They say that the eyes are the windows of the soul- we’ve heard that so many times. But when it comes to fiction, this appears to be true.
In 2012, I started writing an indie New Pulp series. For my lead character, I decided to blend characteristics from past pulp heroes. Among the traits I wanted to emulate were Doc Savage’s eyes as an identifier that he was different. I obviously couldn’t choose Doc’s gold-flake, however, so I turned to the internet to try and find the rarest eye color for my hero-in-development.
To my surprise, green was described as the rarest eye color- more so than even hazel or blue eyes. Or Doc Savage’s amber-colored eyes. As I read more, I learned there were a number of medical conditions and genetic disorders that could produce unusual eye colors. Albinos for example, could produce pink or red eyes.
I also learned that Doc Savage wasn’t the only character to benefit from unique eyes.
Turns out that Tarzan had gray eyes- somethign I’d forgotten all these years later. And everyone’s favorite Cimmerian, Conan, was described by author Robert E. Howard as having blue eyes.
But gold, gray and blue eyes as distinguishing characteristics wasn’t something unique to the pulp writers of the early 29th century. In the 2009 movie Sherlock Holmes, the titular detective deduces two characters are related due to a rare genetic disorder that affects their eye color.
The more I thought about it, I found that eye color has been very prominent in a number of fictional works. In the TV Series Supernatural, demonic possession is portrayed with all-black eyes. Other movies and literature have were- creatures or supernatural beings possessing wolf-colored eyes, or even eyes with cat-like, vertical slits, instead of regular irises.
Even the Terminator has unique eyes- a cheesy glowing red effect emulated in many a movie. And who can forget the crazy crosshair contacts worn by the Silicates in the incredible (but short-lived) series Space: Above and Beyond?
So it turns out that it is a very common theme to use rare eye color, or oddly-colored, or inhuman eyes to demonstrate that a character is unique, or otherworldly. Sure, there are other characteristics that can give it away- like pointy ears or those suffering from alien nose syndrome, but for characters that are supposed to appear merely human at a glance, eyes have definitely become the marker of choice.
There are a few exceptions to this rule. Remo Williams, the Destroyer, from Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir’s long-running adventure series has dull, plain, brown eyes- I suspect to perpetuate his everyman image early in the series. Of course, later, the series would retcon his origins, marking Remo as a descendant of a Korean Master who somehow came to America long before the Vikings or Spanish. Brown eyes would seem more in line with origins like that.
And many an author foregoes a unique eye color, instead writing that a characters eyes are piercing, or the deepest of brown, or some other such descriptor to point out to a reader just how different they are or to emphasize some trait.
What makes this so interesting for me is the many movies and tv series that have gone the exact opposite direction. Where they haven’t bothered to make the eyes look diffent. Anyone remember Swamp Thing? Aside from a scene or two where his eyes glow green, those are just the late Dick Durock’s eyes, with no contacts. The only portion of his humanity remaining, I suppose.
And think about all the cheesy alien movies where you could see not only a human eyeball, but a flash of pink skin around it when a rubber mask shifted place.
The many incarnations of the Star Trek franchise seem to have chintzed out on the eyes. I find it odd that Spock had pointy ears, Bajorans had their goofy nose prosthetic and even the Klingons had their fu manchus and bumpy heads… and still had human eyes.
Now that I’ve noticed this, it’s going to become one of my new nitpicks. I’ll be looking for eye colors and iris shapes in Science Fiction- trying to determine if a character is something special, or if they were just thrown together.