Thoughtful Thursday: Old people

Dear readers, this one is short and quick. There’s a reader who is wondering if there are any fantasy books where an old person is the protagonist. I can think of a few middle aged heroes, but not any old ones. The closest I can get is Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold where the female protagonist is late-middle aged. Unless undead counts as old, because some of those guys are hundreds of years old, but I don’t think that is what she is going for.

So, dear readers, we’re crowdsourcing this one. Please help a fellow reader and leave suggestions for books with old protagonists. I’ll draw a random commenter to win a book of their choice from our stacks.

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RUTH ARNELL (on FanLit's staff January 2009 — August 2013) earned a Ph.D. in political science and is a college professor in Idaho. From a young age she has maxed out her library card the way some people do credit cards. Ruth started reading fantasy with A Wrinkle in Time and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe — books that still occupy an honored spot on her bookshelf today. Ruth and her husband have a young son, but their house is actually presided over by a flame-point Siamese who answers, sometimes, to the name of Griffon.

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  1. David Gemmell’s Druss immiediatly comes to my mind. While Gemmell does do a couple prequels about Druss in later Dranei Saga books (The series freatures many different characters because the commonallity is, an empire or a world instead a single storyline or set of characters) In the first book, titled Legend, Druss comes out of retirement to fight invading barbarian hordes.
    I’m sure I’ll think of others. At my age, I have an personal appreciation for the older protagnists too.

  2. The original Dr Who novels, way back in the 1960s, had a sexagenarian protagonist because that’s how old the actor playing the character was. Today’s Doctor is forty years younger, though – which probably reveals a lot about how the genre has changed. My publisher told me it was even a risky move making my hero (for YA and older MG) an eighteen-year-old.

  3. The question is fundamentally flawed. While I think there are many fantasy stories with extremely old protagonists, most of these are cases where the character is functionally immortal. For example, isn’t Elric of Melnibone immortal? Kane? What you’re really asking is if there are stories where the protagonist is senesced.

    As already mentioned, Druss from Gemell’s original Legend might fit. Raymond Feist’s books have now covered generations, so while many of the primary protagonists are either new and young or old but immortal (e.g., Pug), there have been some senesced examples as well (e.g., the elderly Jimmy the Hand in the Serpentwar series).

    Certainly many wizards are very old, but the protagonists are more likely to be the younger apprentices and/or more-or-less immortal.

  4. I would like to suggest any of these Discworld books (Terry Pratchett) with Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg as the main characters: Equal Rites, Wyrd Sisters, Witches Abroad, Lords and Ladies, Maskerade, Carpe Jugulum, Nanny Ogg’s Cookbook.

    … and I challenge anyone to say to “She Who Must Be Avoided” that she has … senesced.

  5. The Price of Spring by Daniel Abraham might count, the only thing is it’s the fourth book in a 4 book series. In the first book the protagonist is fairly young but there is about a 15-20 year gap between each book so to get to the final one where the main character is elderly you need to read about him being younger first.

  6. Some of the Conan stories, after he becomes a king, I think he’s in his 60s or 70s but his stories jump around at different times in his life.

  7. I’m wondering whether the Dr Doolittle books would qualify. He’s already a qualified doctor in 1809, when he travels to the North Pole, and the rest of the stories take place 30-40 years later, so he must be nudging 70 by the end of the series.

  8. John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War, sort of. The character starts out old, anyway.

    Second Gemmell’s Legend and the later Conan stories.

  9. Would Sophie in Howl’s Moving Castle count? She’s just old on the outside, as it were, but still living the part….

  10. And there’s Tenar and Ged, in Tehanu, by Ursula Le Guin–not that old, but a bit more than middle aged….

  11. I believe the reader means elderly. That’s tough. I know there are tons of secondary characters that are old…I’m having a hard time coming up with a main character. I’ll have to think on it awhile.

  12. The only one I can come up with is A Little Fear by Patricia Wrightson. A determined elderly woman escapes from a nursing home. She escapes to a cottage where she has to deal with pranks played on her by an ancient spirit, the Njimbin.

  13. I was going to say Old Man’s War, but someone above mentioned it already, so I guess this comment is rather pointless (lol).

  14. Two that come to mind have already been said, Legend (Gemmell), and Old Man’s War (Scalzi) although the latter is kind of up for debate.

