Exposition of Immortality
Is The Hero of your Fantasy tale Really 700 Years Old or your Big Bad is a Time Abyss? Perhaps Mr. Exposition gained most of his knowledge by being Older Than They Look? They are? Great. Now, how best to go about showing the audience that they are?
Exposition of Immortality is a Narrative Device common in Speculative Fiction, Fantasy Literature and modern media derived from those sources. Increasingly popular as more and more TV shows, Films and authors craft works in which immortal, long-lived or unaging characters like elves, vampires and superheroes with a powerful Healing Factor occur, Exposition of Immortality is a trope that is itself Older Than They Look. It's about the methods that a work uses to show that a character is really, really old and it generally occurs in the following ways:
- Incriminating Evidence. Bob has maintained a series of identities down the ages, all with the same face and eventually, someone finds photos and / or paintings of him from hundreds of years ago. Or: Alice has a company of which she is CEO. And someone finds the documentation that shows she's been CEO since the company was originally founded. During the Renaissance.
- Trinkets I've Picked Up Over The Years. Bob maintains a collection of historical artifacts, not because he's an antiques dealer but because he personally collected them. At the time when they weren't antiques.
- I Was Old When The World Was Young. Emperor Evulz knows he is superior to The Hero, because he's been around since the dawn of time. And he's going to tell them all about the things he's seen since then and how much longer he's been around.
- Such Memories! Bob falls asleep and drifts into a dream about that time he was a soldier. In the Roman Legions. Note: Bob doesn't have to dream about his memories. Any instance of the immortal character remembering things that happened a long time ago that drifts into a Flash Back or Photo Montage counts.
- When I Met So and So. "Oh my word, yes! The parties the Sun-King used to throw at Versailles."
- An Ancient Accent. Alice speaks or writes English from thofe dayf before movable type had given uf the letter 's'.
If a work has a character who falls into one of the immortality tropes you can be 99% certain that, at some point, their age is going to come up in conversation or otherwise be brought to the attention of the audience in (at least) one of those ways or a variation thereon.
Exposition of Immortality is not the same as Time Travel. Characters who end up with memories of past times or encounters with historical figures solely due to temporal tourism did not live through that period of history, and thus, aren't demonstrating their extreme longevity at all. Such characters may, however, be encountered by people who know them in the future via Time Travel. Exposition of Immortality only applies to characters who're unusually long-lived or actually immortal. Naturally old characters reminiscing does not invoke this trope.
Exposition of Immortality will often lead to two sub-tropes being invoked: Exposure Of Immortality and Evidence Of Immortality.
- Exposure Of Immortality: When a character in a work is immortal they are often either perceived to be normal or actively trying to be perceived as such. Sometimes, they'll need to out themselves to the world at large in order to prove the existence of the supernatural to doubters and deal with a greater threat. Sometimes, they just want to prove it. And sometimes, they're exposed by others deliberately; either to reveal their True Nature and bring about their downfall or during the course of a mundane investigation that uncovers their secret.
Exposure Of Immortality: When an immortal is outed by themselves or other parties.
- Evidence Of Immortality: Exposition that shows a character to be immortal or otherwise older than they appear to be can happen in any of the forms listed in Exposition of Immortality. However; memories, conversations and flashback sequences don't tend to hold up too well as evidence. Photos, paintings, objets d'art and a series of documents showing that you and the last ten generations of your 'ancestors' have the same handwriting are much more damning proof of your unnatural longevity.
Evidence Of Immortality: When documentary and / or objective evidence is presented to expose an immortal character (or when they do so themselves).
- In ClanDestine, a group of villains figure out that Adam Destine is immortal based on finding portraits of him, all at the same apparent age, spanning several hundred years.
- Fables: Tommy Sharp plans to do this to the Fables living in Fabletown. He's been gathering evidence of their inhuman nature; following Bigby and photographing him shapeshifting, but also checking back on the title deeds of the land and buildings in Fabletown - all owned by members of the Fable community since old New York was New Amsterdam and early photos of them dating back into the 19th Century which show that none of them have aged.
- Preacher: Proinsias Cassidy. He's a vampire and was made one during the Easter Rising in Dublin 1916, which makes him 80+ during the series' run. He tells Jesse all about how he was turned and how he came to America and all the friends he's left behind and lost to old age through the years during a long conversation on top of the Empire State Building. Turns out he missed a few details, though.
