The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Envisioned as a six-volume history of Cro-Magnon heroine Ayla, the Earths Children series began with Jean Auels vision of a young woman living among people different from her. Having been a credit manager, technical writer, and occasional poet, Auel completed her M.B.A. in 1976 and began research on Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon peoples. Studies of animal evolution, physical remains, wild plant life, and flint knapping, along with wilderness training, allowed Auel to create a detailed geographic and cultural tapestry into which she wove fictional characters passions and ideas.

Ayla is adopted into the Neanderthal Clan of the Cave Bear on the Crimean Peninsula after her family dies in an earthquake. She unlearns her birth culture, adapting to older Clan ways, seeing her blue-eyed blondeness as ugly, and exchanging language for hand signals. She is shamed that lack of racial memories makes her ignorant in comparison to clan children who “remember.” She accepts clan totems and their spirit world. When a man “gives his signal,” she must respond and assume position to be mounted.

Quick to adapt, Ayla learns medicine woman skills from her adopted mother, Iza, saves Clan members, and remains under the protection of the one-eyed Clan shaman Creb. As an outsider, Ayla threatens ancient Clan traditions, breaks forbidden taboos, survives a death curse, becomes designated the Woman Who Hunts after mastering the forbidden slingshot, and defies Clan custom by keeping her deformed child. Cursed with death by Broud, a childhood tyrant and the new Clan leader, Ayla leaves in search of her own people.

Ayla settles in a cave in a valley shared with steppe horses. She discovers almost supernatural abilities to interact with animals. She rescues a mare, befriends a foal named Whinney, and serves as midwife at the birth of the stallion Racer. A huge cave lion named Baby and a gray...

(The entire section is 778 words.)