The Clan of the Cave Bear

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The Clan of the Cave Bear
Jean Auel

Author Biography
Plot Summary
Historical Context
Critical Overview
For Further Study


The Clan of the Cave Bear was initially met with reluctance by publishers when Jean Auel approached them with her plan for a series of novels set in prehistoric times. Although meticulously researched, the sheer length of the original manuscript made many publishers unwilling to take the risk on the untried author. Indeed The Clan of the Cave Bear is one of those novels that is either loved or hated.

The story concerns a young girl named Ayla who is orphaned by a natural disaster and then adopted by a group known as the Clan. Ayla is very different from the Clan: physically, she is blond and blue-eyed and the people in the Clan are stocky and dark; she is expressive, sensitive, and smart and they are dour, plodding, and cold. Historians and anthropologists immediately reacted to Auel's book, maintaining that her assumptions about Neanderthal life were not realistic. In fact, Auel seems to be basing her view of the Neanderthal on the racially motivated "bad" science of late nineteenth-century French anthropology. It is precisely this "bad" science and overt racism that has prompted many anthropologists to denounce the novel.

However, the reading public truly seems to enjoy the novel that sold over one hundred thousand copies in the first three months after its publication. The Clan of the Cave Bear is an original work of fiction that explores the world of human beings in prehistoric times. Her novel has even inspired fans to write sequels about the Clan available on the World Wide Web (

Author Biography

Jean Auel was born in Chicago on February 18, 1936. She moved to Oregon and attended Portland State University, receiving her M.A. from the University of Portland in 1976. It was not until after she had raised five children that she began to write poetry and fiction. In fact, The Clan of the Cave Bear started as a short story exploring Auel's interest in Paleolithic humans. As Auel asserts, "the story lead to research, the research fired my imagination, and the wealth of material made me decide to write a novel." The original manuscript was almost one half-million words long and was rejected by several publishers.

In the mid-1970s, Auel began revising her mammoth manuscript. She rewrote The Clan of the Cave Bear four times. Finally, in 1978, she found a publisher willing to devote the time and resources to publishing the series. The novel was finally published in 1980. Over the following twenty-two years, she published three more novels in the series: The Valley of the Horses (1982), The Mammoth Hunters (1985), and The Plains of Passage (1990).

Although she continues to work on the Earth's Children Series, Auel admits that she wants to tackle something lighter next time. She currently lives in Oregon with her husband.

Plot Summary

Part I

Jean Auel's The Clan of the Cave Bear chronicles the story of a prehistoric girl, named Ayla. As the novel opens, Ayla is a young child when her parents are killed in a violent earthquake. She wanders aimlessly for days, starving and alone. In her delirium of hunger, Ayla wanders into a valley that is home to massive cave lions. She survives a lion attack by hiding in a rock crevice, but a lion is able to scratch her left thigh. Ayla's thirst finally drives her from her hiding place and she is found by the Clan woman, Iza. The woman rescues the child.

Iza belongs to the Clan, a group of humans that are looking for a place to live after the earthquake had destroyed their home too. Brun, the leader, is worried that the spirits are angry with him. After several weeks, Brun decides that they should turn back. Just before he makes this announcement, Iza tells him that Ayla has found a home for the group. The new cave is large and convenient in terms of water, weather, and food sources.

Brun decides to let the oldest son of his mate, Broud, join in the hunt for the first time. The successful hunt allows Broud to become a man and allows the Clan to move into the cave. However, Broud must share his coming-of-age ceremony with naming ceremonies for the two Clan infants and Ayla. He is resentful of her presence right away, foreshadowing later problems.

At the ceremony, Iza's brother, Creb, names her as if she were a normal Clan child. Iza is stunned, because this means that Ayla is her daughter. However, Creb goes even further: for her totem, Creb names the Cave Lion one of the most powerful male totems known to the Clan. The people are shocked by the adoption and floored by the totem. Ayla has become Clan and it is Creb's and Iza's responsibility to train her to be a good Clan woman.

Part II

After the disastrous Cave ceremony, life begins to settle down for the Clan. With great difficulty, Ayla learns to speak in the Clan hand gestures and stops making most sounds. Besides communication, Ayla has other problems. She stares into the hearth areas of other families and at men (strictly forbidden). She runs and does not show the proper fear of men, especially Broud. Creb and Iza are very concerned about Ayla's future with the Clan. Ayla slowly begins to understand the ways of her new people—but she is still the outsider, the strange one.

Iza gives birth to a daughter named Uba. Since Uba was not a boy, Iza could stay at her brother's hearth and raise her two girls. Ayla loves her little sister; always treated as an outsider, now she has a companion and friend. As she grows, she develops an interest in healing from her mother. This causes some concern at first, but the Clan soon accepts Ayla's strange healing nature.

While out gathering wild cherry bark one day, Ayla watches the men practice hunting. An old hunter is trying to teach a young boy how to hunt with a sling, a difficult task for Clan men since they cannot fully rotate their arms. In fact, Broud cannot work the slingshot well, which pleases Ayla. After the men abandon the practice area Ayla goes and picks up the discarded sling. Slowly, she teaches herself how to use the weapon and she develops an excellent shot.

Once when she is not as attentive as she should have been, Broud beats her to a bloody pulp. He is punished and, for a time, Ayla becomes more arrogant and disrespectful. When she realizes that the Clan was going to let Broud beat her when they felt she needed it, Ayla's fear turns to rage and she kills a porcupine. In that moment, Ayla feels power and regret. Ayla becomes determined to behave in proper Clan manner. All through that winter she works as hard as she can to be the ideal Clan woman. After the winter, Ayla decides to hunt predators, since she could not help her Clan any other way. She even develops a double-loading system for the sling that makes her a much more deadly hunter.

Part III

By the time Ayla is nine years old, she has become accepted by many members of the Clan as a medicine woman in training and as a good luck charm. Ayla's role in helping her people grows with each major event. First, she heals Brun's burned arm with snow, an action Iza would not have thought of. Second, she saves Ona from drowning when the Clan is out catching sturgeon.

Yet her most impressive act is when she saves Braec, Broud's son, from a hyena during the mammoth hunt. Without even realizing what she has done, Ayla kills the hyena with a quick fire from her sling. She kills the animal before Broud and the other hunters can even react. For saving Braec's life, Ayla is condemned to death for one month. Ayla's death sentence forces Creb and Iza to destroy all of her possessions and she is traumatized. For several days she really believes that she is dead, but she clings to Brun's words that she can return in a month. Ayla makes sure she will survive to return.

After she returns from the dead, Ayla's status in the Clan is even higher. Broud cannot stand that Ayla has yet again stolen the spotlight from him. She is even allowed to hunt, much to Broud's displeasure. This is when he decides to start sexually assaulting her. Within Clan culture, Ayla cannot refuse any Clan male; Broud's delight in her hatred and disgust for what he is doing to her only fuels his desire more. She has overcome everything else about him, but her unwilling consent to his sexual assaults only makes them more frequent. Only when she discovers that she is going to have a baby does Ayla become ambivalent to him. He soon stops assaulting her after that.

Ayla's son, Durc, is born after a difficult pregnancy and birth. When the Clan thinks her baby is deformed, she takes her baby and flees. If a baby lives for seven days, then it must be accepted as Clan. Brun does not want a woman to force him to do anything and will kill Ayla and her child when she returns. Ayla finally realizes this and returns early, begging Brun for his forgiveness and mercy on her child. Brun forgives and life returns to normal as the Clan prepares to go to the Great Clan Gathering.

Part IV

The last section of The Clan of the Cave Bear describes the Great Clan Meeting and its aftermath. Once every seven years all the Clans in the area get together for a grand festival where they kill a captive Cave Bear raised by the host Clan from a cub as way of communing with the Great Bear Spirit. At these meetings the medicine women of Iza's line prepare a special narcotic drink for the Mog-urs and the other men. However, Iza is too ill to make the journey and the other Clans do not accept Ayla as a woman of Iza's line. It is not until she risks her life to save a young warrior wounded by the angry Cave Bear that the Clans accept her.

She prepares the drink, but accidentally swallows some. The narcotic effects cause Ayla to wander into the cave and observe the men's cere-monies. Particularly damaging is that Ayla, a woman, becomes a witness to the most sacred of all Clan ceremonies. She watches in horror as the Mog-urs eat the brains of the warrior slain by the Cave Bear earlier that night. Creb recognizes her presence and realizes that all the old ways are at an end.

When the Clan returns to the cave, they discover Iza on the verge of death. Ayla frantically tries to save her, but she is too late. At the age of twenty-nine, Iza dies an old woman and is buried inside the cave with the highest Clan honors.

Brun and Creb decide that they are both too old for their jobs and pass them on to a new generation with disastrous consequences. Broud agrees to take Ayla as his second woman, but will not let her keep her son. The Clan is shocked. He then insists that Creb move his hearth to a much colder, windier place in the cave. Although Ayla was able to suppress most of her anger at being separated from her child, she will not let Broud punish Creb. She verbally attacks him and defies his orders. Broud reacts in characteristic anger and orders the new Mog-ur, Groov, to curse Ayla with death. Groov hesitates, but complies.

At that moment the earth begins to shake much like it did at the beginning of the novel. Ayla is cursed and the cave is destroyed. Creb is found dead lying over Iza's grave. Ayla slowly and calmly packs her belongings to leave forever after she has Brun's and Uba's promises to take care of Durc. Ayla's last act is to force Broud to acknowledge her presence even though she is dead. Ayla leaves the Clan.



The Clan of the Cave Bear chronicles the early life of Ayla. As a young Cro-Magnon girl, Ayla's parents are killed in an earthquake at the beginning of the novel when she was just five years of age. She is rescued by Iza, the Clan's medicine woman, and she is brought into the Clan. However, Ayla is uncomfortable with the rules and customs of her adopted people and she makes a series of costly mistakes that eventually lead to her exile.

