Has anyone else noticed how much people love old characters who kick butt and/or defy social norms? They tend to become favorite characters because they’re so unexpected – they break our concept of old people. As a rule, we expect older characters to be weak, confused, and either excessively grumpy or sweet. When they say shocking things or suddenly destroy someone in a fight, it’s instant love.
1. The Incorrigible Oldster
These characters are kind of like eighty-year-old teenagers or toddlers except they know exactly what they’re doing. They say whatever comes to their mind, and they don’t care whom they shock when they do. They follow the mantra I’m old, so I can do what I want.
Because they say such outlandish things, they tend to be pretty funny and very popular with audiences whether in books, movies, or tv. Here are a few examples:
- The Dowager Countess played by Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey is famous for her one-line zingers that put people in their place in a bold and hilarious manner. Don’t mess with that old lady!
- Hub & Garth McCann from Secondhand Lions played by Robert Duvall & Michael Caine are the epitome of old people doing what they want. They even talk about how old they are and how they don’t have to put up with stuff anymore.
- Grandma Mazur from One for the Money by Janet Evanovich: “I shot that sucker right in the gumpy.” There’s nothing quite like the main character of the book having to make sure she keeps her gun away from her grandma.
- Up‘s Carl Fredricksen shows his incorrigibility through his behavior. Like when he imagines accidentally dropping Russell or, I don’t know, turning his house into an aircraft with helium balloons.
- Or what about the old lady from The Wedding Singer who raps?
These are the types of old characters who horribly embarrass, discomfit, or startle other characters in the story: usually their children or grandchildren (Dad, what are you doing?!!). They also tend to have really memorable quotes or actions.
2. The Old Master
If you think about almost any martial arts movie, you’ll know exactly what I mean. The old master is the character who looks older than God but can still kick all the young whippersnappers’ butts. Here are 2 examples you’re probably familiar with.
- Master Miyagi from The Karate Kid: The seemingly old, small, and harmless repairman breaks out elite martial arts moves and stuns everyone.
- Yoda from the Star Wars movies: See when the frail-looking, tiny alien creature lifted a ship out of the marsh when the young, talented upstart could not.
But don’t think that the list ends there. The old characters don’t have to be masters of martial arts or even fighting. They could be the master of whatever area they work in: magic, ranching, cooking, ballet, etc. The most important thing is that they’re old and that they have that level of skill that they can pull out and use to impress youngsters. Which means that they also don’t have to be male.
- Jake from Big Jake: portrayed by John Wayne, Big Jake repeatedly proves that he is the roughest, toughest guy out there and that the younger generation has a lot to learn to match him.
- Miss Marple is one of Dame Christie‘s most famous detectives. She is a sweet, innocent-looking old woman with a mind sharper than most of the actual police detectives she comes across. She’s often knitting something pastel and fluffy while solving a complicated crime, and the contrast is part of what makes her such a beloved character.
- Granny Weatherwax from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books is the head witch of all the witches. She’s so knowledgeable and powerful (See BADASS) that the other witches pretty much defer to her or don’t dare to openly cross her.
Incorrigible Old Masters
These 2 character types are so awesome that authors sometimes make characters who are both at once: masters of their trades who also say totally outlandish things or have pretty eccentric behavior. Some of the ones I’ve listed already could go on this list, as well, but these next 4 are really blatant combos.
- King Bumi and Uncle Iroh from Avatar: The Last Airbender are both varying degrees of old master and incorrigible oldsters. They’re both old, they’re both extremely skilled benders, and they both say and do weird things. Yes, they have different flavors of eccentricity, but, let’s face it, they’re both pretty odd (that’s why we like ’em!).
- Zeddicus Zu’l Zorander from Terry Goodkind’s The Sword of Truth book series is both one of the world’s top wizards and an extremely outlandish old dude. Which is “true as toasted toads!”
- Mama Odie from Disney’s The Princess & the Frog varies in her weirdness between humorously eccentric and grossly disturbing (why did the animators have her kiss her pet with tongue? I mean, ew). At the same time, despite being a “197-year-old blind lady,” she has some seriously powerful voodoo.
I only listed a few of each – I’m sure you can think of more because they really stick with you. I mean, how can you forget a little old lady that shoots a cooked turkey? Or an old man that looks like a strong wind can blow him over who fights off a group of young, trained thugs? No one expects old people to do stuff like that! That’s why we love these types of characters and remember them forever.
So I have 2 questions: 1. Which awesome old character is your favorite? (Mine’s my grandma) and 2. Which one do you want to be like in the nursing home?