Who Is Lazarus Long?

A Review by Jerry L. Parker (c) 1992

Apologies: Unable to contact the author for attribution.

Originally published in the Eclectic Collection, Summer 1994

Four of man's enduring fantasies are to live forever, be incredibly rich, make love to all willing women (and they are all willing, except for ugly villainesses) and to travel the cosmos. Lazarus Long has lived them all. Who is Lazarus Long and what is his relationship to Robert Anson Heinlein?

In March of 1939, a medically-disabled, broke, unemployable Naval officer read an advertisement for a writing contest. With a mortgage payment due, Robert Anson Heinlein wrote a short story, "Life-line," and sold it, not to the magazine sponsoring the contest, but to ASTOUNDING magazine for more than the contest prize. Eleven months later, Heinlein had sold ten stories, paid off his mortgage and was a major figure in science fiction.

Many of his early stories were labeled tales of "Future History" by John W. Campbell, Heinlein's editor. While Heinlein never claimed to be predicting the future, he did watch closely trends and current events and interpolated them into his stories. So well that such stories as "Blowups Happen" and "The Roads Must Roll" remain as viable and pointed today as when written in the late thirties.

The terminus of the "Future History" stories was Heinlein's first novel, Methuselah's Children, starring the first of many memorable characters, Lazarus Long. Methuselah's Children is the story of the Howard Families. Howard was a young man dying of old age in the late 1800's. He left a large estate dedicated to promoting longevity in mankind. The only known method at that time was to encourage people with long-lived ancestors to marry others with similarly long-lived ancestors. If all four grandparents of both were living when a couple married, the couple would receive financial rewards from the Howard Foundation for having children.

The experiment was a success. Lazarus Long, born November 11, 1912, eventually becomes the senior Howard, the longest lived Howard. When persecutions against the Howards for their longevity arose in the 22nd Century, Lazarus Long steals a starship and transports the Howard Families in search of a safe new world. After several adventures and misadventures, Long is forced to return them to Earth. Fortunately, Earth has discovered a form of longevity treatment that makes acceptance of the Howard Families possible.

Methuselah's Children was written prior to America's entrance into World War II. Of the twenty-one stories in the "Future History" series, ten were written before the war. By 1950, Heinlein was done with the series. After the war, he wrote a series of science fiction novels for the juvenile market before embarking on his adult-level novels which include Starship Troopers, Stranger In A Strange Land, and Glory Road. He had no intention of resurrecting Lazarus.

However, in 1973, Heinlein returned to the question of Lazarus Long and the Howard Families. What happened to them and how long did that cantankerous old coot, Lazarus, really live? In Time Enough For Love: The Lives of Lazarus Long, (hereafter TEFL) are answered both questions. Lazarus lives happily ever after. But who is Lazarus Long; also known as Woodrow Wilson Smith, Ernest Gibbons, Captain Aaron Sheffield, "Happy" Daze, His Serenity Seraphin the Younger, Supreme High Priest of the One God in All His Aspects and Arbiter Below and Above, Proscribed Prisoner No. 83M2742, Mr. Justice Lenox, Corporal "Ted" Bronson, Dr. Lafe Hubert, et al?

Heinlein drew on his own background for Lazarus. Heinlein was born in Butler, Missouri in 1907. Lazarus was born in 1912 and raised in Kansas City, Missouri. Heinlein graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1925, served with distinction aboard the carrier Lexington and, in 1934, was medically discharged with tuberculosis. Except for the illness, this background was transferred to Lazarus and delightfully detailed in "The Tale of the Man Who Was Too Lazy To Fail," contained in TEFL. While Lazarus is never identified as the Lazy Man, the context of the tale in TEFL clearly implies such. In order to tie TEFL in with the earlier "Future History" stories, it was necessary for Heinlein to create an alternate universe, branching off from this universe sometime during WW II.

Heinlein did not use himself as a life-model for Lazarus. Lazarus is six feet on a wiry frame, a hooked Roman nose, sandy red hair (in the tradition of great epic heroes such as Gilgamesh, Brian Boru and the Wandering Jew), and an easy, disarming grin. His grey-green eyes have a slightly feral look that constantly seek out the wild geese his ears hear calling. He ascribes his longevity to having been born without a foreskin. Clearly a man who is, by standards usual in civilized societies, a barbarian and a rogue. One who, if he comes close, causes you to place one hand on your wallet and the other on the family jewels. One with whom it is not safe to bet, either with or against. Yet he remains that person to whom it is almost impossible to say no.