Ayla is adopted by The Clan and trained by Iza to be a medicine woman. This is difficult for Ayla, but she has a quick mind and a natural curiosity. She teaches herself to hunt with a sling (hunting is forbidden to Clan women) and only hunts predators since she could not bring her kills back to the cave. When she saves the life of Broud's child on the mammoth hunt, she is cursed with death for a month. Ayla survives this exile and earns the respect of The Clan. Her return confirms to Iza, Creb, and Brun that she is protected by her Cave Lion totem and is lucky for the Clan. However, her accomplishment only increases Broud's irrational hatred for her. At the end, Ayla is exiled from the Clan, but she leaves in peace because she knows that she doesn't belong there.


Broud is the son of Brun's mate, Ebe, and is therefore destined to become the next leader of The Clan. He is also shallow, vain, egotistical, impatient, and illogical. Yet he is a brilliant dancer, a fearless hunter, and a great storyteller. His resentment of Ayla begins early on, and grows stronger as they grow up; he resents her strength, resourcefulness, and the fact that she does not respect him. His obsessive anger toward Ayla is the driving force of the novel; he progresses from verbal abuse to physical beatings and finally to sexual assault. It is only when Ayla discovers that she is pregnant and no longer cares if Broud "relieves his needs" that his daily rapings of her stop.

Media Adaptations

  • The Clan of the Cave Bear was made into a feature film directed by Michael Chapman, scripted by John Sayles, and starring Pamela Reed as Iza and Daryl Hannah as Ayla in 1986. The film was a popular and critical failure.

After he becomes leader he is even more tyrannical with Ayla. Since she has no mate, Broud agrees to take her as his second mate, but will not allow her to keep her son. He also insists that Creb leave his comfortable place in the cave to a colder, more exposed area. Ayla attacks him and he curses her with death. At that moment, an earthquake destroys the cave and The Clan must wander once more.


Brun is the leader of The Clan. He is a very traditional ruler and does not like to upset the old ways. However, he is very concerned about doing whatever is necessary to help his people survive. His only blind spot is for Broud. He knows that Broud is a vain, selfish boy—but Brun cannot bring himself to break the tradition of giving power to the son of his mate. However, he does realize the mistake he has made after Broud has sentenced Ayla to permanent death. By the end of the novel Brun is the only "old" one left.


Creb (also known as The Mog-Ur) is a great holy man and a respected member of the Clan. He is the brother of Brun and Iza. Born deformed, Creb was later horribly scarred in an attack by a cave bear. This attack cost him his right eye and heightened his ability to speak to and interpret the sayings of the "spirits": the supernatural entities that The Clan believed surrounded them. Creb's birth defect prevented him from hunting, and so kept him from being a real man in the eyes of his people. He agrees to train Ayla as a good Clan woman once his sister, Iza, has adopted her. He also finds Ayla intriguing because she does not look at him in fear and disgust, but trust and love. Creb feels deeply wounded whenever Ayla is unable or unwilling to conform to the Clan ways.

Creb is not just the holy man of his particular group; he is The Mog-ur, the holiest and most powerful holy man among all the clans of his species. He believes that his species has reached the height of their evolution and will soon die out. He realizes that Ayla's half-breed son, Durc, will be the salvation of his people and their kind. Creb also shows touching devotion to Iza and finally dies during the second earthquake on top of her grave.


Durc is Ayla's son. Born when his mother was only eleven years of age, he is half Neanderthal and half Cro-Magnon. The Clan decides that he is deformed and must die, but Ayla forces the Clan to accept him by hiding for seven days. Creb realizes that Durc is the future of the Clan people and during Iza's final illness, he becomes the child of the entire Clan.


Iza is Ayla's adopted mother and the sister of both Creb and Brun. She is also the greatest medicine woman of the entire species, her status being handed down in an unbroken chain from mother to daughter for countless generations. It is Iza who discovers a starved, scared, half-dead, five year-old Ayla and nurses her back to health. She also decides to train Ayla as a medicine woman. After the earthquake that kills her mate, Iza sets up a hearth with her brother, Creb, and raises Ayla and her biological daughter, Uba, as sisters. Her final illness and death devastate Ayla.

The Mog-ur

See Creb


Uba is Iza's biological daughter and Ayla's adopted sister. She and Ayla are devoted to each other and she silently agrees to raise Durc when Ayla is cursed with death at the end of the novel.


Nature versus Nurture

One of the most prevalent themes in The Clan of the Cave Bear is the idea of "nature versus nurture"; in other words, is the way one behaves more controlled by genetics or environment? Auel insists that The Clan survives only by following the traditional rules and gender roles to the point where they have become incapable of change and cannot adapt to new situations. For example, Clan women do not hunt simply because women do not hunt: they do not want to hunt. She also describes the Clan woman as naturally submissive and physically unable to learn new things.

Ayla's presence forces the Clan to question their society and their traditions. Ayla seems driven to rebel against the Clan's traditions because she cannot logically understand them. Although she behaves as a model Clan woman, there is a bounce to her step and a refusal to bend her will to the patriarchal culture. Although the Clan punishes her for her transgressions, other Clan women see that a female can hunt, heal, and can stand up to abuse and exploitation. Therefore, because she represents such a danger to the patriarchal Clan structure, she is exiled at the end of the novel.

Individual and Society

Ayla's inability to assimilate into Clan society exposes another of Auel's themes: what happens to the wants and desires of the individual when those wants and desires clash with the needs of the indi-vidual's society? Ayla wants love from Creb and Iza and acceptance from the Clan, yet her individual needs to be free, to think, to experience life, and to wander alone are incompatible with the Clan's need to control all of its members for the good of the community. Ayla is beaten, raped, and cursed because she puts her own feelings and the needs of the individuals in her life above the needs of the community for order and harmony.

Auel is directly criticizing contemporary American society which, on the one hand, champions the rights of the individual and yet culturally teaches citizens to be obedient and law-abiding. This conflict between the individual and societal needs is clearly defined by the character of Broud. Broud is driven by revenge and does not think about the good of his community or the individuals that make up that community. In the end, he drives out a gifted medicine woman and brings down the retribution of the spirits who destroy the cave, killing Creb and forcing Broud's people to become wanderers again.

Cultural Stagnation Equals Extinction

Arguably the most problematic part of Auel's novel is her creation of Neanderthal culture. Most anthropologists would argue that Auel's science is weak and inaccurate. There is no scientific evidence that the Neanderthal were bowlegged, that they did not have a full range of motion in their arms, or that they could not speak, cry, or laugh. These are all ideas that Auel created out of thin air. She then uses these reasons to explain why the Neanderthal died out. She suggests that cultural stag-nation—the inability of a people to change and adapt—leads to extinction. Auel's narrator insists that the Clan cannot learn anything new because their brains would then have to get bigger, making childbirth more dangerous. She also suggests that because the Clan people cannot share domestic tasks or develop new inventions or new ways of hunting their society will die.

This is Auel's perception of American culture in the mid-1970s. Failed economic plans, social agendas, and cultural ideology that refused to change had led the country into double-digit inflation and record high unemployment. Using the Clan as a metaphor, Auel is maintaining that American society must be flexible and welcome new influences in order to survive and prosper in the future.

Problems with Patriarchy

For many readers, the strict gender roles of the Clan are puzzling and offensive. Writing at the height of the feminist movement, Auel explores the problems associated with a male-dominated culture. Patriarchy leads to a host of social and political problems in any society and it is these problems that Auel wants to expose through her fiction. For example, the Clan women have no rights, no say in the power structure, and must be completely subservient to men in all ways.

Topics for Further Study

  • Research the anthropological and archeological evidence about the origins and the extinction of the Neanderthals and compare the scientific evidence with the way Auel portrays the Clan's physical and cultural appearance. Is Auel's portrayal accurate?
  • After investigating different kinds of religious ceremonies, including ritual cannibalism and Native-American ceremonies, compare these religions to those Auel describes in her novels.
  • Using contemporary feminist literary theory, discuss Ayla as a feminist heroine.
  • Auel provides a considerable amount of technical material in The Clan of the Cave Bear about flint-knapping, arrowhead making, medicinal plants, and leather tanning. After trying out Auel's directions, describe the experience. Were the directions easy and accurate?

Broud epitomizes the dangers of a patriarchal culture. He is so out of control that he beats Ayla almost to death and brutally rapes her on a daily basis for months afterwards. The physical and sexual violence that permeates the Clan social structure contribute as much to their extinction as does their cultural stagnation. In a bizarre twist, Auel makes the two truly good men—Creb and his trainee—Groov, sterile. Broud has three sons and a daughter by the end of the novel. However, the extremes of patriarchal culture eventually leads to the destruction of the cave and the displacing of Broud's people.


Point of View

The Clan of the Cave Bear uses a third-person, omniscient narrator to explain Ayla's difficulties in assimilating into her adopted culture. The readers know exactly what is going to happen before the characters do. Because Broud's jealous feelings and Ayla's bewildered compliance are clearly drawn by the narrator, Ayla's exile from the Clan is inevitable from the moment she received her totem and stole Broud's thunder. The narration is so heavy-handed and thorough that it drains the novel of any dramatic irony or suspense. This point of view also allows Auel to develop fully her fictional ideas about Clan culture and to overload the reader with information on flint-knapping, medicinal plants, and hunting techniques. The narrator often intrudes into the novel with sociological tangents on why the Neanderthal people died out.


Auel uses symbolism in two major ways: the spirit/totem world and traditional epic conventions. The Clan worships a collection of invisible spirits who inhabit the natural world and can cause illness, death, and bad luck if they are angered or ignored. These spirits generally take the form of totems or animal guides. Each Clan member is given a totem at his/her naming ceremony; the symbol for these totems are painted onto the infant's skin with a paste made of powdered red stone and bear fat. Later, when a boy becomes a man, the symbol of his totem is carved into his chest with a sharp stone knife. When women find mates, their man's totem symbols are painted over their own in a yellow paste. This process obviously symbolizes the dominance of the male over the female and the subsequent loss of identity of the female in the mating process.

