Friday, May 4, 2018

The Land of Painted Caves (Earth's Children #6) by Jean M. Auel

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This is the final book in the Earth's Children series and it follows the journey of Ayla, as she attempts to become a Zelandonia (read: medicine woman) of her adopted tribe the Zelandonii. Ayla must survive in a prehistoric world in which danger lurks at every corner and life is dependent upon gathering from the land, while going through rigorous training which will test all of the skills that she has developed to date. Most people who train for the Zelandonii are not mated, let alone have children and so this journey will test Ayla's  relationship with Jondalar - the first human she met after being expelled from the Clan.  Will Ayla finally come full circle and be welcomed and cherished by the others from whom she was seperated from so many years ago?

I know that normally when we a review a series, we start with book one and follow through until the end but because I first read clan of the Cave Bear when I was a pre-teen and didn't know until recently that Auel had finally gotten around to finishing the series, starting at the beginning just felt like too much. Including a review of The Land of Painted Caves is a bit of a stretch on Fangs for the Fantasy given that it's not exactly paranormal; however, it does fall clearly into the realm of historical fantasy.  Auel has clearly done a lot of research into the tools used in prehistoric times and created a world which includes a creation myth and a religion that we can only imagine because not much survives from this time.  

The Land of Painted Caves is seven hundred and fifty-seven pages long and could easily have been cut down by a minimum of three hundred pages.  It was only my determination to see this story through to the end because of the fact that I started this series so young which caused me to  persevere to the end. It's quite possible to skip entire pages at a time and not miss a single thread of the story. The Land of Painted Caves is absolutely the definition of over written and pointless. 

It's not surprising that given the fact that modern science as we understand it is thousands of years away in The Land of Painted Caves that Auel had her characters worship natural spirits.  It makes sense to me that Auel had the Zelandonii practice a form of earth based religion; however, said worship quickly became tedious. Because the Zelandonii are in a pre written word stage of development, they practice an oral tradition of passing on information.  Auel took this oral tradition too far because she insisted on writing "The Mother's Song" repeatedly throughout the novel.  

Out of the darkness, the chaos of time,
the whirlwind gave birth to the Mother sublime.
She woke to Herself knowing life had great worth,
the dark empty void grieved the Great Mother Earth.
The Mother was lonely. She was the only.

From the dust of Her birth she created the other,
A pale shining friend, a companion, a brother.
They grew up together, learned to love and to care,
And when She was ready, they decided to pair.
Around Her he'd hover. Her pale shining lover.

She was happy at first with her one counterpart.
Then the Mother grew restless, unsure in Her heart.
She loved Her fair friend, Her dear complement,
But something was missing, Her love was unspent.
She was the Mother. She needed another.

She dared the great void, the chaos, the dark,
To find the cold home of the life-giving spark.
The whirlwind was fearsome, the darkness complete.
Chaos was freezing, and reached for Her heat. 
The mother was brave. the danger was grave.

She drew from cold chaos the creative source,
Then conceiving within, She fled with life force.
She grew with life that She carried inside.
And gave of Herself with love and with pride.
The Mother was hearing. her life She was sharing.

With a thunderous roar Her stones split asunder,
And from the great cave that opened deep under,
She birthed once again from her cavernous heart,
Bringing forth all the creatures of Earth from the start,
From the Mother forlorn, more children were born.

Each child was different, some were large and some small, 
Some could walk and some fly, some could swim and some crawl.
But each form was perfect, each spirit complete,
Each one was a model whose shape could repeat.
The Mother was willing. The green earth was filling,

All the birds an the fish and the animals born,
Would not leave the Mother, this time, to mourn.
Each kind would live near the place of its birth,
And share the expanse of the Great Mother Earth.
Close to Her they would stay. They could not run away.

They all were her children, they filled her with pride
But they used up the life force she carried inside.
She had enough left for a last innovation,
A child who'd remember Who made the creation,
A child who'd respect. And learn to protect. 

First Woman was born full frown and alive,
And given the Gifts she would need to survive.
Life was the First Gift, and like Mother Earth,
She woke to herself knowing life had great worth.
First Woman defined. The first of her kind.

Next was the Gift of Perception, of learning,
The desire to know, the Gift of Discovering,
First Woman was given the knowledge within,
That would help her to live, then impart to her kin.
First Woman would know. How to learn, how to grow. 

Her life force near gone, the Mother was spent,
To pass on Life's Spirit had been Her intent.
She caused all of Her children to create life anew,
And Woman was blessed to bring forth life, too.
But Woman was lonely. She was the only.

The Mother remembered Her own loneliness
The love of Her friend and his hovering caress,
With the last spark remaining, Her labor began,
To share life with Woman, She created First Man.
Again She was giving, One more was living.

To Woman and Man the Mother gave birth,
And then for their home, She gave them the Earth,
The water, the land, and all Her creation.
To use them with care was their obligation. 
It was their home to use, But never abuse.

For the Children of Earth the Mother provided,
The Gifts to survive, and then She decided,
To give them the Gift of Pleasure and caring,
That honors the Mother with the joy of their sharing.
The Gifts are well earned, When honor's returned.

The Mother was pleased with the pair she created,
She taught them to love and to care when they mated.
She mad them desire to join with each other,
The Gift of their Pleasures came from the Mother.
Before She was through, Her children loved too.

Her last Gift, the Knowledge that man has his part.
His need must be spent before new life can start.
It honors the Mother when the couple is paired,
Because woman conceived when Pleasures are shared.
Earth's Children were blessed. The could rest. 

