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Older Than They Look / Literature

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  • In The Aether Cycle, Bethany Andrews looks barely thirty, but she's almost two-hundred.
  • In The Alice Network, Eve looks seventeen but is actually twenty-two, which helps her pretend to be young and inexperienced.
  • Santo and Traken from the Curse Of The Blood Fox trilogy may look like young people, but they are in fact much, much older than that...
  • Longevity (alongside immortality) is a recurring theme in J. R. R. Tolkien's work, resulting in several instances of this trope in The Lord of the Rings:
    • Humans of Númenórean lineage, such as Aragorn, physically age slower and live longer than normal men. Aragorn, for instance, turned 88 the day he met Gandalf the White in Fangorn Forest. A Deleted Scene in the film of The Two Towers has Aragorn reveal his true age to Éowyn, much to her surprise.
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    • Possessing the One Ring also slows down aging; for the 60 years Bilbo carries the Ring he does not appear to age much at all (but it catches up with him after he abandons it), and for the 17 years Frodo has the Ring he experiences the same thing.
    • Alongside Bilbo, normal Hobbits also age slowly - Frodo was 33 when he took up the Ring and considered to have only just come of age, while Pippin was 29 during the War of the Ring and is mistaken for an early teenage male. When Aragorn and Legolas ask Éomer if he did not find Hobbits among the slain Orcs, they describe them as small bodied and child-like in appearance. There are many short people in Real Life, but they do not look childlike. By comparison: Frodo is 10 years older than Boromir, and Sam is only two years younger.
    • The Ringbearers count as this compared with normal hobbits and Aragorn counts as this compared to other Númenóreans. However, there are humans with normal lifespans in Middle Earth (the average life expectancy of Tolkien's generation was 80, so this should be used as the default).
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    • The book reveals that Aragorn was granted the ability to choose the time of his death by the Valar, as a reward for his great deeds during the War of the Ring. He ends up living to be 210 years old.
  • Loyal Enemies:
    • Shelena casually mentions being at least twice as old as she looks, which is somewhere in her thirties. Justified as she is a werewolf.
    • Mages in this book can, through the help of magic, live up to two hundred years but look much younger than that. Shelena does the maths and comes to the conclusion that battle mage Veres is probably about the same age as her if not older, but also looks about the same age as she does.
  • In Teresa Edgerton's second Celydonn trilogy, Gwenlliant is initially twelve years old (in The Castle of the Silver Wheel), and looks it, but thanks to Time Travel is at least a year older than her official age by the time she is technically fifteen (in The Moon and the Thorn).
  • Gets a passing mention in David Weber's Honor Harrington series, where recipients of prolong treatment have a very extended physical adolescence. A visitor from a planet that doesn't have it is disturbed at seeing a combat warship full of what looks like teenagers and even pre-teens. It's also mentioned in passing that sex among crew members is something that happens fairly regularly, so... In the first book the titular character is over 40 and appears to be in her twenties.
    • Even newborn babies are Older Than They Look: for a mother who's had prolong treatment, pregnancy lasts eleven and a half months.
    • Later Weber tries to Retcon this to rein in the Squick by mentioning that most of the prolong recipients also have aging treatments in their adolescense, so that their physical aging would roughly match the traditional pattern.
    • This also manifests in the older age, as the physical aging radically slows after a certain threshold, so a human in their 120es would look anything from their mid-to-late twenties (Honor's mother Allison, for example) to early forties (Honor's husband Hamish Alexander), depending on the technology's version, and would remain so until their death, which would (projectably, no one with prolong has lived so long yet) come at ~300-350 years.
    • The trope also occurs in Weber's Empire from the Ashes, as a combination of biological enhancement, suspended animation, and (among the bad guys) outright body surfing.
  • In the Discworld novel Mort, we find Ysabell embodies this trope. She is 16, but has been 16 for 50 years, since she lives in Death's Domain, where time does not pass. We later find Albert embodies this trope.
  • In Garth Nix's Lirael, the 19-year old title character senses her travelling companion Sam (who turns out to be her nephew...) developing a romantic interest in her, so she tells him she's thirty-five with a marvelous skin-care regimen. Her Nonhuman Sidekick, the Disreputable Dog, backs her up because she thinks it's hilarious.
