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"The world cycles... each generation must negate the generation before it. Overstay your welcome and you'll become a tall tale for children. Fodder for terrible films and television serials. All because you committed the cardinal sin - you aged."—Dracula, Tales of the Vampires, "Antique"
And tho' they could not end me, left me maim'dImmortal age beside immortal youth
To dwell in presence of immortal youth,
—Alfred Lord Tennyson, "Tithonus"
So someone wishes to be immortal - well, they better be careful what they wish for. While some characters may be Older Than They Look and actually several hundred years old, other characters look exactly how old they are... they simply keep aging without dying. The most simple definition of "immortality" is "unending life." There's nothing about youth in there.
The Trope Maker is possibly the Greek myth Tithonus, whose lover Eos asked Zeus for immortality for him. She just forgot to ask for eternal youth as well, so he ended up an old man, squeaking endlessly, but still living forever, making this Older Than Feudalism. (He did, though, find a fulfilling career as the first cricket.)
This is a(n ugly) sister trope to Vain Sorceress, who hides her aging with magic. Compare Immortality Immorality and Who Wants to Live Forever?. May be a punishment Death levies on its enemies, or a result of being defeated. The inversion of this trope is Not Growing Up Sucks.
Anime And Manga
- The vampires in Suehiro Maruo's The Laughing Vampire age faster than mortals, and suffers an unending senility.
- The main character of the "Future" segment of Osamu Tezuka's Phoenix is forced to live forever to restore life after a nuclear holocaust. He continues to age at a slowed rate (and outlives everything else that could have possibly given him company), until eventually his physical body crumbles to dust and he becomes a god.
- In The Twelve Kingdoms, those who become rulers or sennin (immortals) remain at the age they were at when their change in status took place. (Which means that some sennin are children and others are elderly, etc..) The elderly-looking sennins presumably have the same resistance to illness and injury that the other types of sennins have, and none of those we see in the series appear to be suffering (unless they've been deprived of food for a long while, as sennins can't starve, but can still lose body fat and feel hunger.)
- Dracula in the Buffy comics (especially his story in Tales of the Vampires) doesn't age - but he actually looks like an extremely old man. His youthful appearance is just an illusion, one which fails at one point during his fight with Buffy before he makes the above quote.
- X-Men/Gambit character Amanda Mueller, alias "Black Womb" for her part in a secret mutant-breeding program, was very long-lived, but slowly aged into a shriveled form that didn't quite look like a normal elderly woman, more like someone mummified but still alive (that could simply be the artist's style).
- Ra's al Ghul from Batman becomes this if he doesn't periodically rejuvenate himself in the Lazarus Pits. There's a Justice League animated episode featuring him that shows he will inevitably succumb to this anyway as the Lazarus Pits cannot extend him effectively forever.
- The Brotherhood of Evil member General Immortus is an example of this trope, having aged incredibly over the years while he was immortal.
- Max Schreck, the vampire actor (based on the real life actor who portrayed Nosferatu) in Shadow of the Vampire, appears to suffer from this: though he is still powerful enough to defend himself, his outward appearance has become decidedly grotesque, his blood lust has become almost uncontrollable ("I feed like old men piss," he remarks), and much of his memories from his early life as a vampire have faded. At one point, Schreck himself quotes Tennyson's poem.
- In The Hunger, vampire Miriam Blaylock possesses eternal life and youth. Her chosen companions will share her endless existence... except they only retain their youth for about two hundred years before rapidly aging into a husk.
- The Brothers Grimm has this as a central plot point. A queen gains immortality to protect her from a plague, but is not careful what she wishes for and ends up indefinitely prolonged. She must kidnap twelve girls and steal their youth in order to revitalize herself, a project the aforementioned Grimms are eager to stop.
- This leads to a Crowning Moment of Funny, when Jacob finds out and warns Will. Will incredulously comments about how old the queen must be and Jacob replies, "Yes, but [the years] haven't been kind to her."
- In Atlantis: Milo's Return, Vlogud, the leader of a town in Newfoundland, made a deal with the Krakken, a supernatural monster, for immortal life, but forgot to ask for eternal youth. In the end, the Krakken is killed and he is reduced to dust.
- In The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, the titular character suffers from this.
- In Highlander the Source, this is the fate of one of the two survivors of the previous Immortal expedition to track down the titular Source (the other became The Guardian).
- Lifeforce has a particularly severe example. Anyone drained by the Space Vampires will turn into a husk and explode into dust unless they can suck the soul out of a hapless victim. Every 2 hours.
