We won’t be around in another century, but some of our favorite characters will.
As an author publicist, as well as a writer, the question of “what will still be around in 100 years” is especially interesting. I mean, creators want their art-babies to be around as long as possible! There are a few things to take into consideration when thinking about this. What makes for longevity? Well, take a character like Harry Potter, for example. Harry was huge, and still is. Will he still be around in 100 years? Who knows. The thing with Harry is, there’s not a whole lot of new stuff coming out to keep people excited about him and his story. Now, take Star Wars. Star Wars came out almost 40 years ago. Fans are still as excited about it today as they were when it first came out in 1977. Why? Because new material is being released all the time. Books, TV shows, movies, re-masters of the old movies, comic books, action figures. Not only that, but with iconic figures like Chewbacca, Darth Vader, Boba Fett, and Yoda, Star Wars has become a part of our cultural awareness. People hear a coincidental line from one of the movies, and they follow up with the next line. Quotes like “It’s a trap!” and “I have a bad feeling about this” have become so prevalent I wonder at times if the kids who say them know where they come from. It has surpassed genre and is a part of society on the whole. And as many Star Wars stories that are there, there is still so much untapped territory yet to be explored. So who will we be seeing in a century or so? My bets are on Darth Vader.
First, I considered what properties were at least 100 years old today. Alice’s Adventure’s in Wonderland turned 150 this year. Sherlock Holmes isn’t much younger. Peter Pan, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and Anne of Green Gables are just over the century mark.
Next, I considered what properties might currently be considered “Over the Hill”: Doctor Who (1963), Star Trek (1966) and Scooby Doo (1969) came to mind. Eddie Izzard made a joke in his infamous Dress to Kill performance (1999) about how any Scooby Doo reference was globally ubiquitous. (Harry Potter had only just arrived on the scene.) A mere 16 years later, I have to wonder how many kids worldwide remember Scooby anymore.
The obvious difference between the first group and the second group is visual medium. Books aren’t enough anymore—a lasting character has to make it to the big screen, the small screen, the computer screen…and be rebooted enough times to stay within the public consciousness. Which brings us to Disney.
Steamboat Willie debuted in 1928, and I can guarantee you that Mickey won’t become any less popular in the next 13 years. In fact, I’m betting none of the Disney properties will fade into obscurity, because Disney—for better or worse—has the money and clout to make sure that doesn’t happen. So expect Spider-Man, The Avengers, Star Wars, and (with a large sigh from the fairytale novelist) the Disney Princesses to be with our children long after we are gone.
What characters do I wish would still be around in 100 years? Harry Potter, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and anyone from William Goldman’s The Princess Bride or Brian K. Vaughan’s Saga universe.
What fictional characters or worlds do I think will last outside Disney? Hospital dramas like ER and Grey’s Anatomy. Anything including the letters C, S, and I. And—as predicted in “The Way of the Restless”—Nikki and Victor Newman from The Young and the Restless. Because as soon as human cloning becomes legal, you KNOW soap opera producers will be the first on board.
Some of the characters that took the world by storm a generation or more ago seem like easy choices to stay in our collective memory. Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. Han and Leia and Luke from Star Wars. Frodo, Gollum, and the gang from Lord of the Rings. Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock. The X-Men.
The most obvious set of characters from the last 20 years that seem destined to lodge themselves into our collective imagination for generations to come are Harry Potter and company.
Will the characters from A Song of Ice and Fire still be around in 100 years? I can totally buy Daenerys Targaryen and Tyrion Lannister still having a hold on people, but every other character in the series seems to die too quickly!
So, having run down the list of all the choices that seemed obvious to me, let me take one swing at the fences, one long shot. James S. A. Corey’s Expanse series is about to get the GoT treatment on television, and the books have been pretty popular even before getting the zeitgeist-boost that visual media provides. I could see them being the next big thing in science-fiction fandom, so I’ll throw Jim Holden in the mix too. Why not?