  • In the Ciaphas Cain novel Cain's Last Stand, Cain is a nearly 100-year old retiree who appears to be in his early fifties or so thanks to regular juvenat treatments. Characters who have been receiving the treatments longer can cross into Really 700 Years Old, such as Alizabeth Bequin in the Eisenhorn series, who's 170 or so but doesn't look any older than her 20s.
    • It's been mentioned that Astartes either don't age at all after reaching maturity, or age extremely slowly, and, if not for their occupation, would live for thousands of years. Very few of them actually do, due to the vagaries of war, but the mentions of veterans with five or six service studs (each representing a full century of service) aren't all that rare.
  • Skulduggery Pleasant. For example, Tanith Low is eighty, and looks about twenty two.
  • In The Chronicles of Narnia, the four Pevensies look like children, and are as far as anyone in their own world is aware, but they are in a sense technically adults because they spent fifteen years in Narnia. Although they did de-age once they went back in England, they are the only people who have gone to Narnia and grown up. This idea is more played with in the fan-fiction universe.
  • In Frank Herbert's Dune, the Padishah Emperor, Shaddam IV is said, by Princess Irulan in her writings, to have been in his seventies, yet only appeared to be about thirty five years in age. This was, of course due to the life extending spice Melange. A revised version of this aspect of Shaddam does make it into film adaptations even though he is consistently depicted by older actors. However, he is usually said to have lived for over two hundred years, as in the case of the David Lynch adaptation.
  • The Reynard Cycle: Pierrot, Nobel's fool is this. When Isengrim refers to him as a young man, Persephone corrects him, letting him know that he is old enough to have been entertaining Nobel (who is at least in his 20s at the start of the series) since childhood.
  • In the short story Start the Clock by Benjamin Rosenbaum, a virus that caused humans to stop physically ageing struck the Earth around thirty years ago, making the protagonist, physically nine years old, technically thirty-nine. An interesting facet of this is that characters who are physically children tend to act like children who have had around thirty years extra experience at being them. Then later in the story, the protagonist meets a girl who is mentally the same age as she is physically, having been infected by the virus at the age of two and only just recently been administered a "cure" to allow her to age naturally.
  • In the Raffles stories, the titular protagonist becomes Prematurely Grey-Haired during a Time Skip, thanks to a life of stress and illness.
  • Stephen King:
    • In The Stand, Tom Cullen is said to be looking no more than twenty-three; actually he's at least forty-five. The fact that he acts like a kid probably doesn't help.
    • In The Dark Tower, Roland Deschain appears fifty-something, but is actually hundreds of years old due to Mid-World's wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey time/space dynamics.
  • Twilight: Being vampires, all of the Cullens are at least 80 years older than they look, ranging from Older Than They Look for the youngest to Really 700 Years Old for the oldest.
  • Most noblemen in Rynn's World exemplify this trope, as they can afford rejuvenation treatments. Among them, Maia Caglieri is ninety seven, but is said to look like she's in her early forties.
  • Several of the secondary adult Harry Potter characters qualify here, in particular Dumbledore and Griselda Marchbanks, each of whom are well over a hundred years old; it's implied that wizards have a somewhat longer natural lifespan than muggles. Voldemort has also ceased aging altogether, being 71 years old by the last book, though his monstrous appearance hardly seems like a fair trade for smooth clear skin.
  • The vampiress Claudia in Interview with the Vampire, the first book of Anne Rice's series The Vampire Chronicles, is forever stuck in the body of a 6-year old girl. She would've grown into being Really 700 Years Old, but was killed just a few decades after she was turned. In the 1994 film adaption of the book, her age was changed to twelve. Considering that Anne Rice wrote the screenplay for the movie, we can assume she changed it to reduce the Squick factor of the love story, along with pragmatic reasons concerning child labor laws and acting ability.
  • Although he still looks pretty old, Jack Holloway in H. Beam Piper's Little Fuzzy novels is technically 10 years older than he appears physically due to the time dilation effects of hyperspace.
  • In The Picture of Dorian Gray, the character of the title transfers the effects of age and wickedness to a portrait of himself. After twenty years, he hasn't appeared to age a day.
