Saturday, October 20, 2012

Clan of the Cave Bear: A WillseyeReview


By: William G. Muir
The Clan of the Cave Bear is a speculative history novel which is part of the Earth's Children series written by Jean M. Auel. Set during the time of the Upper Paleolithic era; or the Old Stone Age that took place in parts of Europe, Asia and Africa. This period in Earth's history dates from 50,000 to 10,000 years B.C.E. Although this book is set between 28,000 to 25,000 years B.C.E., just before the last of the Neanderthal disappeared from the historical record.

The people of this time are commonly known as cave people. Even thought in the Earth's Children Series we see that many of different people of this time did not exclusively live in caves.

The protagonist for our story is Ayla. She is acts as our entry into this strange world of so long ago. A time back when the most technological advances that the human races had made were the taming of fire and the development of basic tools; such as spears for hunting and awls made out of bone for piercing holes into leather hides so they could be stitched together. It is through Ayla that not only do we get a glimpse into this world that has forever been lost to us. But that we get a portrait of what life must have been for the Neanderthal people who were beginning to slip of the stage to make room for the younger and much more adaptive Cro-Magnon people.


Our story starts of with a five year old Cro-Magnon girl, Ayla, finding herself caught out in the open during an earthquake. She become separated from her family and starts to wander through the forest all alone. During the time that she is wandering on her own she is attacked by a Cave Lion. Luckily for the young Ayla she is able to find a small enough fissure in the side of cliff that she can squeeze her small body through. Unfortunately for her the fissure is only so deep and the Cave Lion manages to slip it's paw through the opening and claw at her leg.

After several days lost and on her own, Ayla collapses on the verge of death from a combination of exposure, hunger and infection from her wound. If it hadn't been for the carrion bird that were waiting for her death young might have very well died.

It is at this point Ayla's luck takes a turn for the better. A small tribe of Neanderthal that had just lost their home, because of the earthquake, happened to cross close by to the now unconscious five year old Cro-Magnon girl. During a brief break the tribes medicine woman Iza notices off in the distance a group of prey birds circling around something. She goes of to investigate and finds Ayla nearly lifeless body. She quickly hurries back to the the clan leader and her brother Brun and waits for him to acknowledge her.

The Clan of Cave Bear as all Neanderthal call themselves lack the ability to speak, unlike Cro-Magnon and later modern humans will be able to. Instead of a verbal language they communicate with each other through the use of the few grunt sounds they can manage to make, but primarily they use a combination of hand gestures, body language and facial signals to talk to one another. With this form of communication it virtual impossible for any member of the Clan to lie.

Also the clan is a patriarchal society with the women of the Clan playing a very submissive role within the Clan. Gender roles are well defined and strictly followed. The men of the Clan take care of the hunting and tool making. The women of the Clan are in charge of gathering vegetables; making of the clothing; and tending to the children. There was no stepping over these boundaries. A woman that was caught even touching a hunting weapon could be put to death. No exception.

Life was rough for the Clan, and their survival depended on each member of the Clan sticking to their assigned role. But even if they wanted to a Clan member could not escape their defined role. Every member of the Clan was born with Ancestral Memories. This meant that clan members did not need to learn anything they just had to remember how to do it. Even if a woman had wanted to hunt, she didn't have the memories to learn to do so. It is the memories that has allowed the Clan to survive for 100,000's of thousands of years. Yet it will be the memories which will cause them to die off. Because of the memories Clan babies' heads were become to large for the Clan women to survive child birth.

The only women within the Clan to hold any position of power are the leader's mate and the medicine woman. In this tribe Iza is the medicine woman, and along with being the sister of the leader Brun, it wins her his attention. Iza points out that there is a child lying unconscious and near death just off in the distance. Knowing the child is one of the “Other” (the Clan's name for the Cro-Magnon) Brun considers passing the child by, but seeing how Iza had such a hard time conceiving a child of her own, he decides to allow her to bring the child. It would probably be dead soon anyways.

Iza manages to nurse the young girl back to health but many in the Clan are not pleased with this. To their superstitious minds she is bad omen. She does not have the”memories” and could cause the Clan trouble. But these fears are soon put to rest when it is Ayla who discover a possible new how for the Clan. When the Clan's Mog-ur, their spiritual leader, Creb explorers the cave he finds the bones of a long dead Cave Bear inside. They take this as a sign that this cave was meant to be their new home, and attitudes toward Ayla shift from distrust to lukewarm acceptance.

