|Bill Nighy as MI5 Intelligence Analyst Johnny Worricker|
in BBC Two's Page Eight.
When I wrote “The Corpus Lupi Experiment”, I also chose a fifty-something man, Liam, for my main character. (I suspect Johnny Worricker, though, to be closer to his middle-sixties) I realized now that I choose these older figures (In “A Thousand Incarnations, A Thousand Deaths” I chose a middle-aged female, who worked as a lone secretary in a dentist’s office) for two reasons: (1) the popular media usually develops and focuses on teenage or twenty-something characters, or on characters perceived to be in their prime, which I consider to be in the mid-thirties to early forties and (2) middle-aged characters are more realistic (even when I’m writing about unrealistic things, like vampires and werewolves).
Let me explain. We are given to understand, although this perception is slowly changing, that the love-lives of those who have crossed the threshold of 45 are no longer worth inspecting. Whatever fantastic illusions that might easily be sustained in teen and twenty-something relationships, the ripeness and complexity of thirty-something relationships, is no longer worth examining after 45 and certainly never past 50. Good Heavens, no. The media tells us this in unspoken ways: sex after 45 is dirty. There are wrinkles, maybe physiological complications. No one wants to see an older woman attempt to woo a younger man, and we certainly don’t want to see a younger woman being “preyed upon” by an older man. When we do see this, there is eventually some reckoning or a return to social mores becomes part of the narrative. Certainly, a middle-aged character with another middle-aged character has also traditionally been deemed unpalatable to audiences (again, I acknowledge there are exceptions to this rule--like, ugh, The Bridges of Madison County--and I recognize that this attitude is changing).
But I believe that these middle-aged characters and middle-aged relationships are much more absorbing precisely because of their complication, because of the characters’ histories….because much of life is spent feeling like you’re off balance, not like you’re on top of the world. And middle-aged characters embrace this insecurity or have at least come to terms with it in a way that younger characters do not. Middle-aged characters carry regret and sometimes denial. They are filled with historical surprises that younger characters simply do not have. Often, the middle-aged characters are not heroic but instead remain riddled with crippling uncertainty. And this is precisely what makes them so intriguing. Perhaps it’s because I am moving away from the ability to identify with the preoccupations of twenty-somethings, and I can identify with the buffeting by life that middle-age characters undergo. To me, teen and twenty-something heroes are unrealistic, cheap, a dime-a-dozen. Give me a middle-aged survivor of life’s challenges any day of the week. Grizzled and wrinkled they may be, but they’re just far more interesting.