Created By: whynarwhal on December 26, 2010 Last Edited By: Melkior on May 14, 2013
Troped

Young Face, Old Eyes

A character's eyes look much older than the rest of their appearance to indicate an unusual past.

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Trope
A character who looks young by all appearances--except their eyes, which belong to an old person instead. Since the Eyes Never Lie and are Windows of the Soul, it usually means that the character is much older than their body appears to be, had a very Dark and Troubled Past, or has Seen It All and is Wise Beyond Their Years. Also a frequent attribute of Shell Shocked Veterans as the so-called Thousand-Yard Stare.

This is specifically an In-Universe trope, where other characters remark on the apparent age discrepancy between the character's face and their eyes.

A common inversion, where a character who looks very old has the eyes of a child, indicates that the person retained the youthful sense of wonder for life despite experiencing most of it already.

Examples:

Anime and Manga
  • In Lady Snowblood, a thieves guild chief recognizes Oyuki, who poses as a harmless young woman, as a major threat by noticing that her eyes can only belong to someone who has walked through hell.

Film

Comic Books
  • In one of the ElfQuest stories from "Hidden Years", the human couple who Tyleet befriends are at first amazed when Tyleet tells them she's pregnant, because she looks like a child to them (canonically, Tyleet is older than most trees). Then the man points out that they should have known by Tyleet's eyes.
    Unnamed Human Man: "-- a child, wife? No... we should have known! Her wondrous eyes always said so! She may be older than the trees... older, even, than the mountains they grow on...!"

Literature
  • In Use of Weapons, a character notices how the while the protagonist looks like a young man, a glance at his eyes indicates someone much older and wiser, and gives a hint at his Dark and Troubled Past. It seems though like this might be true to a certain degree of everyone in The Culture, even if they haven't had troubled lives- a rather spoiled and beauty conscious character in Excession notes that she can tell how the difference between a rejuvenated person who is actually a couple of centuries old and someone who is actually in their 20s or 30s.
  • When meeting Nanka Yok for the first time in Labyrinths of Echo, Max remarks on the contrast of his young face and his eyes, which seem more ancient than the world itself. This is because Nanka is an immortal who learned to evade death by wandering through The Underworld for thousands of years.
  • In the last Animorphs book, Jake is described as having gone from a boy general to a young man with an old man's eyes.
  • Mentioned in regard to Sethra Lavode from the Dragaera novels, justifiably because she's unimaginably-ancient even by the standards of her extremely long-lived race.
  • Mitsuko of Battle Royale happens to be described as very cute 9th grader and is described as having a look like this in her eyes by Yuichiro and yes, her past is terrible.
  • Elves in Lord of the Rings, are Really 700 Years Old, but Cirdan is so old (11,000 years old at the end of the Third age, to be exact) that he even has grey hair and a beard, both extremely rare in elves. His eyes, however, are described to be "keen as stars", making him an inversion of this trope.
  • Played very much for "creep factor" in Maggie Stiefvater's Lament. The faerie Queen is thousands of years old, and though she has the face of a pretty young girl, her eyes reveal not just her true age but also her evil.
  • People are sometimes startled by the appearance of the eyes of the title character of Casca: The Eternal Mercenary. In this case it's a combination of both trauma and Really 700 Years Old, since he's spent the vast majority of his cursed existence as a soldier.

Live-Action TV
  • The Doctor of Doctor Who is repeatedly reborn in young bodies, with only the eyes giving away his real age. Inverted in the episode "Silence in the Library", though, when River Song (who knows him better in his Eleventh regeneration) notes how young his eyes look compared to his successor.
  • Inverted in Babylon 5: When Sheridan becomes "unstuck in time" in the two-part episode "War Without End" , and his consciousness ends up temporarily inhabiting the body of Sheridan 17 years later in a Centauri prison cell with Delenn, and he asks her what is happening, Delenn realizes that what he told her of this timeflash incident later was true, because she sees that his eyes still had an innocence that had long disappeared in the intervening years.

