I draw from world mythology to create demons and monsters in my stories. Zohak is such a demon. His myth begins deep in antiquity in the tales of the early Iranians. When we look at these myths, we have to be aware that there are many variants, and that a myth develops in time.
Zohak is the villain in the Fire Chronicles (Son of Fire, Trial by Fire, Burned Dreams, and Banner of Fire), as well as the Fire Demon Chronicles (not yet published.) His story is one pieced together from the Indo-European dragon mythology. Azhi means a dragon or dragon snake in Old Iranian. The dragon was often depicted as hoarding water in mountains, causing drought.
Azhidahaka (Dahaka is a shortening of his name, and Zohak is a later spelling) is a three-headed dragon in Iranian myth. I use Dahaka as the name for Zohak’s wizard father). This dragon tries to steal away the Royal xwarnah, (in later Persian Farr).
Azhi Dahaka’s myth tells about how he ruled after the first king, Yima (Jamshid). He rules for 1,000 years, during which time he experiments with breeding half human, half demon creatures, and works sorcery of all sorts.
He is finally chained in Mount Damavand until the end of the cycle, when he will break out and terrorize the world, eating a full third of humans and animals in existence.
In the Fire Chronicles, I combine these motifs. Dahaka, the evil wizard brother of the Firestarter Anacharsis, wants glory and kingship, but he doesn’t have the power to overcome his brother. He steals Anacharsis’ love, Queen Cunaxa the Pure, and produces a son, Zohak. Anacharsis later has a son by Cunaxa, Atar, who is destined to be the next Firestarter and king of the Seven Kingdoms. Throughout the books, a giant boar with golden hooves and tusks follows Atar, whose name means fire. This boar represents the royal Farr, or power of kingship granted by the gods, in Persian myth.
Zohak covets power and longs to gain the throne, but finally, he does so only by selling his soul, unwittingly, to the demons. In one Persian myth, Zohak is an Arab who has as a mentor the Devil Iblis. Zohak starts out as a good son, but he has an evil seed in his heart. Iblis appears to him as a lovely boy who steals his heart. Zohak is irritated with his father, Merdas, who has a generous heart, and gives too much to the poor. Iblis councils him to kill his father, but Zohak can’t stand the thought of it. Iblis does it for him by digging a hole in a garden path Merdas takes in the predawn hours to pray in his garden. When the poor man falls in, evil Iblis buries him alive.
Now when Zohak goes to Iran and conquers the region, Iblis appears again in a different guise, as a comely young cook. He corrupts Zohak further. Zohak does not eat animals, for at this time, people were more civil. First Iblis introduces eggs into his diet, then meats of all sorts until Zohak is hopelessly hooked. Zohak is most pleased and offers Iblis a boon. Iblis asks only that he be allowed to kiss Zohak’s bare shoulders.
When he does so, a horrific snake-dragon breaks through each shoulder. They demand the brains of innocent humans as food. So, Zohak goes from being ambitious, to being a monster himself. Eventually, the only way to stop him is to chain him up in a cave in Mount Damavand, where he still lives today, waiting to be released.
The Fire Chronicles follow Zohak as he goes from being a jealous brother to a demi-demon who can’t be killed. He is a tragic figure, because he is tricked by the Devil, but only because he has the seed of evil in his heart.