When I recommend books, movies, comics, etc. to people I give them the title, because that’s what people use to look up what they want to read or watch. Will Stanton from The Dark Is Rising was one of my favorite characters as a kid, but for most people, only the title will ring a bell, and not the protagonist.
I suspect many of the characters I love will not be remembered a hundred years from now. But there is one stubborn guy who I suspect will endure, and that’s Gollum from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.
He’s already been around for decades and I’m sure he’s good for more. Gollum is not a protagonist. He’s this annoying pain in the butt that follows the protagonists around and talks funny, but you can’t forget him. He’s pathetic and he’s suffered, and yet he’s very hard to pity. Gollum is nothing if not resourceful.
Even years after I read The Hobbit I still like to use the word “tricksy” to describe someone and I know I have Gollum to thank for that.
But Gollum might be an easy guess since he’s had the benefit of recent movies boosting his profile worldwide and introducing him to a new generation of fans, so I’ll also throw out someone a little newer and wilder for this side of the Pacific.
I’ll bet on Detective Conan from the Japanese comic and animated TV/movie series of the same name making it another hundred years. Maybe he won’t endure over in the US, where Case Closed ended its run on Cartoon Network years ago, but I think he’ll last in Japan and other parts of the world. The series has been running for 20 years and the 19th movie in the franchise just came out April 18th.
Detective Conan is a little like Encyclopedia Brown, except that he usually solves murder mysteries instead of petty crimes committed by local bullies. And he has the slight problem that an experimental drug de-aged him from a teenager to the body of a six-year-old. It is not easy being taken seriously at crime scenes when one looks like a little kid.
Conan is a fun character to watch since he looks like a kid, but thinks like a teenager/adult, often internally voicing the exact snarky remarks the audience needs to hear.
I was first introduced to Conan about 16 years ago, and though I haven’t followed all his adventures over the years, the fact he’s never entirely left me shows his ability to endure.
100 years from now? We’re already 15% into the 21st century, and I can remember thinking—back in the ’70s—that I’d probably be dead by 2000, because it was the future and so far away. In the grand scheme of things, 2115, the 22nd century, doesn’t seem so distant. I must be getting old.
Fact is that people will still be people 100 years from now, and people love their larger-than-life heroes. So I suspect that certain beloved characters will still be around, such as Sherlock Holmes and Batman. These characters have been and will continue to be reworked for a modern audience.
Other than the obvious, the first that comes immediately to mind for me is Harry Dresden. Someone has to make a TV show or movie that’s loyal to the books. If they don’t, it’ll be a future I won’t want to live in. Dresden is an archetypal male with a hero complex. He’ll fit right in with the list above. He’s bad-ass like John Constantine, but with morals. I think our future will want moral characters who do the right thing, or the wrong thing for the right reason. I have no idea what the world will be like 100 years from now, but I like to imagine that, as we begin reaping the consequences of our lassitude and excess, we’ll grow more and more to admire those heroes who sacrifice for the greater good. (Note: Harry Dresden created by Jim Butcher.)
The other that comes to mind for me is Doctor Who—perhaps obvious, but also quite interesting to consider. The future Doctor Who, I suspect, won’t be the same white male Doctor Who we know now. It’ll be a Doctor Who who is a woman, a dark-skinned person, and maybe even a man trapped in a woman’s body, or vice versa. As the world becomes more open to diversity and accepting of all gender identities, Doctor Who will take on new dimension. His traveling companions will likewise be other than pretty young females, unlimited by the standards of the past. I suspect we’re not far from that now, and while I imagine some people will rebel strongly at that idea, the future is coming at us like a freight train. Better leap on or get the Hell out of the way.
Whether under capitalism or not, what makes a story cross generational lines is retellability. Stories that are endlessly told and retold stick around, but in the process they also become divorced from a canonical text or author. Eventually, the author becomes anonymous and the story becomes archetype.
