Book Review

Earth’s Children (Series) by Jean M. Auel

C+

Title: Clan of the Cave Bear (and rest of series)
Author: Jean M. Auel
Publication Info: Bantam June 25, 2002
ISBN: 0553381679
Genre: Top 100 Banned Books

Submitted by Katie Dickson

Jean Auel’s first novel in the series, Clan of the Cave Bear, was recommended to me by my uncle when I was just starting high school. He gave it to me with a warning. “Um,†he said, “I started to read the rest of the books, but they got kind of romance-novel-ish.†He was clearly embarrassed. “The sequels are kind of smutty.â€

Telling a young lady that the book she is about to read is not only good but contains plenty of sex is like handing a young man a Playboy. I immediately checked out each Earth’s Children novel from my local library.

Earth’s Children should be divided into two categories: Cave Bear and everything else. Cave Bear is a marvelous experiment, richly detailed and researched and endlessly fascinating. The main character, blonde Homo sapien Ayla, is adopted by a pack of Neanderthals (called Flat-Heads by humans) and must learn to survive first among the group and then on her own. Talk about female empowerment! Ayla follows the classic romance novel heroine pattern: she’s buxom, blonde, had a tough childhood, is great with animals, a natural healer, and is in possession of a Magical Vajayjay. She also has a pet lion.

Unfortunately for the plot (great for Ayla, bad for readers), in book two (Valley of Horses) she discovers cunnilingus in the form of Jondalar, a Brad Pitt wannabe with a huge schlong. Jondalar lives to hunt, eat out, and stick his penis into things. From then on, the Earth’s Children series reads like a summation of past events sprinkled with technical sexual how-tos. It’s not too much of a stretch to say Valley of Horses was the first erotica I ever read.

Props go to Auel for the way the build-up is handled. Readers get parallel points of view, with every other chapter from either Ayla’s or Jondalar’s perspective. As cookie-cutter as both the characters seem to be, there is a little depth to be found in these pages, as Jondalar roams across the known world in search of a wife. In the process, he goes down on lots and lots of women, and Ayla tames animals and learns to be self-sufficient. She also basically invents modern hunting. Not too shabby!

Auel is guilty of breaking the Golden Rule of sex scenes: use them to move the story forward or develop the characters, or don’t use them at all. A few of the sex scenes are helpful, necessary, even, in understanding her characters; most are simply fluff. “Smut,†as my uncle said. But what fantastic smut!

I must have read Valley of Horses a dozen times. Even now, the book falls open precisely to the chapters full of the purplest prose. Taken as a whole, Valley of Horses—and its subsequent sequels—is a fairly boring read, tedious and full of irritating adjectives. But if you read it for the good stuff, you won’t be disappointed. And at the age of fourteen or so, I couldn’t get enough.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Gabriele says:

    OK, I was a tad older than 14 when I came across the first three books, but I thought the sex scenes were boring and badly written.

  2. 2
    Nat says:

    I read these as a teen and described the third book to my mother by saying “they either travel or have sex.” As I was reading it, she would ask which part of the two I was up to. It was a great series, but completely destroyed by book 3. I am too afraid to read the newest of the series.

    And the movie of the first book with Daryl Hannah? Just plain bad.

  3. 3
    monimala says:

    I’ve never read any of the books… unless you count the fact that, yup, I borrowed a copy of Valley of the Horses from somebody when I was 14 or 15 and read exactly one scene: where they proved they ain’t nothin’ but mammals and did it like they do on the Discovery Channel.

    Up until that point, I thought all sex was missionary.  Of course, I also thought I was a test tube baby.

  4. 4
    Natalie says:

    In my 9th grade honors science class we had to do book reports and the first three books in the series (the fourth wasn’t out at the time) were on the list of books we could choose from. 

    Honestly, I can’t thank Mr. Bowers enough even if now, in retrospect, I’m not sure what the fuck he was thinking.  Smut is great when you’re 14, but smut sanctioned by school?  AWESOME.  (Especially since my mother didn’t want me reading romance novels.)

  5. 5
    CC says:

    Checked out the first one as a sophomore in high school- thought it was pretty good and couldn’t wait to get the second one checked out.  Was disapointed and didn’t even finish it, let alone venture further in the series.