There is one person who does not accept Ayla and that is Broud.

Broud is the son of Brun's mate and next in line for to become the leader of the Clan. On the verge of manhood he has no love for the stranger that has joined the Clan. Ayla's arrival garners her attention that he believes should be his. And on the day that the men go out for the hunt that will determine if they stay or pass this cave by Broud is invited to take part in his first hunt. And when it comes time to make the kill the older hunters allow him the honor so that his manhood ceremony would be held at the same time they hold the ceremony that would make the cave theirs.

Instead of all Broud receiving all the attention he had earned for making his first kill, that attention was soon stolen by Ayla. Iza had beg Creb to find her totem spirit. Each member of the clan has a spirit animal helper that looks after them. It is these spirits that intercede on behalf of the Clan in the spirit world. When Creb announces that Ayla totem spirit is the Cave Lion the Clan cannot believe this. The Cave Lion is not only a male totem spirit, it is also the second strongest among all totem spirits. The only spirit stronger than the Cave Lion is the Cave Bear. Ayla's new totem spirit is even stronger than that of Brun's own Wholly Rhinoceros.

In the Clan each family marks out it's own space in the cave by building a hearth and then circling it with stones. A man's hearth was considered his domain and it was considered rude to trespass, both physically or by looking directly inside of it without being invited in. Creb having no mate was joined in his hearth by his sister Iza, who had recently lost her mate during the earthquake, her soon to arrive child and Ayla. For the first time in his life Creb felt like he had a family of his own. For the first time in his life he felt like the rest of the men of the Clan.

Creb had been born deformed from the difficults of his birth. At his birth, Creb's head unusually large. The custom among the Clan was that any babies that were born deformed or with any defects were to left out in the elements. Deformed babies could not be allowed to live because of the limited resource of the Clan. The child would grow up to be drain on the Clan. But since Creb had been the first born child of the then leader's mate he was allowed to live. After the difficult labor the leader could not bring himself to force his mate to dispose of her child. But his deformities had cost Creb his rightful spot as the next leader of the Clan.

Creb was further crippled when he was attacked by a Cave Bear as a child. He managed to survive the attack, but it left with a scar down one side of his face, where his eye use to be. His limbs on the left side of his body became atrophied and useless to him. This left him with the a permanent limp and required him to us a walking stick to get around. This turned out to be a blessing for Creb, the mog-ur at the time saw this as a sign that the young boy had been chosen by the spirit of the Cave Bear to be the next spiritual leader of the Clan, and soon he began training for the position. Creb would not only go on to be the greatest Mog-ur his Clan had ever known, but he would become the greatest Mog-ur that any of the Clan would know.

In Ayla Creb saw the future of the human race. It would be the Others, her people that would go on and make the journey toward the future, while his people were left behind on the stage of history. It was because her descends would be able to think, to reason, to invent and adapt to their surroundings. The Others were better suited to continue on; were his people had become an evolutionary cul-de-sac. And Creb was getting a first hand look at the future. While Creb was the only one among the Clan that comprehend the numbers four through ten, he had a problem going beyond that point. Not only could Ayla count to ten, she could go beyond that. She demonstrated to Creb ability the to count up to thirty.

Fearing that Ayla would never find a mate among the Clan's men, Iza started to train her as a medicine woman. The medicine woman of the Clan was position that was passed down from mother to daughter, and Iza came from the oldest and greatest line of medicine women of any of the Clans. Iza was hoping that maybe Ayla would become a competent enough medicine woman that at the next Clan Gathering another Clan that was in need of a medicine woman would adopt her. Since Iza had a daughter of her own, Ayla skills would not be needed in Brun's clan.

While Ayla continuing to gain acceptance among the Clan, Broud still did not like or trust her. He would go out of his way to order Ayla to serve his needs. During one such encounter Ayla did not move fast enough (because she was caught up in the stories being told by the older women in the Clan). Broud took this as an insult and started to severely beat Ayla. He had to be dragged off of Ayla, but the damage he been done. He nearly beat her to death.

As a result of this incident Brun scolded Broud. Brun told him that it was beneath him to let a girl provoke him to act in such a matter. That she was beneath him and that he was higher than most males in the Clan (because he was in line to be leader someday). Brun warned him that if he could not learn to control his temper towards Ayla in the future Brun would have no other choice but to chose another to start training to be leader.