Will go under Eye Tropes and Literary Tropes.
Community Feedback Replies: 36
  • December 26, 2010
    troacctid
  • December 26, 2010
    whynarwhal
    Not exactly. More specifically, the eyes, and not really older than they look. Their eyes basically tell of how much life experience they have... Sometimes used as a Mary Sue trait.
  • December 26, 2010
    TwoGunAngel
    It's also used as a way of showing that someone is Really Seven Hundred Years Old, or at least has lived more than one human lifetime. I've used this with a certain Evil Sorcerer of mine from one of my Nanos.
  • December 27, 2010
    Koveras
    • In Lady Snowblood, a thieves guild chief recognizes Oyuki, who poses as a harmless young woman, as a major threat by noticing that her eyes can only belong to someone who has walked through hell.
  • April 18, 2011
    Koveras
  • April 18, 2011
    Elihu
    Is this an in-universe idea we're going after? I'm assuming most people can't recognize the difference between new and old eyes in real life and that it's probably banking on standard "You have an old soul"-type quotations.
  • April 18, 2011
    LarryD
    In-universe, yes. Usually used to either hint that the subject is Really Seven Hundred Years Old, or that they've had an inordinately eventful life (i.e., Oyuki). Based on "They Eyes are Windows of the Soul" notion, if some has a lot of life experience, it will show up in the expressions of their eyes, no matter how youthful their body is.
  • April 18, 2011
    Jordan
    In Use of Weapons, a character notices how the while the protagonist looks like a young man, a glance at his eyes indicates someone much older and wiser, and gives a hint at his Dark And Troubled Past. It seems though like this might be true to a certain degree of everyone in The Culture, even if they haven't had troubled lives- a rather spoiled and beauty conscious character in Excession notes that she can tell how the difference between a rejuvenated person who is actually a couple of centuries old and someone who is actually in their 20s or 30s.
  • April 8, 2013
    Koveras
    Bump. I think this YKTTW has potential.
  • April 8, 2013
    Chernoskill
    A reference to the "1,000 yard stare" (as discussed in Full Metal Jacket) belongs in here, me thinks :)
  • April 8, 2013
    Damr1990
    a coommon trait of somewone who is Wise Beyond Their Years
  • April 8, 2013
    sgamer82
    Re: Doctor Who

    • Inverted in the episode "Silence in the Library", when River Song (who knows him better in his Eleventh regeneration) notes how young his eyes look compared to his successor.
  • April 8, 2013
    Chabal2
    In the last Animorphs book, Jake is described as having gone from boy general to a young man with an old man's eyes.
  • April 8, 2013
    Paradisesnake
    The Eragon example needs context.
  • April 10, 2013
    Koveras
    ^ That one was in the original sponsor's write-up, so I let it be. I'll remove it, now that I have more examples...
  • April 10, 2013
    SharleeD
    • Mentioned in regard to Sethra Lavode from the Dragaera novels, justifiably because she's unimaginably-ancient even by the standards of her extremely long-lived race.
  • April 12, 2013
    MokonaZero
    Mitsuko of Battle Royale happens to be described as very cute 9th grader and is described as having a look like this in her eyes by Yuichiro and yes, her past is terrible.
  • April 12, 2013
    WeAreAllKosh
    An inversion of sorts:

