When I was in school the late, great Laurence Olivier was one of many stars in a Ray Harryhausen movie called Clash of The Titans. This movie was generally panned and often called the worst film in Laurence Olivier great acting career. Though to be honest, just about every movie Laurence made after 1970 could be called the worst he ever made. With the possible exception of a production of King Lear which featured an old man playing the part of an old man for the first time.
There was a bit of business in Clash of The Titans where a woman is granted immortality. At first she is happy about this greatest of all gifts, but then, as she ages and ages and ages she finds that she is not so found of it after all. Immortality in an aging body is not to be desired. This would be a good definition of Hell.
But most sci fi and fantasy stories that deal with immortality skip that whole bothersome business of aging. The current show New Amsterdam which wrapped up its first season the other night is a perfect example of never dying and never aging either. He longs to find his one true love so he can at last grown old and die. The Highlander was another good example of immortals run amok. The only way to die was to loose your head. General mayhem ensued among the Immortals.
But even an immortal that never changes or ages is not usually viewed as a good thing. In the Superman comics there were many survivors of the destruction of Krypton besides Superman. One of these survivors was an immortal who was left drifting in space after his home is reduced to rubble. I don’t recall if he suffered from hunger as he drifted in the endless void or felt the pains of breathing vacuum, but he was not a happy fellow in any case.
In Ursula K Leguin’s Changing Planes there is a story about Immortals who would eventually be buried and turned into diamonds. Here Immortality was given, but the power of instant healing was not, so that a severe burn would not kill, only maim and dismember. Immortal and unable to heal injuries would not be a good combination.
Anne Rice had one of her vampires become obsessed with make a model railway of mind numbing exactness, down to the position of individual blades of grass and grains of sand. When you have forever to do something, why not do it right?
Even if we have the best form of immortality, one where we are forever twenty years old and able to keep learning and becoming for all of our endless existence-would we still want to learn anything? Marvin the Robot ends up being several times older than the Universe through his various trips through time, but he is never really happy about it.
So the question becomes, knowing all this, would anyone still want to be immortal? The answer would still seem to be yes, so long as a few minor requirements were met. Immortality would be desirable if you could remain forever young, able to recover instantly from injuries, and have a number of companions who don’t want to kill you.
One strong argument against immortality is that people would quickly become bored and long to die. After all, how many times can you go around the world, read the same old books, watch the same old shows, talk to the same old people, before it all become a bit boring? I find this argument a bit silly, but then, I have never been one of those people who sits around in the afternoon pondering what I should do next. I’m one of that people that would follow Merlin’s advice.
“The best thing for being sad,” said Merlin, “is to learn something.”