- Ursula K. Le Guin's short story "The Island of the Immortals" features an island where such immortals occasionally appear; though they may age quite slowly, they do not remain young forever. Worse, even the most grievous injuries cannot kill them and eventually the sheer weight of suffering turns them into (very large) diamonds.
- Jonathan Swift, Gulliver's Travels: One of the kingdoms Gulliver encounters on his third voyage has the Struldbrugs, immortals who just get more senile and decrepit as they age.
- Paid Homage by Larry Niven: the Lucas Gardner era of his Known Space series includes a "Struldbrug Club" whose minimum age limit for membership rises one year every two years.
- It's said that only some of the Struldbrugs are lucky enough to become senile - others retain their mental faculties as their bodies decay around them, so they are aware of their bodies degrading with each passing year and eventually becoming too weak to interact with the world.
- Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote a poem called "Tithonus," where he asks for his "gift" to be taken away, it's said: "The Gods themselves cannot recall their gifts."
- Near the end of the Harry Turtledove series "The Videssos Cycle," Avshar is shown to be this.
- The One Ring from Lord of the Rings seems to give this. Gollum was kept alive for hundreds of years, and looks like it.
- Bilbo started to feel the effects of this in The Fellowship of the Ring, describing it as feeling like too little butter spread over too much bread. After he gave up the ring his one hundred and eleven years really caught up with him.
- It is explained that the One Ring cannot grant new life, but simply stretches what's left over, slowly warping the bearer into a shade of what it was.
- Kallor of Malazan Book of the Fallen was cursed with this, but uses some weird herbs and a ritual to keep himself just old rather than immensely decrepit even after millennia. The curse was largely to take away his most fervent desire, ascension to godhood (a complicated process in that verse, but Kallor likely would have), enabling him to live forever until killed with all the benefits.
- In Lawrence Watt Evans's Ethshar novel The Misenchanted Sword, the protagonist comes into possession of an (over-)enchanted sword. Part of the enchantment ensures he will not die of any cause until he has slain one hundred men with the sword; however, it has no protection against disfigurement, maiming, or aging. Fifty years later as he begins to suffer from cataracts, he realizes the last thing he wants is to endure an eternity in an aging, blind body. To avoid this fate, he goes adventuring to finish up his kill count, which is harder than he'd like due to his age.
- The Norwegian folktale "The True Grandfather", about a traveler who has to find the true grandfather of the house so he can stay the night. The true grandfather is a little shriveled up mouse-sized man, who sleeps in a hunting horn.
- In Thieves Like Us, the protagonists find the ancient leader of a cult. He has lived in a trance-like state and pretty much looks like a living mummy, causing Jonas to comment in disgust about how being in such a state is "not living." When the Big Bad tries to hold the cult leader's mouth closed for CPR, it just comes off "like a piece of soggy bread." Ick.
- In L. Jagi Lamplighter's Prospero's Daughter trilogy, Eramus can cure anything that would kill you but can't grant youth; he and Miranda had experimented.
- Aginor, one of the Forsaken from The Wheel of Time had this happen; bound inside the Dark One's prison, but only on the edges of it, he was kept alive for three thousand years by his master's power but not stopped from aging. When finally freed, he looks more like a desiccated corpse than a living man. His comrade Balthamel also appears to have had this problem, but hid his features behind a leather mask from shame and horror, so what form the decay took with him is never made clear. The other Forsaken, deeper within the prison, were held in complete stasis and did not visibly age during their imprisonment.
- In The Gods of Pegana by Lord Dunsany, the prophet Yun-Ilara spends his youth challenging and cursing Mung, who in retaliation refuses to take him, even after he has grown old and withered to nothing but bone. By that point, he's incessantly begging for death.
- This is what Marcellus Pye in Septimus Heap ends up with after making a potion of eternal life that lacked a critical component, making him look old and withered 500 years later. Subverted, since Septimus Heap succeeds in making the potion again with the critical component and to give it to the ailing Marcellus.
- In Snorri Sturluson's Heimskringla, King Aun (alias Ani) of Sweden one by one sacrifices nine of his sons to Odin to prolong his own life, even though he becomes increasingly decrepit all the while.
Live Action TV
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Master is thousands of years old, and as such has become less human-looking and more monstrous than the typical vampire. Also, when he dies his skeleton doesn't turn to dust with the rest of him.
- Cassandra from Doctor Who has aged to the point where she's literally nothing but a brain in a vat and a patch of skin. She decides the right way to solve this is via Grand Theft Me.