- The Saint Of Killers got a four-issue mini-series all of his own to tell us about his mortal life in the Civil War and the terrible winter of 1878. He dumps a silver dollar with just that date on the counter of a bar in Gone To Texas, too.
- The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen features Orlando, an immortal Gender Bender who frequently makes passing mention of the historical figures s/he has met at various points their life.
- Major League character Allan Quatermain keeps coming back to life anyway, even without the benefits of the Fountain of Youth he receives in the comics. Much as with Orlando, it's through his conversations with Mina that we connect the youthful Allan Junior with the allegedly deceased elder Quatermain.
- Lucifer: During opening arc The Morningstar Option, Lucifer returns to Hell for a conversation with Remiel in which he reminisces about the time before The Fall and before the creation of Man.
- The Sandman's Hob Gadling. Hob lives forever, thanks to the whim of Dream. He meets up with Morpheus every 100 years, allowing for several instances Such Memories in their conversations with each other; the changing times get a visual reference in the differing costumes and backgrounds shown; ranging from the Tudor tavern they first meet in to the glass and chrome, trendy wine bar they're shown in at the end of Men Of Good Fortune.
- Orpheus remembering his wedding, his dismemberment by the Maenads, and the arc involving Johanna Constantine retrieving his severed head from Revolutionary France.
- Thessaly. Her "name" is actually a pseudonym, taken from the region near Ancient Greece she used to live in when she was young. She gets referred to as "the Thessalian" by several of the supernatural characters.
- Bram Stoker's Dracula: Whilst at Castle Dracula early in the film, Harker passes comment on a painting of Dracula from the 15th Century, noting the "family resemblance." Of course, as the audience, we've already seen the Count fighting the Turks in 1462 via an opening sequence.
- Cocoon: The aliens in Cocoon make casual mention that they built a base on Earth before. It was Atlantis. Their leader also makes passing comment about his own extreme age:
"Every ten or eleven thousand years or so, I make a terrible mistake."—Walter Cocoon
- Dogma: Loki and Bartleby explicitly discuss Loki's past career, including the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah whilst buying guns and have long argument about the creation of Man and the actions of Lucifer that precipitated his Fall from Heaven.
- Highlander: Connor MacLeod has a collection of things he's picked over his life, masquerades as an antique dealer and gets found out thanks to his handwriting on old title deeds and some inconvenient photos. MacLeod's also got many memories of times gone by; saving Rachel from Nazis, dueling drunk in 18th Century New England, and of course, his original life in 16th Century Scotland.
- The Hunger: Miriam has a collection of ancient items; ancient Egyptian pendant, a 500 year-old bust that Sarah notes looks a lot like her.
- Legend: Darkness makes a lot of how long he's been around when taunting Jack about how he can never be destroyed.
- Subverted in The Man From Earth: John Oldman ("Old Man"), an immortal human being born in the stone age and surviving, barely aged, into the 21st century, has a particular paleolithic tool in his home, which he claims he bought in a flea market. Even after he reveals that he is really approximately 14,000 years old, he still claims that the tool came from a flea market. When asked by his friends why he doesn't keep some mementos of his old life, John tells them that the idea of a person hanging onto the same object for thousands of years is actually pretty absurd.
- Underworld mostly employs a combination of dialogue and flashbacks for this. Selene states that she's been a vampire for six hundred years and that Viktor was her maker. Flashbacks in the first and second films show the date for the Lycan-Vampire conflict, establishing Kraven as at least as old as Selene.
- The werewolf doctor in Underworld has a family tree showing the dates for the Corvinus family dating back to the 5th century AD with Marcus Corvinus.
- And then there's Alexander, who reveals himself to have been the father of the original Marcus Corvinus; still alive after approximately 1600 years.
- X-Men: First Class has a brief scene in which Professor X and Magneto walk into a bar to talk to Wolverine who, of course, looks exactly like he does in the first film.
- Iain Banks' The Culture novels have a number of entities that need some exposition of their long, long lives. Most of the Minds are effectively immortal and many of them have been around for hundreds and occasionally thousands of years.