Look at characters from a hundred-or-so years ago, for example, and which of them are holding up today. Tony Stark is a weaponized Jeeves & Wooster remake. Imperial wet dreams like John Carter/Tarzan are remade in times of anxiety, which is to say all the time, but the John Carter movie itself was a pulpy flop: Avatar is the true JC remake of our time. Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan and Oz survive via musicals, iteratively better special effects, and Alan Moore porno remakes. The most successful, in the sense of both being retold/adapted many times but also retaining intact something of the identity of the original, are probably Sherlock Holmes and Dracula. Why? Because their archetypes are genre-formation singularities. The great detective and the posthuman predator, they don’t need the trappings of their time and place, they’re not bound to any particular social structure, historical moment or mode of affect, they don’t break under mild subversions. They can be retold, and therefore resold, in new ways to new consumer-audiences, many times over, even simultaneously in a single generation.
But really, all of these pale into insignificance beside children’s-story characters with merchandising potential. Even dread Cthulhu has nothing on Winnie-the-Pooh, whose brazen, hideous cult girdles the globe. Why, just last year I scoured every toy shop in Colombo looking for a proper stuffed Tigger for my nephew, and nearly all of those I saw were pirate editions. Poor imitations, misshapen and miscoloured and possessed of eldritch miasmal odours, or possibly in some cases just possessed. Finally, I tracked down an overpriced “authentic” Tigger at an authorized reseller and holding the accursed thing in my hands I fell into a state of rumination from which I have never truly recovered. That moment, that’s the deep future of all fictions. Either to be consigned to merciful oblivion, or to become that which can be stuffed and on a shelf eternal lie.
Just as the simian flu jumps from apes to humans, enduring characters are memes that survive and evolve outside their original host. Example: Miss Havisham from Dickens. I’ve never read Great Expectations, but I could describe her appearance and tell you about her.
Fame has a huge random element. Leonardo da Vinci painted “Mona Lisa” in 1507, but it didn’t become famous until after 1911 (when it was stolen from the Louvre and then recovered). So, with that in mind, let me proceed chronologically to give you my picks for characters that will still be talked about in 2115 (that is, assuming the Singularity/Rapture/Robot Uprising doesn’t happen first).
First, the obvious call: Frankenstein is a permanent fixture of our mental landscape and will remain so (I also predict that in the year 2115, tedious people will still insist we call him “Frankenstein’s monster”). Dracula will also survive despite losing market share to generic vampires. Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, on the other hand, might not last.
Superman and Batman are good bets to endure into the next century. In the space of a few decades, Superman has already muscled aside Hercules for the top spot in the “do-gooder performing feats of strength” category. In our current ironic age, I don’t see another clean-shaven all-American hero arising to compete with Superman. Batman’s now riding high; I see him fading over time but still competitive in 2115.
From Lord of the Rings, I’m tapping Gollum as the one who can go the distance. Let’s face it, Frodo is a saint, and saints aren’t that interesting (even if they get blandly tempted occasionally). Gollum’s the whole package: the look, the distinctive speech, the narrative, everything.
I think Mr. Spock from Star Trek is one for the ages. Like Miss Havisham, he’s instantly recognizable, has a memorable backstory, and vividly symbolizes a basic component of the human experience. Much as I love Captain Kirk and the rest, the Vulcan will outlive them all. Live long and prosper, indeed.
I like Harry Potter as much as the next muggle, but I don’t see any unique character arising from the series. You’ve got your bearded wizard, your teenage boy, your bad guy. Ditto Star Wars. Wizard, boy, bad guy. Yoda’s memorable, but he’s too annoying to last a hundred years. Darth Vader was cool in the initial movies, but his brand identity has become muddied over time.
Moving on to our mechanical friends, I’m skeptical that any of the current crop will endure. I’m very fond of C3PO and Marvin the Paranoid Android, but they’re really just human comedians with a metal veneer. HAL from 2001 has uniquely non-human problems, but he’s probably too intangible to make a lasting impression on our psyche. Ditto for any of Iain Bank’s Culture ships or drones.
