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Immortality

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Scribe Lord, Sep 25, 2015.

  1. Scribe Lord

    Scribe Lord Minstrel

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    In fantasy we sometimes come across characters who are immortal. Living for such a long time is certainly going to have a massive impact on a character. I've been considering this lately for one of my characters and have been trying figure out how exactly it would impact one's psychology. Obviously this would depend largely on how he or she spent their time and their experiences etc, but can anyone give some general ideas?

    Also, how do you handle your immortal characters?
     
  2. Swordfry

    Swordfry Troubadour

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    In my series, there is one immortal character who is never the protagonist of any story aside from some short stories and a few pov chapters. He is a wanderer and a warrior, having been raised as a knight. He really spends most of his time wandering the land and just learning new things. As for psychology: He is an evil character, but has no plans of grandeur like ruling or dominating any land. When he was younger, he was more brash and wanted to watch the world suffer, but has since mellowed out considerably, especially after dealing with a couple real idiots throughout my books. Being immortal, he has a magic enchantment on him that basically regenerates any wound, but at a price. Every regeneration eats away a tiny bit of either his mind or soul, it's really random. His memories don't fade, nor do his actual soul, really more of just his courage and heart. At some point in my series he is found as a rather cowardly hermit, having lost much of his warrior spirit. He is very intelligent, but his mind has slipped a good deal despite his best efforts to keep it sharp. It is also at this point where he begins to become very nihilistic. He used to think himself an agent of a lesser god, only to find out the god exists but literally has no power and never communicates with him. No other being or force has any real effect on him, and he has watched the people of the land repeat themselves time and time again.
     
  3. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Myth Weaver

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    I haven't used an immortal as a major character in anything I have written but I have thought about it.

    I made some basic assumptions/deductions [like the base character is a human - one variable at a time]...
    Immortality would be lonely. Everyone you know and loves grows old and dies and you travel on by.
    I also thought that Immortality is not the same as Invulnerability. Getting ill and hurt time and time again would be wearing and soul destroying. Age and experience might bring wisdom but not intelligence and wisdom is subjective.

    I came to two conclusions and then a third...
    Firstly. They would become very empathic to the needs of individuals and maybe feel they have a deeper insight in to what being human means. They could find a deep love of how humanity strives despite adversity.

    Secondly. They would become very isolated. They would have to hide away from people on a daily basis and never form relationships. Increasingly cynical about how humanity never really changes, they would probably begin to hate everyone.

    In either case I could foresee a character acting less and less human and more and more [apparently] erratically.

    My third option is a mix of the other two. If they were the only Immortal, they would consider themselves "chosen" and have a grown sense of a purpose and a goal they have to achieve. This might moderate their behaviour or it might exasperate it.

    In all cases, madness and insanity was what I came out with.
     
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  4. valiant12

    valiant12 Sage

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    I have a question about writing immortality.

    Do immortals need food and or oxygen.
    For example in LotR Elves are supposed to be immortal and can only die by violent death or if they lose the will to live. If they dont need food why do they produce lembas. And in greek mythology gods and titans are supposed to be immortal and invincible yet they eat ambrosia and nectar. And in norse mythology gods are depicted eating food and starvation is not listed as one of there weeknesses. And vampires by definition need blood as food, yet very reraly starvation is listed as one of their weaknesses.
     
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  5. Scribe Lord

    Scribe Lord Minstrel

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    I'm of the assumption that Immortals need food and oxygen to live just like anyone else. Of course Immortality can probably be defined in different ways. In Lotr the only thing that the elves really don't have to worry about is old age. Any other means of killing them is fair game. Starvation wouldn't really be mentioned as a weakness for the same reason it's not usually mentioned as a weakness for humans. It's a given.
     
  6. valiant12

    valiant12 Sage

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    If my memory serves me correctly they are also resistant to sickness.
     