- In "The Sound of Drums"/"Last of the Time Lords," the Master artificially ages the Doctor in order to show the Doctor's appearance if he never regenerated and really looked all of his 900 years. This results in the Doctor turning into a creature resembling the offspring of Gollum and a House Elf.
- The Master, in "The Deadly Assassin" and "The Keeper of Traken," having used up his (natural) regenerations, has aged to the point where he's little more than a walking skeleton.
- The Cassandra example is only half this, since it was either outright stated or hinted that the reason she's just a bit of skin with eyes was elective surgery. Presumably had she not gone in for that kind of thing she'd just be an incredibly old human. Or Possibly Dead.
- In Supernatural, Doctor Duncan Benton from season 3 episode is an interesting example. He gets immortality through alchemy, and the 'formula' is not even dark magic. His immortality is this trope, however, and he avoids it by cutting out other people's organs and replacing his own.
- The entire planet apart from Jack suffers from this in Torchwood: Miracle Day. When you think about how much of the population is liable to die of old age on any given day, then a lot of people must be in a living hell, and it's only going to get worse.
- As stated above, Tithonus the cricket. Eos' sister Selene, the moon, averted this trope when she fell in love with a mortal, carefully asking Zeus to freeze Endymion (no, not that one, nor that other one) just as he was, in that moment - so she had an ever-sleeping (hopefully!), eternal Bishounen for company.
- A more tragic example is the story of the Sibyl of Cumae, who ended up "a tiny wrinkly little thing. The priests hung her on the wall in a bottle and charged extra to see the talking curio. By this time the only words she would come out with were: 'I want to die'."
- Vampire: The Requiem mostly averts this... except in one case: the Oberloch bloodline. Each bloodline has a flaw that comes with activating it. For the Oberlochs, that flaw is, despite being vampires, they still age. Physical Attributes go down for every 50 years the vampire's been alive, to the point that elders of the line are basically shriveled old crones who only get pull because the Oberlochs believe very strongly in family values. Though I'm sure the fact that they get Dominate has some influence...
- Also, they get superhuman strength as a clan discipline. Granny has a surprisingly strong grip...
- In Warhammer 40000, The Immortal God-Emperor of Mankind went from undying superhuman to a corpse feeding on sacrificed souls after his internment in the Golden Throne. And to add insult to injury, it's quite likely that he would ascend to much more complete godhood if he ever were allowed to die.
- Zouken Matou in Fate Stay Night is basically immortal so long as he has his worms, but it's not real immortality; his soul is rotting, and every time he gets a new body, it's in the same shriveled, horrible old man form that barely even looks human.
- Subverted by Kraden in Golden Sun Dark Dawn. He has stopped aging, but he was still seventy-plus to begin with.
- This is the fate of Porky Minch in Earthbound, after traveling through the time stream so many times that he has rendered himself unable to die by any means.
- Flemeth from the Dragon Age series obtained immortality by merging herself with a powerful demon. However, while her spirit is immortal, her body still ages, and will eventually rot beyond use. She gets around this by kidnapping baby girls with magical talents, raising them as her own daughters, and then stealing their bodies when they reach maturity. At least, that's what Morrigan told the Warden...
- Mr. House from Fallout: New Vegas gave himself the technological version of this. If you infiltrate his secret control room, you find that 200+ years have not been kind, especially since you can remove him from his life support chamber and close off his access to the Lucky 38's systems. He'll have a year before he finally dies.
- The Mehse race of Knights in The Nightmare are cursed with this kind of immortality because Asgard was offended by the height of the tower they built to appeal to the gods. They can only be killed by external forces, and age at a normal rate--the tribe has a few very old elders that look like the zombie Mooks you fight elsewhere.
- An episode of The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest featured a man who was cursed with eternal life without eternal youth. And he still looks better than his former friend whose Deal with the Devil turned him into a soulless squid monster. Incidentally, it was his "friend" who cursed him in the first place.
- Morgan Le Fey in Justice League Unlimited wears a mask all the time so nobody can see her face. She has to continually absorb Life Energy to stay young. Her son, on the other hand, stays young all the time... until he gets sick of being a child in "Kid's Stuff" and magically makes himself older... which breaks his eternal youth and causes him to quickly reach his true age. As the episode ends, he is an extremely old man and Morgan is taking care of him, like she would with a baby.
- In one episode of the Aladdin spinoff series, one of the Genie's old masters, Ajed al-Gebraic, traded Genie to a sorcerer for eternal life. He got this.
- Again, General Immortus, who appears in Teen Titans and Batman the Brave And The Bold.