The Shelters of Stone

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Jean M. Auel’s long-awaited The Shelters of Stone, the penultimate volume of her series, Earth’s Children, continues the adventures of prehistoric Ayla and her companion Jondalar. Now nineteen and pregnant with Jondalar’s child, Ayla is accepted quickly by his family but less enthusiastically by some of his tribe, the Zelandonii of the Ninth Cave. They fear her power over animals, the new information she brings on fire-starting and healing, and her knowledge of the Clan, those Neanderthals whom they have traditionally disdained as animals. She finds a rival, then a friend, in the powerful spiritual leader Zelandonii, the representative of the Great Mother, who is convinced that Ayla belongs in an elite group of healers.

Auel’s research on the lives of the Cro-Magnons who lived near the famous Lascaux Cave remains fascinating. She captures magnificently the fear and reverence of these ancient people as they enter a sacred cave. Probably the best-written parts of the book are her descriptive scenes, with their exquisite attention to landscapes, living quarters, tools, and the many painted or carved decorations used by these folk. Their communal trench toilets are even covered with cooked cliff dust (quicklime) for sanitation.

Certainly it must be difficult to fill in events of the past four volumes and keep the present story moving, especially with so many characters. However, Auel’s early chapters are mostly expository as Jondalar returns to his Cave, and far too much repetition of Ayla’s story occurs. Pedestrian dialogue also weakens the book. An editor’s blue pencil should have eliminated most of these problems.