  7. My primary problem with immortality is that people think this makes them invincible. It doesn't. I see no where that says lopping off limbs, blasting them into space into the sun specifically, or tying them up and putting them at the bottom of the ocean, or combining any of the methods of incapacitation listed above or not listed at all but still viable for dealing with an immortal person, will not keep a good immortal down. Also, this would make the immortal nuts, invariably so.
     
  8. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    When I think about the effects on psychology of immortality, I begin by considering the effects on psychology of mortality. And then I remove the latter.

    I believe that the reality of mortality has severe effects on most people. In fact, I believe that a large portion of the "problems" in our world are a result of the reality of mortality. Various reactions to the often-unspoken fear of mortality exist. From ambition and avarice (to "beat the clock"), to fear (of others, of one's own ineffectuality and/or weakness), to miserliness (stockpiling supplies and refusal to share, because of some future possibility of want and dire exigencies), to cruelty and violence (a solution to premature death, the knowledge that others are dangerous and this danger can be removed; see "fear" above.) And so forth. Not everyone reacts in the most extreme negative ways, but most do have some underlying psychology affected by the knowledge of mortality.

    I suspect that there is no single reaction to being immortal that would be common to all who are immortal, that there would be variation. Also I think that some effects would arise from the knowledge that others are still mortal which might not exist if all were immortal.
     
  9. KC Trae Becker

    KC Trae Becker Troubadour

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    This is a great question! I have a race of people that can live about 900 years. I've struggled to figure out how this would effect them, other than make them mostly disassociate from the shorter lives of other races.

    FYI, the new Doctor Who material frequently attempts to deal with these issues since the Doctor is the last of his kind. Most of his issues don't apply to my race though.
     
  10. Creed

    Creed Sage

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    In my Universe there are a handful of immortals that take part in the story, but only three majorly so, and they are of three different races. This shapes their experience in its own way. Two of them can exist within the societies of the contemporary races; the first looks fairly human despite being millions of years old, the youngest is 4000 years old and is one of the current races. The other is also millions of years old but would certainly be called a demon.

    Despite how different they are I've found a kind of pattern in their lives.

    Reaction - the three immortals only gained said immortality during events of great destruction in which they lost everything (their civilizations, family, even their gods). They weep and mourn for years or decades, not caring for life but not ending it.
    Impulse Action - they find solace in taking risks and exploring, internally and externally. They adopt companions (for the first two immortals, this includes the ancestors of humanity).
    Disillusionment - they become bored with the world and return to sentimentality. They can't forget their pasts, and have no will to go on.
    The Long Sleep - tired with the world, the immortals find a quiet and secluded place, where fall into a sleep that carries them through the ages. For the first two this sleep lasts anywhere from 1-3 million years, for the third only 1 to 2 thousand years. During this time they dream (and dreaming has a very important role in my Universe).
    New Purpose - when they wake, they find the world has changed around them, for example with the rise of Human and Lethos civilization. But more importantly they find a new purpose for life. One is driven to bring about the rebirth of the Universe, another to keep the Universe as is, and the youngest one finds a new deity in Fate, whom he chooses to serve. It might be fair to call this another form of madness.

    Presumably the process would climax with success or failure of the new purpose, the latter of which might cause a cycle. But the arc of the story is directly tied to these immortals' new purposes so I can't know. Anyways, that's just what happens to immortals in my world. They manipulate events towards their purposes, affecting the mortal world and the story. For the oldest two it becomes a game of sorts, each trying to outwit the other with the stakes being creation and destruction of the Universe. But they know there are far more older beings than them and by the third quarter of the planned story they realize they are out of their league.

    Sorry if it's long. I just love thinking about their stories! :cool:
     
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  11. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    @Creed: Two take-aways from your example:

    1. Whether an immortal was born immortal or started as a mortal but somehow gained immortality may be important to the psychology of the character.
    2. In either case, unless the immortal knew he was immortal from the very beginning of his existence, he's likely to go through stages of psychological development or reaction to his immortality.

