On Old Protagonists, and a Brand New Book

Peter’s got a brand new book out: a fantasy featuring an old man (by medieval standards.) Owain, the old King’s Champion, has outlived his swordbrother, his wife, and most of his friends… but is still going to prove to the enemies of his kingdom why you should fear an old man in a profession where most die young.

Several of his beta readers (including his wife) noted that they really appreciated a quest undertaken by a old man who defeats youth and enthusiasm with cunning and experience, instead of yet another plucky coming of age story with wise old mentor who dies. (Campbell’s Hero’s Journey was descriptive, not prescriptive!)

Thinking about it, some of the protagonists I really love and hold up to re-reading are older, with their own scars and deep backstory. Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga has Aral and Cordelia. Her Curse of Chalion and Paladin of Souls feature an old man and a widow, respectively. Elizabeth Moon’s Remnant Population was an utter delight with Ofelia, who was too old to care what people thought anymore. And lately, I’ve been reading some Raymond Chandler, who definitely has world-weary protagonists who had all the wide-eyed shiny rubbed off a long time ago.

What books with older protagonists do you enjoy?

Bet you’ll enjoy this one!

King's Champion
King’s Champion

After decades of peace, war is threatening the Kingdom of Avranche. Its old foes are stirring, in a new alliance with darker powers. Black wings bring death and torture in the night.

Owain, former King’s Champion, hears rumors of sorcery. Visiting the grave of his sword brother, he stumbles into a deadly raid, and uncovers coded orders for a larger plot.

The kingdom’s enemies know Owain is now their greatest danger. He must race against time to find and deal with them… before they deal with him!

Get King’s Champion here, at Amazon.com!

36 thoughts on “On Old Protagonists, and a Brand New Book

  1. Me too! Have got to where I prefer a mature protagonist, or even an old coot. Or maybe I’m just tired of magically ever-so-wise kids tripping over themselves; nowadays, how is that escapism??

    In my SF Epic, my protag starts off as a young guy …well, lost and trying to not find himself, but eventually he does anyway, and becomes the old coot …well, the middle-aged dude… who knows better than the young punks. At which point he became a lot more interesting both to read AND to write, which oughta tell me something. (Beside that I’m still older than my MC, and he should have more respect.)

  2. Doh!

    I saw John’s write-up and thought it was a coming-soon-watch-the-skies thing.

    I didn’t realize I could buy it and start read in it NOW.

    Adios internets.

  3. I finished it yesterday. Enjoyable story that kept me coming back and I hope there will be sequels. Or at least more stories set in this world following other characters around, perhaps.

    My only complaints are that it was mentioned early that he was in his 50’s and slowing down, but this never actually manifested in any of the battle scenes. And Mr. Grant didn’t foreshadow so much as smack you in the face with a 2×4 as to what was going to happen next, so when it actually did happen it felt almost like “everything was too easy” becuz the setup had been so explicit beforehand.

    That doesn’t take away that it was a very fun adventure story and I would recommend it to anyone.

    1. I’ve known some senior citizens I wouldn’t have wanted to cross. There’s the story of the two thugs who tried to mug an aging Jack Dempsey, and he knocked both cold without raising a sweat.

      1. I am reminded of that scene in “Kung Fu: The Legend Continues” where the character known simply as “The Ancient” takes out a bunch of attackers while a doctor’s watching. The doc asks him “how old did you say you were?”


        “Would that we were all so ancient….”

      2. I wouldn’t have wanted to scuffle with my father at least up to his 80th birthday. He told some stories of how they were taught to fight in the military in WWII, and they were taught to fight dirty. But he was also a plain old stubborn cuss, and spiteful, too.

        One of his favorite movie scenes was from the movie Tough Guys: Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas were accosted in an alley by a couple of street toughs, and they told the toughs that they were doing it wrong; that there were rules to street fighting. The kids were looking confused and asked what the rules were, so they said, “Well, first off, you never do this.” and proceeded to kick the boys in the nuts, then just strolled on down the alley. Dad would have been just like that.

    2. TINS. Retired, slightly overweight prof at Flat State U was leaving a fast food place and a young [fool] came up behind him and demanded his money. Prof said “I didn’t bring any extra.” Fool tried to grab prof from behind. Prof: “Please don’t do that.” Fool did. Fool found himself flat on his back six feet away after being flipped into the side of a car. The prof had been one of the US and international Judo masters until he got a hip replaced and the orthopod warned that falls were not a good idea anymore. I had lunch with the prof a few days later and heard the story.

  4. Cazaril from “Curse of Chalion” isn’t that old; he’s 35, although his beard makes him look about 50 and the adhesions from his flogging scars make him move like about that age. He’s just lived so intensely through so much hardship that he feels old, especially in company with Iselle (about 17) and Betriz (19).

