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May 9, 2009 4:02 AM   Subscribe

Other than vampires and zombies, what human-like beings are rumored to be immortal? Obscure and obvious answers all appreciated!

My students say they like vampires because they are immortal. Same with zombies. What other “human-esque” creatures can I teach them about about that are rumored to have immortality”?
posted by curiositykilledthelemur to Media & Arts (50 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
A Lich.
posted by El_Marto at 4:12 AM on May 9, 2009

You might take a look at the rather long list in the Immortality in Fiction entry in Wikipedia.
posted by Houstonian at 4:18 AM on May 9, 2009

Death is but a sleep...
posted by permafrost at 4:35 AM on May 9, 2009

Enoch the Red from Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle is pretty much immortal, and is a reference to Enoch of the Bible, who was according to the bible massively long-lived and according to various mystical beliefs immortal.

Also, Gandalf the greyish-white.
posted by Lemurrhea at 4:59 AM on May 9, 2009

The Greek gods.
posted by rdr at 5:15 AM on May 9, 2009

The family in Tuck Everlasting is immortal. They drank from the spring of life and cannot die. However, they are actually human and not just human-like. Interesting story nonetheless.

But yeah, the page that Houstonian mentioned is probably your best starting point.
posted by amicamentis at 5:20 AM on May 9, 2009

Richard seems to be immortal.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 5:34 AM on May 9, 2009

Sorry, read your header too late. Not a book.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 5:36 AM on May 9, 2009

The Flying Dutchman, the Wandering Jew, the Count St Germain.
posted by low_horrible_immoral at 5:40 AM on May 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

Jesus died but I guess he can come back whenever he wants. He really only did it once, but supposedly he's planning on doing it again at some point. That's just what I've heard.
posted by swellingitchingbrain at 5:50 AM on May 9, 2009

The Picture of Dorian Gray
posted by cazoo at 5:52 AM on May 9, 2009

The Picture of Dorian Gray
posted by anastasiav at 5:54 AM on May 9, 2009

A counter recommendation would be Larry Niven's short story "Cautionary Tales", which is a sci-fi short story about the consequences of a life spent looking for immortality.
posted by jenkinsEar at 5:55 AM on May 9, 2009

posted by robtoo at 5:56 AM on May 9, 2009

Your header suggests you have kids who are interested in immortal beings. Elves! The Tuatha De Danaan, the Fair Folk, the Gentry, the Good People. Lord of the Rings is the obvious suggestion, but not every kid likes it. I suggest Elfquest, which is a graphic novel series (beginning with Fire and Flight) but deals with strong ideas in challenging ways.
posted by Countess Elena at 6:07 AM on May 9, 2009

Gah, sorry, missed the thing about students -- how could I? My suggestion stands.
posted by Countess Elena at 6:08 AM on May 9, 2009

Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged, in the Hitchhikers' Guide.
posted by buxtonbluecat at 6:11 AM on May 9, 2009

Tolkien's elves are perhaps the best-known example of immortality in relatively modern mythologies. He deals with both the positive and negative aspects of immortality, so this is definitely worth some consideration from a didactic standpoint.

The Time Lords from Doctor Who have something approaching immortality, as it has not been credibly established in the canon that there is any practical limit to the number of times they can regenerate.

Wolverine is probably immortal.

Some versions of werewolves, though that doesn't seem to be a majority perspective.

For a slightly different take, the Goa'uld from the Stargate universe have achieved a measure of immortality through symbiosis/parasitism and technology. This is different from the races listed above, as it is in no way inherent in their physiology. Various entities in Alastair Reynolds' stories achieve immortality by the same means.
posted by valkyryn at 6:27 AM on May 9, 2009

posted by cali59 at 6:30 AM on May 9, 2009

posted by jbrjake at 7:00 AM on May 9, 2009

"Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow" from Vonnegut's collection Welcome to the Monkey House is just humans, but it does feature immortality and is a quick read.
posted by Dr.Enormous at 7:02 AM on May 9, 2009

Achilles was pretty close.
posted by blaneyphoto at 7:13 AM on May 9, 2009

The wandering jew! - one of my personal favorite myths. Particularly interesting what was done with it in WW2 era propaganda.

The Four Dragon Kings of China. Dragons in Chinese legend are very interesting - they are very wise, very powerful, and very quick to anger.
posted by strixus at 7:33 AM on May 9, 2009

In Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman's Dragonlance series there is an immortal librarian named Astinus who clairvoyantly sees everything that happens in the world and thus has written out book after book chronicling all of history for as long as anyone can remember.