    #2 is interesting for me, because in many stories, he may be shown in only one stage of his life, given that most stories do not concern the whole scope of thousands or millions of years. Your story does seem to concern the fuller scope; but imagine a different story in which one immortal is in, say, Stage 2, Impulse Action. Then consider another story in which the immortal is in that final stage, New Purpose. For either, consider the possibility that the full scope, of their long history and the different stages, is not important to the story.

    This was something I was alluding to when I wrote that I think not all immortals would react to being immortal in the same way, or that immortality may not have a single common effect on the psychology for every immortal. I.e., various personality traits might exist, various histories, distinguishing them. So for me it's possible to imagine, among other types:

    • The immortal who goes around helping people, or shepherding individuals, societies, nations. Think a type of Gandalf or that old television show Touched by an Angel.
    • The immortal who is largely a recluse. He lives apart from society, believes in non-interference, likes studying nature, civilizations, etc., and writes voluminously of all his discoveries. The "scientist" type.
    • The immortal who becomes something of a despot, taking control and insisting on control of a nation or all societies–under the belief that this is going to be his "home" for eternity, so he might as well shape it to his liking and for his comfort.
    • The immortal who lives a hedonistic life, enjoying "living in the moment" satisfying his pleasures, enjoying the company of others. Think, various types of vampires in written fiction or movies.
     
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  12. Creed

    Creed Sage

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    Good examples! Some of them harken to more modern literature, but they also reflect the personalities of characters from myths, and even gods themselves. I could certainly see an immortal taking on a role similar to that of Loki or Pan too.

    My only caveat would be that in my Universe a certain racial psychology is apparent. Every race can be placed on a spectrum of Order and Chaos, and that deeply affects their actions. The two oldest immortals are very much Chaotic creatures, and each takes their place in a role of creator and destroyer. The creatures that are older than them are closer to the heart of Chaos, and being immortal are hell-bent on creating and destroying obsessively, whether that be illusory worlds, very real civilizations, or even stars. The oldest and most Chaotic creatures exist outside of time. They created the Universe and will continue to sleep until they rise to destroy it, and create it again.

    It's easy to call it madness, but it's just what they feel the need to do. If it weren't part of their instinct it would be just as easy to call it a past-time. I guess after a while you'd need a form of coping mechanism anyways.
     
  13. K.S. Crooks

    K.S. Crooks Inkling

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    It would depend on what the character does with their time. If they spent many of their years in battle or dealing with violence and repression they may be very jaded toward the rest of humanity. If they spent many years travelling and learning new things they could be highly skilled at many trades, fighting styles, etc. Their accumulated knowledge may make them feel superior to others or want to stay away from people. A major aspect to consider is whether others know that the character is immortal. This would influence if the character needs to travel/change their identity every so often the keep others from realizing their special condition.
     
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  14. valiant12

    valiant12 Sage

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    I believe that when something immortal coexist with mortals conflict arise. The mortals will want to live there short life span as comfortable as possible and the imortal will be pised when they start destroing the envierment for short term financia gains.

    And in our own world humanity have existed for so long and it will exist until something kills it or it commits suicide that from the perspective of a single human it is immortal. If a character is in a situation in which he must choose between saving a random human and his best friend who is not a human what is the morally right choice? Putting your interest over that of humanity as a whole is egoistic. losing a close friend is one of the most painful think a person can experience.
     
  15. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    I have written a few immortal characters. Both have been terribly envious of death. I wrote a short story recently about an old army Commander with survivors remorse. He, cowardly ran from a battlefield when he realized his entire legion would be killed. As payment, Life refused to let him die until he could pay back the 12,000 lives. He lived every day wallowing in shame and regret, haunted by the ghosts of his legion. He wanted nothing more than to join them as he should have in the beginning, but he couldn't. So he had a lot of inner conflict, he tended to be suicidal, withdrawn, drunk. The only solace he had was in his daughter, but he knew, terrified, that he would outlive her too. I would think that not having the option of death would take a lot of joy out of life.
     