In addition to the idea of totems and spirits, Auel also uses more traditional literary symbols from Biblical and epic literature. Ayla represents many different literary types. Not only is she the Eve figure whose actions, according to Broud and Creb, would cause the end of the Clan, she is also a Virgin Mary figure who gives birth to the savior of the Clan, i.e. Durc. Compounded with this image is the image of Christ returning from the dead and being forever changed. When Ayla returns from her one-month death sentence, she becomes "She Who Hunts." Like the great epic heroes Achilles, Beowulf, and Ulysses, Ayla represents the only force that can save the Clan—but only through her self-sacrifice and exile. Auel cleverly combines these images to give her fiction depth and meaning.


Auel has stated in several interviews that she started writing about prehistoric peoples because it was a place and time that did not get much literary attention. Her story is set on the shores of the Black Sea roughly 25,000 years ago. However, she is forced to describe plants, animals, and land formations as they are currently known so that readers would have some idea what she is talking about. Many of the plants that she describes in meticulous detail are modern and there is no physical evidence that they existed then.

The harsh realities of the time provide much of the novel's energy. The need for community, safety, and traditions are essential for survival, so Ayla's behavior threatens the Clan in ways that a modern heroine could not. At the same time, Ayla's ability to innovate and adapt shows that humans are still evolving. Most of Ayla's inventions and discoveries are only significant because no one has ever thought of them before.

Ancient Science Fiction

No one can read Auel's novel without being amazed at her copious and thorough research. However, Auel's information is not always accurate and the line between the physical evidence and her own creations is blurred. Auel does a remarkable job of incorporating some anthropological evidence and should be credited with sparking people's interest in prehistoric peoples. However, she has a tendency to "core dump": when an author goes into vivid detail of some scientific or technical operation that has little or nothing to do with plot or character development. Most of Auel's descriptions of flint-knapping, medicine production, plant gathering, and butchering of game does not have any real relevance to the novel as a whole. Although The Clan of the Cave Bear does not fit the usual description of science fiction, Auel's use of modern plants, her blurring of fact and theory, and her tendency to core-dump show that the novel bears all the usual traits of a first-time science fiction novel.

Historical Context

What Happened to the Neanderthals

Perhaps the people most frustrated with the commercial success of The Clan of the Cave Bearare anthropologists and archaeologists. The problems revolve around Auel's physical descriptions of the Clan—whom she never calls Neanderthals—and her wholesale creation of their culture. While the theories surrounding the disappearance of Neanderthal peoples from Europe and Asia are still the subject of much scholarly debate, the vast majority of anthropologists and archaeologists agree (and agreed even at the time Auel was doing her research for the novel) that there was not an exaggerated physical difference between Neanderthal and modern humans.

William Straus and A. J. E. Cave stated in 1957 that "If [Neanderthal Man] could be reincarnated and placed in a New York subway—provided that he were bathed, shaved, and dressed in modern clothing—it is doubtful whether he would attract any more attention" than anyone else. In fact, the image of a hairy, bent-over, brutal race of cave dwellers is more a creation of Hollywood and a few nineteenth-century French anthropologists than any modern science.

For example, Auel describes the Clan as having bowed legs and arms, brown shaggy hair, and dark eyes. Quite a number of Neanderthal skeletons have been found and only a few have the bowed limbs as Auel described them, suggesting that this was a vitamin deficiency (rickets) rather than something common to the species. She also suggests that Clan members are old by the time they are thirty years of age, yet the majority of Neanderthal adult skeletons are adults in their fifties and sixties. Auel buys into Hollywood and the racist stereotypes when she portrays the Clan as a dark-haired, dark-eyed people—when there is no physical evidence for either their hair or eye color. The same goes for their inability to laugh, cry, or speak.

Cultural Problems

However problematic her science is, Auel's real problems with anthropologists and social scientists come from her fabrication of Neanderthal culture. The problem is not that she creates a culture for these people, but that she does not make it clear where fact ends and her theories begin. Cultural anthropologists particularly object to the brutal nature of the Clan—especially since there is no evidence for it. They also object to the almost absurd theory that the Neanderthal race died out because their brains were wired to remember the past rather than plan for the future. The reason for the criticism is that while Auel does not claim that her fiction is true, it is usually the only exposure most people have to prehistoric peoples and so her distortion of scientific evidence and wholesale fabrication leaves many scientists cold. While most critics will admit that she did a considerable amount of research, many anthropologists and archeologists would argue that her research is shoddy and culturally biased.

Racial Issues

Many people find the overt racism in The Clan of the Cave Bear unsettling. The Clan, comprised of Neanderthals, is described as primitive, dark, and without the ability to laugh or to cry. The Others—comprised of Cro-Magnon, the modern humans—as characterized by Ayla, are blond, blue-eyed, white-skinned, and beautiful. Even though the Clan thinks Ayla is ugly, the narrator lets the readers know that Ayla is an extraordinarily beautiful woman by Western standards. Auel says that she wanted to create a character that looks like "us" being raised in a completely alien environment. However, by casting her novel as stories about the earliest people, Auel seems to be suggesting that only blond, blue-eyed Aryan Euro-Americans can be "us."

The Feminist Movement

On a positive note, most critics applaud Auel's creation of a strong female character at a time when American culture was looking for female heroes. The women's movement grew in earnest in the 1970s on the heels of the Civil Rights movement. Issues such as reproductive rights, equal pay for equal work, sexual harassment, and gender discrimination became part of the national debate. The Equal Rights Amendment showed signs of passage and many women joined the workforce in high-profile professional positions.

By 1980, with films like 9 to 5 and Norma Rae, a novel about a prehistoric female hero seemed quite logical. Auel uses Ayla to show contemporary Americans that a society that insists on subordination of one gender cannot survive. While many histories of prehistoric peoples focus on the accomplishments of the male half of the species, Auel tries to show how important women's contribution to survival was. Even though she has her hero banished at the end of the novel, Auel does not end Ayla's story there. Instead it is the repressive society of the Clan that is not heard from again in any of the other novels.

Critical Overview

Jean Auel's novels have met with much popular success. Yet most literary critics and scholars have problems with her work on several different levels. Some reviewers find her work lightweight in terms of character, plot, and style. In addition, many popular culture scholars, who seem to be the only ones who will address Auel's work directly, find her foreshadowing heavy-handed and boring.

There are similar problems with her mixture of fact and fiction. Lindsay Van Gelder questions Auel's commitment to both feminism and racial equality. She is particularly troubled with the idea that boys become men when they do something (hunt) yet girls do not become women until something is done to them (menstruation begins for Clan women and lose of virginity for Other women). Bernard Gallagher also suggests that Auel failed to create a truly feminist female hero because she allowed the Clan to break and destroy her. Clyde Wilcox contends that Auel's feminism does not fail outright nor along the lines Gallagher describes, because Auel is looking at a bigger picture than just one girl in one unhappy situation.

Many of the standard anthropology works published after 1980 address The Clan of the Cave Bear. James Shreeve mentions Auel's novel in the introduction to The Neanderthal Enigma, but he does not go into specifics. He does refute many of the scientific and cultural claims Auel makes about Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon society.

Other anthropologists do give Auel credit for increasing the popularity of prehistoric peoples, particularly woman. However, some cringe at the Hollywood overtones in the novel. For example, the Clan wears animal hide wraps that have no form of sewing or weaving in them. Yet, as Elizabeth Wayland Barber asserts, woven textiles have been found in salt mines that date to the periods that Auel is writing about. Other archeologists and anthropologists have found evidence of domesticated animals and woven textiles thousands of years older than Auel's Clan. Olga Soffer says that the old way of looking at prehistoric cultures has changed since the early 1980s, and suggests that the type of fiction Auel writes might be an influence.

There are times that Auel seems to outguess the scientists. In 1998, researchers suggested that, according to DNA evidence, the Neanderthal race did not contribute to modern human genetics and therefore are not related to modern humans in any real way. Not five months later, archeologists made two discoveries: one, a child's skeleton that had both Neanderthal features and Cro-Magnon features (much like Durc in the novel) and two, that Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons coexisted in Europe for over 10,000 years. The evidence of interbreeding between the human species was not available to Auel in the 1970s—she made it up. As Wilcox suggests, Auel is much more interested in exploring contemporary society than accurately investigating prehistoric cultures.

There is no dismissing the popular appeal of The Clan of The Cave Bear. It sold over one-hundred-thousand copies in its first three months. Auel's popularity, particularly among women, has grown in the years since the first novel's publication.


Michael Rex

Rex is an adjunct professor at the University of Detroit Mercy. In the following essay, he explores how the social structure of The Clan of the Cave Bear reflects Auel's concerns for contemporary American society.

Jean Auel's The Clan of the Cave Bear has been embraced as the most popular work of prehistoric fiction in American culture. Readers love getting caught up in the story of Ayla and how she tries to be true to herself and yet fit into the new culture. Many people see the novel as a possible, if not probable, depiction of life in the world of the Neanderthal. However, Auel creates the vast majority of Clan culture on no actual evidence. Instead, she creates a culture that is very much like the American society that Auel saw around her with a healthy dash of high Victorian culture mixed in with it. Auel does not really care about "truth" or accuracy in the way she is constructing Neanderthal culture. She is using the mask of this culture to critique how Americans in the late 1970s view religion, sex, and family.

Religion has always had a large influence on American culture. The pilgrims, who left England due to religious persecution, are celebrated every year at Thanksgiving. Alfred Smith lost the presidency in the 1920s because he was Catholic, while John F. Kennedy had to promise the American people that he would not "obey" the pope if he was elected. The Pledge of Allegiance says that America is "one Nation under God." However, our culture has inherited some interesting religious biases that Auel chooses to attack in her creation of religion in this novel; primarily the religious structure, the ceremonies, and the lack of participation by women.

