Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

'Clan Of The Cave Bear': Neanderthal Fan Fic

How in the world is it that I am just now reading Clan of the Cave Bear for the first time? Isn't that wild? I have so much to say about it I could burst. Let's get one thing straight: we have zero interest in the book's historical accuracy. As far as plot summary, let's just go with: "totally totally a legitimate description of a bangin' Cro-Magnon blonde successfully infiltrating a group of fugly Neanderthals and being all Katniss Everdeen connnnnnnstantly until the World's Worst Pre-Human boots her out because he's threatened by powerful women with the ability to verbalize their emotions." THAT OLD STORY, RIGHT?

Right. When I announced we were doing Clan of the Cave Bear, a reader emailed to reminisce about skimming it as an eleven year old for parts she could masturbate to, which caused me to have a profound personal meditation on how lackluster everyone's masturbation material was circa 1992. Can you imagine? Young women were masturbating to Clan of the Cave Bear. And then, right, after that email, I assumed there must be some hot stuff, only to discover there's one sex scene, and it makes Marlon Brando sweating all over Maria Schneider seem like, uh, something you might actually want to masturbate to. Dark days!

Speaking of That Scene, Broud is the worst. Broud is UNBEARABLE. Broud is loathsome. And even though he tries to be all Thug Life, you know who Broud is? Broud is Jan Brady to Ayla's Marcia. I was already thinking that, and then this happened:

Broud turned his back, clenching his fists, before he could see the compliment Norg paid to the son of Brun's mate. Ayla, Ayla, Ayla. Everybody is talking about Ayla. You'd think no one did anything at this Clan Gathering except her.

But, really, Ayla is a bit much. Is there anything she can't do? Anyone (other than Broud) who isn't captivated at once by her winsome charms and ability to succeed at the weirdest tasks? Clan of the Cave Bear is a little like Neanderthal fan fiction, and Ayla is a classic Mary Sue. She fashions a sports bra for herself from a leather thong! She kills hyenas with a sling and a couple of rocks! She can conceptualize numbers greater than three! She has a male totem! She can easily calculate everyone's share of the tip when you forget to get separate checks. She changes her own oil, and finds the errors in her own H&R Block return. It gets old.

Personally, I would have had more respect for Ayla if she'd just killed Broud in his sleep. He's the only real fly in her ointment, he's bad to the bone, and he's barely middle-management material; this is not who you want running the show. You're a medicine woman: concoct something and put him out of his misery, already. Jean Auel tells us about eighty times that, if you're a Neanderthal, you're a senior citizen by 25—it's not like anyone's going to get suspicious. But then there are so many examples in trashy fiction of otherwise bad-ass characters foolishly allowing terrible people to live. Here's the truth: Gollum was the exception to the rule. For the most part, quietly knifing the sociopaths who stand between you and your goals should be an acceptable solution. At least in primitive hunter-gatherer communities! I'm not suggesting you lure Susie from Accounting into a dark alley because she's questioning your gas receipts. But can anyone make a good case for not-killing Broud?

About halfway through the novel, I began to have a niggling suspicion that it was secretly written by Dr. Sears as an advertisement for attachment parenting. Babywearing, co-sleeping, natural childbirth, breastfeeding, elimination communication, cross-nursing, baby-led weaning…those are some attached little cave-babies, you know? And when Iza dies and Ayla is all despondent and frumpy and forgets to nurse Durc, there might as well be a BITCH, YOU ARE GOING TO GET MASTITIS sign on her hearth. Sure enough, the ol' "milk fever" hits, and by the time she's better, her milk has dried up and Durc is crawling from cave to cave like the Little Matchstick girl, trying to steal nummies from the other ladies. Which they give him, obviously, because their access to Enfamil Gentlease was pretty limited, and they were boiling water with hot stones to make their unpleasant roots and millet palatable.

Sometimes you read books set in the long, long ago, and it seems pretty great. There's a lot of lying around naked on soft grass, or a permanent and willing underclass helps you do your hair in a variety of fun styles, or men fight each other over your hot self. That is not the case with Clan of the Cave Bear. Not by a long shot. Everything seems sort of cold and dirty and men punch you for addressing them directly, and when you eventually get to trip balls on ergot, it winds up being a real bad scene. I appreciate that. The past sucked, you know?


• No, really, how did I miss this one in early adolescence? Did you know I only read Flowers in the Attic this spring? True story.

• I don't really get the impression that Cro-Magnons were this attractive, even next to the Neanderthals. Ayla seems a little too Bo Derek for words.

• Was anyone else getting an Anne Shirley/Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert vibe from Ayla's relationship with Iza and Creb? "All plucky orphans are alike; all miserable orphans are miserable in their own way."

• Why do we think that Neanderthals would have had names like Iza and Creb? If they had names at all, aren't Glenn and Wanda just as plausible? They're Neanderthals, not cats regurgitating hairballs.

• Should I read Valley of the Horses? I was kind of checked out for the last bit, because I have a three-month-old baby and got a little weepy and snivel-y when Broud said she had to leave Durc behind.

• In the days before the Internet, what depressingly marginal works of literature did YOU masturbate to? Or was it more like George Costanza and that issue of Glamour?

