Message From The Author
Jean Auel's Landmark Earth's Children® Series Returns with THE SHELTERS OF STONE!
By Laurie Davie and Sharon L. Davie
When we heard that another Jean Auel book was in the publication pipeline, we had to find out all we could about one of the most anticipated novels of the decade. Our own mystery maven Laurie Davie and her sister Sharon L. Davie (a writer and Director of the Women's Center at the University of Virginia)—both ardent Auel fans—jumped at the chance to be among the first to interview the reclusive Auel at her Portland, Oregon home. Needless to say, we got all the scoop about the new book, the future of the series and the legendary lady herself. Enjoy…
What's a few thousand years between humans? In Jean Auel's Earth's Children. series—as addictive as a soap opera, as real as your best friend's voice on the phone—it's everything, and nothing at all.
For over 20 years, readers have been riveted by Auel's prehistoric heroine Ayla, an orphaned child of the "Others" (Cro Magnons) who is adopted by the Neanderthal Clan of the Cave Bear. When she's cast out to survive on her own, she invents new tools, domesticates animals, and becomes very handy with weapons. Eventually, Ayla meets Cro Magnons like herself, including her beloved Jondalar. And in THE SHELTERS OF STONE, perhaps the most enjoyable and satisfying book yet, Ayla and Jondalar finally find their way back home, in more ways than one—their circle is completed, their hearts and hearths are joined.
Auel's phenomenal bestsellers are translated into 29 languages and have sold more than 34 million copies worldwide. The Earth's Children. series not only invented a whole new genre—"prehistoric fiction"—but also permanently changed the way we think about the origins of humanity, our early ancestors and ourselves. And perhaps now, more than ever, our shared humanity is important.
"In some ways, I'm looking at contemporary ideas through a prehistoric lens," Jean reflected in our recent interview. "If I had chosen to write about Blacks or Native Americans or Jews, which some people have prejudice about today, it wouldn't have worked. But if I'm talking about Neanderthals… A woman came up to me and said, 'How could they hate them so much, they were so wonderful.' If that makes people stop and think—Why do we have
prejudice? Because of the different, the new." She concludes, "The most important thing that Jondalar and Ayla bring is not fire, or
the needle…it is change."
Through Ayla's adventures, readers not only feel the tangible
texture of these prehistoric lives, but also get a sense of how human society developed as it steadily increased in population and sophistication. The key to Jean's unparalleled success, however, isn't just the history lesson. Her vibrant characters live and breathe, rejoice and regret, feel agonizing doubt and great happiness. Ayla, Jondalar and the rest elicit readers' sympathy, empathy, and an almost uncanny sense of recognition. "When I write a funny scene, I want the reader to laugh. When I write a sad scene, I want them to cry. When I write a sexual scene, I want them to feel something!" Jean declares. "That's fiction, and I want to write it the best that I can."
Jean wasn't an archeologist, nor even a historian, when she began writing. At a career crossroads, she decided to try writing a short story, "a story of a girl who was living with people who were different. Less advanced… But they were looking at her as though she was different." That short story grew into a novel, then Jean realized that her novel was in fact an outline for a six-book series. And despite some wild (and false) rumors, there's no drama behind the 12-year hiatus before SHELTERS' release. "I do research the background extensively," Jean says, "and it does take time to develop the material and turn it into a story"—one that's well worth the wait!
In Jean's first novel, The Clan of the Cave Bear ('81), Ayla is adopted into a Clan of Neanderthals by the kind medicine woman, Iza, with varying degrees of acceptance. Her height, coloring and features are foreign to all of them, though some, like Iza, can look past that to care for a lonely little girl, while others, like the hot-tempered Broud, can only resent her difference. Ayla struggles to fit in, but the swift intelligence, strong will and imagination that are a result of her differently-shaped, more advanced brain make it difficult. Banished from the Clan, Ayla learns to survive on her own, adopting an orphaned foal, Whinney, and the cave lion cub, Baby (The Valley of Horses, '82). She also rescues the handsome Jondalar, who's on a quest of his own, and is overjoyed to meet her own kind for the first time.
Though their relationship grows steadily into love, Jondalar must battle his own prejudice against the Clan who raised her, and this struggle to accept difference is further explored in the later novels: The Mammoth Hunters ('85) and The Plains of Passage ('90). Most of the other Cro Magnons look on her former Clan as "flatheads" who are considered animals. Ayla, who feels a fierce loyalty to the Clan that raised her, risks being thought of as an "abomination" when she defends them.
In SHELTERS OF STONE, Ayla returns with Jondalar to the Zelandonii, his home tribe. Their long journey—both emotional and geographical—towards a home together is finally over, and to complete their happiness, Ayla is expecting a child! She also meets Jondalar's family—anxiety-producing in any era—but in fact, they turn out to be far kinder and more tolerant of her Clan background than Jondalar had feared.
The driving force that propels Jean's writing, giving her stories a detailed, palpable texture of reality is her intense interest in how things work. Before she ever entertained thoughts of being an author, Jean decided to learn physics—beginning with basic algebra! Her research is meticulous and exhaustive yet also quite literally "hands on." As she puts it, "I like to absorb."
Jean has knapped flint, tanned hides with animal brains, gathered and prepared wild plants, and traveled to numerous countries in Western and Eastern Europe to visit the sites of her novels, including the huge rock shelters at Laugerie Haute in France, where the Ninth Cave of the Zelandonii, Jondalar's people, make their home. She even went to Russia to see musical instruments made of Mammoth bones, had information about them translated, and heard them played ("And this was before détente!" she exclaims.). Most of all, though, she has thoroughly explored, almost haunted, the caves and sites where her books are set, experiencing their otherworldly power.