  • In Jim Butcher's Codex Alera series, watercrafters have an innate healing ability which causes them to retain their youthful appearances even as they age — Gaius Sextus, for examples, is over 80 but looks around 40. A scene in the fourth book has a cop mistaking the 50-year old Isana for a streetwalker, until she lifts her hood so he can see her graying hair.
    • Mention should also go to main character Tavi. In the first book, Amara guesses he's twelve or thirteen, only to be informed that he's fifteen. Thing is, Isana's been lying to him about his age: he's actually almost eighteen, since he was born the night Septimus was killed. Granted, his apparent youth is due to her magically stunting his growth.
  • In Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files novels, when Captain Luccio is body swapped with a 30 year old during a battle, all kinds of interesting complications emerge because the person definitely fits this trope, since the individual was over 200 years old before the swap.
    • Wizards in general tend towards this, since they can naturally live for about three centuries. Donald Morgan is a century and change, and a World War I veteran, but looks forty at the oldest. Ebenezer McCoy is closer to two-hundred and looks a well-preserved sixty.
  • Most of the Wilds in Trudi Canavan's The Age of the Five trilogy and most of the The White and The Voices are a lot older than they look. Juran, the leader of the White, is actually over 100 years old, his aging having been stopped by the Circle of Gods when he was chosen to be one of their human representatives. They only get older from there.
  • Lakewalkers in The Sharing Knife books tend to be this to some degree. When Fawn Bluefield brings her rescuer/beau Dag Redwing home to her parents her father starts an interrogation about his intentions with a question about his age (everyone, including 18-year old Fawn herself, takes him to be somewhere in his thirties) over the dinner table. When Dag answers (with some hesitation) "fifty-five", Fawn promptly chokes on her cider.
    Fawn: (whispering) Pa... is 53!
    • Also Fawn herself. Her entire family is short, and she is best described as petite. She is constantly mistaken for a child and twice the mistake is only realized by seeing or touching her breasts. The misunderstandings increase when she is standing next to the two heads taller Dag.
  • John Geary, the protagonist of Jack Campbell's The Lost Fleet series, was a Human Popsicle in a lost escape pod for over a century. After his rescue and revival, his "posthumous" promotion to Captain gives him seniority over every other Captain in the fleet — which he exploits to pull their collective chestnuts out of the fire, whether they like it or not.
  • The protagonist (and questionably sane narrator) of The Tin Drum, Oskar Matzerath, throws himself down the stairs at age three to stop growing. Over the years he exploits his young appearance to get (and get away with) whatever he wants, at the expense of those around him. He forces himself to start growing again when he's in his twenties, after his father dies.
  • In Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Nico di Angelo looks twelve. He's actually seventy-something from being put in the Lotus Casino, which slows down time. A lot. His sister is also the same. Being set in a world where Greek Mythology is true, many of the other characters are at least 2000 years old. Grover, on the other hand, is thirty-two but looks sixteen (satyrs age slower than humans).
  • In Peter Watts's Rifters Trilogy a pedophilic character is captured by a police sting operation which used a man who had been artificially transformed into an apparent child as bait.
  • Serroi, in Jo Clayton's Duel Of Sorcery and Dancer trilogies, is tiny and baby-faced enough to pass herself off as a preadolescent in the first trilogy. She's twenty-seven in Moongather, thirty or thereabouts by Changer's Moon.
  • In the Alliance/Union novels by C. J. Cherryh, FTL travels slows down physical aging by around 25%. So spacer teenagers look like middle school kids, twenty-somethings look like teenagers, etc.
  • Legacy of the Aldenata: All rejuvenated personnel qualify for this, appearing to be in their early twenties or younger, while dating back, in some cases, to before World War II. It's occasionally an issue until people start assuming that anybody who looks 20 is probably older. Often a lot older. And you get generation bending, Michael O'Neal Sr's second wife is almost assuredly younger than his son (her age isn't stated, but comparing the children's ages leads to this conclusion).
  • In Stieg Larsson's The Millennium Trilogy, lead character Lisbeth Salander is mentioned as looking "barely legal", which in Sweden is 15. She's actually 24 at the time of the first book, but is described as an "uncommonly thin and fine-boned" person.
