Jean M(arie) Auel Barbara Mertz - Essay

Barbara Mertz

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

So few solid facts are known about [the Middle Paleolithic] period that one can hardly criticize an author for filling in the canyon-sized gaps with speculation, particularly when the authorities themselves disagree. Can one, then, reasonably call [Jean M. Auel's The Clan of the Cave Bear and Bjorn Kurtén's Dance of the Tiger] historical (or prehistorical) novels, and demand that they conform to the rules governing that genre? I believe one can and must, if only because both authors have followed the rules to the best of their respective abilities. Known fact is not violated; conjecture is based on reasonable inferences.

The biggest problem facing a historical novelist is how to create the sense of an alien culture without losing the basic humanity of the characters. Most writers go too far in one direction or the other, producing modern men and women in funny clothes, or wax figures who gesticulate and move but never live.

One key element is the handling of language. I myself have a sneaking affection for what Josephine Tey contemptuously referred to as "writing forsoothly." An occasional "forsooth" or "by our Lady" reminds me that I am not listening to contemporaries talking. Auel and Kurtén have taken the only sensible approach, since we have no Neanderthal equivalent of forsooth, or of any other word. Their characters speak colloquial English. However, we are made to realize that this is only a...

(The entire section is 525 words.)