by Phil Geusz
©2003 Phil Geusz -- all rights reserved
We were all children once, or at least I sincerely hope that we were. Each and every man and woman alive was once a little boy or girl, and before that an infant. All of us slobbered on our bibs, skinned our knees, and played ecstatically with a favorite toy. Which means that all of us ought to be experts on writing stories in which characters are transformed into children. Right?
I don't know why it is, but of all the transformation stories I've ever read, for some reason age regression stories tend to be among the least convincing. Perhaps it is because we are indeed so familiar with childhood that the differences really stick out. Or, perhaps, it might be because there are so many children in our everyday environment that we note right away when behavior is false. In any event, of all the three subgenres I believe that the age regression is the most wide-open to the prospective author, and the one with the most virgin, unplowed fields.
I haven't written very many age regression stories myself; if memory serves, I've penned exactly four age regression stories worth mentioning. All four of these are placed in the Transmutation Now! universe, and all four deal with a single character who has been age-regressed in order to become a 'juvie cop' -- in other words, a law enforcement officer who works undercover in order to deal with such crimes as kiddie porn, drug dealing in schools, and the like. My character is a late-middle aged man whose has to pass as a twelve-year-old boy for days on end. Even more, in this universe a transmutation is hideously expensive (hundreds of thousands of dollars, at the time period in question) and takes weeks on end. Therefore, my 'kid cop' has to live in this body full-time, with no breaks or leaves. Because he operates undercover, the only place he can 'let down his hair' and be treated as an adult is at his base in Quantico, Virginia. My goal as a writer is to explore the long-term effects of what living in a child's body can and must do to such a man, while at the same time entertaining my reader with that action and suspense of the fictional policeman's life.
This approach has colored much of my thinking about age regression stories as a whole, and also serves to illustrate my personal preferences and prejudices. I don't have much patience with stories where someone is given the magical (or near-magical) ability to become a child at will, and then change back. Such stories tend to be very shallow, gimmick-ridden tales that promise much but deliver little. After all, what can be learned from a change of just a few hours or even days? How much can a character be altered in such a short time? How much can he or she grow? (Or, perhaps in this case, shrink?)
It is my sincere belief that in the age-regression tale, more than any other, long-term effects are far more important than short-term ones. The difference between a child and an adult is very profound, but at the same time very subtle. A child can be very intelligent, for example, but a far more profound and far less quantifiable test of adulthood is maturity. What happens to a person when, for months on end, others assume that he or she is not mature? Even more to the point, there are very real physiological differences between adulthood and childhood. Children need to stretch and exercise their muscles, for example. They are impelled by nature to do so. Therefore, adult-children will fidget in long meetings, like it or not. There are hormonal differences too, some more subtle than others. An adult-child will find themselves becoming more passive over time. Also, there is considerable evidence that there are brain-structuring differences as well. A child imprints very easily, and instinctively seeks adults to imprint on. These, in my view at least, are biologically-rooted behaviors. Change the body and, slowly but surely, the behavior changes as well. Even if the mind is preserved intact in the beginning, as I postulate with my kid-cop, and even if measures are taken to counter at least some of these effects, you can't make a person into a kid without at least some of this sort of thing happening. Or, if you could, in my book there would be absolutely zero point in writing about him or her. Which, for an author, amounts to exactly the same thing. If the biological imperatives are diluted or even done away with entirely, social pressure is a powerful force indeed. And, if the biological imperatives are damped too much, then what you will have is not a child but merely an adult who looks like one. And, probably, an adult who cannot behave in a convincing-enough manner to pass as anything else for more than a few hours at a time.
Sure, there are gross physical changes in becoming a child that need to be dealt with. A child is smaller and weaker. A child grows cold faster. A child craves sweets. A child dresses differently than an adult. And so forth. But these are all mere window-dressing for the far more profound changes that lie beneath and which need to be brought up to the surface. A child mostly socializes with other children. A child has little power in society. A child is protected and loved, but never treated as an equal.
A child can literally get away with murder. Now, that's real story-fodder...
I like writing age-regression tales, though I've not been nearly so prolific as I would like. I like reading them even more, when I can find a well-written one. Unfortunately, it's hard to find an author who really delves into the angst and insight and growth that all come hand-in-hand with altering identity and sense-of-self. When an author does choose to take this tack, however, the results are almost always memorable. Perhaps this is because there is no time in our lives when we are as mutable and when change comes so hard and fast as when we are children. We who love transformation should, almost by definition, love reading about childhood. Not only is transformation itself a childlike fascination, but it is practically the essence of childhood itself. What could be a more perfect genre for such as we?