The structure of the Clan's religion is highly illogical and tends to be more threatening than comforting. Clan members are not faithful because the spirits are good to them, generally they are faithful out of fear. Auel is drawing a direct parallel between this religious structure and contemporary religions that use fear and punishment as ways to coerce the behavior of the faithful. This idea can be seen in descriptions of Hell as a place of everlasting torment. Brun makes it very clear that he does not understand the world of the spirits, but he fears them. Creb can "talk" to the spirits during self-induced hypnotic states or during a hallucinogenic drug haze. In the Clan only men are allowed to participate in religion and so the religion tends toward violence and fear.

This tendency becomes evident in the ceremonies Auel describes in the novel. The first ceremony readers see is when the Clan is still wandering and the men have separated themselves from the women and children. They do this for a specific purpose. The ceremony is based on the men begging and pleading with the spirits, exposing how weak and vulnerable humans really are. The men cannot allow women to see this ceremony because it would threaten the male dominance if women realized that men were not in control all of the time.

This is a direct attack on American social structure. Auel suggests that American men are so threatened by the power of women in the workforce and the church that they must continue discrimination against women as a method of control. The segregated ceremonies continue to grow in dis-crimination and brutality throughout the novel: children are not named by their parents, but by the Mog-ur, and the Manhood ceremony involves the Mog-ur carving the boy's totem symbol into his chest with a knife; the Womanhood ceremony involves the girl being exiled from the Clan and spending at least seven days completely alone; and the mating ceremony involves the male's totem symbol being painted over the woman's, thus erasing her spiritual identity.

This violence and brutality culminates in the festivities at the Great Clan Gathering. Here, Auel is attacking contemporary Christianity in rather gross ways. First, the Cave Bear cub symbolizes the Supreme Deity on earth much like Christ did. The Cave Bear has been tamed and raised by the host Clan until he is friendly and loving. Then the Clan turns on him, attacking him with spears and killing him. The people then drink the bear's blood and eat the bear's flesh in a direct parallel to the Christian communion. Of course, Auel takes the idea of communion one step further as she has the Mog-urs eat the brains of the warrior killed during the attack on the pet bear. All of these ceremonies serve as ways for Auel to demonstrate that contemporary religions are based on fear, violence, and domination over women.

The absence of women in the religion of the Clan is perhaps the most striking aspect and the most neglected one. Both the Roman Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Church, the two largest denominations in America, refuse to make women priests/preachers and insist on a subservient and almost nonexistent role for women in their religious services. Therefore, Auel's elimination of women from the Clan's religious life can be seen as a criticism of this aspect of modern Christianity.

What Do I Read Next?

  • The Valley of the Horses is the 1982 sequel to The Clan of the Cave Bear. The story follows Ayla after she leaves the Clan. Auel's second sequel, The Mammoth Hunters, was published in 1985. This novel deals much more with the interpersonal relationships than any technical information or physical and cultural descriptions. The Plains of Passage (1990) is the next book in the series.
  • Naomi Miller Stokes brings Native-American legends into the modern era in her 1996 novel, The Tree People. Jordan Tidewater, a Native-American sheriff in Oregon, must solve a bizarre string of murders that seems to involve the spirit of an evil shaman buried alive one thousand years ago.
  • The People of Wolf and its five sequels, written by W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O'Neale Gear, trace the history of the first Americans who follow a young warrior inspired by the spirit of the wolf. Many reviewers rate it as high or higher than Auel's series.
  • Introducing Anthropology, edited by James Hayes and James Henslin (1975), is a standard collection of essays on anthropology as a science and cultural activity. The readings include essays by Margaret Mead, George Gaylord Simpson, Robert Adams, and Dorothy Lee.
  • James Shreeve's The Neanderthal Enigma (1996) is a remarkably readable history of the Neanderthal people. Shreeve makes use of the latest research and presents many of the problems readers have with the image of the Neanderthal as created by Hollywood and writers like Auel. The book includes pictures and drawings of actual Neanderthal artifacts.

However, the Clan does not allow women to participate in religion out of a need for domination, but out of fear of losing that domination. Creb remembers a time when women were allowed to participate, but it was so long ago and the Clan has changed so much that men would lose their power over women. Moreover, the spirits are all male. There is no spirit that women can pray to because women are not to speak to men until spoken to. Again, this idea parallels the modern conception of God as male. However, by making the Clan religion male-based as well, Auel is rejecting contemporary religion. She seems to be suggesting that religions that are based on fear, violence, and domination of one gender over the other are unsuccessful, unsatisfying, and ultimately self-destructive.

In addition to critiquing American views of religion, Auel uses The Clan of the Cave Bear to attack American attitudes toward sex and reproduction. She creates the Clan as a people who, like many early peoples, do not understand the relationship between sex and pregnancy. For the Clan, pregnancy occurs when a woman's totem has been defeated by a man's totem. So, even in the creation of new life, the Clan is based on violence. Sex is not something that builds intimacy between hearth mates, nor is it described as something pleasurable. Sex is something women must endure and men use to "relieve their needs."

Auel's description of sexual activity attacks the stereotypical attitudes toward sex in the late 1970s and early 1980s. While the country was dancing to disco music and the sexual revolution was still going strong, the national attitudes toward sex continued to be defined by men: sex was for men's benefit and men's pleasure. Women were still conceived of as baby producers and male playthings. This is the image of female-male relationships that Auel wants to challenge.

By making Broud's sexual advances toward Ayla attacks, she shows the reader that cultural attitudes about sex have not changed. In a male-dominated society, women cannot be raped because the crime does not exist. In the Clan, any man can have sex with any woman at any time; she has no say in the matter. Sex is also performed in only one position—the woman on her hands and knees with the man coming from behind her. There is no face-to-face contact, no closeness. Sex, for the Clan, has no spiritual or emotional elements. Auel uses the sexual attitudes of the Clan to attack American attitudes toward sex, women, and the family.

Auel saves her strongest criticism for American attitudes toward the family. Although she is writing about a people who lived roughly 25,000 years ago, Auel still has them living in a modern nuclear family structure of dominate male, submissive female, and children. The gender discrimination as well as the analogy to American society is quite clear. The hearth or house belongs to the male; the female must cook, clean, and maintain the hearth, but she has no ownership in it. Women also have no choice in selecting their mates. Instead, the leader, the ultimate "father," selects a man for her. Again, she has no choice in the matter.

The mating ceremony reads almost like a modern wedding: the ceremony is held in public, the Mog-ur asks the man if he accepts the woman, and then he erases the woman's identity by drawing the totem symbol of her mate over the tattoo of her own totem symbol. The parallel between this ceremony and modern American marriage where a woman goes from being Jane Doe to Mrs. John Smith is absolutely clear. Women lose their identity in marriage. Auel argues that this is an outgrowth of a repressive, regressive, and failing social system.

The contributions of the Clan women are also generally ignored by the Clan men. Auel makes her readers aware of just how important the women's work in terms of food, clothing, and tool production is—but the Clan men do not recognize it. This is often the case in American culture as well. A housewife is defined as a woman who does not work—yet it is very expensive to hire someone to clean, cook, do the grocery shopping, and errand running that housewives are expected to do. Again Auel is attacking male cultural attitudes about the contributions and duties of women.

Even though only women can give birth, this does not give them power within the Clan. When Iza gives birth, Eba regrets that the child is a girl when she gives Brun the news. Likewise, the women are shocked that Iza asked for a girl. Whether a child lives or dies is not up to the women either. In Clan society, the men get together and "vote" on whether the child is normal or deformed. A mother can beg for the life of her child, but she has no assurance that the leader will grant her request. Another parallel to American culture is the stigma of an illegitimate birth. Ayla is not mated when she gives birth to Durc and this causes some unrest among the Clan. Children born out of wedlock are not as accepted as those who are—yet Durc will be the savior of his race.

In terms of the domestic situations of the Clan, Auel paints a rather conservative, traditional picture. Their religion, use of sex, and the family structures all bear marked resemblance to contemporary American cultural institutions. By using these structures, Auel is attacking the sexist nature of American culture. The Clan, although interesting, is ultimately unsuccessful and doomed to extinction. This rigid system of gender discrimination, re-ligious fear, and separation of domestic tasks is what ultimately destroys the Clan. A society that is so biased toward one gender cannot survive, no matter how many generations it goes through. Auel's final statement in The Clan of the Cave Bear is a warning to American society that if it continues to subordinate women and ignore their spiritual, sexual, and familial needs, American culture will be just as dead as the Clan. Extinction will only be a matter of "when," no longer a question of "if."

Source: Michael Rex, in an essay for Novels for Students, Gale Group, 2001.

Clyde Wilcox

In the following essay, Wilcox argues that Auel's works can be considered feminist.

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Source: Clyde Wilcox, "The Not-so-Failed Feminism of Jean Auel," in Journal of Popular Culture, Vol. 28, No. 3, Winter 1994, pp. 63-70.

Nicholas O'Connell

In the following interview, Auel discusses the research and development behind her series.

[O'Connell] When you started writing the Earth's Children series, did you have any idea how popular it would become?

[Auel] No. I hoped what every writer hopes: that the first book would find a market and an audience, and maybe the second one would do a little better. That certainly has happened; it just started at a much higher level. The first printing of The Clan of the Cave Bear was 75,000 books. And the first printing in hardcover for The Mammoth Hunters was a million books. It broke the record. Somebody figured out that that would be a stack of books twenty-nine miles high.

Did you have any model in mind when you wrote these books?

No. I was just trying to write these stories. I'm still writing for myself. I'm writing the story I always wanted to read. As it turns out a whole lot of others want to read it, too. I'm not writing for critics, or to please a teacher or to please the public, or anyone else; I'm writing stories to please myself.

The first rough draft has become an outline for the Earth's Children series. That's why I know I'm going to have six books. People think, "She wrote The Clan of the Cave Bear and since it was successful, she decided to do a sequel."

But this series is not like Clan II, and Rocky III and Jaws IV. It is a continuation, not a repetition. I won't be telling the same story over and over again. I really did know, before I finished The Clan of the Cave Bear, that I had six books in the series.

Do the other books go further into Ayla's life?

All of the books feature Ayla. They are the story of her life. It's not a generational saga, one of those things where you start with the first generation and you end up with the great grandchildren. I'm trying to show the diversity, complexity and sophistication of the various cultures during the Pleistocene. Ayla's story is the thread that ties them together.