- The Culture: Chamlis Amalk-Ney, the aging drone who's one of Gurgeh's close friends on Chiark Orbital, is at least four thousand years old by its own admission (no one is impolite enough to look up its construction date to find out if it's really older). In between the drone's much larger body than a more modern drone, like the warped and snarky Mawhrin-Skel, and those two sniping insults at each other about their respective ages, there's also Gurgeh's own musing about the age of Chamlis and how long the drone's been living on Chiark.
- Discworld: Many of the golems evoke this trope via their ancient scripts and long memories. Anghammarad is a particularly extreme example, on account of being at least 20,000 years old and remembering states and languages that no living creature on the Disc does.
- The Count de Magpyr (the old, traditional one, not the trendy new one) recognises the names of several of the peasants in the mob at his castle and makes mention of remembering their grandparents.
- David Gemmell's Dark Prince, one of the Sipstrassi novels, has an epilogue in which the Greek philosopher Aristotle is strongly implied to also be Leonardo da Vinci; maintaining his long life with the use of Sipstrassi. The time is given as "unknown," but when Parmenion asks about what happened to Alexander, we're told he died seventeen hundred years ago.
- The Howards in Robert Heinlein's Future History series, particularly Lazarus Long, are usually too careful to accidentally reveal their true ages. Though a third of Time Enough for Love is Lazarus recollecting things that happened over his 2300 year life (most of it things that haven't happened yet, considering he was born in 1912).
- Last Legionary: In Galactic Warlord, Talis patiently explains to Kiell that the alien Glr is not an "it" but a she, and that the Ehrlil are very long-lived, the scientist who first encountered her was his father. Flr herself chips in that she's four hundred, and still considered a wayward youth by her people.
- H.P. Lovecraft's The Strange Case of Charles Dexter Ward has characters who speak with a distinctly 17th century cant and write their Latin in the mode of the 9th century A.D.
- John Masefield's The Box of Delights had Ramon Lully, aka Cole Hawlings, 14th century philosopher posing as a 1930s children's entertainer. His reveal comes courtesy of the Big Bad, Abner Brown, who's been in pursuit of him for some time and shows his henchmen a book with pictures of Lully when he was alive which look remarkably like Hawlings.
- Kim Newman's Dark Future novel Demon Download has a scene in which the resident Big Bad and Time Abyss Elder Nguyen Seth is revealed to Vatican agents as having been around for quite some time via a set of photos running from 1974 to 1868 and an etching of Vlad The Impaler's execution.
- Drachenfels has this a couple of times, between Genevieve and the eponymous villain. Drachenfels himself has his immense age pointed early on; the adventurers reminding themselves that he was around when Sigmar Heldenhammer was still alive, a least two thousand years ago and coming across the remains of his infamous Poison Feast in which an ancestor of Oswald's was a victim.
- Robert Rankin's Armageddon Trilogy features a version of Elvis Presley who evaded his own death and is bonded to a genetically-engineered sprout with Time Travel powers who grants him near-immortality. Elvis looks the same and conceals his identity with several new names like Theodore Henry Edward King and Noah Never (it's a play on the Elvis song No, I Never).
- J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings has more than a few instances of immortal characters and Elrond in particular evokes Exposition of Immortality as he pointedly reminds Boromir of who told Isildur what should have been done with the One Ring, 3000 years ago.
- In "St. Austin Friars" a short story in Robert Westall's anthology Break of Dark, William Henry Drogo invites the Reverend to dinner and tells him several detailed stories about the past of Muncaster, as if he witness them directly. When challenged he simply states: "I am one hundred and ninety-two years old."
- In Alcatraz, the character of Sophie was just a minor character working on the special task force investigating the reappearing criminals who disappeared from Alcatraz Island several decades before, but a flashback revealed her working as a psychiatrist in the 60s on Alcatraz Island. A single video of her known to have been taken in the 60s is the one clue to the other characters of her true age.
- The criminals and guards who disappeared from Alcatraz in 1963 return to the present day the same age as when they left, as evidenced by photos of them taken in the prison, and a few individuals who happened to have known them before their disappearance.
- Angel mentions crashing The King's Vegas party and several famous Las Vegas mobsters in The House Always Wins.
