This week: ImmortalityEdited by: Waltz in the Lonesome October
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From my rotting body, flowers shall grow and I am in them, and that is eternity.
― Edvard Munch
L'éternité, c'est long ... surtout vers la fin.
― Franz Kafka
(Eternity, it is long... especially towards the end.)
The Universe is very, very big.
It also loves a paradox. For example, it has some extremely strict rules.
Rule number one: Nothing lasts forever.
Not you or your family or your house or your planet or the sun. It is an absolute rule. Therefore when someone says that their love will never die, it means that their love is not real, for everything that is real dies.
Rule number two: Everything lasts forever.”
― Craig Ferguson
After doing my Comedy newsletter editorial last week on the subject of immortality, I realized I could recycle the same topic into a Fantasy editorial.
The concept is probably as old as storytelling. One of the earliest written stories known is the Epic of Gilgamesh. This ancient Sumerian text, dating from about 4100 years ago, features the titular character searching for the secrets of immortality. But, as he learns, "Life, which you look for, you will never find. For when the gods created man, they let death be his share, and life withheld in their own hands." (This is, incidentally, entirely unrelated to the earliest known joke, which was also a Sumerian relic, that I discussed in that other editorial.)
The idea of immortality still features in fantasy, science fiction, and related genres today. Whether it's drawn from our knowledge and fear of death, or from some psychological need to believe that something endures, or something else entirely, it's woven into many tales of the magical, the supernatural, or even the scientific.
My view is that there are three broad categories of immortality: that of things, that of ideas, and that of individual consciousness.
Some things endure for so long that we tend to think of them as eternal: the stars, the planet beneath our feet, space itself. But that's just a trick of our perspective. The Earth is constantly changing and will not be around forever (though we probably have more than a few years to worry about that); the stars, including the sun, will eventually burn out. And current cosmological thinking points to even space being unrecognizable as such in the far distant future, as time itself winds down and disappears.
The immortality of ideas, too, is provisional; there must be someone to whom to pass on the ideas. The Epic of Gilgamesh itself is, as I noted, over 4000 years old (in its written form; for all we know, the stories are even older), but it would be nothing if there were no humans or other entities around who could read ancient Sumerian writing. And compared to the age of the universe -- estimated to be about 14 billion years, last I checked -- even that stretch of time is less than a blink.
I also include in the "ideas" bucket life itself, as it is essentially information encoded and passed on in genes. Individual organisms die, but their legacy lives on... for now. That's an idea that's lasted, oh, probably somewhere between 4 and 5 billion years, and now we're talking about a significant fraction of the age of the Universe. As for how much longer it will last, well, your guess is as good as mine. But "forever" is a long time; life requires energy, and eventually there will be no more energy.
What's usually presented as immortality in literature is the last bit, the endurance of individual consciousness: gods or vampires, self-correcting machines or a person who has halted aging through some magic or science. This appeals to people, I think, because one thing our consciousness can't really do is conceive of a time when it will not be around, even though there was already a time when it wasn't around, the time before birth.
An immortal character can be an interesting concept in fiction, providing a different perspective, or even a worthy antagonist or foil. But I suggest it be used sparingly and with purpose: What is the character for in the narrative? Is the character tragic, motivational, or something else entirely? Are they indestructible as well as immortal, and if not, what conditions could break "forever?" What other abilities, if any, do they have? How was immortality achieved -- innate, or bestowed by science, magic, or the supernatural? That sort of thing.
As one of the quotes in the "About" section above asserts, nothing lasts forever. But we can imagine.
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Last time, in "Tea" , I talked about the most popular beverage in the world (apart from water).
Quick-Quill : I remember in the Karate Kid they had the Tea Ceremony. I’d never heard of it before but it was fascinating. When I attended my first High Tea, I felt special. There was something about dressing up with a hat and being served in a manner fit for a Queen. Formality of a service puts things into a different frame of mind.
I'm not sure where I first heard of the Tea Ceremony. It might very well have been that movie. But I've always been intrigued by Japanese culture.
Jack-o'-Mike 🎺 : As always, your Newsletter was a good and interesting read. "Of course it is, what are you, some kind of weirdo? Bless your heart.", though, had me laughing! Thanks for the info and the chuckle!
I like to inject a bit of comedy where appropriate. Or, more often, inappropriate. Thanks!
Dungeon Master Os : Yay for tea. I'm a hardcore drinker myself, and I've somewhat forced that onto my characters no matter the genre. Sometimes I think they should be drinking coffee as I still have this 'feeling' that tea drinking isn't a teenager's drink. But no, they might have a coffee now and then, but tea's the main thing. I wasn't allowed to try it until I was about 11 or 12 and I remember it being the colour of a dirty brown river. Funny now that those rivers are often 'the colour of tea.' Not mine. I'll drink it strong or without milk but I prefer it not to look like liquid caramel. For me it's calming, washes down the grease of fish and chips, and soothes stress (and I get withdrawal headaches if I don't drink enough during the day.). Doesn't matter if it's just a cup or a pot - the result is the same: I'm happy. I like to think just the act of making/drinking tea does the same for my characters - a tiny moment of 'something else'. None have elaborate rituals so far but that's probably coming. With you on the Darjeeling. My sister once brought me back some from a work visit to India. Some of the best tea I have ever tasted.
My personal favorite has the unfortunate (for English speakers) name of pu-erh. It's an aged, fermented black tea, powerful and with an earthy aroma and flavor. But I'll drink almost any kind.
So that's it for me for August! See you next month... if I should live that long. Until then,
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