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Elizabeth Marshall Thomas
Pocket Books, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1987. ISBN: 0671741896
This author has the uncanny ability to vividly portray the life of prehistoric hunters, humans and animals, with a sense of realism and drama. She elaborates on the dynamics of the survival relationship between predator and prey using details that are both realistic and illuminating. Thomas creates the character of Yanan to focus our attention on every species need for the basic necessities of life - water, food, shelter, and companionship.
Yanan, the beautiful, impetuous, and impertinent daughter of Lapwing, grows up in a tribal culture where men own the hunting lands, meat, camps and lodges, and earthly firesides. Women own their bodies, unborn children, lineages, and firesides in the Camps of the Dead.
Marriages are arranged by kin, incest is forbidden, and husbands and wives can divorce. When a marriage is agreed on gifts of hunting rights and material objects are exchanged. A girl is promised in early age and the marriage is consummated at puberty. A man may have several wives but a woman can have only one husband. Widows are allowed to remarry.
Yanan lives twenty thousand years ago in an environment of forest, tundra, and steppe. Living alongside humans are large carnivores (hyenas, wolves, lions, bears, and wolverines) and enormous herbivores (woolly mammoths, rhinos, bison, and Megaceros ). Smaller sized mammals, reindeer and horses, also share the landscape with birds, fish, reptiles, and insects. All of these animals compete with one another for food.
Thomas loosely models life in the prehistoric lodge after the contemporary Ja/wa Bushman of the Kalahari culture. Like Ja/wa Bush people the women and children of Thomas' novel gather roots, tubers, nuts, berries, greens, and herbs while men hunt larger game. Both women and men set snares and trap smaller game. Animals and humans steal and scavenge each others kill.
In times past mortality rates for pregnant women, infants, and the elderly has been high among tribal societies. Thomas uses the experience of the painful loss of a family member or loved one to shape and mold her characters' personality and behavior. Shamins are followed as earthly and spiritual leaders.Spirits from the Camp of the Dead frequently cross over to the camps of the living in the guise of earthly animals and cause conflict and disharmony.
It is as a spirit that we are first introduced to the main character Yanan. She recounts the story of her life and death from this perspective. Yanan shares with us the loss of her parents, abandonment by her kin, her and her sister Meri's survival and relationship with wolves, reintroduction into the tribe, arranged marriage, incestuous relationship, and death in childbirth in the guise of a spirit in the Camp of the Dead. As a spirit Yanan takes on the form of a wolf, raven, and lion explicitly telling us about her hunting and mating exploits.
While reading this book I found myself confused about plot and action. The line between the earthly and spirit world shifted constantly and unexpectedly. I suspect this is may be the case in cultures where beliefs like these are held but, despite this awareness, I still found it difficult to establish an empathetic relationship with Yanan or any of the other characters.
The Animal Wife
Elizabeth Marshall Thomas
Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1990. ISBN: 0395524539
In The Animal Wife we return to the camp of Graylag where Swift, the headman of the Mammoth Hunters, wants to arrange yet another kinship marriage to expand his hunting grounds. While there he meets his son Kori who has been raised by his wife Aal. Aal left him shortly after their son's birth and returned to the camp of her kin to live a safer life.
Swift is successful in arranging a marriage with another women, Pinesinger. Kori is upset by the arrangement. Pinesinger and he had been lovers. However, Kori decides to forego the relationship and follow Swift back to his father's camp and kin. After some time Swift finds out Pinesinger was impregnanted by another man before they married. His childless senior wife Yoi resents Pinesinger and treats her badly.
During a hunting expedition Kori has a vision of a horse that becomes a woman. Sometime later he encounters a lone woman in the forest and captures her certain that she is the 'animal wife' of his vision. Naming her Muskrat he takes her as his mate but the members of his tribe see her as nothing more than a slave.
Kori is a good hunter with his spear and knife. He often brings home meat and hides from reindeer and horses but neither Kori or Muskrat receive much of it. Most of the meat goes to the family of his child fiance and they divide it among their kin. Kori gets only a small portion of the meat. Muskrat often receives nothing.
The tribe assigns the outsider Muskrat to do the mundane tasks no one else wants to do (gathering wood and fetching water in summer and winter) even when she is heavily pregnant with Kori's child, a son. However, while she gathers wood and fetches water she is able to set snares for small game and leave signs so her kinsmen can find her.
Muskrat is from a tribe with a culture totally different from the mammoth hunters. She frequently shames him by not adopting the beliefs or practices of his kin. She names his son without his permission, refuses to live in a cave where a corpse was found, and makes an offering bundle out of her son's umbilical cord and her placenta.
Kori finally becomes furious with her and wants to kill her for shaming him. The tribe shaman discourages him from doing it.
List of Characters
The Land of Painted Caves
Jean M. Auel
Bantam Dell, New York, 2003. ISBN: 053328942X
The Land of Painted Caves is the final book in Jean Auel's series of Earth's Children. The author is reputed to be a master of detail so it is no surprise the book took ten years to write. The Land of Painted Caves is a hefty tome divided into 3 parts of 41 chapters and 757 pages. It also has an authentic map of prehistoric Europe during the Ice Age and a fictional map of sacred Zelandonii sites.
Extensive research is the foundation of this author's writing. To ensure her descriptions are accurate and realistic Auel consulted with French archeologists (Drs. Jean Clottes and Jean-Philippe Rigaud), visited the Ice Age stone shelter at Gorge d'Enfer, and toured painted caves in southern France. She also had valuable textual material written in French translated to English.
About a third of the book is dedicated to summarizing Ayla's experiences in books 1 through 5 in the Earth's Children series. Readers are reintroduced to the people, situations, and skills that make Ayla a remarkable prehistoric woman. She is characterized as a fearless survivor, adaptive inventor, and humanistic leader.
The other two-thirds of The Land of Painted Caves focuses on her experiences as an acolyte in training of the First Zelandonii, Marthona of the Ninth Cave (One Who Was First Among Those Who Serve The Great Earth Mother). Ayla is now mated to Jondalar and the mother of a girl, Jonayla.
To become a full acolyte Ayla must go on the Donier Tour traveling to Zelandonii sacred sites, observing the night sky for a year and creating a celestial map, and undergoing rigorous personal deprivation. All these activities and commitments strain her relationship with Jondalar leading to his sexual involvement with another woman, Marona. The resolution of her feelings about human reproduction and true love end the saga of Earth's Children on an upbeat.
Among Ayla's more memorable experiences are her Donier Tour visits to many sacred sites, the beautifully decorated caves of the Children of the Doni. In every cave Ayla sees the art work of the Ancient Ones and marvels at the paintings of mammoths, rhinoceros, aurochs, ibex, megaceros, reindeer, hyenas, and horses. She also finds paintings of her personal spiritual totem (a lion) and a skull of a bear leading her to wonder if the caves are also spiritually important to her clan.
There is a considerable amount of repetition of experiences and activities among characters. It feels as if the author is writing words to fill up pages rather than creating lively and original dialogue and encounters. I grant you the book sizes up to her past novels in terms of dimensions but, for me, there seems to be something lacking in the quality of writing.
You can experience for yourself the marvels of Ayla's cave visits without traveling back in tin to the era of Cromagnon/Neanderthal people or the Pliestocene Epoch 35,000 years ago or jetting off to modern day France. A virtual tour of Lascaux cave allows you to walk through the cave passages and explore the paintings made 17, 000 years ago. The Upper Paleolithic cave is located near Montignac in the Dordogne region of France.
List of Characters