- Babylon 5 has Kosh and Lorien, both of whom have invoked the "I was old when the world was young" line. Sebastian, the Vorlon Inquisitor invokes the Such Memories subtype when reminiscing about his past life as Jack the Ripper.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer being a TV show about vampires, demons and other supernaturals has several instances of a character getting to show off their long history. Angel, Spike and Dru (among others) all get to reminisce about the past and it gets shown to the audience in several Flash Back sequences.
- Doctor Who uses this on several occasions. Fourth Doctor serial The Stones of Blood is a case of Incriminating Evidence in the form of a set of portraits showing the villain over several centuries.
- The Event: The extraterrestrials look just like humans, but live much longer and age slowly. Photos of these characters taken decades ago, but still looking just the way they do now, are often the only clue the human characters get that reveal the true nature of friends and family members they thought they knew very well.
- Forever Knight has several types. Nick has Incriminating Evidence photos, mementos like Joan of Arc's cross and plenty of memories he likes to share, usually Once an Episode.
- Lexx: His Divine Shadow's Divine Predecessors have attained a clinical immortality by being a Brain In a Jar. The first episode of the run of TV movies, "I Worship His Shadow," has one the Predecessors sharing his memories of the destruction of the Brunnen-G two thousand and eight years before.
- Lost: The character Richard never ages, which we first see in a flashback when Ben meets him as a child and Richard looks exactly the same. Through time travel and more flashbacks, we see Richard in various eras, still looking exactly the same as he does in the present.
- In an episode of the newer Outer Limits, a character proves she's immortal by having her father-in-law-to-be look up a photograph of a portrait of the wife of Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751-1816), who she is.
- Sabrina the Teenage Witch: Hilda and Zelda mention that they had all the money because they kept a lot of common items over time and sold them when they found they'd become valuable antiques.
- Sanctuary: Between the revelations and remembrances about times she worked for the French Resistance, sailed on the Titanic and had sex with the man who became Jack the Ripper, Sanctuary wants you to know Helen Magnus has lived through her 159+ years on this Earth.
- "Dr. Curtis Knox" in Smallville is never implicitly referred to as Vandal Savage, but that's pretty much who he is. A Civil-War era photo of a bearded Knox which Lex shows Clark confirms he's immortal, or at least older than he looks. He also tells Chloe that he was once Jack the Ripper himself.
- Star Trek
- In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Requiem for Methuselah", Mr. Spock finds a waltz by Johannes Brahms written in original manuscript in Brahms' own hand inside Flint's home, but it is totally unknown. Likewise Flint has a collection of Leonardo da Vinci masterpieces that have been recently painted on contemporary canvas with contemporary materials. Flint later admits that he was Brahms and da Vinci.
- In "Time's Arrow", a two-part episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, the Enterprise crew runs into Guinan, the El-Aurian bartender on their ship, while on a Time Travel trip to the 19th century. She's shown talking with Mark Twain and Jack London; but when Data approaches her, believing that she too, has traveled through time, she doesn't know him or the rest of the crew.
- In an episode of Star Trek: Voyager, a member of the Q-continuum shows us a picture of him and an ancestor of Will Riker from the time of the American Civil War.
- In the Supernatural episode "Something Wicked", Sam discovers the identity of the witch they are looking for, because he finds a news article with a picture of the witch as a doctor back in the 1890's.
- Torchwood's Captain Jack Harkness shows his age every way possible. There's his Army greatcoat, his Webley revolver, a Photo Montage of him through the ages in one episode, him remembering meeting fairies in 1909 and being the British contact for the 456. Not being a native of the 19th century, he speaks normally, though.
- True Blood has done this a few times. Bill gets given a Civil War era photo of himself, Russell and Talbot have centuries old paintings and tapestries decorating their home, Russell has his collection of trinkets and trophies from down the ages and Maryann not only has her ancient statue but speaks Ancient Greek.
- In the original Twilight Zone episode Long Live Walter Jameson the titular character is a history prof. who knows his stuff, who has a retiring colleague who comments on his appearance, and who is seen in a Civil War picture.
- In The X-Files episode "Squeeze", Mulder is shown a photograph of the suspect in his current case from 1963 who hasn't aged at all since then. Mulder also looks up the suspect's original birth certificate, showing he was born in 1903.
