It’s a curious thing that can happen in ongoing book series: characters often seem to exist in a strange universe where nothing changes and no one ages. Over the course of dozens of novels and decades of real time, they remain unchanged and eternal. It’s even more uncanny when the writer passes away and someone new takes over (James Bond will apparently be 37 years old forever). While it’s obvious why that’s useful, it’s exciting when a writer chooses not to go the route of unexplained immortality and ages their characters over the course of a series. Here are six examples of characters that benefit from the passage of fictional time.
As opposed to her counterpart female detective in a series of sequentially-titled novels (Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum), Sue Grafton chose to age Kinsey Millhone in her Alphabet Series—just very, very slowly. Plum will be 31 years old forever, but Millhone has been slowly moving towards her 40th birthday according to a very precise equation—the big four-oh will happen in Grafton’s 26th and final entry in the series. This has allowed Millhone to grow older and wiser, but keeps the series firmly in the 1980s and the character in her thirties, which has proved to be a very smart way of handling the issue.
Hardcover $27.24 | $28.99
Lee Child deliberately made Jack Reacher 36 years old when he started writing about him, saying that Reacher, “had to be fully formed; couldn’t be Jack Reacher, boy detective”. Then he started aging the character a year for each book—which would now put him in his 50s, but then Child slowed down the process by shrinking the intervals between books. Instead of setting them a year apart, he now only gives Reacher a few weeks off between novels. Over the years, Reacher has grown to be a more thoughtful and more deliberate action hero, much to the series’ benefit.
Harry Potter is one of the greatest protagonists in recent history, and one of the most famous examples of a character aging over the course of a series. For anyone who starts reading the books as a child, this is exciting stuff, because the characters can age along with you. For everyone else, it’s wonderful to meet these characters as children and then watch in wonder as they grow into thoughtful, heroic young adults you’d very much like as friends. Part of the reason Potter and friends are so powerfully drawn is the fact that they age, take on new challenges, and evolve as people.
Kurt Wallander’s adventures came to an end in 2012 when Mankell published the final book in the detective’s series. When the character debuted in 1991, he was 42 years old, and in the last book he’s in his 60s, meaning the character aged in more or less real time. What’s more, Mankell makes Wallander’s age an increasing aspect of the stories over the course of the novels, as the cantankerous, hard-drinking detective encounters more and more limitations due to his age. In the final book, The Troubled Man, his age is all over every page. This is remarkable in a world where some characters are kept forever young, if only to explain how they can still survive their punishing adventures.
It’s only two books, but in sharing a setting and a cast of characters, Harper Lee’s two novels certainly count. Scout Finch has aged 20 years or so between To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman, and it’s exciting to meet the adult Scout and see what flashes of the adorable tomboy remain in the more mature 26-year-old version. Certainly themes of love, romance, and relationships are woven into the second novel, but Scout remains Scout, albeit better able to express herself in eloquent, Atticus-inspired language. The topics she is forced to discuss—racism, her disappointment in her father and her lover, the bitter realization that her childhood is truly over—are unfortunately not equally beautiful.
Tommy and Tuppence
A subversion: Agatha Christie wrote about several detectives—Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple among the most famous—and Tommy and Tuppence Beresford are perhaps the least-known. But while Poirot and Marple were frozen in amber, forever at a certain age, Christie decided to age the Tuppences over the course of the four novels in which they appear: from carefree and slightly giddy twenty-somethings in The Secret Adversary, to a couple in their seventies in The Postern of Fate. What makes this decision especially interesting and heartbreaking is that Postern was the last novel Christie wrote before her death, and her age is clearly a factor in what is considered her worst effort—with the result that Tommy and Tuppence appear to be suffering from the same age-related maladies as Christie (who is suspected of suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, though never diagnosed), exhibiting frequent forgetfulness and confusion throughout the story.