Character Inspiration: Part 2- Suzume
This is part two in the series about the inspiration behind the Dragon Saga. Each section can be read individually so if you missed part one, don’t worry.
Check out Part-one about Kaito and Dragons in Japanese Mythology.
I started writing the Priestess and the Dragon, the first book in the dragon saga, entirely for myself. I was in the middle of writing my Diviner’s Trilogy, but my brain had other ideas. The concept of reincarnation and the effect it would have on the love of an immortal and a mortal popped into my head one day at work. I wondered how it would work if one half of the pair lived on forever while the other died but could come back. I sat down to write the story in my head -which initially was heavily influenced by the anime InuYasha.
If you haven’t seen the anime, it is about a half-yokai who is trapped in an eternal sleep when he is betrayed by the woman he loves only to be freed by a teenage girl who travels through time in a magical well. And guess what, she’s the reincarnation of the woman who betrayed him. If you’re familiar with both InuYasha and the Priestess and the Dragon, you’ll see the similarities there. While my initial inspiration was about this love triangle between past life and new life, the story took a very drastic turn as I wrote it. I won’t say anymore here, you’re going to have to read the Priestess and the Dragon yourself. Today I’m talking about Japanese history, religion and how they influenced the creation of Suzume.
Part Two: Suzume
The first scene I ever wrote in the Priestess and the Dragon actually became a scene in chapter six. For those of you who haven’t memorized the book in it’s entirety, I’ll summarize the scene for you. When Suzume tells Kaito her name for the first time, he laughs because in Japanese Suzume means sparrow. And the opinionated and direct Suzume is nothing like a timid little bird. It was then that I realized not only who this character was but the dynamic between the two of them that makes this story such a pleasure to write.
Suzume’s personality is one of the most commented on parts of the Dragon Saga. Her tendency towards arrogance, selfishness and general complaining can be frustrating for some. But all of this was intentional. After writing that scene, I wanted to better understand why this character was like this. Why is she such a brat? I thought to myself. Today I’d like to give you a glimpse at Suzume’s background, that is mentioned in the books but not explored in full, until now.
The time period of Japan’s history that the Priestess and the Dragon is inspired by is the Heian Period(794AD–1185AD). This is one of the classic periods of Japan. It is characterized by the development of Japanese literature, art, and music. Up until now, their culture was heavily influenced by China. It was a a time of peace for Japan and a time when their society blossomed.
Official the imperial family ruled, but in reality the country was under the control of one very influential family. The Fujiwara clan a large and powerful family dynasty whose intermarriage of their daughters to generations of emperors gave them almost complete control over Japan of the time. This intermarriage between the royal family and branches of the Fujiwara clan went on for decades across multiple generations, until their fall near the end of the Heian period.
Through out the history of Japan it was not uncommon for emperors to have multiple wives, especially during the Heian period when a marital alliance meant greater influence and authority in the ruling of the country. It is interesting to note, there was only one empress, (most often a fujiwara daughter) but in addition to that, the emperor would marry other woman from other clans, taking these secondary wives as consorts.(aka second wife, third wife, etc.)
As I researched this period, I became fascinated with the power struggle of the Fujiwaras, I wondered what it would be like to be part of that family. As I mentioned before, the Priestess and the Dragon is loosely based on this time period and this family. But I like to think growing up in that sort of environment, you’d have to be a little selfish to survive.
In the Priestess and the Dragon, Suzume is the daughter of one of these consorts. Her mother, is the second wife of the emperor. Not the empress herself, her and her children were considered less than the emperor and empresses’ children. Suzume’s family life was not one of love and affection. Being born a female and therefore without a right to accession, her mother cared little for her. And focused on her little brother, who is her own full sibling.
If Suzume wanted to move up in the world, her only choice was to marry a powerful man, which is why she set her sights on the emperor’s general. Tsubaski Daiki. At the time the emperor was the ultimate authority, but he was surrounded by advisers. General Tsubaski, Suzume’s fiance, is the emperor’s military adviser, though during his lifetime he saw little actual battle, as the kingdom is a time of peace. But being from a good family, and without any other wives. He is an ideal match for a young princess looking to move up in rank.
During the Heian period, government ranking determined your status in life, how you were treated by your peers and how much money you could make. The higher your rank and the closer to the emperor, the better life is. Because of this, the world Suzume grew up in was cut throat. Everyone was jockeying for a better place. Like the time period it is modeled after.
Another part of Suzume’s character I cannot neglect to mention is her magical abilities. Obviously there is no history of magic in Japan. (Not that I could find anyway.) But the time period in which the story is based was steeped in spiritualism. There are countless stories of women who become host to the body of gods or Buddha and performed miracles. These sorts of tales can be seen through out Japanese history. I was very drawn to these tales of woman performing miraculous feats and I knew there was a story there.
While I researched, I also discovered a practice during the Heian period of sending princesses to serve as high priestess in temples. Which as you might have guessed, was the inspiration for Suzume’s exile in the Priestess and the Dragon. Unlike in the Dragon Saga, serving a priestess or Miko, was a sought after honor. Usual reserved for the daughters of the empress. These princesses often served a single year, during their time as priestess, they performed import religious ceremonies. Princesses were not the only ones to serve as miko. In ancient Japan, Miko cared for her temples and shrines scattered across Japan. These shrines were dedicated to a wide variety of local and larger deities. Miko’s played an important role in the leading of special festivals throughout the year, many which are still practiced today.
I could write an entire novel about the Fujiwaras, mikos, and the shinto religion. But for today, I will leave it here. I hope you enjoyed learning even just a little bit about these fascinating topics. If you’d like to hear more. Leave a comment.
And if you haven’t read The Priestess and the Dragon yet, you can get a free copy by signing up to my mailing list here.