In terms of more recent work, I hope many favorite non-humanoid aliens will endure (say, Niven’s puppeteer Nessus and Vinge’s dogpack-like Flenser) but fear they will fade from memory. For human characters, a dark horse candidate might be Bujold’s Miles Vorkosigan. Imagine if a hit movie or TV series (perhaps starring Peter Dinklage from HBO’s Game of Thrones) were to catapult Miles into popular culture. Once there, the hyperactive git might be hard to dislodge.
A word about dissemination. Dracula’s in the public domain, so you’ll find him everywhere, even breakfast cereal. In contrast, later fictional characters are mostly still under copyright protection, which limits their distribution. One reason that the zombie meme has so thoroughly permeated our culture is that (due to a clerical error) the 1968 movie Night of the Living Dead was never copyrighted and thus was widely distributed.
Thus a character is more likely to endure if its distribution is not impeded by aggressive enforcement of intellectual property. Mickey Mouse, for example, seems unlikely to endure. In contrast, characters who are part of a flourishing, tolerated ecosystem of fan fiction and art are more likely to adapt to changing tastes.
So, one last bet: it is conceivable that enduring characters won’t come from a traditional single-authored work, but rather from some sort of quasi-folkloric semi-viral Internet collaboration. Slender Man, for example, is an intriguing mythic figure with strong potential.
It’s hard to say, isn’t it? The landscape of fandom is always changing. No one predicted the numerous cult classics that exist today. Films like Blade Runner, Donnie Darko and Fight Club flopped upon released. Look where they are now, all these years later.
Perhaps the easiest answer remains in the past. Edgar Rice Burroughs alone created characters well over 100 years ago that are prevalent today. John Carter of Mars, a hero stranded on an alien world so far from home. A blend of science-fiction, fantasy, and even western, this pulp classic came out of nowhere in the early ’10s and helped pave the path for science fiction for many more years to come. And over 100 years later, we’re still reading about the adventures of John Carter, Dejah Thoris and Tars Tarkas, raising their curved swords to catch the glint of a mercilessly scorching sun as they carve their way to victory. They’ve survived a century to be permanently engrained in our collective consciousness, and they’ll survive a hundred more. When four-armed aliens arrive and turn the Earth into a Mad Max-esque desert, John Carter is the hero we’ll look up to. It’s inevitable.
Off the top of my hat the usual answers came to mind:
- The Three Musketeers
- Mickey Mouse
- Indiana Jones
- Darth Vader
- Freddy Krueger
- Michael Myers
- Jason Vorhees
- Sherlock Holmes
- The Frankenstein Monster
And I’m also be tempted to add Bart and Homer Simpson, Batman and maybe even Bugs Bunny… The list goes on!
I’m not so sure.
We live in a world of constant and ever more rapid change. It seems to me that lots of young folks have no interest or knowledge in anything going back more than ten years.
When was the last time Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon have been mentioned? Or Archie Bunker?
If I had to bet money on it and had access to a time machine then I would feel safe putting money on Sherlock Holmes and the Frankenstein Monster.
Both figures are well over a hundred years old and seem to be going strong not just in universal recognition, but also in popular interest.
Even if every figure that I listed above can be considered “archetypes,” it seems to me that these two characters will still be going strong in a hundred years.
Holmes is immensely adaptable as a character who fits into almost every milieu and age. The popularity of Sherlock, Elementary and the two Robert Downey/Jude Law films show how adaptable and reinterpretable the figure is. I can’t imagine this changing anytime soon.
The Monster is such a tragic and simultaneously frightening figure that embodies both the “Some things are better left alone/Man playing God” motif and science run amok. These are two subjects that are achieved a greater relevancy than ever before.
Every other character/figure on my list is tightly bound with a specific time and image/actor/artist. These are factors that could possibly hinder their continued universal appeal in later decades.
Where as both Holmes and the Monster are figures who embody concepts that are larger than any single interpretation or portrayal. So I believe that even my great grandchildren would readily recognize both figures and know their background stories.
Disclaimer: I’m not the most insightful of people. so take everything that I’ve said with a huge grain of salt! 😉