A lot of writers talk about how they get inspiration from the things around them. Just like anyone else, I do, too, though I can’t always draw from one concrete thing. Rather, it’s a combination of abstract emotions that I am swayed towards when I look at something or remember a fond memory. Most of it is garbled and somewhat related to my overactive imagination, but there is one in particular I’ve gotten asked about a lot and I figured I’d cover it in this blog post.
“Why is Anya a cat?”
In the Fall of the Dragon Trilogy, Anya, the protector of the Phoenix Empire and an actual Phoenix herself, is usually seen in the form of a small cat-like creature despite being a famous mythological bird. There are several variables that make up this answer, including some that are actually covered in the story. I’m going to try to keep things spoiler light, and just talk about Anya in the broader sense of terms.
The first and easier one is the fact that during the time of my writing book 1, Beyond the Dancing Flames, my cat Anya passed away. Anya the cat was spunky, but a sweetheart with a beautiful white coat. She was named from one of my favorite animated films “Anastasia,” and she bore a lot of similarities to Anya from it (although she was a lot more graceful than Anya from the get go, and also, a cat). That cat had a huge impact on my life during that time, especially as that was a point in my life when I was hit heavily by depression. I always remember her “shadowen” type tendencies and her urge to be in my lap no matter where I sat. I remember her last days in vivid details, when her purr became a horrendous rattle, yet still she wanted to cuddle in my lap. Those were painful days as her health declined, but we made the decision to put her down before the pain could take her. I always joke that I used to be a dog person until she came into my life, but there might be some truth in it. By naming the Phoenix after her, it helped her live on in my mind a little more. (Beyond the Dancing Flames was initially written when I was in high school, though not completed or re-edited until years later)
From a story stand point, trying to travel around with a bird would be difficult in many cases. I always imagined Naraku’s sidekick being more of a four-legged creature, so even though the Phoenix and Dragon parallel was meant from the beginning, I didn’t really consider what that meant for the phoenix until I started writing. Everything just sort of clicked when I imagined her in a cat-like form. It was much easier to write a cat creature into the scenes. I also intended Anya to be working with limited powers from the get-go (this is explained more thoroughly in the later books), so by limiting her ability to fly and even her fire-based magics, it made more sense to have her be different from the expected form.
And of course, the element of surprise! Who would be looking for a cat when they are looking for a phoenix? In book 2, you get to see some of her transformation magic she possesses. Having her in a form that was not a bird already easily lead the way to that. Realistically though, the young prince of the Phoenix Empire would stand out tremendously even without a phoenix guardian, but general populace would assume the phoenix is a bird, thus making his strange appearance and his strange cat-companion stand out for other reasons, but not have people jumping to conclusions always as to who they were. You get to see more of this overlooked identity in books 2 and 3, as Amren doesn’t stand out nearly as much as his father, plus a child and a cat are a lot more inconspicuous than a handsome foreign man.
While Anya is referred to as a “phoenix,” I also borrowed mythological traits and concepts from non-phoenix like creatures. If you consider that aside from the dragon, there are also a kirin-type creature and a sea-serpent, it makes more sense that she wouldn’t be the phoenix in our true world. The four beings in the world are loosely drawn from the Chinese mythology of the Four Constellations, but only the dragon and the phoenix remained the same named creatures. Instead of a white tiger, you get Enlil, who is more like a kirin (another mythological creature who is a hooved chimerical creature with usually one horn; sometimes interpreted as two and considered similar to giraffes). Instead of Genbu, you have Ixcheel, who rather than a turtle with a snake for a tail closer resembles a mizuchi (a mythological water dragon without horns or wings and poisonous venom breath). Even Shimau, the dragon, isn’t a direct representation of Seiryuu, the Azure Dragon. He is indeed blue, but rather than wood, his element is fire, just like the phoenix. Also, his appearance resembles that of a western style dragon much closer than that of an eastern style. And while the Four Constellations were some of the inspiration for these creatures, it’s made clear that there were more than four initially. Just only these four survived. So Anya’s structure of phoenix follows Suzaku as much as the others follow the constellation that would be assigned to them.
I hope to explore more with Enlil and Ixcheel in the future. You get to see a little bit of both of them in flashbacks, and Enlil plays a minor role in book 3. In the future, I would like to do one more book to finish off Enlil and Ixcheel’s roles in the story. Plus it would be fun to write for Amren and Abaou Qu again. For those of you who read the book series, a certain someone was headed to meet up with them at the end. Any sequel book would start from that point pretty much.