Spears and Sex: My Memories of Jean Auel's Earth Children Series
By Karen Ballum on April 02, 2011
BlogHer Original Post
When I heard that Jean Auel was releasing Land of the Painted Caves, the final book her Earth's Children series, I smiled. Like many people I have fond memories of reading the series.
I first happened upon the series in my high school library. I was actually in junior high at the time, but we had one of those weird situations where the two schools shared a library. I had a long bus drive home and was in desperate need of something to read and only had a few seconds to choose. I pulled a book off the shelf randomly, checked it out and headed on my way. The book was Valley of the Horses, the second book in the series. I hate reading books out of order but I was stuck on the bus with nothing else to do. That book give gave me an education and then some... about blow jobs. I mean, sure, I'd read Judy Blume's Forever long before that, but this? This was different.
I think this review of the Earth's Children series at Smart Bitches Read Trashy Books sums it up really well.
Unfortunately for the plot (great for Ayla, bad for readers), in book two (Valley of Horses) she discovers cunnilingus in the form of Jondalar, a Brad Pitt wannabe with a huge schlong. Jondalar lives to hunt, eat out, and stick his penis into things. From then on, the Earth’s Children series reads like a summation of past events sprinkled with technical sexual how-tos. It’s not too much of a stretch to say Valley of Horses was the first erotica I ever read.
I never did go back to the library and check out the other books. While I'm sure part of my young teenage self was curious about what other gems of knowledge I could have picked up from them, the other books never made it on to my priority list. At least not until I was in university. Auel's series came up from time to time in my anthropology classes. Sure, some of the content was groan-worthy, such as the Neanderthal's shared memories and the fact that Ayla single-handedly invented the whole world of ancient technology, Jean Auel took research seriously. She attended conferences and conventions. She tried hard to get stuff right and probably could have given a darned fine lecture on some of the topics we were studying.
We just didn't talk about Auel's work outside of the classroom, she made an appearance at least once. I was taking an upper-level seminar on the Paleolithic my last year of university. There were only nine of us, a mix of graduates and undergraduates. Our professor, a friend of mine and a bit of a movie geek, replaced one of our classes with a massive cave man movie marathon. There was pizza, rocky road brownies and pretty much every bad cave man movie that was made before the year 2000. There was an early silent film, then One Million B.C. (we might have even watched both versions), Quest for Fire and yes, Clan of the Cave Bear. (We gave Encino Man a pass. Even we had our limits.) While we did have a serious and even academic purpose in viewing these, we weren't above having a bit of fun and laughs. We dubbed Daryl Hannah, "Ayla: Creator of Everything!"
It was around this time that the books got a bit of a reboot, first with the anniversary edition of The Clan of the Cave Bear and the release of The Shelters of Stone. I had six weeks off between my last semester of university and my first job. I had nothing but time on my hands. No really, I mean it. I was broke. So I read a lot, and one of my friends just happened to have all of the Earth's Children books. I spent a week reading my way though them. I finally got to read the full story of Ayla and she kind of permeates the psyche. I'd be a liar if I said I didn't, just for a moment, flash to her whenever I pick up a spear thrower to chuck some spears around. (Yes, I'm really that big of an archaeology geek.)
Michelle, at That's What She Read has already read The Land of the Painted Caves.
A true fan can overlook the bad - the repetition and tedious descriptions, the lack of tension - for the good - it's Ayla and Jondalar. The ending is satisfactory, albeit expected, but I am supremely glad that I was able to experience this ground-breaking series. Ms. Auel's descriptions are so realistic, I will forever picture Ayla and her family when reading about prehistoric man. In Ayla, Ms. Auel makes our ancient ancestors come alive, and readers everywhere are better for having been introduced to this amazing woman.
Our prehistoric ancestors will always be to me the skulls casts I handled in the archaeology lab and queue up to see in museums, but Jean Auel deserves my kudos. She created a character that was strong, self-suffient and yes, even sexy. That character could create tools, survive alone in the winter, tame wild beasts and cure sickness. Jean Auel created an ancient ancestor superhero and she made that character a woman. Thanks for that.
Contributing Editor Karen Ballum hopes to one day own enough land to play with her atlatl without worrying about spearing her neighbour's dog. She blogs at Sassymonkey Reads.
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