  6. 6
    Sarah says:

    Oh my god, this must have been one of the first smutty books I read as an adolescent. I thought it was, like, the greatest thing ever. In my copy of Valley of the Horses, I folded down the corners of the pages with sex on them (but I told my mom I had dropped the book).

    I remember thumbing through it a few years ago, and it’s (unfortunately) not as good as I remember.

  7. 7
    desertwillow says:

    I read the first one and loved it! Then I got the second one and was thoroughly creeped out. I felt like she was a sellout. Bagged that series.

  8. 8

    Having spent most of the day going through VOH, trying to find the smuttiest smut possible, I am left quite, shall we say, distracted. Auel writes her sex scenes with as many damn adjectives as humanly possible. Unfortunately, this has quite an effect, just not of the literary kind.

    Yeah, it’s horribly written, and not terribly creative (okay, it’s downright dull for anyone who’s actually HAD sex). But at 14, I would take horribly written smut versus no smut any day. Although I was more than a little disapointed to see the quality take such a nose-dive after CLAN OF THE CAVE BEAR.

    But what can you do but dog-ear the sex scenes and move on?

  9. 9
    Teri Brown says:

    Absolutely loved the first one. I have re-read it a gazillion times. Hated the rest.
    Teri

  10. 10
    iffygenia says:

    And here I thought I was the only teenager who’d read those ;)

    Actually, these are the ONLY books I regret reading in my teens.  Romance novels, no prob… but for me, Cave Bear was deeply upsetting, and I couldn’t finish Valley of Horses.

    I still have a vivid impression of a scene in which sex hurts because she and the Neanderthal don’t have completely compatible parts. And the way Ayla thought she couldn’t refuse sex, so she ended up screwing whoever, however, whether or not she wanted to—eeyow, that freaked me out.  It was a long time before I even read a Harlequin after that.

  11. 11
    veinglory says:

    Even way back then I remember finding the sex scenes a little same-y.  Like, he has a big dick and likes to suck her breasts, I get it already….

  12. 12
    sula says:

    not sure if i’ll regret admitting this, but here goes.  i never did get to read these as a young’un (living in a private religious boarding school and all, they don’t look too kindly on smut and besides, everyone knows that god didn’t make no neanderthals…)  However, while I was living in Africa as a volunteer for several years, reading material was pretty thin on the ground.  I pretty much devoured whatever I could get my hands on regardless of the quality.  And I got my hands on the entire series.  lol.  What can I say, I was entertained. *g*

    If anyone cares to know the latest, A and J do make the long trip back across the frozen tundra to J’s people.  A then has to deal with valley girls who try to make her cry, but she continues to be super-amazing-fantastic at everything. They teach everyone how to make fire.  And shoot arrows.  And of course there is more boinking.  J finally makes an honest woman out of her and they get hitched (or whatever the equivalent is).  And in the end, they have a baby girl.  So I guess it is a little like a romance novel. lol.

    haven’t really thought about this in a few years, so thanks for the trip down memory lane. *sigh*

  13. 13
    Bonnie says:

    I thought Clan of the Cave Bear was pretty interesting.  Read Valley of the Horses and was fairly squicked out by the sex (it was before my romance reading days and I was a prude).  There are two things that stand out in my mind about VOH: Jondalar had big….hands (don’t you think the name Jondalar would make a great sci-fi porn name?) and that Ayla discovered the miracle of soap (in the form of soaproot) long before personal cleanliness was a idea.

  14. 14
    bookworm says:

    LOL. Ayla invented and discovered everything – even the blowjob!

  15. 15
    Sandra D says:

    I read the latest book (Mammoth Hunters?) last year and hated hated HATED it. Never before have I wanted to throw a book against the wall, but dammit I just had to know what she gave birth too. If I’d know I could have just flipped to the last 10 pages I would have. Certain other others have been mentioned on here as being so popular that publishers seem afraid to edit their work, and that’s definitely the problem in this book. Ayla would go to light a lamp and next thing you know you’re in the middle of a 10 page explaination of how the lamp was made, down to how they hunted the animal the oil came from. That was bad enough, but 2 chapters she’d go to light that lamp again, and Auel would simply cut and paste the entire 10 page explaination again! ARGH!!

    *puts away soap box and wanders aimlessly off*

  16. 16

    bookworm,

    I just re-read that part! Jondalar is so totally amazed… I’m like, DUDE. I’m pretty sure cavemen got around to that before fire, if they had their priorities straight. Inventing the blowjob, indeed.