The Fates and Furies of Greek mythology, and generally most anthromorphized forces of nature in most mythologies, are immortal.

In the masterpiece of Chinese literature Dream of the Red Chamber there is an immortal Taoist priest and an immortal Buddhist monk who appear repeatedly through history.

In cultures that believe in reincarnation the human soul is immortal. There's an interesting take on this in the alternate-history novel The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson, modeled after Tibetan Buddhism.
posted by XMLicious at 7:43 AM on May 9, 2009

Utnapishtim, the Noah parallel from the Mesopotamian flood myth, in "Gilgamesh."
posted by bibliowench at 7:45 AM on May 9, 2009

Lazarus Long [aka Woodrow Wilson Smith] from "Time Enough for Love" & "Methuselah's Children" by Robert A. Heinlein
posted by digital-dragonfly at 7:48 AM on May 9, 2009

The Time Lords from Doctor Who have something approaching immortality, as it has not been credibly established in the canon that there is any practical limit to the number of times they can regenerate.

In the new series there's also Captain Jack Harkness, who became immortal at the end of series 1.
posted by afx237vi at 7:59 AM on May 9, 2009

posted by wfrgms at 8:03 AM on May 9, 2009

Not sure if you'd count this, but there's the whole mythic theme of the Sleeping Hero - in England we have King Arthur and his nights ready to return at our hour of need and as you can see at the link, there's versions in other nations (as well as different ones elsewhere in the UK).
There are various immortals in Chinese legend - Su Wukong, the Monkey King achieves it by stealing the peaches of immortality from heaven; the Eight Immortals are probably the best known xian (仙).
posted by Abiezer at 9:01 AM on May 9, 2009

The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul by Douglas Adams.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 9:23 AM on May 9, 2009

posted by gerryblog at 9:35 AM on May 9, 2009

Elric of Melnibourne. Not for kids though.
posted by Vindaloo at 9:38 AM on May 9, 2009

Response by poster: This is so cool thus far! Yah - books are cool...but general creatures are great, too - encyclopedia, etc. entries are stilll reading!

Long shot, but do you know of any Hispanic and/or South Asian immortal creatures?

posted by curiositykilledthelemur at 9:39 AM on May 9, 2009

Long shot, but do you know of any Hispanic and/or South Asian immortal creatures?

There are the mechanical insect-powered vampires of Guillermo del Toro's Cronos, as well as Borges' The Immortal.
posted by permafrost at 9:56 AM on May 9, 2009

The Time Lords from Doctor Who have something approaching immortality, as it has not been credibly established in the canon that there is any practical limit to the number of times they can regenerate.

Nitpicky: Actually in the older series (I think during Tom Baker's tenure) they established that a Time Lord could only regenerate 10 times - I think there was actually an episode about that involving The Master, who couldnt regenerate any more). But in any case, they changed that when they revamped the whole mythos, leaving it puposefully unclear to no doubt support an endless supply of Doctors.

Random others: A lot of demon-esque villains in the Buffyverse seem to be immortal; Data (Star Trek: TNG) is functionally immortal as long as his power supply is renewed; The Reapers from 'Dead Like Me' are immortal until they reach their limit of reaped souls.
posted by elendil71 at 11:39 AM on May 9, 2009

(Aside: Time Lords have thirteen regenerations, actually (or, at least, they did). The current Doctor is Ten, soon to be Eleven.

I don't think this has been officially changed, but it's probably up for grabs - I'm sure that if it still stands they'll find some special out for the Doctor, just as they did for the Master way back when.)
posted by bettafish at 2:25 PM on May 9, 2009

I heard once about a novel about the Roman warrior who stabbed Jesus in the side while he was on the cross. The novel was about how he was doomed to be a warrior forever, and he basically becomes an eternal soldier, slogging from war to war throughout history, never at peace. I don't know his name or the name of the novel (might be the same?).
posted by starvingartist at 4:41 PM on May 9, 2009

Ah, it's a series: Casca, the Eternal Mercenary
posted by starvingartist at 4:43 PM on May 9, 2009

Someone above mentioned Greek gods - D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths is awesome for that. There's also D'Aulaire's Book of Norse Myths, also great.

Neil Gaiman's Sandman series features a variety of eternal, extremely long-lived, and/or regenerating characters. Also in the graphic novel realm, Doctor Manhattan in The Watchmen seems pretty close to immortal. I'm sure a variety of other comic book characters also qualify (some folks above mentioned Wolverine and Superman... both are pretty interesting cases for different reasons).

