I’m putting together a survey of immortals. Help me by making a list in the comments section of all fictional immortals that come to your mind. I’m trying to get a feeling for how they are most commonly portrayed in fiction; evil, good, neutral, burdened and sad, joyous, altruistic, corrupt.
I plan on drawing some conclusions in the next few weeks, but I need your help. Leave your list in the comments and if you see that someone has already left your suggestion, give it anyway. It will be interesting to see which ones come up the most.
I posted about the immortals that appeared among the top 100 fictional characters last week and have already gotten some interesting suggestions from my Facebook page so keep them coming.
(watch out for spoilers, sorry for a long stream of consciousness post)
Some of these are fantasy, some are SF.
All the sorcerers in the Belgariad and Mallorean (Belgarath, Polgara, Garion, Beldin, Ctuchik, and 20 or 30 more). Their personalities vary from character to character. Most are pretty chill. The Grolims are elitist/evil. Garion’s an interesting case because he’s technically immortal but we only see him in the first few years of his life–some of his family is immortal and some are not.
The incarnations in Piers Anthony’s incarnations series are all temporarily immortal (they won’t age and some are indestructible until they are out of office. Each one has a different way to exit office). Again, they vary in character from person to person. They’re very human and make human-type decisions, though. Ironically, Time tends to have the least amount of time in office of all of them.
Poul Anderson’s time patrol characters are immortal–the main character there is Manse Everard and he’s a pretty cool guy. He has infinite lifespan AND he gets to time travel.
Kage Baker wrote a great series about time travel and immortal cyborgs. Some had a hard time dealing with their immortality and change, some did not. The ones with mental problems (like Mendoza) pretty much experienced them forever, wheras Joseph is always a goofy trickster. It’s a different take from say, Alastair Reynolds, whose immortals change over time. Baker’s characters develop and experience things of course, but their fundamental identities are carved in stone.
Many of Roger Zelazny’s characters are immortal. The two that come to mind are Sam in Lord of Light and Corwin in Amber. Both worlds have a whole pantheon of immortal characters though. It is more of a background trait in Amber but is a major part of the plot in Lord of Light. Both are byronic heroes? Although Sam is a lot more humble.
In SF I’ve noticed a relatively new category of immortal character is in post-singularity settings. Charles Stross and Alastair Reynolds wrote some pretty good space opera in that milieu. It is a little different from new wave or ragun gothic immortals since it tries to extrapolate how a post-singularity society would work whereas say, Time Patrol is 50’s action heroes running around kicking butt.
Characters in Singularity Sky and Iron Sunrise, by Charles Stross, are effectively immortal but they’re relatively “young” immortals. Rachel Manseur is the only one I can think of off the top of my head. She’s mainly a counter terrorism agent.
Alastair Reynolds’ Revelation Space series has primarily immortal characters and many of them have been around for a very long time. It takes place a bit further in the future from the time where singularity sky is set so the immortals are older. They tend to be wealthy, decadent, aristocratic jerks, but also very knowledgeable. I liked the Conjoiners and Skyler Hausman. Being immortals though, with hundreds of years of history, Reynolds’ characters tend to be different people at different times. Sky Haussmann and Dan Sylveste develop some humanity while Brannigan goes rotten.
Harry Dresden (in Dresden Files) is not immortal per se, but he can expect a lifespan of hundreds or even thousands of years. He’s only 20s–30s though, so he’s kind of like Garion–not a good example of an immortal. He knows fae and vampires that are effectively immortal. The true immortals are depicted as elemental or primordial. They’re more like forces of nature than individuals.
One of my favorite immortal characters was the last unicorn in the book by Peter Beagle. She was transformed into a human and lost her immortality temporarily. So she fell in love with the prince but was then changed back. Unicorns could not be in love and they could not feel regret, so once she had that experience she was separated from the other unicorns forever and would carry the experience with her forever. But she was glad for it all the same.
I think you’ve mentioned that issue before: of whether or not an immortal will change and grow as time passes. Authors seem to fall on either side of that.
In a lot of books it seems ambiguous whether certain characters are immortal or just very long lived. Do you count pretty much everyone who lives in Faerie (more than I care to name right now)? All the people who went to the undying lands in Tolkien (Bilbo, Frodo, Gandalf, Galadriel, etc.?). Some superheroes might also be immortal (Superman, Wonder Woman, etc.) but it’s not completely clear.
These are good examples. I guess I’m letting people run wild with this one.
Even the characters in my novel age, but very slowly. If they are careful and don’t do things that cause them to age faster, they could be around for six or seven centuries. Many hope that science will advance and they can slow their own aging even more.
As for Tolkien’s undying lands, I suppose people who go there would have to be immortal, even though they are immortal in a land mortals can’t see.
Uh oh, but that opens a new door, what about stars and famous people who live on in people’s memories. Maybe we need to specify that it’s people who stay in their own bodies, but that rules out people who upload their personalities into computers.
Superman is almost biologically immortal, as I recall only Kryptonite can harm him, but it’s still deadly.
Oh well, it just proves how hard it is to nail immortality down. I think I have a post about it somewhere on this blog. In the meantime, I’m finding the post I’m trying to write to analyze all the lists I’m finding is going to be tricky.