Honest to god, it has been a long time since I thought of thirteen year olds as romantic figures. Not since maybe, I was fifteen? Which made rereading James H. Schmitz’s The Witches of Karres a little odd.
Not that there’s any statutory rape or inappropriate thoughts about the relationship between the book’s adult hero, Captain Pausert, and his psionic “witch” sidekick, Goth, who’s thirteen at most. Or even any romance on Pausert’s side. But early on, Goth informs him that they’re going to get married when she’s of age (sixteen for the people of Karres) and it’s quite obvious yes, that will happen eventually. And before that, when Goth’s fourteen-year-old sister Maleen says she’ll marry Pausert (she’s not sincere), Pausert gives this serious thought (Maleen’s a lot prettier than Goth).
As a general rule, I’m not much bothered by age differences in real life and not necessarily in fiction. Once you get into adult/teen stuff, it gets a little … well, not so much squicky as just unconvincing. Pausert’s at least in his early twenties’ marrying a sixteen-year-old does not seem like the best option. It wouldn’t have struck me as odd when I first read it because I’d have been around thirteen, and so a thirteen-year-old romantic interest wouldn’t have seemed strange (that it would be weird for an older male protagonist didn’t concern me). Now, though, that age gap leaps out at me when I see it. And that a lot of creators apparently do think it’s sexy or romantic.
For example, George Lucas thought Marion Ravenwood in Raiders of the Lost Ark could have been 11 or 12 when Indie, in his twenties, deflowered her. A plotline in Steve Englehart’s run on Green Lantern involved the teenage alien Arisia using the power ring to mature herself physically so she’s old enough to be Hal Jordan’s girlfriend. A run of Dr. Fate in the 1980s has a ten-year-old boy magically matured and becoming involved with his stepmom (even given they turn out to be reincarnates who’ve been together in countless lifetimes). The Storm miniseries has her losing her virginity to T’Challa when she’s twelve (even given he’s only a few years older that’s way too young to portray as a romantic moment). In some of Fritz Leiber’s later stories of Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser his heroes’ interest in nubile young girls has a very dirty old man vibe to it. Schmitz comes off pretty good by contrast; like I said, Pausert isn’t into Goth and writes her interest off as a teenage crush. But it still struck me as odd (even given we’re little more than a century from when the age of consent was 10).
I’m less bothered by older teen/adult romance (not so much the legal issues of age of consent as whether it feels like the kid’s old enough to be in a relationship), depending how its handled. For example if it’s a prime-time soap where everyone’s banging everyone. Or where immortals are involved; once you hit a hundred, let alone 1,000 years, why would you care about a few years either way? And I’ve read stories where yes, they made me believe the relationship was true love.
My age definitely influences my perception of this, but I’m not sure whether it makes me see more truthfully, or less.
#SFWApro. Cover by Kurt Miller, all rights remain with current holder.