    Live-Action TV

    When Sheridan becomes "unstuck in time" in the "War Without End" two-part episode of Babylon 5, and his consciousness ends up temporarily inhabiting the body of Sheridan 17 years later in a Centauri prison cell with Delenn, and he asks her what is happening, Delenn realizes that what he told her of this timeflash incident later was true, because she sees that his eyes still had an innocence that had long disappeared in the intervening years.
  • April 13, 2013
    RoseBride
    This shuold probably be related to Seen It All, which can be a good reason on why someone would have eyes like this, other than the Really Seven Hundred Years Old
  • April 13, 2013
    Paradisesnake
    Literature
    • Elves in Lord Of The Rings, are Really Seven Hundred Years Old, but Círdan is so old (11,000 years old at the end of the Third age, to be exact) that he even has grey hair and a beard, both extremely rare in elves. His eyes, however, are described to be "keen as stars", making him an inversion of this trope.
  • April 13, 2013
    Topazan
    • People are sometimes startled by the appearance of the eyes of the title character of Casca The Eternal Mercenary. In this case it's a combination of both trauma and Really 700 Years Old, since he's spent the vast majority of his cursed existence as a soldier.
  • April 14, 2013
    Paradisesnake
  • April 18, 2013
    Koveras
    Bump.
  • April 19, 2013
    Generality
  • April 29, 2013
    Koveras
    Bump.
  • May 6, 2013
    Koveras
    Bump.
  • May 8, 2013
    Paradisesnake
    This is starting to fall in the Just Launch It Already category. There's already plenty of examples, and the description seems good enough.
  • May 8, 2013
    Koveras
    ^ I prefer to have five hats before I launch anything... Right now, I have two and one of them is mine IIRC--clearly too few to satisfy the Three Rules Of Three...
  • May 13, 2013
    Melkior
    Comic books:
    • In one of the ElfQuest stories from "Hidden Years", the human couple who Tyleet befriends are at first amazed when Tyleet tells them she's pregnant, because she looks like a child to them. Then the man points out that they should have known by Tyleet's eyes.
      Unnamed Human Man: "-- a child, wife? No... we should have known! Her wondrous eyes always said so! She may be older than the trees... older, even, than the mountains they grow on...!" (canonically, Tyleet is older than most of the trees)

    If you'd like a page image, I can provide the image of Tyleet's face with the human's words starting from "She may be older than the trees..."
  • May 13, 2013
    Koveras
    ^ Do you have it online?
  • May 13, 2013
    Melkior
    ^ www.elfquest.com and go to the Online Comics section. Select Hidden Years and issue #14. The picture should be around page #9, bottom left (panel 4 on the 5-panel page).

    I saved the page locally before they converted the site to Flash (I hate Flash-based pages) so I can extract the panel and upload it for you if you like it.

    I made a mistake above. The example is from Hidden Years, not Shards. Edited.
  • May 13, 2013
    Koveras
    I've found that page you spoke of but didn't find it illustrative enough. There is a big focus on Tyleet's eyes, yet they don't really look that old to me. I guess it's hard to illustrate a primarily literary trope... But I will leave the judgement to a third party. If another troper says it's a good illustration, I'll include it. :)
  • May 14, 2013
    Melkior
    I agree with the idea that her eyes don't really look particularly "old", but at least her age is mentioned. I think that it may be difficult to find a more suitable page image, so the real question is whether or not this image is "good enough". Should we use this image or no image until or unless we find a better one?

    I could upload the image and link it but I'd rather not waste storage space on an image which may not be used.
  • May 14, 2013
    Koveras
    Her age being mentioned but not obvious from the picture is a borderline case of Just A Face And A Caption, which I'd try to avoid if possible...
  • May 14, 2013
    Melkior
    I've asked the original artiste, Wendy Pini, if she'd consider trying to do another picture to illustrate the trope. I know she's immensely talented. It depends on how much time she has and whether or not she believes she can accomplish such a task.

    Go ahead and launch the trope when you think it's ready. We can add a picture later if we find a suitable one.

    Edit: I received a reply and Wendy is busy with "The Final Quest", so she can't help for the foreseeable future. Sorry I can't do more to help.
  • May 14, 2013
    Koveras
    ^ I'll launch it, and if you ever get that picture, just add it to the article later. :)
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=sgsspvfhrm7vtgckf240dt3y&trope=YoungFaceOldEyes