I think it began with the Bram Stoker’s Dracula film and the tagline of ‘Love Never Dies’. There’s an obsession amongst romance writers to have vampires, and other immortals as characters. Paranormal creatures used to be monsters and villains. They used to tell us about our own humanity by being beyond it. Now they are eternally young and beautiful, and they will love you forever. In theory, that’s the romantic ideal.
Everything dies, in nature. Even suns and worlds. The gods can die – just think of Ragnarok. Some gods die and are reborn – think of Odin hanging on the world tree, or Osiris torn to shreds. Gods such as Hercules die in their mortal life and are reborn as gods.
Part of the point, with paganism, is embracing the cycles of life and death. Everything dies, but the energy within us is reused. One way or another. We go into the soil or the flame, we become something else. Our ashes are sprinkled on the land, and something that was us lives on in the plants. Change is essential in the natural world. It brings growth, renewal, possibility. Shed the old skin, take on a new one as spirit flows form one form to another.
To be denied change, to be forever one thing, one body, one face is not nature’s way. To be always youthful and lovely, never able to grow old and die is to miss out on so much of what it means to be alive and human. To me, immortals are the most tragic and cursed of creatures. Doomed to be themselves for all time. It’s such a lonely notion, and the prospect of never changing, of being exiled from nature by your own permanence, is a horrible one. Do I believe that love never dies? I’m not sure. I do know, that stasis and stagnation will kill love. Love needs to live and breathe, to change, to grow, or it withers away. Could you do that with just one person for all eternity? When neither of you is able to change much?
So when I was asked if I fancied contributing to an anthology about Immortal lovers, I said yes, and then I cheated. I thought of the longest living entity on the planet (so far as I know) – yew trees – and wrote about a dryad. The thing with yew trees is that they can live for several thousand years. Compared to the human scale, that is close enough to forever for me. In theory, if a Yew tree puts down branches, roots them and makes clones of itself, something of the tree might regenerate and live for a very long time. Death is always possible, with all the necessary uncertainty, and the regeneration that brings change and freshness. In modern interpretations of ogham, the yew is very much associated with death, which added a pleasing layer of significance for me. They grow in graveyards a lot. Their wood was once used for making longbows, and these days a cancer drug is derived from them.
Do the classic immortal monsters reflect our fear of dying? I’m not afraid of my own death. I pity those who fear it so much that they could choose to abandon the cycles of life in favour of stasis, and living death. Would I want eternal youth and beauty? No. But it’s interesting to contemplate.
My Dryad story, Death and the Immortal is available from www.loveyoudivine.com and the anthology is on amazon in paperback – http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1600543723/ref=cm_cd_asin_lnk