  • The title character in Arthur Machen's short story, "The Bright Boy", looks to be about 7-10 years old, but is actually a man in his 60s. The ending reveals that he was likely conceived by a mortal man and an infernal woman. It also reveals that he is a fugitive rapist who is passing himself off as the son of a wealthy couple. Because of his abnormal nature, he stands out like a sore thumb and there is no other way for him to hide from authorities.
  • In P.N. Elrod's vampire novels, vampires who are older than about 20 revert to that age when they die and return. This was most evident with the once-elderly Gaylen in Lifeblood, and is a frequent annoyance to Jack Fleming, who's chronologically in his late 30s yet is regularly called "kid" by people who don't know this. It also means Jack may never be able to see his parents again, as he doesn't want to tell them he was murdered and his newfound youthfulness would demand an explanation.
  • Scourge of Warrior Cats, mostly because of his small size. Firestar even mistakes him for an apprentice at first. His name was Tiny when he was a kit, to emphasize this further.
  • From the Left Behind books: once the Millennium starts in Kingdom Come, all the naturals who enter this time period experience decreased aging similar to the first several generations of mankind in the book of Genesis, with the children becoming young adults by the time they reach 100. It's not explained how those who were already adults, including those who were already at advanced age, experience this decreased aging at the same rate as the children who enter the Millennium. By the end of the Millennium, however, the longest-living naturals (who at that point are all believers in Christ) end up really showing their age.
  • The Witcher:
    • Geralt of Rivia, the titular character. Reading between the lines, you can see that he is well into his eighties, and has white hair, though the latter is a side effect from the treatments to make him a Witcher. However, the mutations he has been exposed to and his active lifestyle give him the appearance and physique of an extremely fit man in his mid-twenties.
      • His looks are actually inconsistent between the books and the games, varying from late twenties to mid-forties, but he's still always look younger than his real age, which is pushing one hundred by the third game.
    • Geralt's friend, chronicler and drinking buddy Dandelion has been described as being forty, sounding like he's thirty, looking like he's twenty and acting like he's ten. In the games he's in his fifties, but looks like mid-to-late thirties.
    • The Emperor Emhyr is in his sixties in the third game, but looks about twenty years younger than that.
    • Vesemir, Geralt's mentor and the oldest witcher alive, may be pushing 800 but is still a match for Geralt physically. The epilogue of Season of Storms, taking place about 100 years after the main timeline, has some witcher who might be either him or Geralt, still spry and deadly.
    • Elves live for hundreds, if not thousands of years, and there probably are some who personally witnessed the Connection Of Spheres.
    • Wizards routinely extend their lifespan by magic, advanced medicine, and magical medicine, with the longest recorded lifespan being around a thousand years for a human wizard. The wizards in question looked frail and ancient, but still much, much younger than his real age was. For the elven wizards it's even longer. Just as a sidenote, Yennefernote  was 92 in her first appearance.
  • Wild Cards has this with several characters, most notably the Golden Boy, Jack Braun. Possessor of Nigh-Invulnerability, he's an original, who gained his ace powers when the virus was first released in 1946, and is near immortal. Also applies to the Sleeper, Croyd Crenson (Also an original, though since his appearance is altered every time he wakes up how much this applies is debatable), and Dr. Tachyon, who is described as looking like a man in his 20's or early 30's, despite being in his 80's (The Takisian species ages differently from humans).
  • Nicholas Nickleby: The Crummles' daughter is a young adult but looks like a little girl and is claimed to be 10. This turns out to be deliberate as her parents deliberately stunted her growth with gin so that she could continue to pose as a child in their stage act.
  • In Robert A. Heinlein's The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, Lunar colonists age more slowly due to the lower gravity. In fact, after a hundred years, no one born on the Moon has yet to die of old age, so they don't even know their own life expectancy. When an Earth reporter guesses Manny's age as twenty-two, he thanks her for the compliment and states that he's been married longer than that. Manny's appearance and Loonies' slow aging aren't mentioned until the middle of the book, so the fact that Manny looks so young is a surprising reveal.
