Before you immediately stop reading, this isn't a post about how much I have always been irritated by Oasis, although quite liking their early stuff (Live Forever-1994) or how Queen ruled the earth, the heaven and the underworld whilst Freddie lived (Who wants to live forever- 1986), although that does come into it later.
It's a post about immortality or rather mortality and what got me thinking about it again. There were several prompts actually, as there always is with these things. I'd reviewed a short story on Quantum Muse web-zine about an immortal sorcerer who was utterly bored with his immortal existence and was looking for any kind of thrill to make his homogenous days sparkle a little. That reminded me in turn of Dancers at the End of Time by Micahel Moorcock, which is a similar idea i.e set in the far future with technology at such a level that everyome lives a decadent life where they can alter reality around them. When the end of the world comes along its all rather exciting for them. And then that prompted me to dig out my DVD of Highlander.
For anyone who hasn't seen Highlander, and that would be a crime worthy of Judge Judy, it is a great yarn about a group of individuals who are born immortal and who battle each other throughout history to gain the prize, which only one can possess ('There can be only one.') I adored this film as a teenager. Mainly it was because it had swords and decapitation. Partly it was because of the daftness of Sean Connery playing a Spaniard with a Scottish accent and Christopher Lambert playing a Scot with a French one. A tiny bit was the Queen soundtrack (which was so, so RRock!). A final teeny bit was that the idea really really appealed to me. What a thing it would be to live through the ages- to have seen so many fantastic periods, like a living time machine. And what a thing it would be not to die.
I think it a fairly common thing amongst children and adolescents to contemplate their own mortality. Someone once coined the phrase 'existential dread' to me & it sort of rang true. It was a dread- I can still remember it- a sheer terror that one day I wouldn't know anything, wouldn't be aware of anything. It kept me awake at night, gripping me with panic. I tried to think of ways out of it. For a while I dabbled with the concept of faith, and afterlife, and I've sort of oscillated on that one ever since. Then I fantasised about whether technology could avert it--you know brain in jar type thing, or Walt Disney's head in cryogenic storage in Disneyland. Then I just though, ah screw it, its (hopefully) donkey's years off yet.
Fast forward. Now I'm 40. Eek, it's getting closer. And it still lurks around my mind. In retrospect it was one of the main things that led me into medicine and in the 20 years I've been doing that I must have seen hundreds, perhaps even a thousand or so deaths. In all shapes and sizes, in all forms, in all ages. Each one etches a little pattern in my brain and at times I try to make some kind of sense or order out of it. Is there something about having seen all of them that eases my own 'dread' ? Honestly, in part, yes. In some I have watched it, and indeed been one of the few there, and thought, 'that was peaceful' or 'that was dignified.'
The natural progression of this thought is to go on and discuss other things around end of life, but I don't really blog to rattle on about medical stuff--that's what I do all day with machines that go beep and a wide range of dangerous drugs. No, where I think I'm going with this is that I'm clearly not alone in my fascination with immortality. In fact I think it is this fascination that drives along most of the paranormal romance genre, which is massive at the moment. Given that teens-tweens (YA as we refer to them if they can read) must be the peak age for 'existential dread' it can't be a coincidence that beautiful and twinkly vampires appeal so much. After most lasses would bite out their own necks to spend eternity with Edward, Stefan or Damian. Or even Mitchell (from Being Human). Now if the vampires were mingers it may be a different kettle of fish. I think it'd be less appealing if they all looked like Alfed Steptoe (am trying to think of a US equivalent, but they don;t do ugly on TV, even in the elderly).
It drifts into other literature as well. All over the shop. Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen current run, Century, is about eternal life. Julian Barnes writes of his fears of death in Nothing to be Frightened Of (which I haven't read as... well, I'm frightened) and it is a strong theme in the Arthur character in Arthur and George. Tolkien had his immortal elves, sailing to the West, and Arwen giving it all up for Aragorn (when he'd had a good scrub). Swift had Immortals in Gulliver's Travels, but they kind of got all demented and grotty, just wouldn't die.
It fascinates writers and, ironically, I think drives many of them to create. We leave many marks on the world: we touch many lives in all sorts of ways. And writing is one way. Agreeably at present I've touched about 30 and most of them knew me anyway, but you get my point.
And living on past my days? It kind of all changed when I had kids. For good or bad a good part of what I am lives on in them and if thats the nearest I get to 'living forever' then I'm well pleased.
It'd still be good to go slicing heads off in car parks in pursuit of the Prize though... "Holy ground, Highlander. Holy ground..."