Broud tried his hardest to not let Ayla get to him. He tried to avoid her the best he could, but living in such tight quarters made that difficult. Then one day Broud came across Ayla running around in an open field enjoy herself. This was foreign to him, no one in the Clan would even think to such a thing. Preparing to go his separate way before he was spot, a thought formed in his mind. There was a way he could make Ayla submit to his will and there was nothing that she or the rest of the Clan could do about it.

Among the Clan a man was permitted to have sex, relieve himself, at anytime and with whomever he chose. Whenever he made the signal, the woman that he wanted to relieve himself with would have to stop whatever she was doing and get in the proper position.

Broud decided that he would signal Ayla so he could relieve himself with her. Ayla not to sure why Broud was giving her the signal tried to get in the proper position. Having never been signaled before Ayla did not get the position quite right and this made Broud upset with her. He forced her into the correct position and began to relieve himself. At one point Ayla tried to escape but Broud grabbed hold of her and punched her until she submitted to him completely.

Broud continued to use Ayla to relieve himself. Even passing up the opportunity to relieve himself with his mate to have a go on Ayla. This caused Ayla to fall into a deep depression. She started to slack off while doing her chores, going about her business as if she was not even there. Whenever Ayla could she tried to stay as close to Creb's hearth. There she was safe. She would even take to sleeping much of the day.

One day while Iza, her daughter, Uba, and Ayla were gathering supplies for Iza medicine pouch, Iza noticed that Ayla became irritated when anything brushed up against her newly forming breast. Iza inquired if Ayla was feeling ok, and Ayla said that her breast and stomach were giving her problems. After doing a quick check, Iza determined that Ayla was pregnant. The news was shocking sine it was believed that Ayla would not be able to have any children of her own because of her Cave Lion spirit. It was thought that her spirit was to strong for any of the men of the Clan's totem spirit to defeat.

Among the Clan it was believed a woman became pregnant when her totem spirit was defeat by that of a man's spirit. This is why woman’s totems were always weaker than that of the males spirits in the Clan.

The news that Ayla would be having a baby of her own turned her spirits around. She was no longer locked in the grip of depression. She had returned to her former jovial self. The next time that Broud came around to relieve himself with Ayla he was not able to do so. Ayla was in too good of a mood to even let being raped by Broud  bring her down. Ayla's good mood meant that Broud could not maintain an erection and he gave up trying to relieve himself with her in disgust.

After that Broud never tried to force himself on Ayla ever again.

But like most things in life one blessing is followed by its very own set of headaches. When Ayla's baby was born the members of the Clan thought it was deformed. The baby's head was to large for it's own body and the weight was to much for it' neck to hold. Ayla not wanting to give up her baby (emboldened by a tale of Clan's woman who had left her baby out in the wilderness for seven days only to return for him to find him no longer deformed which meant he was now acceptable to the Clan) decided that she would force the Clan to accept her baby. She had discovered a small cave not to far from the Clan's home, one that no one else knew of. She knew if she could stay away for the seven days between the baby's birth and his naming day that Brun would have no choice but accept him.

Still weak from giving birth Ayla gathered her stuff and set out to the small cave to for the next seven days. Unknown to Ayla, Uba had followed Ayla when she left to go to her small cave. Once the Creb had discovered what Ayla's plan he was furious that Iza had not only known about it and had kept it secret. When Brun found out that Ayla was planning on forcing him to accept her baby he was outraged. He would lose face among his Clan if he was forced to accept her baby. And even if he cursed her with Death he still would lose face, plus Ayla's actions would cause his tribe to lose it's high ranking among the other Clan's.

Uba feared for Ayla and went to give her news of what was going on in the Clan. She told her if she was going to force Brun to accept her baby she would surely be cursed with Death. Seeing the errors of her way Ayla made her way back to the Clan's home on the sixth day. She begged for Brun to forgive and not to let her actions guide how he will decide on if her baby should live or die.

The men of the Clan gathered to decide the fate of Ayla's son. Broud argued that her child should be put to death. Not only had she tried to force Brun to accept her son, but it was the Clan's way to get rid of any baby that was born deformed. Many of the men in the Clan saw things the way Broud did.

