The Plains of Passage by Jean M. Auel
I don’t know why I’m still reading this series. This book offered nothing terribly different from the previous installments: an overabundance of researched anthropological detail, a heroine without flaws who makes no mistakes, terrible, unneccessary sex scenes, and distinct, easily resolved episodes loosely strung together overlapping a glacially-paced main plot.
Ayla and Jondalar spend some time with a tribe run by a madwoman. This episode disturbed me because the description of the tribe seemed like a men’s rights activist’s caricature of what will happen if women get any power. The men are imprisoned, enslaved, and maimed. The women hunt incompetently, so the tribe is unlikely to survive the winter when Ayla and Jondalar show up. The leader is a true misandrist who of course was warped by the abuse she suffered at the hands of several men. Of course Ayla and Jondalar save the day, giving the tribe a civics lesson before going off into the sunset, to be mythologized into visiting gods.
Lots of rape in this book. Ayla helps a girl recover from a gang rape, then later stops the same gang from raping another woman. We learn that the primitive societies that in previous books seemed so progressive about premarital sex are really not all that sex-positive. Only women who have been ritually deflowered in a first rites ceremony are allowed to have sex without losing their reputation. This new cultural wrinkle seemed tacked on solely to increase the drama surrounding the rape episode. And it makes the culture much more creepy and nonsensical even than later cultures that insist on virgin brides. In this case, the rape victim didn’t lose her reputation because it was clear the men had violently forced her, but if it had been one of those “gray rape” situations, she would have been shunned.
This series in general seems to be using ancient people to explore contemporary issues of sexuality. That’s not a bad premise. It has potential, at least. One reason I keep having issues with the series is that it makes an implicit claim to know what our ancestors were like, and thus what true human sexuality is like, what we were like before civilization warped us. And that’s something that’s so hard to prove, so hard to make into a single story. The series is a novelization of evolutionary psychology, complete with all the issues that that field has. The series also seems to think it’s more progressive than it really is, but maybe it just seems that way because it’s dated, written in the 80’s and 90’s.
Various events endangered Ayla’s animals, her two horses and her pet wolf, so of course she had to whine incessantly about how the animals were like children to her, and she just couldn’t stand to lose one of them because she’d already lost her son and wah wah wah. I always find it annoying when people treat animals like they’re human beings, in books and in life.
In previous books I complained about how ridiculous it was that a few characters were responsible for all the important inventions that made civilization possible. In this book we witness the invention of soap, sledding, pottery and representational portrait sculpture.
This book marked a step toward communication between the clan and the various human tribes. Toward the end of the book, Ayla and Jondalar meet and help a clan man who is considering proposing that the clan begin trading with “the others,” and they consider making similar proposals to their people. They meet a man “of mixed spirits” (half clan and half human) who proposes marriage to Jondalar’s cousin. The series as a whole seems to be moving toward bringing the two societies together, for conflict or cooperation or both. The clan is ultimately doomed to die out, but they will be at least partially integrated into human society through intermarriages like the one in this book. The main reason I’m still reading is to see what will happen with this macro-level plotline. I especially want to see what’s been happening with the clan Ayla grew up in since she left.