Reading this horrendous poem one time in an over seven hundred word tome, is not necessarily a bad thing but reading it repeatedly because for some bizarre reason, Auel was determined that readers be beat over the head with her creation myth is just not forgivable. I perhaps could have gotten over the poem that just wouldn't end if Auel didn't decide to send Ayla on a tour of supposed sacred caves. On Ayla's first trip in, I read through the speculation as to why there were paintings on the cave walls, as well as justifications as to why said cave was supposedly sacred (note: because of echos apparently) and I really was fine with it but by about the tenth cave I was done. I found myself begging for mercy. How many times does one have to read about how amazing the long forgotten artist was or how important it was to create an echo to prove sacredness? Give it a rest already.  By the half way point, anytime they entered a cave I started skimming for the sake of my own sanity. 

You'd think by now that I've mentioned all of the repetitive nonsensebut you'd be wrong. Every time Ayla would meet someone, we'd have a long drawn out introduction that included all of her ties and her angst about holding onto her own name because that's the only thing she has from her long dead mother. I may have mentioned that Ayla is super special but did you know that Ayla's child is of course super special as well. Jonayla is so special that Auel decided to let us know every time that the child had to pee.  The act of urination was apparently fascinating because Ayla would hold the child away from her so that Jonayala could pee freely on the ground, thus turning Ayla into an extraordinary mother because she was so in touch with her child, she could pick up on elimination cues. For heaven's sakes did we really have to be subjected to pre-historic attachment parenting? But of course, since Ayla is so exotic, such behaviour is to be expected. And what makes Ayla exotic you ask? Why she was raised by the Clan and speaks with (drumroll please) an accent.  I quickly lost count of how many times that unimportant factoid was included to pad out this over stuffed tome. 

One of the things that makes the Clan backward to the Zelandonii is the fact that the Clan are patriarchal. The Zeladonii of course are only matriarchal because they don't know that babies come from sex. They believe that a man's spirit randomly joins with a woman and that sex is just for pleasure to honour the earth mother.  Of course, Ayla figured out all  on her own in Clan of the Cave Bear where babies come from. Because no one knows where babies really come from, people are free to couple at will without any stigma. And why is this little factoid important again? Well, Ayla is the super special special one and therefore has to of course alter the world in some significant way. Ayla becomes the bringer of patriarchy. 

Now that Ayla and Jondular are mated, we have to have some kind of relationship drama. So, with Ayla studying to become a Zelandonii, poor horny Jondalar decides to work out his jollies with Marona. Can you believe that shit?  Even though people can screw liberally, he still decides to keep it a secret from Ayla.  And how does Ayla find out? Well, after rushing to Jondalar's side after a miscarriage (maximum drama necessary apparently) she finds him getting head from Marona. Keep in mind that Marona was mean to princess Ayla in a previous book, so this is really bad. Marona is pretty much the scarlet woman of this series because she threw herself at poor horny Jondalar who just couldn't jerk off like any other dude in creation.  And because Auel seemed determined to stretch this book into creation, Ayla and Jondalar couldn't just talk about it, Ayla had to attempt suicide but only after screwing someone Jondalar disliked in front of him didn't work.  Upon finding out that Ayla is on her death bed, Jondalar rushes back and begs her to come back to him and even though Ayla has technically overdosed, she does. Yeah for happy endings.  It's all resolved when they both promise not to screw anyone else. 

"Stories were already beginning, stories that would be told around hearth fires and campfires for years, about Jondalar’s love, so great it brought his Ayla back from the dead."

fanning selena gomez GIF

Jondalar and Ayala's romantic angst is the beginning of the rise of patriarchy because now that men know that they can be sure of their paternity through monogamy, suddenly the idea of woman sleeping with other men is not so acceptable.  There is talk about children becoming possessions and each man only wanting to raise his own child and just like that, Ayala becomes the spark that changes a matriarchy into a patriarchy. Ayla is also super special because she doesn't mate with other men allowing Jondalar to know for certain that Jonayala is his daughter.  Ayala remains the super special monogamous one and of course, her people, unlike the clan, will continue on through the generations. Reading the relationship saga of Jondalar and Ayla felt like being tapped in some middle school romance from hell. 

I'm quite certain that Auel was clearly out of ideas for this series and decided for some unknown reason to refuse to work with an editor willing or able to cull her worst instincts. The Land of Painted Caves had absolutely no plot, making it over seven hundred pages of filler.  At every turn, we were reminded how super special Ayla was and how growing up with the Clan and surviving on her own in the Valley for a time made her the best hunter, best medicine woman and gave her the ability to work with animals.  Everyone either wanted to be with Ayla because of her super special specialness or hated her because they counted compete or couldn't fuck her. Ayla went from being a fascinating character in Clan of the Cave Bear to a Mary Sue in The Land of Painted Caves. It's the most disappointing end I've come across for a protagonist in quite some time. 

In case you haven't already guessed, I don't have one good word to say about this story.  If you, like me, started this series years ago and love it and have yet to read The Land of Painted Caves, for the love of all that is good in this world, skip this last book.  You will never get back the time you invest into reading it and it adds nothing to the saga at all. If anything, it reads like a money grab on the part of Auel and her publisher to wring every last dollar out of the series while people still have some kind of nostalgia about it. This is a book that you keep around for when the power goes out and all of your devices have low battery - it's the entertainment of last resort.  It's the book that you give to your frenemy with a smile on your face because it's supposedly the thought that matters.  This is the book that you donate to a charity that you don't support and secretly want to sabotage.  This is the book that you keep so that the pages can double as toilet paper if our world ever turns straight up dystopian and zombies are walking the earth.  This is the book that makes innocent trees weep for the valuable oxygen producing lives that were lost.  This is the book that makes Tolkein fans beg for mercy because before reading The Land of Painted Caves, they thought that they had read the most over written book in history.  This is the book that never should have been conceived, let alone published.