After Broud had his say, Creb addressed the gathered men. He did not do so as the Mog-ur, but as Creb. He tossed aside his cloak to reveal his broken and frail body. In that instance he lost his aurora as the great Mog-ur and was just a fragile old man. He pleaded to Brun, his brother, for the baby's life. He blamed himself for the girl's action. After all she lived at his hearth and he was her example of what a man was. He asked Brun to not punish her for his faults.

All the men moved by Creb's argument, but none of them were ready to take the boy to their hearths. Since Ayla did not have a mate, it would fall to one of them to take Ayla on as a second mate. They thought of taking her as a second mate had some appeal since she was now a medicine woman and brought her own status to whoever hearth see would end up at. But her son was a different matter. He was deformed, he could not hold up his own head up. He would never grow up to be a hunter, he would be a constant burden on who took her in. Creb stepped up to say that Ayla would stay at her hearth. He would take care of all hers and the babies needs.

With Creb willing to be responsible for Ayla and her son the men in the Clan decided to allow her to keep her baby. During the naming ceremony Creb named her son Durc, after the baby from the story that had cause all the problems.

Ayla's first big test as a medicine woman came when she was picked to go on trip to hunt Mammoth. It had been decided that the Clan would go out and hunt a mammoth before they left for the Clan Gathering. Because of the Gathering the Clan would be away for the whole summer. Afterwards there would be no way that they would be able to gather food for the approaching winter. Since Iza health was beginning to fail and Uba was to young it fell to Ayla to accompany the hunters and their families on the hunting trip.

The wives of the hunters were taken along because the mammoths lived too far to the north and were to big to be brought back in one piece. They would need to process the animal(s) at the kill sight.

The hunt turned out to be a success. The Clan's hunters would have themselves a great tale to share at the next Clan Gathering. As they began butchering their kill, a brave wolf slipped pasted the fires that were built to keep out any unwanted predators. The wolf grabbed a hold of the son of Broud's mate and started to take off with him. The kidnapping was noticed right away and the Clan was in panic.
The wolf was faster than any of the hunters, and he was beyond their reach. When all the sudden a whooshing sound of something flying through the air could be heard and the wolf dropped dead.

Broud's mate and Ayla raced out to check on the boy. But Ayla's made a mistake. In her rush to see to the boy she forgot to let go of the sling she was holding in her hand. The joy that everyone felt at having one of their own being saved from a deadly predator was soon replaced with disgust. It was taboo for any woman of the Clan to even touch a hunting weapon, let alone hunt.

When they made it back to the the Clan's home once again the men of the Clan gathered to discuss the fate of Ayla. This time it looked as if she was not going to escape the being cursed to death. Again it was Creb that came to her rescue. He reminded the Clan that their were memories of a time in the past when women of the Clan did hunt. And he reminded them that it had been the Cave Lion itself that chosen Ayla; and that among Cave Lions it was the female lions, not the male, that hunted.

It was decided that Ayla was to be cursed, but only with a partial curse. While this was not unheard of, it was a surprise that Brun had decided on this particular punishment. It was expected that Ayla would never be seen again, no one ever returned from a death curse. But she surprised them all when she did return. After returning from the dead, Ayla was given the title Woman that Hunts.

Every seven years the Clans would gather together for the great Clan Gathering. It was a time for old friends and family members to visit with each other. For younger members of the Clans to find mates and for the ranking of each Clan to be established. But most importantly it was time for the people of the Clan to reconfirm their spiritual connection with the Cave Bear.

The last Clan Gathering had been just before the earthquake that had caused Ayla to become an orphan and that destroyed Brun's Clan home. At the last Gathering Brun's Clan had been declared the top Clan. But with the addition of Ayla and her deformed son Durc, it made it awful difficult for his Clan to retain the top ranking. A position they had held for several generations. Ayla once again was acting as the medicine woman for the Clan, since Iza was still too weak to travel. Because of her presence the mog-urs of the other clan decided that they would forgo the ceremonial drink they were all looking forward to.

While at the Gathering Ayla was approached by a woman from another Clan. She to had a child, a little girl, that had similar deformities as Durc. The woman told Ayla that she was afraid that her little girl would never find a mate. She was hoping that maybe she and Ayla could arrange a mating between the two children. She promised to teach her daughter to be a proper woman of the Clan so that she would not be a burden to Durc or his Clan. It was agreed that at the next Clan Gathering that she would be adopted by Brun's Clan and that she would live with Brun and his mate until she was old enough to be mated to Durc.

