Tuesday, June 12, 2018
Guys with crazy, genetic diseases involving time
Time is perhaps the most fascinating and relentless force of all. It steadily changes each of us and eventually removes us from this earth's picture entirely. Nobody can speed it up or slow it down. The most we can do is create the illusion that we can, with expensive products, good food and strict exercise regimes. But we always succumb eventually, as it ticks steadily away, eroding us into faded, frail images of our former selves. Maybe that's why speculative stories about guys like these intrigue us, because they encourage us to ask, 'What if time behaved differently for us? What would be the ramifications of that?' It's interesting and fun that several authors have grappled with the same questions, and what they inflict on their poor heroes could be regarded as various medical conditions, enabling us to ponder some possible answers. Here goes.
Tom Hazard (from How to Stop Time)
He has a condition that causes him to age incredibly slowly, at the rate of one year for every 15. He's seen a lot of history in his life, meeting celebrities such as Shakespeare, Captain Cook and F. Scott Fitzgerald. This gives him plenty of insight for his current job as a High School History teacher, but Tom finds it hard to deal with the downside, which is outliving everyone he grows to care about. (My review is here.)
Benjamin Button (from The Curious Case of Benjamin Button)
I love the concept of poor Benjamin's tale. His life trajectory is the opposite to other people's. He's born as a haggard, grey-haired man and ages backward until his death from old age, as a new born baby. The image of how he and the love of his life face their final moments together is haunting; an elderly woman holding a helpless infant.
Henry de Tamble (from The Time Traveler's Wife)
His condition once saved his life as a 5-year-old, but he senses it will also be the death of him. Henry zips back and forth to different stages of his own future and past, with the inability to control when it will happen. His genetic clock randomly resets itself, often at extremely awkward moments. He always vanishes without a trace, leaving a pile of clothes behind on the floor, to appear entirely naked in another time frame. But he has the consolation of some interesting conversations with himself at different ages. To a certain extent, this gives him comforting insight into what lies ahead for him, but how terrifying for Henry when his future self no longer visits. (My review is here.)
Dorian Gray (from The Picture of Dorian Gray)
You could say that his time condition didn't develop until his late teens or early twenties. This young man longed to trade places with his own portrait, because it would be so wonderful to stay gorgeous and young. Suddenly that's just what happens. The canvas bears the brunt of his hard living and bad choices, so Dorian hides it away in his attic. Meanwhile, everyone wonders how he manages to stay so ravishingly attractive. It's bound to catch up with him some time though, because that's the nature of time, and we know it'll hit hard when it does. (Here is my review.)
Jesse Tuck (from Tuck Everlasting)
This teenager and his whole family could be said to have caught their time condition from contaminated water. There was evidently some sort of supernatural bug in the stream they drank from, which preserved them from the ravages of aging from then on. Further more, it fortified each of them so they were impossible to kill. So when Jesse visits the grave of his childhood sweetheart Winnie long after she's grown old and passed away, he's still the same handsome young man he was in the 1920's. Only his fashion sense has changed. His is perhaps the most tragic tale of all. For who would really want that sort of indestructible immortality?
What a wild ride it would be to get hold of all these stories and read them back to back. If you're like me, they might help make you content with your rapidly aging self. Perhaps ours is the best case scenario after all, because these guys' lives were fraught with too much difficulty and heartache by far. Would you trade places with any one of them? Perhaps I'll finish off with the legendary guy who represents what each of us have to put up with.
He's not actually a mortal, but a personified picture of the passage of time in our lives. He's elderly and bearded because he's been around literally forever. His scythe and hour glass represent the one-way movement we all have to cope with. The young will grow old, but the old can't rejuvenate themselves and start over again. Presenting him in a human form like the rest of us is possibly apt, because it could be argued we all have a genetic condition regarding time, just like the guys on the list, which starts ticking away the moment we're born. We all know it's chronic and will turn out to be terminal, but compared to them, we wouldn't have it any other way.
You might enjoy my related list of Evergreen Children, those storybook kids who never grow up. It turns out there's a lot they can teach us.
There's also this reflection on the passage of time, featuring a wise and happy bunch named The Graveyard School.