Today is my birthday. Happy Cake Day to me. No, I’m not going to tell you how many candles. I’m old enough to know better and let’s leave it at that. I am going to be a bit self-indulgent and talk about something I like.
This time of year always gets me to start thinking about the deep philosophical questions. What am I doing with my life? What will the world be like without me? What kind of cake do I want? (Yellow cake with chocolate frosting – that one’s a no-brainer.)
I just finished binge-reading Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles. The Iron Druid, Siodhachan O Suileabhain or Atticus when we first meet him, was born approximately 2,000 years before the story begins. Having learned the secret to brewing a rejuvenating tea, Atticus has managed to remain alive for two millenia while on the run from a vengeful Celtic god. I was fascinated by Hearne’s use of voice throughout the series. At first, the series is narrated in first person POV by Atticus who has made efforts to keep up with changes in technology and attitudes so he almost fits into society. Every now and then, though, ancient thoughts and ways of thinking creep in. Hearne later on introduces two other narrators: a thoroughly modern human and another druid who lived contemporaneously with Atticus. Through a plot twist, this other druid was unaware of the passing time, and his language and reactions to modern life situations are quite hilarious.
Thinking about birthdays and the series and stories that I respond to, I realized I’m a sucker for immortals/long-lived characters interacting with humans. That makes a good deal of sense with my interest in history. The shifting morality of different time periods in conjunction with changing technological advancements provides countless opportunities for long-lived characters to observe the world differently than modern man. Combine that with a long-term outlook over centuries instead of our average 75 years of life and authors can develop characters with fascinating backgrounds and divergent views.
One of my favorite immortal characters is Hob Gadling from Gaiman’s Sandman. First encountered during the Dark Ages in England, he boasts that he’s never going to die, that death “is a mug’s game.” Dream and Death happen to be sitting nearby and because it amuses Dream, Death agrees not to take Gadling until he gets tired of living. Dream and Gadling end up as unlikely friends, meeting in that same pub every hundred years to have a drink and chat about how Gadling is getting on and his observations of the world. The reader witnesses the evolution of Gadling’s ethics and opinions as the world changes. The story arc where his girlfriend drags a grumpy Hob to a modern day Renaissance Festival is pure comedic gold.
Speculative fiction boasts numerous examples of the immortal living among us. Jerome Bixby’s The Man From Earth. Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files. Robert Heinlein’s Lazarus Long character, Faith Hunter’s Jane Yellowrock series. Barry Sandler”s Casca: The Eternal Mercenary series. And, of course, the vast majority of the vampire genre. I’m sure there are many good ones I’ve missed.
So want to add a little historical and philosophical spice to your reading mix? Throw in some immortals and follow the way the author integrates historical events and technology with voice, plot, and characterization.