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Number One Prehistoric Saga - Clan of the Cave Bear Introduces an Inspirational Heroine
Jean Auel's Clan of the Cave Bear is one of my all time favorite books. I must have read this book at least seven times.
It is the first book in the beloved series, Earth's Children.
Come with me as we explore why this book is so very good. Actually, it's so good, it started an entire genre much like Bram Stoker's Dracula did in horror.
The series has spanned over 30 years real time since the release of the first book and we still have more to go.
You would think they would make a movie.
They did. It was the biggest bomb ever made. One would think, having such stellar material to work with, it should have been a huge hit, but no.
A great story wasn't the only thing it had going for it. Daryl Hannah played the main character, Ayla.
This was back in the 80's when every guy in America was drooling over the long and lean, blonde bombshell that was Hannah.
The book was the bomb. The movie bit it hard.
How bad was the movie Clan of the Cave Bear?
Personally, I blame the time the movie was made.
In the beginning, Ayla becomes separated from humans. She's taken in by a clan of cave dwellers that are technically human, but an entirely different species. Sound confusing?
Not really. The story takes place in ancient pre-history. We're past the age of the dinosaurs, but Neanderthal man still roams the planet. Humans as we now know them were a relatively new species.
As a very small child, our heroine gets separated from her tribe. The "clan" that takes her in is not homo sapien. As such, they don't use language as man does. They do communicate and are smarter than we are, but it's a vastly different form of communication and intelligence.
The book that started the most amazing journey.
Imagine a child loosing everything, her family, her home, everything she has ever known. Welcome to page one. It just gets more gripping as you turn the pages.
The action never ends here. The situations are as real as it gets, the history rich and woven in such a way that it becomes tangible.
Side bar - Basic evolution of the human species.
(Not inclusive - Just for the most basic of illustration.)
Hominid (Lucy) Think roughly four million years ago. She was a furry little gal that stood about three feet tall.
Austrolopithicus Think of this guy as being a little taller, a little smarter, and having much better eyesight. He stood up straighter.
Homo Erectus Here we see again a little taller, the brain is enlarging, eye sight still improving.
Neanderthal To me, this guy is the most interesting. Some posit, and I think they may be on to something, that homo sapien sapien (us) is really not related to this guy at all.
You see, his brain was huge. There's a good bit of evidence to suggest he was much smarter than we, though it's not popular, kind of frowned upon by the establishment so it gets little play.
Homo Sapien Early man that looked much like we do today Think roughly thirty thousand years ago.
Homo Sapien Sapien The rocking, consuming, over spreading, most arrogant and destructive species on the planet, us.
A huge part of the story in the first book takes place in the minds of the characters.
There was just no way for that to translate on film. Further, when the movie was made, CGI did not exist. The effects are laughable. The acting just did not convey any of the real emotion so emitted from the book.
I don't blame the actors or even the director. I think it just was one of those things that film could not capture.
Much of the story concentrates on setting and how things worked.
This too is something that just did not translate to film. In our story, Ayla was always learning on the fast track. She had to or she would not have survived, literally.
No spoilers here.
Ayla's not the only one that learned.
I have learned so much from these books.
Not just stuff about pre-history, but I discovered so many things about the medicinal properties of various plants.
I've learned how to make things, how to harvest without wiping out the plants, how to make Willow bark tea, and many, many other things.
The book sparked such an interest in me about the time, I actually took a few archaeology classes as electives in collage because I wanted more.
To this day, I still use some of the advice given Ayla about testing plants for safety in my real life foraging about the woods just for kicks.
I can't tell you too much about the story without giving things away that you won't appreciate when you read it.
What I can tell you is that the tale is riveting.
The first time I read it, I didn't go to sleep for two days because I was not about to put it down.
The first page puts the reader in a life or death situation that just can't be ignored.
You're hooked like a fish and it never lets go.
My own collection of these books.
I've used this book for ulterior educational purposes many times.
How? As a hook. I read many a class the first chapter, but no more. I did that with several books in an effort to get teens to read. If they wanted to know what happened next, they had to read the book.
