The Man Who Grew Young
Daniel Quinn, writer,
Tim Eldred, artist
(Context, 2001)

The Man Who Grew Young is based on a very interesting premise. What if the ever expanding universe had stretched as far as it possibly could and now was shrinking back in on itself? What if we were heading towards the Big Crunch?

In Daniel Quinn's story, time goes backwards. All lives that were lived when the universe was going forward are now being lived in reverse. Most people are dug up from their graves and become younger over the years until they merge back with their mother. The Earth becomes environmentally sound as humans run factories that produce fossil fuels which are then buried. Mankind gets rid of computers and machinery so that workers will feel more productive using their brains and muscles. Native Americans have a prophesy that their land will one day be free of the white man. You should be getting the picture by now; in many ways, it is an intriguing one.

The Man Who Grew Young centers around Adam Taylor. No matter how far time rewinds, Adam never seems to find his mother. Adam's quest over several millennia is two-fold: One, where is his beginning (or in this case, end)? Two, why is he seemingly immortal? For what purpose would he be a spectator during the de-evolution of humanity (which, don't forget, means he was a spectator for the evolution of the human race)? To find the answers to these questions, you would have to read this graphic novel like I did.

In many respects, Quinn and illustrator Tim Eldred both did an excellent job. In the book's preface, Quinn discusses how he has spent considerable time on several "impossible" works that have been rejected by various literary agents. He talks about why this story would not work in a film or book format, but why he thinks it works as a graphic novel. The preface was almost as interesting as the story! Eldred might be best known for his work on Dragon Tales, which was an animated series on PBS a few years back.

If you have made it this far in this review, I bet you are really interested in reading The Man Who Grew Young. But before you set off to purchase your copy, let me ask you a few questions. Are you able to suspend your sense of disbelief when you read or watch a story just for the sake of being entertained? Does minor hand-waving to explain why something works a certain way satisfy you as an explanation? Can you handle religious depictions that do not mirror your own without getting offended? Are you more concerned about the pretty pictures than the story being told? Do you want to acquire everything that has either Quinn's or Eldred's name on it? If you answered "yes" to these questions, then I highly recommend this tale to you.

If you answered "no" to the questions above, then you are probably like me. You like to dissect what you are reading or watching and you would do what some people would call "nitpicking a story to death." That aside, let me state why this "impossible" story does not work in graphic novel form, either. Let's start with the title. Adam never grows young. Every other person in the story does, but Adam remains the same late-20s or early-30s range he has always been. This should have been called The Man Who Did Not Grow Young.

If time is truly going backwards then why aren't characters in the story walking backwards? We are told in the preface that speech is backwards and would be unintelligible to those of us going forward, but makes sense in this universe. We are given a scenario where a flower that was tossed on a grave going forward in time, now leaps back up to the mourner's hand. With simple hand-waving we are supposed to accept that the laws of gravity and physics in general no longer apply. I can take time going backwards, but I have issues with certain aspects of this story. Here is another issue for thought; can you imagine the food undigestion process?

The Man Who Grew Young certainly has potential. I find the idea intriguing and I have been thinking about the suggested implications for days. The promotional materials note that Quinn enjoys presenting material so strange that "people struggle to find a rationale for dealing with it at all." In this regards, he has truly succeeded. But overall, I do not think the work is quite complete. Pieces are missing. Perhaps you should read one of his other "impossible" works -- Ishmael -- instead.

[ by Wil Owen ]
Rambles: 10 November 2001

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