  16. Creed

    Creed Sage

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    @Heliotrope That reminds me of Timothy Findley's Pilgrim, which I'm genuinely surprised I forgot. One of the most interesting takes on an immortal I've read.
     
  17. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    Cool, I just looked it up. I'll have to pick up a copy :)
     
  18. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    I do usually think of immortality as more of a punishment than a gift. Another example is Tom Hank's character at the end of the green Mile. He is 108 years old, not sure when he is going to die. At first you think this is because Coffee transferred some of his power to him, while elongates his life, but he sees it as God is punishing him for not saving Coffee, so he has to see all his loved ones die before him.

    Which also makes you wonder… if it was part of Coffee's power (to live forever), and he had experienced such terrible things like the rape and murder of the little girls, it was no wonder he wanted to go at the end. He transferred his power to Hank's character because he just couldn't cope anymore with the shittyness of life….
     
  19. SemKuipers

    SemKuipers New Member

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    Hi! I'm new to this site but I'm just gonna go straight into a discussion like this because I love this sort of stuff! So here is my take on the concept of immortality!

    I had a discussion with a friend when we were very drunk in a McDonalds about the concept of immortality, as you do. Because like me he has characters in his world that are immortal and we were pondering on several things. One was, if you are immortal you have to be sooooo incredibely smart that you must know everything about everything, because you have the time to learn it and study it. And that you also must know everything about the human mind and body. So for example if someone is lying you would know it instantly, because you would know every microscopic detail about the way a face looks when its lying or telling the truth.

    And also do you eat when your immortal? Because why bother if your not going to die anyway? I would imagine that it would only be for ceremonial purposes, for example to welcome guests into your home or celebrating a birthday (congratulations with your 100.000th birthday, here's a cookie!).

    Anyway I find this a very interesting topic to think about and I would be very interested if somebody pulls of a really realistic immortal character (I'm trying to anyway!).
     
  20. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

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    You can't make a realistic portrayal of an immortal person because immortal people aren't real.

    But anyways, on to Scribe's query: general ideas...

    I remember reading an article about a psychological test where a handful of people were hypnotized and told that they will not die. The subjects personalities seemed to change, making them more confident, risk-taking and optimistic. It was as if believing themselves to be immortal, made them think they were invincible.
    This ties into the Freudian theory of a person's death drive which postulates that a subconscious fear/anticipation of death leads people towards risky (or self-destructive) behavior.
    But I should probably point-out that there is little substantial evidence that supports the existence of a death drive.

    Another thing I've read about death and psychology is the idea of people using their mortality as a form of identity and a means of giving themselves a sense of purpose. When people reflect on their mortality, they remind themselves that they are small pieces of a much larger narrative, with a very expansive beginning and ending that exist outside of their lifespans. This is supposed to give a person a sense of purpose as it allows them to break-up existence (particularly, their lives) as a series of episodes (like childhood, youth, adulthood, etc.), which they can transition between.
    I suspect an immortal character wouldn't be able to put their existence into context this way and (if they expect to be in the same position for most of their lives) they would lack this "transforming" aspects of mortality. I'd imagine that an immortal character could instead define their lives in relation to the lives around them. Perhaps that effects their sense of individuality or fate?

    I don't know, I'm just throwing stuff out there.

    As for me: I have three immortal characters in the story I'm writing.
    The first (unintentionally) fits in with what I just typed: they're reckless, optimistic, overly-confident but have identity issues, co-dependency issues and a conflicted view on fate.
    The second, however, was directly based-off of one of my favorite immortal characters in fiction: Leto II, the God-Emperor of the Known Universe. The thing with both my character and Leto is that they didn't stop transforming after gaining immortality and other powers define their psychology more then their immortality. So, the take away from that is that immortality alone isn't what will define the character's psyche.
    Third character is so not-human that the notion of mortality vs. immortality is not worth thinking about with him. However, he does sort of define his existence by the lives around him, in a way.

    So, there you go.
    Sorry if this was ramble-y, I haven't slept in like 20 hours.
     
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