Some thoughts on the biology of the Athanor

“When we were in college, Kathy Curran, the author of the following piece, and I would often sit and pull to pieces the elements of novels we’d both read. Usually, we reserved this treatment for books we really liked, such as Roger Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber, in which we noticed that various Amberites didn’t always have the same relationship to each other from book to book. Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover Universe came in for examination, as I recall, as did Ann McCaffery’s Pern. However, though I’ve been publishing novels since 1994, this is the first time Kathy’s incisive wit and wisdom has gone to work on one of the universes I’ve created. As you may guess, she holds a PhD in biology and here brings her odd creativity to working out the mystery of just how the Athanor came to be. I was amused. I hope you will be, too.”
–Jane Lindskold


Some thoughts on the biology of the Athanor
Kathleen L. Curran

All life on our planet is comprised of cells containing DNA, the basis of the genetic code. Our genes are a blueprint for how we are constructed, and they influence our development and behavior. All living things adapt, and all living things evolve.  Athanor, being alive, must also have evolved, and must also be constrained by their genes.

There are both animal and human form Athanor. One trait that they all share is immortality. They do not age, and they only die by violence or accident.

Immortality is not a trait that would be promoted by natural selection. Athanor parent would soon compete with their own immortal descendants for resources; such as food, mates, and nesting sites. They would also be unable to cope with shifting environments. There would be major die-offs during ice ages and similar upheavals.

As a dominant trait, immortality would soon be weeded out, but as a recessive it could persist in a population. A small number of Athanor individuals in any given population would be possible. The fact that some Athanor have normal parents is further evidence that the immortality is a recessive trait. This also would explain why Athanor may have non-Athanor children. Both parents would have to carry the trait.

The mutation that would have added the immortality trait to the population would have to be very old. There are avian, mammalian, and draconic Athanor. It is extremely unlikely that any mutation would occur independently in all three lines. It is far more likely that the immortality mutation would have occurred long ago, prior to the time that mammals and birds diverged from their reptilian ancestors.

However, we also need to consider the Changer and Duppy Jonah. Both are immortal shape-shifters who arose even before the reptiles. Again, it is improbable that they would have both simultaneously developed the same trait. The most likely scenario is that the Changer and/or Duppy Jonah are the progenitors of all Athanor. They call each other “brother.” They have similar abilities. It is probable that they are actual siblings.

A mutation could have arisen in their parents. Duppy Jonah filled the sea with his get. The Changer moved onto land and has demonstrated a predilection for mating with a variety of creatures and producing offspring. This would have spread theimmortality trait throughout the animal kingdom. The long-lived Athanor would be descended from the Changer or Duppy Jonah on both sides of their family tree.

Take the coyote Shahrazad, for example. The Changer lived as a coyote for fifty years in roughly the same area. Over time he fathered countless pups. Shahrazad’s mother may have been descended from the Changer, too. Shahrazad could have inherited the immortality gene(s) from both parents.

          This hypothesis is supported by the Harmony Dance. All Athanor have an inborn response to the dance. Even though the music is magical, only Athanor are affected. It is almost like a reflex since even babies (like Shahrazad) join in the first time they are exposed to it. Reflexes are controlled by genes. For all Athanor– human, animal, and other — to respond in this way to the dance they must share a common ancestry.

There are several traits that are also exhibited only by Athanor, but not all Athanor have them. Shape-shifting and magical talent come to mind. Since not all Athanor share these traits they must be inherited separately from immortality. The shape-shifting ability that occurs sporadically through the Athanor may also be due to the Changer.

[Duppy Jonah is also a shape-shifter, but does not seem to possess the ability to the same degree as the Changer. J.L.]

However, since there are no shape-shifters among the non-Athanor this gene may only be expressed when the immortality gene is present. Non-Athanor descendants of the Changer may carry the gene for shape-shifting, but it is never activated. I do not have sufficient information to determine if shape-shifting would be a dominant or recessive trait.

Magical ability appears to occur in two forms. Some beings are innately magical while others appear to have gained or strengthened their abilities through study. The innate magic can be exhibited by otherwise mundane mammals (i.e. the cats of Egypt, Shahrazad) and birds (the Raven of Enderby), as well as by the now extinct dragons.

Again, there must be an ancient origin for this trait since it is so widespread. In all probability it is recessive since the Changer, who has not exhibited any potential for magic, sired Shahrazad. Duppy Jonah can affect the sea. He may be the origin of this innate magic. It would involve another mutation, but who knows what chemicals he has exposed himself to over his long life? Duppy Jonah and his descendants have spent time on land. After several millennia it would be safe to say that this trait could have become quite widespread.

Learned magic may not be exclusive to the Athanor since many have had human adepts. A normal human life-span may simply not be long enough to acquire a vast range of skills. It is possible that innate magic can be found in non-Athanor as well. Perhaps those individuals who claim to possess psychic abilities are actually magical.

The barrenness exhibited by several of the Athanor could be due to a number of factors. Some Athanor may simply be infertile due to chance mistakes that occurred during their own development, just as certain humans are. In some cases it may be that the females come into season every couple of centuries. It is also possible that in some species a high incidence of inbreeding has led to a build-up of lethal recessive genes so embryos are simply not surviving.

In the human-form Athanor it seems to be the first instance. The majority of human-form Athanor do have offspring, though usually not Athanor off-spring. For the nonhuman-form like sasquatch and kappa, the latter explanations are more likely. Unlike humans, all members of these species are Athanor so there would be intense selective pressure on the females to avoid competing with their own offspring. Also, since these species are small and getting smaller, they cannot escape chronic in-breeding.

It appears that there are several Athanor “hot spots,” areas where there are unusually high numbers of Athanor. Europe, and especially the Mediterranean basin, is one of them. The Olympians, Gilgamesh and Enkidu, Isidore, Cleonice’s father, and Louhi all arose within that relatively small area, while in vast China Jonathan Wong and Alice Chui were the only Athanor. Although the previous part of this statement seems valid, there is insufficient evidence to support the latter portion.

[Indeed, some of Vera’s history raises an alternative explanation. J.L.]

Apparently, if human-form Athanor congregate in an area for several centuries it can lead to a human-form Athanor population explosion. That may be something upon which to reflect.