Land of Painted Caves (Auel)

The Land of Painted Caves: (Earth's Children series 6)
Jean M. Auel, 2011
Crown Publishing Group
768 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780517580516

It is summer in the land of the Zelandonii, and it is nearly time for the next Summer Meeting. Ayla finds it is time to strike a balance between being a mother to her daughter, Jonayla, and a loving mate to Jondalar, while pursuing the fascinating knowledge and power of the Zelandoni, lead by the charismatic First Among Those Who Served the Mother of the Zelandoni of the Ninth Cave.

With The Land of Painted Caves, Auel gives fans the epic they've been waiting for, and she does not disappoint as she continues the story of Ayla and Jondalar and their little daughter Jonayla. Once again Jean Auel combines her brilliant narrative skills and appealing characters with a remarkable re-creation of the way life was lived tens of thousands of years ago.

The terrain, dwelling places, longings, beliefs, creativity, and daily lives of her characters are as real to the reader as today's news. The Land of Painted Caves is a brilliant achievement by one of the world's most beloved authors. (From the author's website.)

Author Bio
Birth—February 18, 1936
Where—Chicago, Illinois, USA
Education—B.A., Portland State University; M.B.A,
   University of Oregon
Currently—lives in Portland, Oregon

Jean Marie Untinen, of Finnish descent, married Ray Bernard Auel after high school, raised five children, and attended college at night while working for an electronics firm in Portland, Oregon. Shortly after earning her MBA in 1976, she was inspired by a story idea so powerful it effectively consumed her for the next few years. In a single creative burst, she conceived a sweeping epic set in prehistoric Europe and featuring a unique heroine: a young Cro-Magnon woman named Ayla, raised as a misfit in a society of inhospitable Neandertals. Auel quit her job, immersed herself in research, and began writing nearly nonstop.

At first, Auel imagined she had the makings of a single book. But when she completed her first draft (more than 450,000 words!), she realized that the story fell naturally into six parts, each one demanding a novel all its own. She worked feverishly on the first installment, revising parts of it as many as 20 and 30 times. Published in 1980, The Clan of the Cave Bear became an instant bestseller, marking the start of the thrilling, totally original Ice Age saga, Earth's Children.

The series owes much of its appeal to Auel's feminist protagonist Ayla, a preternaturally resourceful woman with all the skills and abilities of men but without their warlike qualities. She is the first to ride a horse, tame a wolf, and make fire from flint; she understands the healing power of herbs; and, as the novels progress, she develops mystical, even shamanic powers. Readers were understandably intrigued.

Although Auel writes speculative fiction, she receives high marks for historical accuracy. In the interest of creating an authentic Ice Age setting, her research has led her in interesting, unpredictable directions. She has read extensively, traveled to archeological sites around the world, and learned through various sources how to knapp flint, tan hides, construct snow caves, and prepare medicinal herbs. What emerges in her writing is a precise evocation of time and place that provides a realistic and enthralling backdrop to Ayla's adventures.

• Jean's last name is pronounced like "owl."

• Before becoming a bestselling novelist, Jean worked as a clerk, a circuit board designer, a credit manager, and a technical writer.

• Jean's extensive research into Ice Age Europe has taken her to prehistoric sites in France, Austria, Czechoslovakia, the Ukraine, the Soviet Union, Hungary, and Germany.

• When Jean first gazed at the Paleolithic paintings on the walls of Altamira's caves, she was so moved she began to cry.

• Jean's advice to aspiring writers of historical fiction: "Write what you love to learn about."   (From Barnes & Noble and Wikipedia.)

Book Reviews
[T]here is real sweetness in the saga’s finale, when Ayla’s legacy to the world—both hers and ours—is made clear. Myriad things have changed in the last 30,000 years, but the endurance of human love is not one of them.
Washington Post

[A] convincing portrait of ancient life. And readers who fell in love with little Ayla will no doubt revel in her prehistoric womanhood.

Thirty thousand years in the making and 31 years in the writing, Auel's overlong and underplotted sixth and final volume in the Earth's Children series (The Clan of the Cave Bear; etc.) finds Cro-Magnon Ayla; her mate, Jondalar; and their infant daughter, Jonayla, settling in with the clan of the Ninth Cave of the Zelandonaii. Animal whisperer and medicine woman Ayla is an acolyte in training to become a full-fledged Zelandoni (shaman) of the clan, but all is not rosy in this Ice Age setting; there are wild animals to face and earthquakes to survive, as well as a hunter named Balderan, who has targeted Ayla for death, and a potential cave-wrecker named Marona. While gazing on an elaborate cave painting (presumably, the Lascaux caverns in France), Ayla has an epiphany and invents the concept of art appreciation, and after she overdoses on a hallucinogenic root, Ayla and Jondalar come to understand how much they mean to one another, thus giving birth to another concept—monogamy. Otherwise, not much of dramatic interest happens, and Ayla, for all her superwomanish ways, remains unfortunately flat. Nevertheless, readers who enjoyed the previous volumes will relish the opportunity to re-enter pre-history one last time.
Publishers Weekly