  • Robert A. Heinlein's stories about members of the Howard Families. These individuals appear to age at a normal speed until maturity, then slow down drastically (easily passing for forty when in their seventies, for example). After rejuvenation therapy is developed, someone who looks eighteen can easily be twenty times that age or more.
  • Doc Sidhe: As a pureblood sidhe, Doc ages very slowly. Harrison's initial estimate of Doc's age is off by several decades.
  • In the Belgariad Belgarath looks 70. He's 7000. Proportionally beaten by his daughter Polgara, who looks 30, and is about 5000.
  • Ceasar Flickerman has been hosting The Hunger Games interviews for over 40 years, but doesn't look much older than when he started because of extensive plastic surgery, a very common practice in the Capitol.
  • Early in the first installment of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, it's revealed that Zaphod Beeblebrox is about 200 years old, which means also that Ford Prefect is as well, since they were childhood friends. It's only mentioned in passing, though, and doesn't really matter much to the plot.
  • Strike the Blood: Natsuki looks like a grade schooler despite being 26.
  • The Eloi, the above-ground people in The Time Machine, resemble androgynous five- or six-year-old kids, both physically and mentally. They look five and act five, even as adults. Chapter 4 implies that they stop maturing early, before Secondary Sexual Characteristics have much of a chance to develop.
  • In the Red Mars Trilogy it's stated that repeated frequent use of the longevity treatment can lead to this. One character is described as looking like she's in her twenties but is really in her nineties. The main characters tend to avert this since they typically only take the treatment once every few decades or so.
  • It's tough to gauge the ages of the alien Tendu in The Color of Distance, since they look like frogs built like spider monkeys. Still, one of the mains has just metamorphized into full adulthood in her sixties, the usual age which Tendu attain is around 120, and while they get older they don't age. Ukatonen is over six hundred and says there are other enkar ten times his age and even they are not the oldest of the Tendu. Most Tendu commit suicide rather than leave home and become enkar, and Ukatonen admits to having considered killing himself out of boredrom, nothing new happening in such a long time, until humans arrived.
  • Dame Okra Carmine in Seraphina gives her age as one hundred and twenty, but to Seraphina she looks middle-aged or a bit elderly, certainly not centenarian.
  • In the Paradox Trilogy, symbionts stop aging after undergoing the process that turns them into Super Soldiers. Some symbionts are therefore much older than they look.
  • Due to her short height, a 16-year-old Mia Rinaldi from Vampire Academy still looks 11-year-old.
  • Laura from Sarny is middle aged when she meets Sarny however Sarny mistakes her for someone in her twenties or early thirties. When she dies a few years later Sarny is surprised to find she is a good thirty years older than she had thought.
  • In the Towers Trilogy, protagonist Xhea is 15 years old but only looks about 12. She believes that her dark magic has stunted her growth, though given her perpetual poverty it's also possible that malnutrition played a role.
  • Any Danielle Steel character over 40 is said, ad nauseam, to look much younger than he/she is.
  • Joe the Leprechaun, right before he starts working at The Enchantment Emporium, is said to look like he's barely older than Allie, who's getting an advanced college degreenote , which would make him no more than 30-35. Thing is, he's a changeling, 'his' human died, and Joe has no reason to believe it wasn't from old age.... (Keep in mind, if the human was killed a lot sooner, Joe would have spent decades trying to avoid the 'call home'. The conversation, besides bringing up the 'old age' thing, implies he's been taking his anchoring potion for only a short time.)
  • Journey to Chaos: Mentally, Eric is a man in his twenties but his journey through the veins of Noitearc deaged him so he looks closer to fifteen.
  • Mary in The Letters From Nicodemus looks just like she did when her Son was born (thirty years prior).
  • Rhonda from The Mysterious Benedict Society is a young woman who can pass for a ten to twelve year old just by wearing a puffy dress and wearing a green wig. Her disguise was meant to draw attention away from her age however she still seems young looking.
  • The Secrets of Drearcliff Grange School:
    • Dr Swan has been headmistress of Drearcliff since it opened over forty years earlier; to look at her, you might think she's about forty years old. Then there's the fact that she looks the same about-forty in a photograph dating from the year the school opened. In the Distant Finale, she has been headmistress for over sixty years and still looks about-forty.
    • Dora Paule is a student in the Sixth Form. She's been in the Sixth Form for over twenty years.