For that to work, you need one heck of an opening chapter. Clan of the Cave Bear worked. Students would beg me to know what happened to Ayla. Some actually read the book.
Honestly, most had a real hard time understanding some of the vocabulary but those that waded through it got the action, the story line and they loved it. More than one teenage girl has told me she cried when reading it.
I've had to fight back tears myself more than once and I know what happens.
Political undertones and ongoing themes of overcoming oppression and adversity.
Subtly woven into the story is an underlying commentary on modern man and how we have lost our relationship with Mother Earth, how we are our own worst enemy and destroy faster than create.
The first book takes the reader through a journey that explores themes still relevant today. Themes such as the power struggle between the sexes, discrimination, anthrocentrism, ethnocentrism, and the price one will pay for freedom are the foundations of this incredible journey through an ancient time.
Ayla is arguably the quintessential heroine.
I found this character to be one of the great female fictional inspirations of my life.
You know how some characters grab our hearts in books? Do you remember Charlotte and Wilbur from Charlotte's Web? What about Joe from Little Women?
Ayla is like them in that she is lovable off the scale.
The character is real, flawed, yet so very admirable at the same time. Auel keeps it real showing readers defeats and well as triumphs, innovations and exploration when the world was still new.
From beginning to end, or is it?
- In book one of the Earth's Children series, Clan of the Cave Bear, we meet Ayla at roughly five years of age. Upon closing the back cover, our dear girl is well into being a teenager. In such a short span of time, this remarkable character goes through more than most of us see in a lifetime. It's just the beginning.
- The Valley of the Horses takes Ayla into a new land. This heartbreaking book shows the brutality of survival against nature in a way reality shows only wish they could.
- Next, The Mammoth Hunters keeps our gal on the move. We begin to explore early social structures of human pre-civilization, meet new and exciting characters and continue our journey through time. Romance has entered our story now providing not only edge of your seat romantic drama but further showing how relationships and young love really hasn't changed that much.
- In The Plains of Passage, we're a couple now trying to make it home against glaciers, strange tribes, predators and the fury of an untamed land. For me, being a behavior science major, the groups met along the way are fascinating. Auel does strange customs so well. She does them accurately too just like everything else pouring tidbits of what is known historically and archaeologically into every scene.
Did I forget to mention this series is THE most well researched fictional work I have ever seen? It really is.
- Finally, our young lovers arrive. In The Shelters of Stone, we see how coming home is never what one expects. The conflicts just keep coming but are of a vastly different more social hierarchy type nature. Again, Auel is at her intellectual best here. Fascinating.
- The Land of the Painted Caves is the last book in the series, so far. Nothing ever ends here because that's the way life is. If you're above ground, the game is still on. This book continues to examine social structures in the most endearing and enlightening way but delves further into the more refined aspects of human civilization such as the division of labor, religion, music and art.
Poetry lovers will adore the later books. Jean has a poem that is literally pages long that tells a creation story. Powerful, earthy, an ode to the natural, this poem is one of the best I have ever read.
What comes next?
Who knows? Fans wait at our keyboards drooling for a release date for the next book. I wouldn't look for it too soon. Auel is known for taking years between installments. It's more than worth the wait.
For lovers of ancient history, adventure, nature, culture and just anyone looking for an epic tale of a young girl that can never be forgotten, give the Earth's Children series a read. It's going to take a little time. Jean can be a deep wade at times but you will never regret it.
Jean Auel talks to Chris Stringer from the Natural History Museum
Clan of the Cave Bear is the best selling series of its kind, ever. That says something. Many an author has tried to tackle this genre since Jean virtually created it. Some are good, but none can compete at her level.
The first four books of the Earth's Children series.
The first four installments of the greatest historical, prehistory saga ever penned are together here.
Ayla is a character one just can't help but love. The constant struggle of this child is one of the most powerfully moving tales I have ever read.
She's a shining example of determination, courage and committment.
Just as good, reading these books is like a really fun free education in anthropology and world pre-history. It's not just a read. It's an experience.
© 2014 Rhonda Lytle