by Chantal Boudreau
I had a reader thank me the other day for including my gnomish character Cerissa June, or “Reeree” as she is better known, as a heroine in my Masters & Renegade fantasy series. “Finally, someone like me,” she said. “Someone my age – someone who thinks like I do.”
Cerissa June, you see, is a plump, middle-aged woman who prefers to think things through rather than act on impulse. She is intelligent and educated, having spent the better part of her life working as a schoolteacher, but she also has the experience and wisdom as a result of her advanced years, an advantage not shared by her younger wizard cohorts.
While you may see a grizzled veteran sidekick or mentor on occasion, the main characters in speculative fiction are rarely the very young, unless a story is intended for children, or older people. Perhaps because of a perceived need of a certain level of physical fitness, fantasy heroes don’t tend to be portly, disabled or anyone old enough to have grown children. This assumes that a story is always the result of an able-bodied younger adult going out to meet whatever trouble has arisen to cause the tale’s conflict. Realistically, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes trouble comes to the hero, landing in his or her path unexpectedly. Those who rise to the occasion may not be a strong, beautiful, twenty-something individual. It could just as easily be an awkward acne-afflicted teen or a fleshy and wrinkled elder who sees the need to act.
The other reason why the focus of fantasy stories may offer up younger adult protagonists is the belief that this is the type of character with whom the reader would identify. This isn’t necessarily so with adult fantasy, which appeals to a range of ages. My readers have included those as young as fifteen to people in their seventies. It would make sense for my fiction to reflect that variety.
And you also have to look at the span of a work. If your story takes place over decades, your protagonist will age and suffer the afflictions that accompany the loss of youth. My Snowy Barren Trilogy takes place over more than three decades and while some of the protagonists begin as youths who are just becoming adults, others are more mature initially. This means that those who survive to the end of the trilogy, in the violent, low-tech setting for the story, have grown old. Their hair has grayed, they aren’t as spry as they had been and some characters even die from old age rather than injury or illness. It makes sense considering the amount of time that passes.
That being said, the heroes in the tale don’t just stop being heroes because they get older. They may have to retire from participating in some of the physical aspects of the fight, because of new limitations, but that doesn’t stop them altogether. At one point in the tale, one of my heroes purposefully goes out recruiting the assistance of veteran warriors who have been discarded by another tribe because of their age. The protagonist, who is also older, recognizes their value in the conflict, even if their own people do not.
And I recognize the value of these characters as well. Including them adds dimension to your stories and allows for advantages and obstacles a younger adult character would be less likely to encounter. They have greater history to be explored and a different perspective than the one you would find in a younger generation – more life lessons learned to apply to the problem at hand. I think fantasy stories can benefit from age diversity just as much as non-speculative fiction can, and I’d like to see more of it myself.