"History has the relation to truth that theology has to religion -- i.e., none to speak of."
Lazarus Long

Lazarus is both a cynic and an accurate observer of human nature. When he admonishes us to "always cut the cards," it is to warn us to always take whatever measures necessary to improve the odds in our favor. Certainly the game is rigged against us, but if you don't bet, you can't win.

Through Time Enough For Love (1973), The Number of the Beast (1980), The Cat Who Walks Through Walls (1985), and To Sail Beyond the Sunset (1987) Heinlein uses Lazarus to describe how life is, how it should be and why it isn't. Perhaps Heinlein bemoans the failures of society, perhaps he promotes the society man is capable of achieving. Certainly he speaks, through Lazarus, to those few truly concerned with future possibilities; to teach them to survive the most dangerous animal alive -- Man. Only Lazarus Long has the charisma to charm the reader while bombarding his mind with such truisms as:

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.

Your enemy is never a villain in his own eyes. Keep this in mind; it may offer a way to make him your friend. If not, you can kill him without hate -- and quickly.

Of all the strange "crimes" that human beings have legislated out of nothing, "blasphemy" is the most amazing -- with "obscenity" and "indecent exposure" fighting it out for second and third place.

When the need arises - and it does - you must be able to shoot you own dog. Don't farm it out -- that doesn't make it nicer, it makes it worse.

If the universe has any purpose more important than topping a woman you love and making a baby with her hearty help, I've never heard of it.

When the ship lifts, all bills are paid. No regrets.

Touch is the most fundamental sense. A baby experiences it, all over, before he is born and long before he learns to use sight, hearing, or taste, and no human ever ceases to need it. Keep your children short on pocket money -- but long on hugs.

Be wary of strong drink. It can make you shoot at tax collectors -- and miss.

An examination of how Heinlein treats Lazarus over the years reveals how Heinlein's thinking changed. Methuselah's Children was written in early 1941 and revised in 1958. Lazarus is portrayed in the classical heroic mode, able to overcome all obstacles in his desire to save humanity. By 1973, in Time Enough For Love, Lazarus has become the cynical seen all, done all, time to die and get it over with old man. He is rescued from his suicidal desires by having his ability to love reawaken and in so doing, relearns to love mankind in all its infinite variety. In The Number of the Beast, he is a tyrannical, always gets his own way, boss who has control taken away and doesn't understand how. It is revealed to him that all is but a figment of imagination, perhaps not of some author, as Heinlein writes it, but of some Higher Authority. Lazarus comes out on top, anyhow, with a mission (self-imposed, naturally) to correct some of history's worse mistakes. By 1985's The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, Lazarus is once more in control but is faced by a man who will not be controlled or manipulated (one of Lazarus's sons, it turns out; obviously a family trait). He is made to realize that his "mission" may not be the end-all mission of all men and women. He must reassess his priorities. In To Sail Beyond the Sunset, Lazarus becomes the successful son who will do anything to bring joy and happiness to his mother, and through her, to the universe. He is really a bit player in this story; it is, after all, the life story of his mother, Maureen Johnson. The message is clear, however; there is nothing more important in the universe than love -- love of family, love of mankind's potential, love of life itself.

(Heinlein's demise after finishing To Sail Beyond The Sunset was, perhaps, apropos. The closing of such a perfect career was worthy of any hero or author. Having wrapped up all his characters and stories into a cohesive finished universe, there was no where else to go but into retirement.)

It is clear that Robert Heinlein loved this character and enjoyed manipulating him, just as Lazarus enjoys manipulating those around him. Just how much of Heinlein is actually embedded in Lazarus we'll never know. I believe that, in "The Tale of the Twins That Weren't" and "The Tale of The Adopted Daughter," stories contained within Time Enough For Love, and which deal with defining love, we see an attitude towards love of one's fellow man that is more Heinlein than invented. As for me, Lazarus Long lives and strides between the stars. Supreme in the knowledge that life can end at any moment, he shouts, "Everything in excess! To enjoy the flavor of life, take big bites. Moderation is for monks."

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