(How do you know? I hear you ask incredulously. Ah, my mind is a veritable warehouse of useless information. Just ask my students, bless their long-suffering little hearts.)
Real-life Firian is in her late fifties now, and I imagine the diminutive spitfire of the photograph is long gone --- just like the too-intense young guy at her side, I hasten to add, lest you think I’m unfairly targeting her. Sic transit gloria mundi.
What happens with characters (or people) as they age? No, I’m not looking for you to take that literally and pontificate about mental and physical effects of aging, thanks very much. I’m just posing a mostly rhetorical question for reflection.
Like most people we meet in life, we tend to see story characters at one particular point in their lives --- story characters usually at times of extreme crisis --- a point that ranges anywhere from a day or less to several years, depending on the story. We don’t often tend to see people’s or characters’ lives extend over decades, and I’d say the results are mixed when we do.
The young Digory Kirke of C.S. Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew turns out to be the old Professor in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but seeing as how he’s a pretty marginal character in LWW (more so in the book than Andrew Adamson’s film), it’s of no great consequence. In fact, there, it’s rather a comfortable closing of the loop. And from the beginning of The Hobbit to the conclusion of The Lord of the Rings, Bilbo ages by 80 years or so, but of course, by then, he, too is a pretty marginal character. More importantly, following Sauron’s downfall, Frodo lives in the Shire for a number of years, doing various things before he ditches Middle Earth, although the book goes into this in far more detail than the film; Jackson structures things so you might think Frodo only hung around long enough for his travel agent to book passage on Elven Cruise Lines. And am I the only person to think the ending of Harry Potter book 7 is vaguely unsatisfying at best, kind of creepily unsettling at worst? (Again, the film version of this really doesn’t help matters, as we view sort-of aged versions of Daniel, Rupert and Emma attempt to mimic much older people.) “And then they all grew up, settled down with mortgages, had kids and careers of varying interest” doesn’t really adequately substitute for “And they all lived happily ever after,” does it? Which is rather what Rowling gives us.
I think the reason why this is so is that, like most of the people we encounter in our real life story arcs, the characters we encounter in literature intersect our lives for but a few brief moments. (Of course, unlike real life, we can go back and relive our literary characters’ adventures in every exact detail over and over whenever we like.) For the real people we meet, it’s a one shot deal, and the passage of time blurs the details of those encounters --- which is not always necessarily a bad thing.
Ultimately, as writers, I guess it’s up to us to determine whether and in what manner our characters age. It needn’t be a melancholy process. While Will sometimes wrote things like “golden girls and lads all must, like chimney sweeps, come to dust,” he also said that “with mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come.”
At least we have the power to choose for our characters.
(Okay, here’s your post-script on the question I know you want answered, constant reader: would I contemplate contacting real-life Firian now? Well... no... I don’t think so. Another friend of mine once said that memories unfrozen do not survive the thaw, and after one or two other real-life experiences along this vein, I regretfully think that’s true. After all this time... best we allow the lithe young real-life Firian to remain as she was, a perpetual testament to youth. Sic transit gloria mundi indeed.)