I am not defending my book. I have read a few reviews that disagree with my rendering of an old character. That character’s actions have been called into question with the idea that he is old, and so he should know better. I have done a lot of thinking about the nature of immortality and the assumptions that come along with it.
So this is me starting a conversation about the nature of age and the assumptions we are making about the ageless character.
I was talking to my editor about this problem and he said I had to realize that when people think about age they assume wisdom. The legend of the old master high on the mountain having all the answers for your life, if you are willing to learn, is there for a reason. That old dude really does exist, and that cat does have all the answers. I am a man who cherishes my elders, who goes to them, when I have a problem I can’t fix, for their unique perspective on my problem and for the lessons they have learned through their many and varied experiences. I see value in the tales told by the older generation and I will always listen at their feet. Because they will pass by age 100 most times and they are not on the next Cycle of Experience, as I like to call it.
The idea is this. Wisdom comes to a man or woman when they reach a certain age for sure. But experience doesn’t stop at that stage in their lives. In this article, I will be using a very subjective dating system I cannot back up, but I am a fantasy writer writing about fantasy, so I can make these judgements as much as I want. So nah. I will make my argument for them and you tell me what you think of my assumptions.
Let’s place the wisdom experience at years 40-700 years of age. We are talking about immortals, so I am jumping quite a bit. We know our elders in this time period. They reach this place and they don’t make it beyond here. So we accept that age comes with wisdom and leave it at that, but how much have we thought about experience beyond that point? From age 40 to age 700 our elders can be counted on. They understand the flow of mankind. They understand the age they live in, and they have their minds wrapped around the inner workings of the world.
But at 700, is it unreasonable to assume they would get a little condescending? They are 700 years old talking to a 30-year-old about his issues. They have seen this problem so many times that they would have to be condescending at this point. How many times can seasoned martial artists watch newbies stumble around before they sigh and roll their eyes? How many times can a 700-year-old woman hear a man talk about the woes of being married before she just checks out? Now I believe this would happen a lot sooner than 700, but I am going to give wisdom as long a ride as I possibly can. I am sure that by at least age 700, immortality would stop paying off for the immortal and they would start seeing negative effects.
No one person is perfect and there is no perfect age. New experiences demand constant re-calibration of our beliefs and our values, no matter how old we get. So it is my assumption that once you reach a stage of enlightenment, you are in danger of losing it. Just as you get past your prime physically, I assure you you can get past your prime when it comes to wisdom.
So from age 700 to, let’s throw out a number that is beyond reproach, let’s say 2,000, you are a bit of a jerk. You belittle other people, if not to their faces then behind their backs. You stop being as helpful as you once were, and you start even making fun of the understandings of others. I’m going to give this stage as much time as I can because I am working on a diminishing-returns sort of timeline here. Once we get older, changes in our understanding become slower.
From the age of say 13 to the age of 24, humans often think they have everything figured out. That is eleven years. By then most people have to admit that they don’t know everything and that they still have a lot to learn. Well, the next stage doesn’t come exactly 11 years later. At age 36, most people don’t think they have it all figured out yet. The age is higher, so the development takes longer. Same here. I believe the next jump would not be exactly 700 years later, but even longer than that. So I’m saying 2,000. This is a model I will be using throughout.
By the time the immortal reaches the age 2,000, in my mind, they would be a total dick. They would be openly hostile to others not within their age bracket or higher. If the reason for their longevity was racial, like the elves or, in my case the trimerians, then I believe at the age 2,000, they would be racist, unable to take anyone serious unless they had the same kind of years. This immortal would be unable to have any kind of meaningful conversation with anyone too young.
We are now seeing the drawbacks of age. Now, our growing experiences are working against us.
From age 2,000 to let’s say 6,000, the immortal would be almost tyrannical with younger souls. They know best and things will be done their way. Entire races are now no more than children. Entire races need to be taken in hand and forced to the immortal’s will. For the good of the people, freedoms need to be taken from them. This age is destructive and horrible for all others. This is the dark age.
Now I wrote my character in the next stage. We are talking ages 6,000 to 18,000. By this time, they have learned more about experience and come to understand that they do not know everything. They cannot control everything and they come to realize that wisdom does not come from gathering experience but from the experiences we gather. They know now that every old person is not wise. You can accept this too. You have known old people who do not have a grasp on the world. They have nothing to add. They are bitter people, they might be racist. They might be in other ways damaging. We all know old people like this. From age 6,000 to 18,000, the immortal understands this too. It is not experience but the right experiences that bring us wisdom and peace.
At this age, the immortal becomes less combative. They are less controlling and they become a decent person again. But they are still arrogant. Star Wars touches on this. They do not use the same age scale I do, but in the movie Revenge of the Sith, Yoda looks at the rise of the empire and he blames himself. He says he was vain and arrogant and thought himself invincible, that is why he could be in a room with Palpatine so many times and not sense that he was looking at a Sith lord. Arrogance. Vanity. These things got in Yoda’s way. He was 700 years old. Like I said, I am working on a different scale than Star Wars, but still we see that with age does not come perfection.
At the age 6,000 to 18,000, we would see a certain amount of recklessness. We have lived 6,000 years now. Nothing has ever stopped us before. No force arrayed against us has ever defeated us. Why do we need to worry as much as the average man? That man has not lived even a shade of the life span we have. Why fear him? Why allow ourselves to feel the kind of fear that he feels? We are now reckless with the assumption that nothing has killed us, so nothing can kill us. We get careless and find ourselves walking into situations that we never should have been in. Needlessly taking chances because nothing has ever stopped us before.
We also have to admit that this age would bring a different shade of arrogance. This would bring a kind of “if you want something done right, you gotta do it yourself”. At this age, we are not able to rely on others all the time. In the Manhunters series, Rayph knows he needs a crew if he is going to face this evil, but when it comes to it at the end of the day, he is relying on himself. When the situation gets sticky, he doesn’t delegate. He steps in. He has seen so much by now that he has a bit of a loner mentality.
Now as I said before, Rayph knows he can’t do it all himself, but at the end of the day, he accepts that if this job is going to get done, it will have to be he who does it.
So because of his age, we find Rayph in a stage of his life where he is arrogant, reckless, and a bit too self-reliant.
Like every character we truly love to read about, Rayph is flawed. He is not a perfect man, no matter the age, and so we have to expect mistakes. This is my theory on how extreme age would wear on the mind of an immortal, because I reject the idea that perfection comes at any age.
However this is one man’s opinion. These are the rules I used when building my immortal race. I would love to hear your idea of the effect this kind of age and experience level would have on a man or woman. Let me know what you think.
One thought on “Thoughts on Immortality”
This is a really well-written perspective of wisdom that I agree with. Anybody who has developed a skill has an idea of this.
1. A person first comes to the skill knowing they know nothing.
2. The person gains skill & believes they are nearing mastery.
3. That person then realizes that mastery is far beyond what they thought.
4. Repeat steps 2-3.
I believe wisdom is equivalent to a refined skill & follows the same path. It’s a strange ebb & flow of human nature. In martial arts, the first big bout of arrogance typically comes around 2-3 years. The student thinks they are better than they are. After a few more years, they realize they are still beginners. After even more years of teaching, the arrogance returns until, typically, a student reminds them of mortality. The timeline may vary in years, but the laws of human ego appear universal to us.
By the way, I love your statement that, “It is not experience but the right experiences that bring us wisdom and peace.” What a brilliant way to word it. 🙂