Did Ratha really exist?
Many readers have asked me what prehistoric cat species is Ratha based on? Originally, I chose Nimravus, a leopard-like
creature from the early Miocene. However, later, I learned about a new fossil creature called Dinaelurus. There was speculation
that this animal might have been a cheetah-like "cursorial predator". As I developed Ratha and the Named, they took
on more cheetah-like characteristics. Thakur's speed and his enjoyment of running, for instance. Also the fact that the Named
herders have to make fast dashes to cut off straying or unruly herdbeasts.
Covers for the later Ratha books showed a very cheetah-like animal, since the illustrator had also done a cover for Tomorrow's
Sphinx, which is about cheetahs. Fans of the series began to think of the Named as very cheetah-like, and I agreed, since
I liked the image.
However cheetahs and cheetah-like ancestors didn't exist 20 million years ago in the early Miocene. When I heard that
Dinaelurus crassus, which did exist at that time, was being described as a cheetah precursor, I decided to use that creature
as a basis for my fictional clan cats. Thus Ratha and the Named are descended from Dinaelurus crassus, and would be called
Dinaelurus illumina sapiens.
Just to show how cover and fan art can influence writing, I added more cheetah behavior in the new book, Ratha's Courage.
The "courting circle" where Fessran and the other Named females are trapped is based on observations of male cheetahs.
In order to work out for myself how Ratha and her kind may have appeared, I made a clay model of a Dinaelurus crassus
skull based on several drawings in a scientific paper describing the discovery. I then did a copy of that skull and modified
it, enlarging the braincase to allow for the intelligence and sentience of the Named. Both models are shown below.
Since the picture was taken, I've used the Dinaelurus illumina sapiens skull as the basis to reconstruct what Ratha and
her people could have looked like. I took pictures while this was in process.
So far, researchers have only found the fossil skull of Dinaelurus crassus. They have extrapolated certain features,
such as a shortened face (as compared to its cousin, Nimravus) and enlarged nasal passages (cheetahs have those in order to
get enough air into their lungs while chasing prey at more than 70 mph), to guess that this animal was a cheetah-like cursorial
Since Dinaelurus existed in the Miocene, 20-25 million years ago, and Acinonyx jubatus, the present-day cheetah, appeared
in the Pleistocene era, no more than 5 million years ago, it may have been a "cheetah" before the present species
In reconstructing Ratha, I looked at drawings of cheetah and puma skeletons. She has the rear legs of a cheetah and the
front legs of a slightly stretched puma. Like a puma, she has a slightly raised rump, and similar jumping abilities. Her
top speed in a sprint is less than a cheetah, but greater than a puma.
Since this sketch was done before the facial restoration (clay model above), the head is not quite the same. And since
this was a developmental drawing, it is a bit messy, with notes and ideas scribbled on it, but interesting enough to show
here. You can click on the picture to enlarge it and read the various jottings. Warning -- it is a pretty large file. I
may have to shrink it down a bit so it won't take so long to load.
My thanks goes to Emily Smith, who suggested that visitors to this site might like to see some more artwork showing how
an author can visualize and develop a character. I enjoy working back and forth from words to images, and I am sure there
are many other talented author/artists who do the same. Thanks for your email, Emily!
|This is one of the photos from the sequence
|Ratha - possible facial restoration.
|Dinaelurus illumina sapiens.
|See how the braincase has expanded compared to Dinaelurus crassus.