  • It's unknown how old Angela Baker exactly is in InCryptid, other than much older than she looks. Cuckoos (a.k.a. Jhorlac) can apparently live for several centuries, their longevity combined with their usual total amorality and Mind Control powers make them Nightmare Fuel incarnate. The exceptions to the cuckoo Always Chaotic Evil are exactly two, Angela Baker and Sarah Zellaby; both are adoptive relations to the Price family. Alice Price-Healy, the paternal grandmother of the current generation of Prices, is merely Older Than She Looks, but she spends so much time in dimensions where time flows differently that if she continues this, she will become this trope with simple advancing chronological age: The oldest she's ever been was in her mid-thirties, she currently appears to be in her early twenties, young enough to pass as Verity's sister.
  • Jillian Tatterton in The Casteel Series, who is 60 years old when her granddaughter Heaven enters her life (much to her chagrin) but doesn't look much older than her 30s. Somewhat deconstructed as Jillian is unhealthily obsessed with keeping her youth, to the point of ignoring any sort of inconvenience in her life so as to not get stressed. Subverted when she has her Freak Out after being forced to admit that she knew that her daughter was being raped buy her husband, which ages her greatly.
  • In the Lockwood & Co. series, if the whispering skull's statement at the end of The Creeping Shadow is to be believed, then Penelope Fittes is the same person as her supposed grandmother, Marissa Fittes, but doesn't look a day older than the skull first met her, around forty years before.
  • The Wandering Inn:Although Ceria looks to be in her 20's, she actually is 40, but her elven blood allows her delay the aging process.
  • Fairly ubiquitous in the Old Man's War series. As the title implies, the rank and file of the Colonial Defense Force are recruited at age 75 and then transferred to new, genetically enhanced bodies that appear to be in their twenties. Those that survive to retirement are given a non-enhanced clone body that is also somewhere in its twenties, for a double dose of this trope.
  • The Daemon in The Hearts We Sold. He looks like an attractive gentleman of about thirty, but he's thousands of years old, if not millions. He's heavily implied to have been around for the destruction of Pompeii, among other things.
  • Magnus Bane of The Mortal Instruments is somewhere upwards of 400 but is described as looking approximately nineteen.
  • All the main characters in Six Wakes (except Paul), via cloning and Brain Uploading.
  • Hangbelly in Tailchaser's Song asks Tailchaser if he's six Eyes (months) old yet. Tailchaser awkwardly replies that he's almost nine Eyes old. He's a scrawny cat.
  • This is deconstructed in a poem titled, White Lie, where the subject, trying to evade someone making advances on her, tells him she's underaged, which convinces him to leave her alone, as she looks young enough to pass as such.
  • The original Shounen Hollywood light novel and stage play had "Hiiragi Tsuyoto", who looked so young at his 37 years of age that he was able to pass off as a 17 year old boy.
  • In the Chaos Gods series, Ki is fifteen years old, but looks eleven; she stopped aging after absorbing a demon at that age.
  • In The Book of Three, the first installment of The Chronicles of Prydain, Eilonwy invokes the trope when talking about the evil Queen Achren, who claims to be the girl's aunt. Achren is described in the narrative as being very beautiful, but Eilonwy assures Taran that "she's older than she looks."
  • Uprooted: Wizards live for centuries and show no signs of ageing for most of their lives. At 150 years old, The Archmage Sarkan looks like a man of twenty, except for a disconcerting timelessness in his eyes.
  • The Neverending Story: Time in Fantastica works in strange ways:
    • When Bastian arrives at the Ivory Tower, he finds out that the Childlike Empress has not been there "for a long, long time" - even though Atreyu has not aged noticeably since he met her up there.
    • Later, when Bastian makes his way to Dame Eyola's House of Change, she tells him his travels began 100 years ago. Bastian doesn't believe it at first, but he eventually acknowledges it has indeed been 100 years without him (or anyone in Fantastica) aging.
  • The Machineries of Empire: Most people in the Hexarchate Galactic Superpower choose youth-preserving treatments alongside the Longevity Treatment that lets them live past a century, even among the conservative Kel faction, which otherwise frowns on body modifications.


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