    I’m currently reading Thrall by Stephen Shrewsbury and it’s kind of like Legend with the whole aged (most think he’s already dead even) fighter deal going on.

  15. I remember the protaganist in Tea With the Black Dragon as being middle-aged–and I realize that she was probably in her early 40s, which I do not consider middle-aged now. She has a daughter in her late 20s, though.

  16. Diana Wynne Jones: A Sudden Wild Magic.

  17. (though only in the way that Terry Pratchett’s Witches novels have an old protagonist, I guess – multiple viewpoints).

  18. I feel like Old Man’s War (I think his name was John Perry?)qualifies. He was 75 when the story started. I know he got a suped-up version of his younger self, but he still had all his 75 year-old mind -his personality, memories, and soul. So he was still 75.
    But now that I think about it,, I guess how is that different than a character that becomes immortal and I don’t think an immortal quailifies here. Why do I still feel like Perry qualifies?

  19. Sir Read-a-Lot /

    There is a bad argument that the later books of the Ender’s series include him as an elderly protagonist, but he mostly takes the back seat, so I’ll skip him.

    Cohen and the Silver Horde in Interesting Times and The Last Hero in the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett qualify as extremely old protagonists (Cohen is 87 or 90-95 depending on which book you read).

  20. Tia in Marta Randall’s Islands is in her late 60s.

    Maskelle in Martha Wells’s Wheel of the Infinite is in her 40s (no, not elderly).

  21. One of the two POV characters in Freda Warrington’s Midsummer Night is either a sexagenarian or septuagenarian. Her aging is slower than most people’s, but she has gone gray…

    Jane Lindskold has older heroines sometimes. Mira in Child of a Rainless Year is fiftysomething, IIRC. I remember being surprised when the backstory didn’t stop until she was already 50. (I was so used to the common fantasy tropes that I expected her adventure to start before then. Can we say cliche?) There’s also Pearl Bright in Lindskold’s Breaking the Wall series; she’s in her seventies. But those books aren’t as good as Rainless Year, IMO.

    Tanith Lee’s Arpazia, in White as Snow, is more along the lines of a protagonist who is old by her society’s standards but not by ours. She goes completely white-haired and is treated like an old crone…and I think she’s about thirty at the end of the book. Hard times…

    You should also read Patricia Wrede’s short story “Stronger Than Time.”

    I agree that there need to be more older protags. Interesting things don’t just happen to eighteen-year-olds, lol! It’s sad that I get thrilled when I see a protag who’s my own age…and I’m only 33….

    An aside: I just saw the movie Red and it was fun. Aging special forces people!

    Oh, and I just read Pat Murphy’s The Falling Woman, and the heroine describes herself as an old woman. She’s actually only in her fifties, though.

  22. Belgarath the Sorcerer by David Eddings. That dude is 7000 years old!


  23. Also, I forgot Temper in Esslemont’s Night of Knives. I don’t know how old he is, but he is often referred to in the story as “old man” or “greybeard”.


  24. I was able to think of a couple of older heroes, though each of them remains pretty dangerous with a sword in spite of advanced age. Gene Wolfe’s Book of the Short Sun features older protagonists, as does Soldier of Sidon. Jack Whyte’s The Skystone and The Singing Sword feature aging heroes too.

    @Brian T. I can’t believe I’d forgotten Belgarath. Sparhawk isn’t really a spring chicken either.

  25. I was going to suggest Old Man’s War, but that is science fiction and I was focusing on fantasy. In SF I’m sure we can come up with many more examples (e.g., Nathan Brazil from the Well of Souls books; didn’t Heinlein have some really old characters in the Methusaleh stories?).

    Belgarath and Polgara were exactly the sorts of characters I was referring to as functionally immortal. Belgarath is also not the protagonist in most of the books, and the one which is focused on him ranges from when he was a child to thousands of years old. But as a functional immortal, he’s not senesced, which seems to be the major point of the question. Not just stories about people who are old, but stories where the protagonist has a body (and joints) which are actually degraded due to age. Besides being SF, the problem (of sorts) with Old Man’s War is that the protagonist is given a new, younger, healthier body. Sort of skews the point.

  26. Laura Foxworth /

    The 1st and 2nd Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever by Donaldson

  27. David Phipps /

    Remnant Population by Elizabeth Moon

  28. Allen Edwards wins the giveaway! Allen, if you live in the USA, please choose a book from our stacks and contact Kat.


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