Firebird fairytales can be found all over the world but there was something about the Russian Prince Yvan’s tale that I was particularly drawn to. Prince Yvan is the youngest of three brothers and being the younger sibling I know what it is like to be in the position of not being able to what the older kids are doing because I am ‘too young.’ As a typical younger sibling though Yvan has a thing or two to prove. I love his tenacity to get the job done even with the dubious help of the wolf. Death at the hands of his brothers couldn’t stop him and he still sees them made into servants by the end of the tale. I really wanted to keep that tenacity in my Yvan, he is the cool headed one of the group even when he’s angry, and that’s important in a Hero.
One of the few things I changed in the story was to have Koschei the Deathless in disguise as the wolf. Koschei can be quite ambiguous and villainous in Russian tales and is a lot like Baba Yaga in that he has power over the elements, he can either help the hero or damn him (or just steal his wife). Originally I had Koshcei play a much larger role, it was he instead of Tuoni that gave Anya the firebirds egg. As I wrote on and various plots unravelled (sorry no spoilers) I knew that I had been writing Tuoni and not Koschei all along. He was good to keep in Yvan’s back story still but it was what happened after the events of “Prince Yvan and the Grey Wolf” that I was particularly interested in.
What would you do with an impossibly magical creature when you had no magic of your own? Surely people would come for it, wanting it and its power for their own. Apart from being lazy murderers in the original tale, Yvan’s brothers are shadowy, unknowable characters. For antagonists not a lot is said about them. This allowed me to really make Vasilli my own creature. The firebirds power would be so tempting to a dark magic using middle child with a huge chip on his shoulders and secret plans of his own. Of course he wasn’t going to settle for not getting what he wanted and would be eager on revenge.
Yvan is the fairytale prince in my story but I didn’t want him to be the stereotypical dream boat or immediate love interest. He has to earn his often trying friendship with Anya, being her champion even if he’s angry or frustrated with her and without any obvious reward for his trouble. To me being a Hero doesn’t mean only being there when there is a battle to fight, but being there for the everyday dramas as well.
The firebird was interesting to write as it not only gives Yvan magical abilities he didn’t have before by also created a duality to his character. Often times the firebird will give voice to what Yvan doesn’t want to think about, or worse the things he actually thinks but never says. They are stuck together against their will, remade as one and inseparable. It is something they are forced to get use to so they have a bickering sibling type relationship.
Prince Yvan was one of the most enjoyable characters for me to write, to use this relatively obscure fairy tale prince and make him my own was such a pleasure. Some characters will start jumping up and down shouting “look at me! Listen to me! This is who I am talk about me!” but Yvan sat there quietly and patiently and made me work for it every step of the way. I hope you enjoy him as much as I do.