- In The Dresden Files, while looking through an abandoned building, the vampire Bianca refers to it as a hideout. Harry repeats the word, and jokes that Bianca sounds like a 30s gangster's mall. She responds she was a 30s gangster's mall, and adds she's led a long and interesting life.
- The Wandering Jew, whose origin is traced to a section of the Gospel of Matthew and is, according to various tales down the years from approximately the 13th century on, cursed by Christ to be unable to die until the Second Coming.
- Sebastian Baczkiewicz' drama serial Pilgrim for BBC Radio 4 features the 900-year old William Palmer, cursed to live forever by a Lord of Faery. Most of the exposition of Palmer's age comes from his memories and conversations with other supernaturals.
- Call of Cthulhu (tabletop game) 1990s campaign Utati Asfet: The Eye Of Wicked Sight featured a Big Bad who dated back to the Egyptian Empire. The players have an opportunity to uncover this at one point via a set of diaries, documents and paintings.
- In the Ravenloft setting, Dr. Van Richten realized that the fiend Drigor had been manipulating a particular family for generations when he looked at the family journals, and realized their writing styles hadn't changed for the past two hundred years.
- Shadowrun. Some of the elves in the game are immortal and have lived thousands of years, but this is not generally known. Several supplements provided evidence of their great age.
- In Jenna Ni'Fairra's home in Tir Tairngire there's a painting of her that "felt old" to the person who saw it, showing signs of cracking and decay.
- Fallout 1: Harold, a ghoul-esque mutant you can meet in The Hub, was five years old when the Great War began, and emerged from Vault 29 in 2090. The Vault Dweller encounters him in Oldtown in 2162. He'll tell you a little about his life in Vault 29 and what he remembers of the beginning of the war if you ask.
- Fallout 2: Harold can be encountered once again by the Chosen One. Along with much of the ghoul population of Necropolis, he's settled in an abandoned nuclear power plant and formed a small town named Gecko. FO2 is set a further 80 years after 1, making Harold 189 when the Chosen One meets him.
- Fallout 3: Many of the ghouls you can encounter in Underworld lived through the war and can tell what, frequently little, they can remember of the time before. Carol, the ghoul running the bar and eatery there was born in 2051, twenty-six years prior to the Great War.
- Some of his dialogue and unused security logs in the terminals imply that Fawkes was alive during the initial FEV experiments conducted in Vault 87 prior to the war.
- Harold makes his third and final appearance (to date) in Fallout 3. A further fifteen years down the line from the last time a player could meet him in FO2, Harold's most distinguishing feature, a tree growing out his head has now mostly consumed his body; making him into a face growing out of a tree.
- Fallout: New Vegas: Mr. House, once you finally get to meet him, reveals himself to be quite a bit older than you might have been expecting. He's got quite the collection of pre-war artifacts, and he's more than happy to pay you to increase them, too. He's also reduced to living in a life support system and communicating entirely through electronic screens and his robot minions, but given that he was born 260 years ago, that's not bad going.
- Sovereign, Harbinger and the other Reapers of the Mass Effect series make a lot of noise about how they were here long before humans and that they'll be here long after they've devoured them all.
- Conversations during Mass Effect 1 with Liara reveal that she herself is 106 and that the asari live for a great deal longer than that - she's considered to be little more than a child by many of her species' elders.
- Girl Genius often pulls this with Jägermonsters, as Super Soldiers of House Heterodyne are immortal (short of extreme misfortune) and have accompanied their masters all over the subcontinent, on raids or otherwise. The "Golden Age" of Storm King? That was "merely" two centuries ago, most living Jägers remember this mess.
- Then we meet Albia, who needs an external storage for her less used memories. Like how she joined the company of Immortal God-Queens in the first place, or more "recent" (almost five thousand year ago) time when this fun ended.
- Lucius Heinous VII from Jimmy Two-Shoes looks like he's in his mid-thirties at the oldest. However, according to one episode it took him four hundred years to grow his horns. Since he's essentially Satan, it's likely he's immortal.
- In flashbacks where Lucius VII has fully grown horns, Lucius VI doesn't look a day over 90.
- Played for Laughs in a The Simpsons episode where Mr. Burns officially states his birthplace to be Pangaea.