The woman told Ayla that her mate had allowed her to keep her daughter as a punishment. She had been attacked by a group of men from the Others and they had relieved themselves with her. Her daughter’s deformities had been seen as a curse.

It was an difficult struggle but Brun's Clan managed to retain it's top spot in among the all the Clan's. The other Clans even come to accept Ayla once she showed bravery and no thought for her own safety when she rushed into save one of the hunters that had been mauled by a Cave Bear. Her heroic act even changed the minds of the rest of the mog-urs and they decided Ayla was a medicine woman of the Iza line and she would be able to make the special drink for the Mog-ur's secret ceremony.

During the women's ceremony Ayla came across the special bowl that was used to mix the special drink for the mog-urs. She discovered that the mog-urs had not drank of the drink. She feared that she had done it wrong because there was not suppose to be any left over. But she couldn't throw it out, it was too important. Even thought she was not suppose Ayla decided to finish off the drink. The drink took immediate effect on her.

A voice begins to call to Ayla inside her mind. It drew her eve deeper into the cave. She soon realizes that it is Creb that was calling her. And he to realizes that she has joined into the vision. Possessing skills no other mog-ur before him, or no other mog-ur after him would ever possess he was able to keep Ayla's separated from the rest of the mog-urs. He leads her on a vision through time. Creb and Ayla witness Ayla's people continuing on into the future, while his people did not have much time left. They also witnessed that Ayla's son Durc was bridge between their two people. In Durc the Clan at least would survive on in some fashion.

Shortly after returning home from the Clan Gathering, Iza condition became even worse. She had contracted tuberculous and her end was near. Ayla fought to keep Iza alive but her condition was just to sever. Before Iza passed away she urged Ayla to seek out her own people. The Clan was no longer safe for her. She was dying and Brun and Creb would not be far behind. Iza feared for Ayla once Broud was in charge of the Clan.

After passing of their baby sister Iza; the two brothers Brun and Creb decided that they were getting to be to old. It was time that they stepped down and allowed their underlings to take charge of the Clan. This was just as good of time as ever since their Clan was once again on top.

A ceremony was held to confirm the new leaders. Creb passed the mantle of mog-ur onto his acolyte, who in turn named Broud as the new leader of the Clan. Broud's first order of business was to give Ayla as a mate to one of his hunters. And since Durc called every women mother (because they had to help nurse him while after she lost her milk trying to nurse Iza back to health) among the Clan, Broud placed Durc with Uba.

He also declared that Ayla would no longer be allowed to hunt.

Ayla stood up to Broud, he couldn't do this. Creb was getting old and needed someone to take care of him. But Broud would not have any of this. He cursed her to death. The death curse took everybody by surprise. In the past there had always been some build up before someone was cursed with death. Slowly each member of the Clan turned away from her. Even her adoptive sister Uba turned her back on Ayla. It was only Brun that paid any attention to Ayla, even though it was indirect. She pleaded to Brun to take control her son.

During the ceremony Creb made his way into the cave. While inside the cave an earthquake hit. A stone falling from the roof of the cave crushed Creb's head killing him.

After talking to Brun Ayla ran into the cave to gather up her belongings. She entered the back of the cave to get a share of rations for the journey ahead. While she was back there she came across the dead body of Creb. She preformed a quick burial ceremony for the man that had been the only father that she had ever known.

As she left the Clan's cave her son Durc came running after her. She turned around and told him that she had to go and that he must stay behind.

Off Ayla went to find the Others, to find her own people.

Final Thoughts:
When I was a senior at Charlestown High School I first read this book. I needed to do an outside reading assignment for my English class and this book was list of books that were covered by the test. And since I knew there had been a movie made from this book I decided to give it a try. It had work on the book I read previously; 2001 A Space Odyssey. Were I had read the first hundred pages of 2001 before I took the test and aced it, I had no such luck with The Clan of the Cave Bear. I actually had to read the whole book before I passed this test.

If you are into speculative history novels I would recommend this book to you. Jean M. Auel has painted a portrait of the world that is completely alien to us today. A world in which two races of humans lived side by side one another, struggling to/ survive against the harsh condition of a world locked in an Ice Age. Without even so much as a Bic lighter these people managed to survive the long harsh winter months. I doubt any of us today would been able to get past day back then.

This book is a must read and I give it 9.5/10.

No comments:

Post a Comment