Did you base the cave dwelling described in The Clan of the Cave Bear on a particular archeological site?

Not expressly. It's more like a typical site. It was based in many ways on the cave at Shanidar in Iraq on the southern side of the Black Sea, but the setting is in the Crimea on the northern shore of the Black Sea, because there were Neanderthal caves all through that area. It typifies a Neanderthal setting.

How did you become interested in prehistoric people?

[Laughs] I wish I had a wonderful answer for that. Everyone asks, and I don't have an answer. I started out with an idea for a story. I thought it would be a short story. That was in January, 1977. I had quit my job as a credit manager. I had received an M.B.A. in 1976, so I wasn't going to school, and my kids were almost grown. I was in between, not sure what I wanted to do, in a floating state, which I hadn't been in before. I had had a very busy life.

It was eleven o'clock at night. My husband said, "C'mon, let's go to bed." I said, "Wait a minute. I want to see if I can do something."

An idea had been buzzing through my head of a girl or young woman who was living with people who were different. I was thinking prehistory, but I don't know why. I was thinking, "These people were different, but they think she's different." They were viewing her with suspicion, but she was taking care of an old man with a crippled arm, so they let her stay. This was the beginning. That night I started to write the story. I had never written fiction before. It got to be the wee hours of the morning, I was about ten or twelve pages into it and I decided, "This is kind of fun." Characters, theme and story were starting.

But I was also frustrated because I didn't know what I was writing about. I'd want to describe something and I wouldn't know how or where they lived or what they looked like, what they wore, or what they ate, or if they had fire. I didn't have any sense of the place or the setting. So I thought, "I'll do a little research."

I started out with the Encyclopedia Britannica, and that led to books at the library. I came home with two armloads, and started reading them. I learned that the people we call Cro-Magnon were modern humans. The stereotype of Neanderthal is of a knuckle-dragging ape, but they were Homo sapiens also, quite advanced human beings.

I felt as though I'd made a discovery. "Why don't we know this? Why aren't people writing about our ancestors the way these books are depicting them?" That became the story I wanted to tell: the scientifically valid, updated version.

So you wanted to clear up this misunderstanding?

Also tell a story. It's always been the story first. I discovered that I love being a storyteller. I wanted to write a good story, but also to characterize these people in a way that is much more acceptable currently by the anthropological and archeological community.

Was it difficult to turn this archeological material into a story?

Well, any kind of writing is difficult. Basically, as I was reading those first fifty books, I began to take notes of what might be useful to the story. Then I put together a page, or page-and-a-half outline for a novel. I sat down at my typewriter, and started to tell the story to myself.

Now, if I were to compile a bibliography of my reading for the series, it would approach a thousand entries. I've also traveled to Europe, and taken classes in wilderness survival and native life ways. In terms of the research, I probably read about ten or 100 times more than I needed, until I got so comfortable with the material that I could move my characters around in the story with ease.

I wasn't thinking of getting it published. I was just thinking of the story. As I started to write it, the story started to grow and develop, and the ideas I had picked up in the research were finding their way into it.

How long did it take you to write the rough draft?

It didn't take any more than six or seven months, from the time of the first idea to the time I finished a huge six-part manuscript that became the outline for the series. I had free time then. I didn't have any other demands on my time, except just to live and say hello and goodbye to my husband once in a while. He was really quite supportive. I became totally obsessed and involved and excited. I found myself putting in every waking moment. I'd get up and I'd almost resent taking a shower before sitting down at the typewriter. I was putting in twelve, fourteen, sixteen hours a day, seven days a week.

What happened to the rough draft?

I went back and started to read it, and it was awful. I was telling the story to myself but it wasn't coming through on the page. I thought, "My feeling and my passion are not there." So then I went back to the library to get books on how to write fiction.

After doing a lot of self-study, I started to rewrite this big mass of words. I thought I was going to cut it down. About halfway through the first of these six parts I discovered I had 100,000 words. In adding scene and dialogue and description and everything necessary to write a novel, the thing was growing. I thought, "I'm doing something wrong. At this rate I'm going to end up with a million-and-a-half words." Talk about a writer's block.

I went back and really looked at the six different parts, and realized that I had too much to cram into one novel. What I had was six different books. I can still remember telling my husband, "I've got six books," He said, "You've never written a short story, and now you're going to write six books?"

Earth's Children became the series title, and the first book became The Clan of the Cave Bear.

The series seems to have a very modern sensibility. Is it as much about people today as it is about prehistoric people?

It's about the struggles of human society. My characters are fully human; they have as much facility with their language as we do, which is why I started to write it in perfectly normal English, even though it would have pleased some critics if I had invented some kind of a phony construct of a language.

I think it's more accurate to show them speaking with ease. So I said, "I'm going to write this as though I am translating it from whatever language they spoke into our language." And good translators don't translate word for word, they translate idiom. There were some words I was careful with. For example, you can say, "Just a moment," but you can't say, "Just a minute."

What made these people's lives different from our own?

The world they lived in. There are a lot of things that we take for granted that hadn't been invented yet. But when Ayla in The Clan of the Cave Bear is five years old, she could have been anyone's five-year-old daughter today.

Because we're talking about people like ourselves, it allows me to look at ourselves from a different perspective, through a long-distance lens. I try to see what makes us human. What is basic to being human?

For example, if you plunk somebody down in a hunting-and-gathering society rather than a society where you go into your supermarket and get your meat out of a nice clean plastic package, what will be different and what will be the same? And is one society more or less violent? In most hunting-gathering societies, people feel a great deal of reverence for the animals they hunt. And we who get our packaged, sterilized meat that doesn't even bleed any more really have very little sensitivity to animals.

So there are some definite changes. But there certainly had to be some things that we suffer from, that they also suffered from.

Did you find that you admired these people?

Well, I felt that they were as human as we are, and I admired them, the same way I admire us. Unlike some people, I don't think the world is necessarily going to hell in a handbasket. I think that the human race is a very young race, and I am hoping that we will have the sense to keep ourselves from the destruction that we are potentially capable of dealing to ourselves. For all the stereotype about the brutal savagery of our ancestors, you find almost no evidence of it in the research, not among the Neanderthals and not among the Cro-Magnon.

One of the skeletons found at that Shanidar cave was of an old man. If you read about an old man with one arm amputated at the elbow and one eye that was blind, then you have to start asking, "How did he live to be an old man?" Paleopathologists believe that he had probably been paralyzed from an early age, because there was extensive boa-trophy and he was lame on that side. The paralysis may have been the reason his arm was amputated. So he was probably a paralyzed boy and at some time in his life became blind in one eye.

How does that fit in with survival of the fittest? These were Neanderthals taking care of a crippled boy and a blind and crippled old man. Evidence indicates he died in a rock fall as an old man. When I read about him I said, "Oh, my God, there's my old man with the crippled arm. There's the character in my story." That made me feel I was heading in the right direction. He became Creb.

And as you researched this book, did you find that your story grew in a lot of ways?

Exactly. And it was so much more interesting and fun to write within the modern scientific interpretation. I thought, "There's so much to write about, and I'm going to be the one to write it."

Did you do research in fields other than archeology?

Oh, yes. Many others. I would wonder, "How did they carry water? What kinds of things will carry water?" And by reading the reports of field anthropologists into more modern societies—the aborigines, the Bushmen, or the American Indians—you find out that watertight baskets will carry water, or carved wooden bowls, or water-tight stomachs.

I drew from all over the world. If it was appropriate and came together, then that's what I would use. I tried to give the sensitivity, the feeling of the hunting-gathering society.

For example, the idea of ancestor worship: when I was reading about the Australian aborigines, I learned that at one time they didn't really have a full understanding of procreation, particularly the male role in procreation. They knew a woman gave birth, but they weren't sure how she got pregnant. That led to speculation for my story. I thought, "What if this was a time so long ago, that the male role wasn't understood by most people. What would be the result?" Well, the only parent they would know for certain would be their mother, and her mother before that, and the mother before that, and maybe somebody would think, "Who was the first mother?"

You could see how a whole mythology based on the miracle of birth could evolve. Then I remembered about all these little figurines dating back to the early Cro-Magnon period, these round, motherly women carvings. I thought, "I wonder if they aren't meant to represent a great mother sense." That's how I derived some of the culture ideas.

When you were telling a story, did you have to pick and choose among the evidence to decide what pieces to use?

Of course. For instance, did Neanderthals talk? There are two schools of thought on that. Professor Lieberman at Brown University is the proponent of the idea that there probably was some limitation in Neanderthals' ability to communicate, to talk, verbalize, and Lewis Binford finds little in the archeological record to show that they were able to make the necessary abstractions for full speech. But their cranial capacity, the size of their brains, was, on the average, larger than ours. And other scientists say that the evidence of their culture suggests that they were able to understand some abstractions. They were the first people to bury their dead with ritual and purpose. Somebody must have been thinking, "Where are we coming from and where are we going?" That gives us a clue that the way they thought might not be so different from the way we think, or at least feel. Emotions such as compassion, love and caring come through most strongly.

So they must have had, if not language, at least

At least a very strong ability to communicate, which is why I came up with the sign language idea. I said, "Okay, I'll take both of these ideas and combine them. I will say, 'Yes, there was a limitation in their language, but not in their ability to communicate.'" Sign languages are very complex. I did some research into that.

So if there's a gap between pieces of evidence, you can bridge the gap with your imagination?

Yes. And sometimes I can push things out. I can go a little farther than a scientist can go, because I am writing a novel. I might stretch the barrier, but I don't want to break through it. I don't want to write anything that would do a disservice to the latest findings of science. I want the background to be as accurate as I can make it. If the basis is factual, then I have something for my imagination to build on.

The character of Jondalar is based on an actual skeleton found at the site called Cro-Magnon, the site that gives the name to the early race. They found five skeletons at this particular site. One of them was of a man who was 6 feet, 5 3/4 inches tall. As soon as I read that, I said, "That's got to be Ayla's man."