    Dalinar, from “Way of Kings”, is about 50.

  5. I don’t know. I don’t think about the age of the protagonists that much in the books I read. The only one who comes to mind isn’t the protagonist. He’s Silver from Treasure Island.

  6. Peter’s latest book is on my TBR list currently. Too much other reading going on with stuff. An older protagonist is good I think. After all my old CFI had a bumper sticker that I have now taken to heart “Old age and treachery will overcome youth and skill”.
    Looking at some of my WIP’s most of the protagonists are older so maybe there is something in that?

    1. *grins* My father’s version was “Old age and treachery will always win over youth and enthusiasm. Every time.”

      Man, I hated that phrase when I was young and enthusiastic. Now? Now I use it on other people, and the kids hate it, too!

      1. My hubby is fond of that saying though his version was ‘youth and vigor’. A couple of my favorites are:” Old swordsmen get that way by being very good” and “Beware the old man in a young man’s game.”

        I’ll be putting this one on my ‘to get’ list for the next paycheck.

  7. I haven’t bought his new book yet, but I will as soon as I get the top few books on my TBR list cleared. So it’s probably not until next week.

    But, looking at older protagonists, I can’t help but think of Doc Smith’s, Mentor of Arisia, who is older than the Solar System, and finally wins after getting successors.

    1. True, but Doc Smith had a general tendency to not kill off any of his main protagonists. He was also doing his writing before this modern standard of having to give the protagonists some tragedy to drive them onward.

  8. I love Bujold for her older protagonists. Heck, I love her for her younger ones. They’re all fun. JM Ney-Grimm’s Winter Glory has older protagonists, and it’s an exciting, light-filled story of getting another chance despite an ice wyrm and assorted emotional dangers.

    Bernard Cornwell’s Richard Sharpe starts out very young when we meet him, but he is now very experienced at the point I’ve reached. He’s in his 30’s.

  9. McCaffrey’s Masterharper character. He’s not old-old, at least not when he’s introduced in _Dragonflight_, but he firmly believes that music and deviousness, for a good cause, are always appropriate.

    I can’t think of many others right off the top of my head, but I’m still decaffinated.

  10. Druss, and many of David Gemmell’s other protagonists, are often older.

  11. One protagonist of mine is 10,000+ years old. You can have a lot of fun with somebody like that around to keep the rowdy kids in line. Her big thing is she knows what is important in life, she can keep the delinquents pointed in the right direction.

    The slowing down thing around 50, I think it makes a capable man much more dangerous. He thinks before he gets into a fight, because he knows its going to hurt, and he’s seen things go sideways before. Just walking around hurts, he’s going to be careful and sneaky.

    1. I’ve heard it described more as “Young men fight becuz it’s fun, so they’ll showboat and take risks. Older men fight when they have to, and they’d rather not be bothered, so they’ll just employ any means at their disposal to end it quickly.”

  12. Hey, I LIKE old guys and women that win out… 🙂 It’s an excellent read, and that ‘old’ knowledge comes in handy… 😀

  13. There are many reasons why the young characters are so prevalent.

    After all, they are at a liminal stage in their life, which is always story gold.

    Also, they can develop more without raising the question of how they managed to get to their current age without learning the lessons.

    Finally, older characters raise a question: whom are they leaving in a lurch by going off on adventures? Not very heroic, leaving people in a lurch. . . oh, no one? How did they get to that age without acquiring responsibilities? It doesn’t speak well of their character, does it?

    Which perhaps is why a lot tend to people who had responsibilities that time has ended.

    My two favorites are, I think:
    The Wizard’s Tale by Kurt Busiek
    The Clairvoyant Countess by Dorothy Gilman

        1. No special reason, but “The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax” does fit the criteria. She’s widowed and her children are married and moved away. Just because I like her (but hadn’t thought of her) doesn’t mean she has to be everybody’s favorite.

  14. John Carter is so old he can no longer remember his childhood. Of course, he still looks and acts like a twenty-something; so, he hardly counts.

    Harold Lamb’s Khlit the Cossack may be my favorite old man protagonist. Try Wolf of the Steppes.

  15. “Wolf of the Steppes” by Harold Lamb. A short story collection along the lines of Conan. I actually came to it because it was mentioned as precursor/inspiration to Conan. It stars Khlit, a Russian horseman who is put out to pasture in the second or third story, and spends the rest of his stories hanging out with Mongols and menacing the Chinese. He is very explicitly and old man with a drooping gray bear/mustache.

    ….And I see the post right above me had the exact same idea. This is what I get for waiting until my lunch break to post.

    Also, first time poster, long time lurker.

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