Thursday, September 07, 2017

Surplus of Time

Occasionally I read a humorous manga series called MISS KOBAYASHI'S DRAGON MAID. The heroine saves the life of a dragon who, in gratitude, decides to take human form and become the heroine's personal maid. In a recent issue, another dragon who happens to be visiting remarks that dragons have a "surplus of time" because of their long lives. Therefore, to him, consorting with humans and exploring their culture is merely a "whim."

Paranormal romance often includes friendships and romantic attachments between human characters and long-lived or immortal ones. Often one side effect of the extreme disparity of the characters' lifespans is skimmed over or left unmentioned: Can somebody such as a vampire, a "Highlander" immortal, a pagan deity, or a very long-lived extraterrestrial truly "love" a human partner in the sense ordinary mortals understand that emotion? The immortal or long-lived person may look upon the human lover as more like a pet, particularly since the immortal has lived through a vast realm of experience unknown to the short-lived partner.

With proper care, a domestic rabbit may live eight to twelve years, a ferret five to nine. Some large dogs typically don't live longer than nine or ten years. Of course, human pet owners love their dogs, rabbits, or ferrets, but can one have the same relationship with a creature whose lifespan is about a tenth or less of one's own as with a human partner? Likewise, an immortal may cherish his or her human lover yet realize in the back or his or her mind that the relationship will last a small fraction of the immortal's lifetime. After the human "pet's" death, the love relationship and the sadness at its loss will eventually fade to a wistful memory.

I've encountered quite a few books and movies that highlight the problem of a human lover's growing old while the nonhuman partner remains eternally youthful. Fewer works seem to tackle the more basic issue of the emotional effect widely different lifespans would have on such a relationship. The commitment required of the human partner must inevitably be deeper than that offered by the nonhuman character. Once in a while I have come across a vampire romance in which the human character doesn't want to be transformed, and the vampire's attitude is something like, "I can spare a mere sixty or seventy years to make you happy." How would a human lover feel about being viewed in those terms?

Of course, in a story that tackles this issue, the long-lived hero or heroine would have to be the exception, a character who somehow comes to value his or her human partner as more than a pet. What elements in a cross-species relationship could draw this character outside the normal comfort zone of his or her kind?

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

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