Does this attention to detail make the story more believable?

People say, "You're writing fiction. What do you do research for? Why don't you just make it up?" Well, in a work of fiction, even if it's a modern novel set in Washington, D.C., if you're going to mention the address of the White House, you'd better have that address right. Because if all the basic facts that you put down are as accurate as you can get them, it aids readers in suspending their sense of disbelief. As a novelist you want to have readers believe, at least while they're reading the story, that all this could be true.

Where did the information about the herbs and medicines that the people used come from?

I have a research library now of books I've purchased, and I got some of the information from public libraries. We know that they were hunting-gathering people and we know that modern hunter-gatherers are very, very familiar with their environment. Some groups can name 350 plants, know all of their stages and all of their uses. While we don't know precisely what plants Neanderthals or Cro-Magnons used, from pollen analysis and from the way we're able to tell climate, we know what plants were probably growing there because the same plants are around today. Except domestic plants were in their wild form.

Did it give the people any advantage to be closely tied to the natural world?

It would give them the advantage of being able to live in their world. They needed it to survive. That is survival in the natural world. There's also survival in New York City. If you were to take an aborigine, or a Cro-Magnon moved up in time and set him in the middle of the modern world, and if he were an adult, how would he make a living? He wouldn't have grown up in our society, or gone to school. He might have all kinds of knowledge and background but it would not be useful to him any more, and would not have the same value.

That happened in this country to native cultures when the white Europeans invaded and began to settle. For example, the Northwest Coast Indian society was a very rich culture and they built houses out of cedar planks. It is very difficult to split a log and make it into planks by hand with wedges and mauls; it takes knowledge, skill and effort, so each one of those planks had a high value.

Now, if a white settler puts in a sawmill, and suddenly they're whipping out planks at many times the number per day than a person can do by hand, the plank no longer has the same value; it has lost its meaning within Indian society. Culturally and economically the Native-American people were deprived. And that's part of the problem today, the displacement that many of them feel.

What our early ancestors knew enabled them to live and survive in their world. We wouldn't know how to follow the tracks of an animal or when they migrate, but we have to know airline schedules and how to cross a street without getting hit by a car.

Do you use elements of the Northwest landscape in your work?

Oh, absolutely. It was really kind of fun when I discovered, particularly in The Clan of the Cave Bear, that there's a little mountain range at the south end of the Crimea, which is a peninsula in the Black Sea, and a strip of coastland which is Russia's Riviera today. During the Ice Age that was a temperate climate. There were cold steppes to the north, but the mountain range protected the southern end. This small coastal area was a well-watered, temperate, mountainous region subject to maritime influences, not so different from the Northwest. I even discovered that azaleas grow wild there, as they do here.

Did setting the story in that particular kind of landscape create certain constraints?

Well, you can't have a story, you can't have anything, if you don't have limits, boundaries. You can't have one setting that is arctic and equatorial all at the same time. So yes, it puts limits, constraints, but those are usually fairly welcome limits. It gives you a frame to write within.

Was there an abundance of food during that period?

Most scientists and most researchers think that the last Ice Age period was probably richer than it was later during more temperate times. The glaciers caused a certain kind of environment that made for open steppes, or grasslands. Those vast grasslands fed grazing animals in hundreds of thousands of millions. It was also rich in terms of the produce that was available, so there were both animal and vegetable resources.

As the glaciers retreated, the forest started to move in, and forests aren't as rich. They don't support great herds of animals. Instead, animals stay either in small family groups or alone. The deer that run through the forest don't congregate in huge herds like the bison on the plains, and they're also harder to hunt because the animals can find trees and brush to hide among. It's much easier to hunt an animal on an open plain than when it's hidden in the woods.

In forests, there's more tree-growth, but not necessarily as much variety of plant-growth. So when the glacier melted, it reduced the abundance and variety of plant species. In the late Pleistocene, after the Ice Age, evidence of much more use of fishing and shell food was found. Such climatic changes may have caused pressures toward agriculture. The great variety and abundance was gone. Some way had to be found to feed the population.

Do you get a lot of mail back from your readers?

I do get a lot of letters from readers, and I'm very grateful for them. People become quite ardent; there are readers who feel very, very strongly about these books. It's a surprise to me. I'm delighted, but I'm a little overwhelmed. I don't really know what I'm doing right.

I get letters from men and women of all ages, twelve to ninety-two, and all walks of life—engineers, scientists, marines, lawyers, teachers, and people who barely can put together a grammatical sentence.

I even get letters from prisoners in jail. The one that I didn't know quite know how to handle was a letter from a man who said he was on death row, and would I hurry up and finish The Mammoth Hunters so he could read it before he died? I didn't know what to say.

What do you plan to write in the future?

I intend to write all six books in the series. That's an internal pressure. I have to finish telling Ayla's story. She won't let me alone.

And after that?

I may do anything. I may write about other prehistoric people. I may change to a different part of the world. I may write about later prehistoric peri-ods. I may write something historical. I may write something modern. I might write science fiction. I might write a horror story, or a mystery. Who knows? I've got many things that I'd like to try. What I do know now is that I want to keep on writing, but I was forty before I knew what I wanted to do when I grew up.

Why was that?

I don't know. I suspect part of it is that I couldn't have done it any earlier. There are many young people who are fine writers, but I could not have been one. I needed to live some life and gain some experiences. I couldn't have written what I did without having gone through having a family, raising children, accepting responsibility, being out there in the world, working, coming across many different kinds of people and learning how to live with them.

Source: Nicholas O'Connell, An interview with Jean Auel in At the Field's End, Maronda Publishers, 1987, pp. 208-19.

Lindsay Van Gelder

While praising Auel's creation of a strong female protagonist in the review below, Van Gelder faults the author for creating social interactions which are too similar to "modern" society.

I began hearing about them several years ago, always from feminist friends who said things like "You absolutely have to read these books." Jean M. Auel's "Earth's Children" novels—The Clan of the Cave Bear, The Valley of Horses, and The Mammoth Hunters—have since gone from feminist word-of-mouth classics to a major mainstream phenomenon. Hunters hit the number-one spot on the best-seller list last winter even before its official publication date, and a movie version of Cave Bear (starring Daryl Hannah, with a screenplay by John Sayles) has recently been released. In the era of "Rambo," Auel has given us a resourceful, female superhero.

She is Ayla, a prehistoric Cro-Magnon woman who is orphaned as a small child by an earthquake. Ayla, wandering alone, gets mauled by a cave lion before she is rescued by the Clan—a group of Neanderthals who also inhabited Europe during the Ice Age more than 25,000 years ago. The Cro-Magnons are the precursors of modern Europeans, and Ayla is tall, blue-eyed, and blond. The Neanderthals are short and swarthy, with no chins, ridges over their eyebrows, and flat heads; they accept Ayla—one of the group they call the Others—only with difficulty. In their eyes, she is ugly.

Clan of the Cave Bear portrays Ayla's life in the Clan, which is rigid and harsh for a girl of her spirit. Women are forbidden to hunt (although Ayla learns in secret and becomes an expert); they are taught to be submissive and required to do anything any man tells them, including putting out sexually, anytime and anywhere. (When Ayla refuses Broud, one of the Clan men, she is raped.) People of the Clan produce no art, have no spoken language (although they do communicate in sign language and have ritual storytelling and movements not unlike dance), and are physically unable to laugh or weep; they can't even learn anything new, unless their ancestors have already done it, since their brains are based not on adaptation but on racial memory (Auel's fictional theory of why the Neanderthals died out). When people need to know something about a plant or animal, they don't learn, they "remember" what their ancestors knew—and over time, male and female brains have become so differentiated that men, for example, genuinely can't "remember" how to cook. Religion is also restricted to males (and in one scene, the men ritually eat the brains of a slain Clan hero). While there are some loving (and beautifully drawn) individuals in the Clan, Ayla never entirely learns to fit in. Eventually, as a teenager, she is cast out and cursed—for the sin of talking back to the male leader, the man who raped her, and by whom she consequently has a child from whom her exile separates her.

Valley of the Horses tells the story of how Ayla survives alone for several years (during which time she tames a wild horse and a cave lion, and together they become a kind of family unit), but she ultimately encounters a man of the Others, Jondalar (also tall, blue-eyed, and blond). Through him she meets others of her own kind. The Mammoth Hunters is about one such tribe Jondalar and Ayla attach themselves to for a time. The Others worship the Great Earth Mother, regard rape as a sacrilege, and allow women to hunt. (Jondalar even knows how to cook, although he doesn't do it very often; he also knows how to give Ayla sexual pleasure for the first time in her life—although the 20th century feminist reader might observe that her clitoris only figures in "fore-play.") Ayla, meanwhile, seems to excel at virtually everything—hunting, healing, practical science (she invents the flint firelighter, the stitching of wounds, the threaded needle, and a special double-stone slingshot, among other things), spirituality, languages, toolmaking, sewing, cooking. She also discovers that the Others find her uncommonly beautiful. Her only problem in her dealings with Jondalar and the Others is their horror when they realize that she was raised by "flatheads"—in their view, subhuman animals. But Ayla refuses to renounce the people who saved her life.

Beyond giving us a strong female character, Auel's books are rich in technical details. We learn about the plants that an Ice Age medicine woman might use to cure different ills, how to build an earthlodge out of mammoth bones and skins, how to knap flint, how to use mashed animal brains and stale human urine to process soft, white leather, and much, much more. Auel is famous as a researcher, and she gleaned some of her survival lore firsthand on field trips into the wilds of her native Pacific North-west, where she slept in an ice cave, hunted, made arrowheads, and learned to start a fire without matches. (The author—who had five children before she was 25, went from clerical work to earning an M.B.A., and wrote her first novel when she was over 40—is something of a superwoman herself.)

And yet despite all that's positive and riveting and informative about the books, I found them problematic. Like Scarlett O'Hara and the women in Ayn Rand's novels, Ayla is, alas, a great female character who comes with some cumbersome baggage.

