Friday, June 13, 2008

Ratha's Creatures

Clare Bell's Ratha series of young adult novels features sapient prehistoric cats who live by herding deer. The first novel in the series, Ratha's Creature (published in 1983) won young adult fiction awards from the International Reading Association and PEN Center USA. The novels are about Ratha, a young female of the "the Named", a clan of sapient prehistoric big cats.
They have laws, languages, and traditions and live by herding the creatures they once hunted. Surrounding the Named are the more numerous non-sentient UnNamed, who prey on the clan’s herds. Mating between Named and UnNamed is forbidden, since the clan believes that the resulting young will be non-sentient animals.
Ratha breaks with the clan's tradition that herders are male - and discovers the use of fire, fundamentally changing the cats' society.

The series is set in the Miocene epoch, about 20 million years ago, and "all the animals that appear in the novels are based on fossil creatures, with some extrapolation." On Bell's web site, she talks about the fossils that inspired Ratha and her clan. Originally the cats were based on the leopard-like Nimravus, naming her species Nimravus illumina sapiens (recent research has suggested that Nimravus is not a true feline). She currently imagines "the Named" as Dinaelurus illumina sapiens, based on Dinaelurus crassus, a "cheetah precursor" discovered in the Jon Day Fossil Formation in Oregon. Bell has gone on to make a detailed sculpture recreation of a Dinaelurus head.

She has blogged about about more of the prehistoric creatures the animal characters in her novels are based on, including the "face-tails", "treelings", "seamares", "barking raiders", "bristlemanes" "blubber-tusker", and the character Shongshar. Of course the information isn't necessary to enjoy the stories, but I find it interesting to learn what the critters were based on.

Ratha's Creature and Clan Ground were reissued in 2007. The fifth novel in the series, Ratha's Courage, was published last October by E-Reads.

More about Ratha:


Image: Clare Bell's design for a sapient feloid
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