Christopher Farnsworth‘s new book, The Eternal World, came out on August 4, 2015. He is also the writer of the Nathaniel Cade series, about a vampire who works for the President of the United States. Blood Oath, The President’s Vampire, and Red, White, and Blood are all available from G.P. Putnam’s Sons. A short novella about Cade, The Burning Men, is available from Amazon.com. The Cade books were twice finalists for the Goodreads Choice awards, have been translated into nine languages and published in over a dozen countries, and optioned for film and television. Christopher’s work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the New York Post, the New Republic, Washington Monthly, and on The Awl. Born and raised in Idaho, he worked as an investigative and business reporter before selling his first script, THE ACADEMY, to MGM. He lives in Los Angeles with his family.
In my latest book, The Eternal World, a group of Spanish conquistadors discovers the Fountain of Youth and gains eternal youth. But they’re hardly the first. The search for immortality is our oldest story. Literally. From The Epic of Gilgamesh on, we’ve been searching for ways to overcome death and live forever. These are my favorite characters who have succeeded. They informed my own work, and they show us all that living forever is not always the prize it might seem.
According to the Bible, Cain was the first man born, and the first killer. And according to some versions of the story, he’s also the first immortal. After slaying his brother Abel, he was cursed by God to walk the earth as a “fugitive and a vagabond” forever. This has led to Cain appearing in fiction and folklore as undying and unkillable, and usually as a bad guy. There are stories of Cain as the first vampire, and as the father of all monsters. In Beowulf, Grendel and his mother are described as descendants of Cain. But the idea of the eternal wanderer would recur again in Christianity, with the story of the Wandering Jew: a man who mocks Jesus on the way to the Crucifixion is cursed, like Cain, to walk the Earth, undying, until the Second Coming. It’s interesting that in these stories – and all the ones they’ve spawned over the centuries – eternal life is a punishment, rather than anything desirable.
This is just one of the many aliases of the only naturally occurring immortal in Neal Asher’s Polity series, which is set in a future where Earth is ruled by massive artificial intelligences and humanity has colonized distant planets. Even amid all the wonder of the 25th Century, Blegg stands out. His earliest memory is of walking away from the atomic blast at Hiroshima, and nothing has been able to kill him since. At least, that’s the story, since, as Asher writes, “Rumor and fantasy stuck to the man like burrs to a dog. He was a legend.” Blegg can apparently travel between planets under his own power, and usually shows up just when something really bad is about to go down. He serves as a kind of mentor to Asher’s hero, Earth Central Security Agent Ian Cormac. But more often than not, he’s also a source of frustration, due to his inability to ever give Cormac a straight answer about anything, especially his own origins.
Mitchell Shelley was the hero of the underrated DC Comics series written by the team of Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning. He had what was possibly the most painful super-power in history: he would die, and then return to life over and over and over, each time discovering a new ability. For a while, he was a wandering amnesiac, trying to figure out why so many people kept chasing after him and killing him. But eventually he discovered he was the longtime foe of another immortal, Vandal Savage. Savage and Shelley were destined to be locked in combat over the centuries, but neither could ever truly win, since they could never die.
Gilad was originally created by Jim Shooter (with art by John Dixon) as part of the Valiant comic book universe in the 90s. Along with his brother Aram (and later, Ivar), Gilad was born immortal – stronger, faster, and much tougher than ordinary humans, and able to heal from wounds that should have been fatal. While Aram liked drinking and carousing and poetry, Gilad was born for war, and spent his long life looking for a good fight. Valiant Comics died for a while after it was bought out by video-game maker Acclaim. But like Gilad himself, Valiant was resurrected in 2012 by a group led by Dinesh Shamdasani and Jason Kothari. Gilad is now fighting his way across the centuries again in new adventures.
The main character of 1986’s Highlander, an insane mash-up of mythology and sci-fi and fantasy. Written by Gregory Widen and played by Christopher Lambert, MacLeod was “born in 1518 in the village of Glenfinnan on the shores of Loch Shiel,” and found, after being mortally wounded in a battle, that he could not die. Despite having to watch everyone he’s ever known or loved die, MacLeod had some compensations in his long life. He was rich, cultured, carried a sword, and was fighting for the greatest prize in history against true evil. Despite all the sequels and reboots and TV series since, the original still has a kind of magic, and MacLeod remains the first guy to make immortality seem really cool to me.
This is what I love about history: no matter how weird my fiction gets, there’s always something out there in the actual world that’s even stranger. The Count of Saint-Germain (or the Comte De Saint Germain, as he’s sometimes called) was possibly a con man., possibly royalty. And possibly immortal. Saint-Germain was a celebrity in royal circles seemed to know a little about everything: he could speak all the European languages, played the violin, painted, and practiced alchemy. And he was very, very rich. He had jewels sewn into his clothes and handed out precious gems as party favors. He is mentioned in accounts by Casanova and Voltaire, and served as a diplomat and spy. And when asked about his origins, he would tell people he was anywhere from 300 to 500 years old. It’s believed he was actually a son of Francis Rákóczi II, the prince of Transylvania – possibly illegitimate – and he would make up stories about eternal youth to keep people from questioning his ancestry. Or maybe he was just telling stories to seem interesting at all the royal parties. But there’s at least one account of someone meeting Saint-Germain in 1710, when he looked to be in his 40s, but he would show up in England in 1754, in Russia in 1762, at the court of Louis XV, and then again at the court of his son, Louis XVI, twenty years later – all the while keeping the same youthful appearance.