    *scoff*

    I kind of skimmed the other books after VOH and vaguely remember a preggers Ayla and a sex scene in stream. Didn’t think that worth adding to the brief review…

  17. 17
    Sandra D says:

    Certain other authors that is.

  18. 18

    Now afterall these years of not reading these books, I may have to read the first one.  Neanderthals and Homo sapien sapien did not have compatible sexual organs in her book??! How? What the hell?! Srew the sex, this woman’s anthropology sounds totally wacky.

  19. 19

    Never read any of these books. Had to watch the movie in a sociology class and Darryl Hannah put me right off…

  20. 20
    Ayla says:

    ….O-KAY! am i the only one who actually *enjoyed* this series? (i didnt even know it was banned!)
    i read it when i was 11, and i didn’t think it was smutty at all! i’ve reread it all as well. i’ll admit that number four was the worst what with those pages and pages and pages of description about everything! but i quite enjoyed it despite that…

    Maybe it’s because it’s where my name comes from, yes my name *really is* Ayla.

  21. 21
    Maura says:

    No, I liked the series, too, although there is a little too much of Jondalar’s “prodigious manhood”. :)

    Maura

  22. 22
    lisabea says:

    I couldn’t get into VOH. Hey, isn’t Clan of the Cave Bear the movie where the neanderthal/Ayla discover the missionary possition? Or is that Quest for Fire? Monkey sex is a little overrated, if you ask me.

    But, hee hee, my husband loved them and read them all.

  23. 23
    Carrie Lofty says:

    Valley of the Horses rocked my ninth grade world.

  24. 24
    Deanna Lee says:

    I’ve read them all- and I guess because I read the series when I was very young (I started at 13) and at that time I’d glutted myself on Harlequin Desire. The difference was enough that I was absolutely fascinated and even entertained.

    I still own the books, they sit beside Harry Potter on my bookshelf.

  25. 25
    iffygenia says:

    jocelynnesimone, I recall them being not totally incompatible, but painful.  It was a long time ago—I could be misremembering the deets.

    Maybe it was painful because only Jondalar’s Magic Heeha and Special Oral Lovitude could get her in the mood!

  26. 26
    Joanna S. says:

    Actually, it’s not that their parts are incompatible, but rather because Broud demands sex of her when he knows that she abso-freakin’-lutely can’t stand him (and the feeling is very mutual).  Culturally, Ayla has been taught that she cannot refuse a man when he makes the super boinky-boinky hand gesture, and so she doesn’t refuse…initially.  Then, once the act commences, she’s like “dude, not even!” And begins to fight, at which point we continue into a rather frightening rape sequence (even if we are unaware that we have been reading a tacit rape sequence up to this point).

    I first read these books in the 8th grade, and yes, they were in my school’s library.  Once I got past CotCB, I realized that the librarians and school officials has obviously not bothered to READ any of the other books because…whoodamn!  The sexual awakening of Joanna began in a BIG way (and not just because of Jondalar’s enormous schlong and the explicit explanations of (ahem!) anthropology).

  27. 27
    iffygenia says:

    Ha! That probably shows how little I understood sex back when I read it.

    I did understand the rape aspects—that was a lot of what freaked me out.

  28. 28
    Joanna S. says:

    It totally freaked me out as well.  It was the first time that I can remember rape invading my “safe space” within literature.  I, of course, had seen many allusions to it in film and on TV (my parents never really limited my exposure to the difficult questions, ideas, etc. in any medium), but within books – or at least within the books I had read up to that point, I had never really experiences something so awful, angry and violent…and, in many ways, inevitable considering the position of servitude the women of “flat-head” culture inhabit.

    Of course, I can be all academic about it NOW, but back then, I just had to put the book down for awhile and come back to it after I’d gotten over my serious case of the icks.

  29. 29
    Ehren says:

    I only saw the movie when I was younger, not sure how old, though. I only got the chance to look through the book when my great granpa was dying not that long ago. we were busy trying to divide up the stuff in his home and everyone loves books in my family, so i had to start picking early… WAY early. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to keep the book. One of my uncles got it instead. I didn’t know there were other books and that this was a series. huh.

  30. 30
    Kat says:

    I’ve never read any of the books in this series. But I’ve read all the sex scenes. All of them. Even the ones with mammoths.

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