙂

  6. Funny, the reason I don’t many of these is for that very reason Avily. The only authors I really respect for vampire romance is Anne Rice and Laurel Hamilton (check the spelling on her name)

    • I haven’t read any of Laurel Hamilton’s, but I totally agree about Anne Rice. Her’s are a lot of the immortals dealing with each other and not really bothering with the humans, which makes infinitely more sense. And I think she dealt with it really well with Claudia, forever trapped in a little girl’s body, even though mentally she matured. It made sense.

  7. Vampire romances. Who came up with that plague on the literary universe in the first place? (My unalterable distaste for the whole idea has nothing to do with the age difference – that matter comes up next.)

    I saw a long time ago the same problems you saw, Avily, and that is why my immortal characters – in particular my chief protagonist – *do change over time.

    Now even by my Metacosmic standards, Alain Harper’s immortality is all but unique, both in degree and in kind – matched only by Autumn Selene his consort. (I’m tempted to spell out just how, but I will forebear.) And yet, he (like Autumn) changes – and in a way I understand from what has happened in my own life, with the exception of outward appearance. Outwardly, Alain appears twenty-five and always will. His “child’s heart”, psychically, is that age too (just as part of my mind is and always will be). But the rest of him has changed with his experiences – lots of experiences of different kinds. In particular, his way of playing what he calls the Infinite Chessboard of life (logical systems thinking), while naturally simplistic compared to that of many friends and foes alike, has gotten more and more subtle with time. If I ever get to put Alain in print in any serious way again, when we see him, it will be difficult to deceive him, and dangerous to try.

    As with the Lightchildren he leads, though, Alain’s desire and mission is to serve mortals and immortals alike. (Perhaps I should call the mortals “ephemerals”, no doubt following someone else’s long-established precedent.) The Lightchildren would have by far the most in common with each other, naturally, but their calling is not to be an enclave to themselves enjoying special privileges. Their calling is to bring the, uh, ephemerals to their particular Destinies – and the immortal Archons as well.

    I have often wondered what would happen if a young and lonely ephemeral got infatuated with Alain or another Lightchild. The ephemeral would face a different kind of teen angst than you describe, to be sure: trying to deal with someone who looks twenty-five Standard Years old but is orders of magnitude older than that… and who already is in a relationship with a woman which transcends even what they had before in the Great Beyond, a happy and Godly marriage.

    • Vampire romances are a huge trend right now, but certainly the same holds true for any type of immortal character, like The Doctor or like the character in the TV show “Forever”, or your characters. Certainly they can still embrace a childlike quality or what have you, but there is simply no way to unsee what you’ve seen over a several-hundred year existence, and that puts you in a different world than someone who has only experienced 20 or so years.

  8. Reblogged this on Tales of the Undying Singer and commented:
    Leaving aside the whole idea of vampire romances (as there are other ways of dealing with immortal characters in fiction), there are indeed problems with making a character immortal and I hope I deal with them decently enough in my own fiction. Here is a good discussion of the problems involved…

    • Actually I am not in favor of such movies from a spiritual point of view. It falls in the category of familial spirits. And with Halloween coming soon I am less of a fan of such things. I don’t care if others enjoy it. That is up to them. The only immortality I look forward to is in the Kingdom. That eternal life will be worth more than any fictional one.
      I never got into the Twilight Series or such things for the reasons our church would not. But that is not everyone’s opinion. Just mine

  9. Great stuff, Avily. And great comments. I liked that Anne Rice’s novels at least touched on this side of the “immortal vampire” psyche; it made sense.

    I do think that living that long would affect your outlook on life, and even one’s maturity. But when I look around and see 70-year-olds with the same immaturity issues as 20-year-olds (only mitigated by their ailing bodies and inability to be immature with as much gusto as they used to), I hesitate to agree completely with the idea that a 100-year-old vampire couldn’t relate to a high school teenager. I also see some room for complex psychological issues where unresolved areas are immature but other areas have grown. If a human can go through 5 divorces and still be dating as if the “right one” is just around the corner…. Why not a 1500 year old vampire?

    Not because it’s reasonable… but because human nature doesn’t change, and I suspect that in many cases additional years is not the cure for immaturity. Not the cure for broken hearts and twisted approaches to relationships based in a warped understanding of oneself and one’s reason for being.

    At least… that’s the theory I’m going on with my own long-lived vampires. Some of them have grown and changed. Some have gone mad with the inability to cope with immortality. Some are stuck in the same broken cycles that they lived when they were mortal.

    When building a world (or crafting characters), I think it’s more important that you deal with the question than how you answer it. Whether your immortals can relate to (and fall in love with) the young, short-lived mortals around them or not can go either way… just don’t pretend that living that long doesn’t have SOME effect, and work in some hints or comments to address the question.

    • Very good points. People of any age can be broken and immature. And I agree, as long as you’re dealing with the question it doesn’t matter so much as “how.” I guess I just see the rampant vampire romances that are trending and very few deal with it at all, let alone well. And again, I enjoy a good vampire romance, I just see this trend as a plot hole that most of them fall into.

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