First of all, Auel's research into the artifacts and the ecology of the Ice Age is so first-rate that it's easy to lose sight of the fact that the rest of the story—the human relationships—is speculative fiction. At the root of what's troublesome, I suspect, is Auel's decision to make the Others as much "like us" as possible, in everything from their speech patterns to their humor to their family lives. "These men aren't that much different from your sons or your college roommates," Auel told People. According to another interview in Publishers Weekly, "I tried to show that [Jondalar and his brother Thonolan] are thoroughly modern in their emotional responses, their intelligence, their psychological reactions. Anything we allow ourselves, we have to allow them." In fact, Jondalar and his brother sit around the cave talking what we would call thoroughly modern locker-room talk. ("Markeno is right," Carlono said. "Never take [the river] for granted. This river can find some unpleasant ways to remind you to pay attention to her" [Thonolan replies:] "I know some women like that, don't you, Jondalar?").

The margins of my books are marked with dozens of similar examples of modern sexual and domestic assumptions which, when transplanted wholesale into the Ice Age, take on the nature of eternal human verities. Although nobody knows how babies are made (and although the tribe as a whole is the key survival unit), most characters pair off Noah's Ark style and form nuclear families. (A boy whose mother is single "needs a man around"—although, in fact there are lots of men a few feet away at the next hearth.) In every tribe of the Others, women have one kind of name (say a name ending with an a) and men have another. Among Jondalar's people, even though girls and women are allowed to hunt if they wish, only boys become men after their first kill; girls become women after they lose their virginity. Among all the tribes, Jondalar explains to Ayla, people believe that if a man of the Others rapes a Clan woman it's "not approved, but overlooked. [But] for a woman to 'share pleasures' with a flathead male is unforgivable … [an abomination]." (Sound familiar?)

My objection isn't necessarily that such things couldn't possibly have been true, but that there's no evidence that they were, and they often seem particularly illogical in the woman-centered cultures Auel has created. Thus, whenever Auel falls into sex-roles-as-usual, she's exercising a choice—and it's no more imaginative than the guys who put 1950s suburbanites in a cave and invented the Flint-stones. Her Others really tell us more about ourselves than about Cro-Magnon people; indeed, Ayla is in many ways a projection of the 1980s' female ideal—a woman who brings home the bison and fries it.

The fact that the Others are so much "like us" also inform and complicates another problem—the books' subtle racism. I say "subtle" here to distinguish a different point from the more obvious Aryan blond superiority bias, although it should also be noted in fairness that a dark-skinned half-African Cro-Magnon character figures prominently in the newest book. (Unfortunately, he's cut off from African culture, having been adopted by the Others at an early age, and his blackness is merely something that looks nice next to white fox fur clothing—or Ayla's white skin.)

But more subtly, if Auel had made the Others less familiar we might have seen their conflicts with the Clan from a genuine historical perspective. As it is, although we know that the Others are wrong—that the members of the Clan aren't subhuman—the equation is rigged so that we automatically identify with the Others (who, we also know, are the ultimate evolutionary winners). The message that emerges is a kind of post-colonialist chauvinist liberalism: people "like us" can be secure enough in our historic destiny to tolerate "less evolved" cultures. In the new book, the character who is the only representative of the Clan is a sickly, doomed half-Clan child who reminds Ayla of the son she has lost and who needs her protection against discrimination. The character is sympathetic, but I think his sickliness is rigged. As a white North American I feel I'm already programmed to view "primitives" not as true equals, but as the inevitable "victims of progress." This character does not challenge such liberal smugness in any way.

I certainly wouldn't want Auel to provide us with Ice Age black militants or politically correct Cro-Magnon men who do exactly half the cave-work, but I do wish she'd allow us some ancestors who aren't like our college roommates, for better or worse. In fact, I thought Auel was at her best with the Clan and with other "exotic" characters whom she perhaps doesn't expect her average reader to "relate" to. In Horses we meet the Shamud, a Cro-Magnon healer and religious leader who is so androgynous that Jondalar honestly can't determine his/her gender. We later learn that people like the Shamud are always channeled into the tribe's priesthood, where they suffer a certain loneliness, but are compensated by respect and knowledge. "It is not easy to be different," the Shamud explains. "But it doesn't matter—the destiny is yours. There is no other place for one who carries the essence of both man and woman in one body." This isn't exactly the stuff of liberation, but what's wonderful and convincing about Shamud is that s/he doesn't resemble any gay man, lesbian, or transsexual you've ever met; s/he is instead a logical product of a particular culture, familiar enough to be human but magically alien in a way that the singlesbarsy heterosexual characters aren't.

Auel has promised three more novels in the series. I hope that in them she'll perhaps be able to balance our present-day need for strong female characters with the genuine mysteries and complexities of the past.

Source: Lindsay Van Gelder, "Speculative Fiction," in Ms., Vol. XIV, No. 9, March 1986, pp. 64, 70.

Diane S. Wood

In the essay below, Wood examines the psychological development of Auel's protagonist in the author's first two novels. She also suggests that, in spite of the strong romantic overtones of the plots, the story is a classic adventure.

By its very nature, speculative fiction has great potential to explore variations in patterns of human interaction. Jean M. Auel, in The Clan of the Cave Bear (1980) and its sequel The Valley of Horses, demonstrates how such fiction can delve into basic human problems. Set in the Ice Age near the Black Sea, the novels trace the growth and perseverance through adversity of its adolescent female protagonist. The author gives careful attention to detail and thus creates a believable portrait of the distant past. Nonetheless, the remote settings do not obscure the fact that the main character is a young woman, Ayla, caught in an essentially male-oriented world, striving for independence and self-respect. The novels question narrow definitions of masculinity and femininity to arrive at new answers which have implications for today's society.

Auel's main character represents a relatively new type of protagonist for the adventure story, the female hero. The main character of the adventure genre is traditionally male. John G. Cawelti contrasts this kind of formulaic literature with its masculine main characters to the romance which features female characters:

The central fantasy of the adventure story is that of the hero overcoming obstacles and dangers and accomplishing some important moral mission…. The feminine equivalent of the adventure story is the romance…. The crucial defining characteristic of romance is not that it stars a female but that its organizing action is the development of a love relationship…. Because this is the central line of development, the romance differs from the adventure story. Adventure stories, more often than not, contain a love interest, but one distinctly subsidiary to the hero's triumph over dangers and obstacles.

The woman protagonist in Auel's novels faces the challenge of the wilderness and survives, conforming to the pattern expected of the male hero in adventure tales. Love remains secondary to heroic action. Ayla is not a heroine of romance, but, rather, a true hero. In her study of heroines in English nov-els, Rachel M. Brownstein suggests that being a heroine necessitates a plot which ends in marriage:

The marriage plot most novels depend on is about finding validation of one's uniqueness and importance by being singled out among all other women by a man. The man's love is proof of the girl's value, and payment for it. Her search for perfect love through an incoherent, hostile wilderness of days is the plot that endows the aimless (life) with aim. Her quest is to be recognized in all her significance, to have her worth made real by being approved. When, at the end, this is done, she is transformed: her outward shape reflects her inner self, she is a bride, the very image of a heroine.

Ayla does not seek external validation by men but instead actively initiates the direction of the narrative without waiting for a man to take charge. She acts courageously without regard for her own safety. She not only protects children (an acceptable role for a woman), but in several instances she saves the lives of men. The creation of a female hero thus necessitates allowing the woman to assume the active, dominant role of rescuer expected in adventure fiction.

In addition to her heroic actions, Ayla possesses inherent skills which are generally associated with men. She is not passing through a "tomboy" stage, but has talents and inclinations of the opposite sex which create tension with the rest of the social order. Ayla is a Homo sapien adopted into a Neanderthal clan. The dexterity of her species makes her a natural hunter, an activity taboo to women of her adopted clan. Hunting is proscribed to women although it is actively encouraged for males as behavior extremely important to the survival of the group. The designation by the Neanderthals of certain behaviors as appropriate only to men runs contrary to Ayla's talents. Expression of her "masculine" nature and skill is repressed by society, resulting in a sense of personal alienation and eventually provoking rebellion. According to Auel's fictional account. Neanderthal women are expressly forbidden to touch weapons. Nonetheless, Ayla teaches herself to use a sling and even invents the technique of firing two rocks in rapid succession. The challenge of the hunt beckons irresistibly despite the fact that she can show no one her kill. While outwardly seeming to conduct herself as a passive female, she secretly violates the norm of the clan. Single-minded adherence to pursuing an activity unacceptable to her sex characterizes this protagonist, and the reader is expected to perceive her tenacity as a positive trait. While she conforms in public, she does not allow others to decide what she must do in private and eventually breaks out of the rigidly narrow sex role assigned to her.

The development of these masculine pursuits results in an increase not only in Ayla's physical strength but also in her self-esteem. When Ayla masters hunting with a sling, her whole demeanor changes without her realizing it: "She didn't know there was freedom in her step, an unconscious carryover from roaming the forests and fields: pride in her bearing, from learning a difficult skill and doing it better than someone else; and a growing self-confidence in her mien." The transformation sets her apart from members of her own sex and causes her to be described in masculine terms: "As her hunting skill grew, she developed an assurance and sinewy grace unknown to Clan women. She had the silent walk of the experienced hunter, a tight muscular control of her young body, a confidence in her own reflexes and a far-seeing look in her eye." This muscular tone and development is alien to the traditional romantic heroine who never needs a muscle of her own. It is possible to see in Ayla's athletic body the new feminine ideal of the 1980s with its emphasis on participation in sports and even bodybuilding.