For something a bit more light-hearted, Stanislaw Lem's robot inventors Klapaucius and Trurl in The Cyberiad seem to be of, well, indeterminate mortality.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 6:03 PM on May 9, 2009

Starvingartist, that character also showed up in the Demi Moore movie about the biblical end of the world, which I think was the seventh seal or the seventh sign (one of them a classic of modern cinema, the other a decently watchable religious disaster movie).
posted by Ghidorah at 10:33 PM on May 9, 2009

D'oh, from the wandering jew wikipedia link (fascinating read):

In the 1988 film The Seventh Sign the Wandering Jew appears as a Father Lucci, who identifies himself as the centuries old Cartaphilus, Pilate's porter, who took part in the scourging of Jesus before his crucifixion (a combination of the Wandering Jew and the Longinus legend). He wishes to assist in bringing about the end of the world in order that his interminable wandering might come to an end as well.
posted by Ghidorah at 10:36 PM on May 9, 2009

Longinus is the name I learnt for the Roman soldier who speared Jesus (as portrayed by John Wayne in "The Greatest Story Ever Told.") He was not immortal, but did become a saint.

In Russian folklore, Kaschei the Immortal is a king who has hidden his heart in a very crafty place so that he cannot be killed by attacks on his body. Here's fairytale author Andrew Lang's version of the story, with bonus warrior princess.

Tablets nine through eleven of the Epic of Gilgamesh are the bit that deal with Gilgamesh's quest for immortality. Summaries here and here. If you get a good translation, it's very readable.

Basically the crux of it is: Gilgamesh, after being seriously freaked out by the death of his best friend, resolves to avoid death himself. He sets out on a quest to find Utnapishtim, the only man who has become immortal, and finds him. When he arrives, ragged and exhausted from having single-handedly poled a boat across the Waters of Death, Utnapishtim says "You want the secret of immortality? Fine. Stay awake for seven days and I might tell you."

Of course, Gilgamesh immediately falls asleep and sleeps for seven days instead. Utnapishtim's wife leaves a fresh loaf of bread beside him every day that he sleeps. When Gilgamesh wakes up, he sees the loaves in various stages of decay, and Utnapishtim says "How do you expect to be able to live forever if you can't even stay awake for seven days?"

Another work you may want to look at: The Pardoner's Tale by Chaucer (about three men who set out boldly to slay Death, and meet a haunting figure on their way who may be the Wandering Jew). I seem to recall being shown a movie of it in English class.
posted by Pallas Athena at 7:40 AM on May 10, 2009

Oh! South Asian: Bhishma, a character in the Sanskrit epic The Mahabharata, is granted the power to choose the time of his death. He lives for 350 years andbecomes an amazing warrior because no one can defeat him if he doesn't agree to die.

He was granted this semi-immortality when he made a selfless vow of celibacy, thereby giving up all chance of becoming king or having descendants who might do so. Because of his vow of celibacy, however, he refuses to marry Amba, a woman he wins in battle, turning her out and basically destroying her life (no one else will take her in now). She vows that she will be his death.

Much later, during the great war of the Mahabharata, Bhishma is agonised because he knows he is fighting against the good guys, his friends -- but his absolute loyalty to his king means that he cannot do otherwise. Amba has died and been reincarnated as the warrior Shikhandi, and when she faces him, he recognises her, acknowledges that he did her wrong and consents to die. He gets shot by a great number of arrows, but nevertheless lives till the end of the war, dying after hearing the news that the good guys, against whom he was fighting, have won.
posted by Pallas Athena at 8:06 AM on May 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Gah, everyone has already said all my answers! Sadness.

Ah, but I have one. The really badass Jedi who stick around after dying in force ghost form! Yes. Extreme nerdism ftw.
posted by paultopia at 8:45 AM on May 10, 2009

Also, Daneel from Asimov's Foundation series. And Duncan Idaho from Dune is functionally immortal, in that he keeps getting cloned back with his old memories.
posted by paultopia at 9:04 AM on May 10, 2009

Don't know if these are "human-like" enough to qualify for your needs, but: angels, including fallen ones.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 12:51 PM on May 10, 2009

Frankenstein's monster was probably immortal though I don't think it was explicitly stated as such.
posted by chairface at 4:36 PM on May 11, 2009

Gotta mention Jorge Luis Borges' amazing short story The Immortals.
posted by princelyfox at 9:46 PM on January 26, 2010

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