Every so often I get into the mood for a re-read of David Gemmell books and sooner or later I tend to get to his first and in my opinion finest book, Legend – A book saw the induction of what was probably Gemmell’s most iconic character – Druss the Legend. One of things that for me makes Druss interesting is that he’s an old man of sixty, marching to a battle he believes he will not survive. In so many stories revolve around the young hero, in which the older mentor plays a significant but nevertheless supporting role. Why though send the apprentice if the master is available? The older hero comes with a few complications but offers some possibilities his/her younger counter struggles to match.
Occasionally you will come across criticism of the hyper competent protagonist, who does seem old enough for the skills they possess (see the Force Awakens or heck the first Star War films for an examples of this) It becomes a lot easier to explain how the hero has the skills they have, when with the extra years on the clock, they’ve effectively had time to go everywhere and do everything. In the case of Druss, even though he is by the start of Legend already old and creaky, he has a lifetime of experience, mostly of not getting killed, contacts everywhere and a towering reputation. Another example of this kind of character can be found in Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed, whose main character, Doctor Adoulla Makhslood, is an aging demon hunter.
As well as the skills the character can be granted from the outset, there is also the opportunity for a maturity that a younger character might not be able to show. An older person comfortable with their abilities may not feel they have to prove anything. Equally however, the character could be clinging to a fading youth as well has degrading mental and physical capabilities. That latter point leads us on to the made draw back of older main characters.
Those extra years on the clock at the start, mean that less years are available in the future. Should a writer’s older character prove commercially successful, using that character might be difficult or impossible depending on what happened in their first story. In later books Gemmell spent a lot of time on Druss’s earlier years, which put you firmly into prequel territory with all of it’s attendant problems. The other main problem with an older character depends a little on the medium of the story, if it is anything visual (TV, film or even comic book) well the rather brutal fact is that young people are usually more attractive than older people. The visual medium will therefore tend to place emphasis on best looking members of the cast, which generally means at the younger end of the scale. Obviously there are exceptions but really female characters hit harder.
So there we have it, some light musing on the topic and for any writers out there perhaps look at your work and wonder whether your characters should be given a few extra birthdays.