Male characters in the clan perceive this "masculine" female as a threat and react savagely. Auel explains how tradition calls for Neanderthal women to accept the sexual advances of any adult male of the group. Broud, a sadistic Neanderthal man who delights in repeatedly raping Ayla in the most brutal manner, embodies the resentments of the men. Dominance over the young woman forms an essential ingredient in their relationship: "Broud reveled in his newfound dominance over Ayla and used her often…. After a time, it was no longer painful, but Ayla detested it. And it was her hatred that Broud enjoyed. He had put her in her place, gained superiority over her, and finally found a way to make her react to him. It didn't matter that her re-sponse was negative, he preferred it. He wanted to see her cower, to see her fear, to see her force herself to submit". The anger directed by men toward her does not result in eliminating the offensive masculine inclinations or talents. Rather, it actually brings about the opposite effect, and instead of being broken into submission and passivity, Ayla is strengthened by this cruel treatment and becomes even more masculine. She undergoes stages in the life of the typical male hero, including an initiation trial similar to a male puberty rite. When Ayla uses a sling in front of clan members to save a child from a predator, she reacts instinctively without regard for possible consequences to her. The wise clan leader resolves the dilemma of an appropriate punishment for her heroic but unpardonable behavior by reducing the customary sentence to a month-long "death curse." She survives this test despite a harrowing experience in a blizzard. As a result, the clan accepts her into the ranks of hunters and her totem is symbolically marked on her thigh as would be the case with a young man at puberty. After the ceremony, the clan celebrates with the customary feast. Lest she forget her proper place, the men of the clan are careful to point out that hunting is the only male prerogative which Ayla may pursue. The leader states: "Ayla, you have made your first kill; you must now assume the responsibilities of an adult. But you are a woman, not a man, and you will be a woman always, in all ways but one. You may use only a sling, Ayla, but you are now the Woman Who Hunts". Through her courageous persistence, she earns the right to assume a male persona and enjoys increased opportunities.

The ending of The Clan of the Cave Bear clearly delineates Ayla's "masculine" courage and defiance as contrasted with Broud's "feminine" impulsiveness. His leadership ability and judgment are questioned. One of Broud's first acts as leader is to banish Ayla forever with a permanent "death curse," but instead of ignoring her after the curse is performed, he raises his fist in fury to her, an act of acknowledgment. Even his father realizes Broud's lack of character and gives the ultimate insult, that Ayla is more of a man than Broud is: "You still don't understand, do you? You acknowledged her, Broud, she has beaten you. She's dead, and still she won. She was a woman, and she had more courage than you, Broud, more determination, more self-control. She was more man than you are. Ayla should have been the son of my mate." There could be no harsher reproach in a society with such rigid sex-role expectations than for a man to be unfavorably compared to a woman.

The social organization of the clan fails to provide flexibility for exceptional members. Neanderthal groups, according to Auel's narrative, function because of proscribed roles maintained through racial memory. Despite inherent differences in the species, Ayla adjusts to clan life and lives happily as long as the clan has a tolerant leader. Her very nature as a Homo sapien arouses intense hatred in Broud and, when he finally receives power in the closing pages of the novel, she is unjustly expelled from the group. Ayla wanders northward alone, seeking others of her kind. The Clan of the Cave Bear ends with her being cursed and forced to leave the clan. The sequel begins with her arduous and lonely search for a new life. The plot thus advances from conflicts within society to survival alone in a hostile wilderness. Ayla's great physical stamina, her tenacity, and her basic intelligence make her story credible and her survival possible.

In The Valley of Horses Ayla's relationships with animals prove more satisfying than with people. She lives happily for four years with a mare and a cave lion which she raises from orphans and tames to the point where they accompany her on the hunt and allow her to ride them. This relationship between the protagonist and a horse has an erotic edge. Although she is not ignorant of the basic mechanics of sexuality, she has never felt profound yearnings. The rut of Ayla's mare provokes strange feelings in the woman which she does not understand, since sexuality among the Neanderthals is limited to the male's "relieving his needs" with the female. Ayla is distressed when her mare follows her sexual urges and freely joins a wild stallion, but since the horse, like the cave lion, is not her possession, she realizes that the mare is free to depart at will to join her own kind. In fact, Ayla envies the horse's good fortune. While the animals do not remain constantly with the young woman, they prove good companions in an otherwise lonely environment.

Whereas Ayla has certain characteristics of a male hero, she remains profoundly female. For instance, her great strength does not change her basic biological makeup. Monthly cycles still occur, and leather straps fulfill sanitary needs during menstruation. Ayla excels in traditional feminine handiwork, spending her spare time making exquisite baskets and learning how to sew. She clearly sees herself as the female in potential sexual situations with men. This heterosexual orientation remains constant throughout the novel regardless of her experiences with male brutality. She wants to find a mate/husband and raise children, but the difference between her and the typical romantic heroine is that Ayla simultaneously can accept both masculine and feminine aspects of her androgynous being. The fact that she can become a mother, for instance, does not preclude her from riding horses or hunting.

Ayla's isolation is a necessary step in allowing her to develop a more balanced sense of herself which eventually leads to her successful reintegration into a less repressive society. The changes in attitudes and experiences brought about by her separation from the group in which she was raised produce a new outlook for Ayla. The injustice she suffered as a sex object does not, however, cause her to reject all men. Indeed, the novels are bildungsromans exploring Ayla's nascent sexuality and her search for a meaningful relationship with a sympathetic man. She does not become sexually awakened until finding a compatible human partner in The Valley of Horses. She finally encounters a man who takes for granted that women hunt and make tools and that men help with food gathering and preserving. Mutual respect and admiration sparks affection between the two characters. The novel ends with the meeting of a human group, a signal of Ayla's entry into a new social order. She manages to have it all—independence and companionship—the fantasy of the modern American woman.

While Auel creates in these novels an active and heroic female figure grappling with tensions between her basic nature and her society, she also presents the difficulties males have adjusting socially. The Valley of Horses introduces a male protagonist, Jondalar, whose story is followed in chapters alternating with Ayla's adventures until the two finally meet and Ayla saves his life. Naturally, they fall in love. One might even say that the man's tale is the romance, since following Cawelti's definition, his preoccupation is with finding the ideal woman whereas Ayla struggles to survive and passes tests of bravery typical of the adventure story. Jondalar accompanies his brother on a journey. He would have preferred to stay at home. He serves as a companion rather than initiating action on his own as does Ayla. While he is proficient in the act of love, he does not know how to risk loving until he finds Ayla. One woman who loves him points out that he may be destined for an especially strong woman: "Maybe you haven't found the right woman. Maybe the Mother has someone special for you. She doesn't make many like you. You are really more than most women could bear. If all your love were concentrated on one, it could overwhelm her, if she wasn't one to whom the Mother gave equal gifts. Even if you did love me I'm not sure I could live with it. If you loved a woman as much as you love your brother, she would have to be very strong." In the Ice Age world Auel creates, neither men nor women are exempt from difficulties. The author rejects the idea of dominance by either of the sexes in favor of freedom of all people.

These popular novels reflect the author's optimism regarding the resolution of the difficult problems of individual choice which plague contemporary society. Just as Ayla is isolated, present day women all too often find themselves with no role models and no positive support from society as they attempt to function in today's world. While the situation of the Ice Age is different from our own, the solutions worked out in speculative fiction mirror those that must be worked out in lives of twentieth-century women. The success of these two books as popular fiction stems from the appeal of the strength of the female hero and the positive ending to her story.

The difficulty of integrating personal and professional life can be especially challenging in a complex society. William S. Barnbridge suggests a possible effect on present society of Sword-and-Sorcery novels which applies just as well to other novels of speculative fiction such as Auel's: "While Sword-and-Sorcery imagines fantastic worlds, the analysis of alternate ascribed roles and family structures it offers may contribute indirectly to create innovation in our own society." Speculative fiction leads the way for new patterns of human interaction. In this manner, literature posits and tests creative approaches to human dilemmas, working out theoretical cases to be either accepted or rejected by the evolving social order.

Source: Diane S. Wood, "Female Heroism in the Ice Age: Jean Auel's Earth Children," in Extrapolation, Vol. 27, No. 1, Spring 1986, pp. 33-38.


Carlin, Margaret, "Love in the Ice Age," Review, in The Chicago Tribune, December 24, 1990, p. 7.

Gallagher, Bernard, "Jean Auel's The Clan of the Cave Bear: Failed Feminist Pre-History," in Journal of Popular Culture, Vol. 5, No. 1, 1991, pp. 1-18.

Libman, Norma, "'Cave Bear' Epic," Review, in The Chicago Tribune, December 16, 1990, p. 3.

Parks, Lisa, "Profile of Olga Soffer," in Discovering Archaeology, Vol. 2, No. 1, January-February 2000, pp. 26-28.

Shreeve, James, The Neanderthal Enigma: Solving the Mystery of Modern Human Origins, William Morrow & Company, 1995.

Straus, W. L., and A. J. E. Cave, "Pathology and Posture of Neanderthal Man," in Quarterly Review of Biology, Vol. 32, No. 3, 1957, pp. 348-63.

Van Gelder, Lindsay, "Speculative Fiction," in Ms., Vol. 14, No. 3, March 1986, pp. 64-65.

Wayland Barber, Elizabeth, Women's Work, the First 20,000 Years: Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times, W. W. Norton & Company, 1994.

Wilcox, Clyde, "The Not-So-Failed Feminism of Jean Auel," in Journal of Popular Culture, Vol. 28, No. 3, Winter 1994, pp. 63-70.

For Further Study

Graham, Sandy, "Making Mammoth Best Sellers," Interview, in USA Today, October 12, 1990, p. 6.

Auel shares her views on the Ice Age and on being a writer in this candid and personal interview.

Harrington, Maureen, "Jean Auel's Improbable Story Upstages Her Own Books," in The Denver Post, December 5, 1990, p. 1.

In this interview, Auel talks about her early life, how she started writing, and how the success of the Earth's Children Series has changed her life.

Hornblower, Margot, "Queen of the Ice Age Romance," Interview, in Time Magazine, Vol. 136, October 22, 1990, p. 88.

Hornblower interviews Auel about her life, literary success, and how she sees her work in relation to history and literature.

Pisik, Betsy, "The Mammoth Huntress and Her Prehistoric Gold Mine," in The Washington Times, November 20, 1990, Sec. E, p. 1.

A standard profile of Auel's literary success, but a satirical look at how authors sell out for material gain.

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