Did you have those books your mom or dad used to read, and you’d love to read them too but weren’t allowed to? With the Earth’s Children series, my mother used to tell me “you can read them when you’re eighteen”. I’m twenty-two now, so I took the Clan of the Cave Bear, got comfy in a corner of the couch and finally started reading a series I’ve wanted to read since I was twelve.
Cover of The Clan of the Cave Bear
The enjoyment my mother had reading the books was always very obvious, and reviews of the first installment of the series were very positive. After reading it, I understand why. It’s so easy to feel for Ayla, who is close to modern humans, but lives with a Neanderthal Clan. Not that she minds! She doesn’t know any better, and enjoys her time with the Clan, but wants to do things the traditions of the Clan do not allow. Jean M. Auel, the author, is brilliant in the way she describes the way of the Clan, including the spiritual tradition. She has done quite extensive research on Neanderthals in Europe, and it shows. Naturally, the novel is romanticized and a figment of fantasy, but there are many things that seem to be possible. The different build of the Neanderthal race is obvious, but Auel has searched for possible reasons for the different body. We are a people who look ahead, who can imagine new tools and ways and act on that, but the Neanderthals, so Auel fantasizes, were a people to look back. They have the power of remembrance, up to the very beginning of the species and to the knowledge of all the ancestors. This is the reason their head is so oddly shaped: they have developed a different part of their brain! Unfortunately, they are not able to speak with words, but they have developed a gestural language that is as eloquent as spoken language. Very well thought of, indeed. Another ‘scientific’ find in the books is the occurrence of children with mixed spirits. At the time Auel wrote this, is was though impossible, but more recently, scientists have found skeletons with a structure that suggests she might have been right!
Curiously enough, the hierarchy in the Clan is somewhat similar to ours in the past: men provide food, women care for children and the house (though the Clan don’t really have houses). They have different roles, and women have to obey the men, but that’s how it has always been. Men make contact with the spirit world, a world of animal totems or, even older, a world of elements. When I first read it, I had to think of indians and animal spirits that guide them. The ‘new’ people have a very different belief system and a very different social structure. Men and women are equal for one, and both can access the spirit world, though they don’t like it. They believe in a mother Goddess, Mother Earth, and all life that sprang from her womb. This belief is similar to what some modern day pagans hold to, and the mother statues are used more often again. It must feel very soothing to have a great Mother looking out for you, protecting you. I can definitely relate to that.
As for the story itself, it is basically a tale to show the way of life during the Ice Age. As Jondalar (the man Ayla loves desperately) and she travel to Jondalar’s home land, we come across several different people with different traditions. To me, it feels as though we are travelling through time, especially as Jondalar and Ayla make amazing discoveries and inventions. It feels as though Auel accounts of several hundreds of years of human evolution in just a few years. The romance and the way Ayla (and we with her) learns new things does keep me captivated for the full 6 books of the series (approximately 600 pages each).
Are there reasons not to read the book? As a pagan, I think you should read it, no matter what, at least the first book. The amount of pages might frighten you, and even more now I tell you that the story could be told in way less pages. There is a LOT of repetition in the series. And a lot of repetition of ‘Pleasures’ as well, to honour the Mother. Yes, ‘Pleasures’ are exactly what you think they are, it’s like reading Fifty Shades of Grey at times, but without the Dom-Sub thing. So there are reasons not to read the book, but waaaaaay more to do.
Have you ever read the books? What did you think?
- The Clan of the Cave Bear (bookloversattic.wordpress.com)