"I can walk in these original places that are in the books, and they are spiritual, a kind of sanctuary. You can't capture this in photographs… I have cried every time I've been in the caves," Jean says. The famous Lascaux site in France—filled with some of the earliest cave paintings yet discovered—is where a mystical experience in SHELTERS takes place. Jean emphasizes that "the horses painted on the wall are beautifully drawn, not stick figures, you know. The walls aren't flat, so there's contour, relief—the artists used that! So if you take a few steps, it looks like the horse moved—it especially would in the firelight, the flickers—there is movement.… These artists were masters of drama!"
The mystery, excitement and energy of the natural world is perhaps most fully expressed in SHELTERS, from the pulse-pounding hunt scenes, to the magical white cave Ayla discovers—"the glorious white walls of crystallized calcite molded to the shape of the rock, shimmeringly alive in
the torchlight"—to Ayla and Jondalar's sharing of the sexual "Gift of Pleasure." It's very satisfying to watch Ayla and Jondalar's love grow into a more mature relationship that's still incredibly passionate.
With impending motherhood, Ayla's also dealing with conflicts between career and family that are familiar to any 21st-century woman. The spiritual authority of the tribe wants Ayla under her supervision, training
to be a "donier" (holy woman), as she recognizes in her a powerful natural ability. Though she was trained by Iza to be a skilled Healer, the spiritual realm makes Ayla uneasy; what she wants most is to make a home with Jondalar and raise their children. Will she refuse her destiny? Or can she have it all—love, family, and fulfilling work?
The Cro-Magnon Zelandonii are truly a fascinating society—bustling, sophisticated and pleasure-loving. Like most ancient tribes, they worship the Great Earth Mother, the "Female Creator" who provides their food, their shelter, their very lives.
As Jean points out, "If this was a world where women were revered, the first sexual experience wasn't fumbling around in the back seat of a car! Older women would teach the men, so that they would know how to please a woman.… There are fascinating sexual images of the period, and they don't always show up in the coffee table books."
The plump "donii" figures—female
statues with enormous breasts, hips and buttocks, but no head, because the Mother's face was too powerful to look upon—were not fertility symbols, Jean insists, but represented the richness of the Earth, the Great Mother. And indeed, the holy woman of Jondalar's cave has a figure that's as large
as her mighty presence and authority!
Will the Earth's Children® series continue? Of course! Jean's hard at work on book six, and recently traveled to Africa to research the sites of Ayla and Jondalar's next adventures. "I saw the total eclipse there, and the animals! The animals are the closest to those I'm writing about," she enthuses. Though reluctant to reveal too much, she did tell us that Africa and the eclipse will be part of the setting for her next book.
Reflecting on her decades-long quest to illuminate and invent our very human ancestors, Jean admitted ruefully, "This is the hardest work I have ever done, and I never want to do anything else."
To see a video interview with Jean Auel, or enter the Great Search for Ayla contest, go to http://www.randomhouse. com/features/auel/home.html.
Excerpt from THE SHELTERS OF STONE
There was a tapping at the entrance, but without waiting for an invitation, Zelandoni pushed the drape aside and came in. Folara followed her, and Ayla realized the young woman had slipped out and summoned the woman. She nodded approval to herself; it was the right thing to do. Jondalar's sister was a wise young woman.…
Folara had told the powerful woman the essence of the problem; Zelandoni glanced around and took in the situation quickly. She turned and spoke quietly
to the young woman, who immediately headed for the cooking area and started blowing on the coals in the fireplace to get them started again. But the fire was dead. Marthona had spread the embers to cook the meat evenly and hadn't gotten back to rekindle and bank the fire to keep it alive.
Here was something Ayla could do to help. She left the scene of grief and quickly went to her pack near the entrance. She knew exactly where her tinder kit was, and as she snatched it and headed for the cooking area, she thought of Barzec, the Mamutoi man who had made it for her after she had given each hearth of the Lion Camp a firestone.
"Let me help you make the fire," she said.
Folara smiled. She knew how to make a fire, but it was upsetting to see the man of the hearth so distressed, and she was pleased to have someone there with her. Willamar had always been so strong, so steady, so self-possessed.
"If you get some kindling, I'll start it," Ayla said.
"The fire-starting sticks are over here," Folara said, turning toward the back shelf.
"That's all right. I don't need them," Ayla said, opening her tinder kit. It had several compartments and small pouches. She opened one and poured out crushed, dried horse dung, from another she pulled out fluffy fireweed fibers and arranged them on top of the dung, and from a third she poured out some shaved slivers of wood beside the first pile.
Folara watched. During the long Journey, Ayla had obviously learned to have fire-making materials easily at hand, but the younger woman looked puzzled when Ayla next took out a couple of stones. Leaning close to the tinder, the woman her brother had brought home with him struck the two stones together and blew at the tinder, and it burst into flame. It was uncanny!
"How did you do that?" Folara asked, completely astonished.
"I'll show you later," Ayla said. "Right now, let's keep this fire going so we can get some water boiling for Zelandoni."
Folara felt a rush of something like fear. "How did you know what I was going to do?" …
"I met Zelandoni. I know she's your healer. That's why you went to get her, isn't it?" Ayla asked.
"Yes, she's the donier," the young woman said.
"Healers usually like to make a tea or drink to help calm someone who is upset. I assumed that she asked you to boil water for her to make it with," Ayla carefully explained.
Folara visibly relaxed; it was perfectly reasonable.
"And I promise I'll show you how to make fire like that. Anyone can do it…with the right stones."
"Yes, even you," Ayla said, smiling.
The young woman smiled, too. She had been dying of curiosity about the woman…but she didn't want to be impolite. Now she had even more questions, but the foreign woman did not feel so unapproachable. In fact, she seemed rather nice.
"Would you tell me about the horses, too?"
Ayla gave her big pleased grin.
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