Auel's prehistoric series debuted to rave reviews and a movie deal in 1980 with The Clan of the Cave Bear. Nine years after The Shelters of Stone, the final book will be released accompanied by a massive promotional blitz (including academic and library marketing). Ayla is the mate of Jondalar, the mother of Jonayla, their infant daughter, and an acolyte of the First of the Zelandonii, the spiritual leaders of the caves of her husband's people. But all is not well with Ayla. She is separated from her husband and daughter while training for her new position, which takes a terrible physical toll on her health, and her innovative ideas and unusual history create conflict among the people. Long, well-researched, sometimes repetitive descriptions of cave paintings, food gathering, hunting, family relationships, and religion will appeal to those with an interest in prehistory. Others may wish there was a bit more story and a bit less anthropology. Verdict: Though one must occasionally suspend disbelief that one young woman, no matter how intelligent, can really be responsible for introducing concepts such as animal husbandry, sign language, and the role of men in sexuality and conception, the book is compelling and will be in high demand by Auel's fans. —Jane Henriksen Baird, Anchorage P.L., AK
Library Journal

What began 30 years ago with Auel's best-seller The Clan of the Cave Bear (1980) comes to an end in the sixth installment.... There's not a lot of urgency in this final volume, but the millions of readers who have been with Ayla from the start will want to once again lose themselves in the rich prehistoric world Auel conjures and see how this internationally beloved series concludes. —Kristine Huntley

(Starred review.) As with her other books, Auel spins her tale with credible dialogue, believable situations and considerable drama. More than that, she deftly creates a whole world, giving a sense of the origins of class, ethnic and cultural differences that alternately divide and fascinate us today. Among modern epic spinners, Auel has few peers.
KirKus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. How did you find Jean Auel’s Earth’s Children ® Series? How long have you been reading the series? Have you shared the experience of reading these books with other people in your life?

2. The author’s research is acclaimed by experts, and she takes great pains to get the details correct. What does this authenticity contribute to The Land of Painted Caves? Do you feel that you have learned facts and aspects about ancient cultures you might not have otherwise known?

3. If you could ask Jean Auel anything, what would you ask her? If you have read the entire six-novel series, what questions do you feel were answered in this book? What questions do you still have?

4. How has Ayla’s tendency to think as a medicine woman shaped who she has become? What does her devotion to helping others who are hurt or ill say about her, and how does it affect how she is perceived in her home cave and along her travels?

5. The Sacred Cave is based on real caves and drawings. What does the ancient art tell us about the people who made it? What is the value of these caves to us today? In the novel, some who visit the caves are moved to participate; what do you think causes that impulse?

6. Ayla is a constant source of change and innovation for which she is both rewarded and punished. What difficulties does she face because of her tendency to challenge the status quo? What is the difference between Ayla, a woman, initiating change, versus a man introducing it? Do you think people today adapt differently to change?

7. When Balderan had to be punished for his crimes, did you agree with the decision of the Zelandonia (see chapter 25)? Ayla’s feelings about being directly involved are mixed, but the intended punishment was not carried out; what did you think about the mob’s reaction? Has justice evolved?

8. Sex is an important part of social interaction in The Land of Painted Caves and the earlier books in Auel’s Earth’s Children® series. How are our society’s thoughts about sex different or the same as the Zelandonii’s?

9. How does the tension between Ayla’s role as a wife and mother and her training to become one of the Zelandonia impact the events of the novel? Does this struggle resonate with you today? How? Why?

10. One of the themes in this book is jealousy. Jondalar confronts the most extreme jealousy of his life when Ayla turns to someone else, and Ayla experiences jealousy for the first time. What were some causes and results of jealousy between the characters in this novel? Why do the Zelandonii condemn jealousy and work so hard to eradicate it?

11. Ayla has had to deal with immense losses in her life, and a great sacrifice is required during her calling. What did you feel about her loss? What is the connection between losing her baby and learning the end of the Mother’s song?

12. What makes Ayla risk concocting the root brew she learned to make in The Clan of the Cave Bear again? What did she discover by using the roots to travel to the spirit world? Do you think her decision was inevitable?

13. How has Ayla’s and Jondalar’s relationship changed since they first met? How has it stayed the same? Does this reflect the rhythm of a modern relationship? If so, how, and if not, why? What remains their greatest challenge as a couple?

14. What are some of the implications of Ayla’s revelation that men and women are equally involved in creating children (distinct from the Neanderthal society’s belief that the individual’s totems vie for dominance and the Cro-Magnon society’s belief that the Mother chooses the man’s spirit to mix with the woman’s spirit when She blesses a woman)?

15. At the end of The Land of Painted Caves author Jean M. Auel has illuminated many aspects of her characters’ stories, begun thirty years ago in The Clan of the Cave Bear. What most surprised you? What most satisfied your? And do dedicated readers still have any questions?

16. Jean M. Auel has stated that when she ends this series, she will miss Ayla's character who she claims to know better than some of her friends. Other than Ayla, which character featured in The Land of Painted Caves will you miss most, or which character remains most clearly etched in your mind?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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