Humans are always trying to become younger, to reverse aging and return to childhood. Here are some characters who live backwards — and find life in rewind isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Benjamin Button (“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” by F. Scott Fitzgerald): A backwards life is no fairytale for Benjamin Button, who is born into a septuagenarian body and works back from there. Early in life, his father is ashamed of him and Yale turns him away due to his older looks. And, as he grows more youthful, he loses interest in his aging wife and his son refuses to acknowledge him in public. But at least his belated childhood brings with it a blissful amnesia.
Rachel Weintraub (Hyperion by Dan Simmons): While exploring the Time Tombs of Hyperion, archeology student Rachel Weintraub contracts “Merlin sickness” (from TH White’s The Once and Future King, in which the wizard Merlin experiences life in reverse). Rachel grows younger each day, and loses her memories as she falls backwards in time. Her professor father grows concerned as she nears the point of birth and takes the both of them on a pilgrimage to implore the god-like Shrike to cure her.
Everyone (“The Man Who Grew Young” by Daniel Quinn and Tim Eldred): In Quinn’s universe, people begin their lives being exhumed from the earth and rising from their coffins. They grow younger until they eventually return to their mother’s womb. But Adam Taylor lives for millennia without growing younger or finding his mother, forcing him to witness the devolution of man.
Everyone (“The Man Who Never Grew Young” by Fritz Leiber): Quinn’s story borrows heavily from Leiber’s, in which humans grow younger as their time on Earth grows longer, sloughing off responsibility and wisdom as they head toward the carefree years of youth and childhood. But one man seems arrested in the mid-thirties; he cannot remember being older and has lost hope of ever growing young. Instead he wanders backwards through ages.
Drom the Backwards Man (Spider-Man): Through a quirk of space and time, Drom’s infant self was switched at birth with his elderly self. Ever since then, he has lived his life in reverse. Not only does he age backwards; he speaks and metabolizes food in reverse. He’s dependent on special machines to survive, which require a great deal of (often ill-gained) energy to power.
Harmon Gordon (The Twilight Zone “A Short Drink From a Certain Fountain”): Harmon Gordon finds himself unable to keep up with his wife, who is forty years his junior. Fortunately, he has a scientist brother who has invented an experimental youth serum. Unfortunately, there’s no stop switch on the serum. Harmon grows progressively younger until he returns to infancy, leaving his now much older wife to raise him.
Amelia Hazelwood and Anny Beth (Turnabout by Margaret Peterson Haddix): A group of nursing home residents unwittingly consent to special drug treatment that causes them to age in reverse. But as they grow younger, they find they gradually lose their memories from their forward life. Amelia and Anny Beth escape in hopes of finding a cure, as well as people they can trust as they grow younger and forget their former lives.
Edward Goodman (80 Days by Nicolas Vadot and Olivier Gueret): Eighty year old Edward Goodman prepares to die when the aging process is thrown suddenly in reverse. Each day for 80 days he grows one year younger, and relieves the unique joys of each age. His companion through this temporal journey is his nurse Juliet, a young woman with whom he grows closer as he grows younger.
Lamron Namron (2000 AD “The Reversible Man” by Alan Moore): Namron starts his life facedown in an ice cream cone and his life continues backwards from there. Life seems to progress for everyone else as it does for him as he grows younger, is progressively demoted at his job, loses his children, and is unmarried from and eventually unmeets his wife. It’s a poignant illustration that life in reverse is no happier or more sorrowful than life moving forward (supposedly their wasn’t a dry eye in the 2000 AD offices when the story went to press), though Namron finds himself growing apprehensive as he approaches his birth. Moore would later play with the idea of moving from adulthood through childhood and back into the womb in his autobiographical poem “The Birth Caul.”
Deceased Residents of Resurrection (Vampire Knight Requiem by Pat Mills and Olivier Ledroit): The hell world of Resurrection is a horrific inversion of our own. Those who were evil in life reap the greatest rewards, and the oceans are replaced by land and the land by fires. Instead of growing older, the residents grow younger and eventually fetal. They also lose their memories as they rejuvenate, and take an opiate to stave off the madness of the experience.
Deceased Residents of Elsewhere (Elsewhere by Zevin Gabrielle): A happier version of the afterlife is Elsewhere, where people who have died go to live out their afterlives. They remember their lives back on Earth, but age in reverse until, as infants, are reincarnated on Earth to begin new forward lives.
Max Tivoli (The Confessions of Max Tivoli by Andrew Sean Greer): Born with the body of a 70 year-old man and plagued by a strange disease, Tivoli is constantly haunted by two things: he has known his whole life that he will die in 1941 and he has been tasked to keep his reversed aging a secret. But, as we noted earlier, the novel is, like the Benjamin Button film, a love story at heart.