• What classic villains should have been taken out by the protagonist way, way before they got their comeuppance?

• There's an obligatory "using every part of the mammoth" scene. Why is there never a mildly slacker-ish hunter-gatherer community that's all "you know what, let's just toss the small intestine?"

• I refuse to believe they didn't know that babies came from humping. Wouldn't it have been super-obvious that babies come from humping?

For next time, let's delve into the Classic Trash sub-category of Books That Have Been Turned Into A Miniseries Starring Richard Chamberlain. The Thorn Birds—let's do it!

Nicole Cliffe is the proprietress of Lazy Self-Indulgent Book Reviews.

82 Comments / Post A Comment

MichelleDean (#7,041)

I was so obsessed with these books as a teenager. But my favourite was actually "The Plains of Passage." I liked how they masqueraded as "educational fiction" to parents.

wallsdonotfall (#6,378)

@MichelleDean "The Plains of Passage (Between Her Thighs)," yeah.

Limaceous (#2,392)

@MichelleDean It's so nice to know other people read also these "educational" books during their impressionable youth.

Mingus_Thurber (#206,949)

@MichelleDean Is that the one with the honeybee metaphor? Because I couldn't get past the honeybee metaphor.

ladypilot (#206,905)

YES read The Valley of the Horses. talk about masturbation material. but it's all near the end, so just skip to the last 75-100 pages. Ayla finds a Cro-Magnan hunk and they schtup all over the steppes.

nonvolleyball (#9,329)

@Bethany Rusen@twitter Clan of the Cave bear was actually on my school's recommended reading list when I was in 7th grade (?!?!). I was totally into it, & was accordingly shocked–shocked!–by how dirty the next two books are. when a 13-year-old is like, "god, is this book about anything other than sex?" you know you've overdone it a bit with the love scenes.

Limaceous (#2,392)

@Bethany Rusen@twitter Yes, I came right down here to say that I'm sure the person who emailed Nicole was confusing the first book with the later books. (So, so dirty!)

ester (#6,436)

@Limaceous Sometimes I get jealous of kids today who have the whole Harry Potter series in front of them. Then I remember that I had all the prehistoric smut I could read. Would my red-faced, fascinated 12-year-old self really have traded "the Mammoth Hunters" for "the Chamber of Secrets"? HELL NO.

Sally Provan (#3,648)

You missed out. Valley of the Horses is basically wall to wall semen. Frankly, even my teenage self thought it a little sticky.

Matt Gross (#6,983)

I don't recall that much pornography in the first book, but in one of the later ones Ayla INVENTS THE BLOWJOB. Because apparently it needed to be invented.

Brian (#115)

@Matt Gross It's totally about the later books. CLAN OF THE CAVE BEAR is by far the most sober. The Wolf Women of PLAINS OF PASSAGE? lol.

I AM glad to hear it wasn't just homosexual boys masturbating to the bad bits (it never is).

This is one of my favorite things from my earliest day searching the internet:

melis (#1,854)

@Matt Gross Could they really, you know, afford blow jobs in those days? There were like ten people!

Matt Gross (#6,983)

@melis This is why the Neanderthals are no more.

jfruh (#713)

@melis in one of the later ones Ayla INVENTS THE BLOWJOB

"Where did you learn that, woman?" Oh god oh god

nonvolleyball (#9,329)

@Matt Gross I *forgot* about that. ohhh man, what a hilarious concept. that Ayla: is there any aspect of contemporary western civilization she can't originate?

Batsheva (#160,884)

@Matt Gross Well, it's better than sitting through yet another disquisition on flint knapping?

objet petit a (#207,051)

@Batsheva Did anyone else who read these books in grade school try and knap flint? I couldn't find what I thought was flint around sidewalks and people's front yards, but I definitely tried to knap mica chips and ornamental rocks.

sara@twitter (#14,000)

@nonvolleyball Better that than in the last book, where she invents the patriarchy. Yes, I read all of them. The last two are AWFUL.

melis (#1,854)

God, waiting this long to read Flowers in the Attic is nigh-unforgiveable. Have you even read My Sweet Audrina? You haven't, have you?

LadyHazard (#5,067)

@melis Oh my god, My Sweet Audrina is a MUST READ.

highjump (#11,044)

@melis I submit Audrina is BETTER than Flowers in the Attic! Everything is just so…extreme. Have you read the possibly even more important Forever YA review of My Sweet Audrina?! Masterpiece.

meetapossum (#207,195)

@melis So I just looked up My Sweet Audrina on Wikipedia because you piqued my curiosity, and the opening line reads, "It was the only standalone novel without incest published during Andrews' lifetime." I find that amazing! That lady loved incest.

@melis JFC my sweet audrina was emtionally scarring. i literally removed the book from my home after i read it (i had bought it for a dime at a library sale)

melis (#1,854)

@meetapossum She really did! Her only match was, perhaps, G.R.R. Martin. Between the two of them, I'd say we really reached peak literary-related incest saturation somewhere around 1998.

Es (#178,756)

@melis My Sweet Audrina was the only book my mother disapproved of me reading (aged about 11…)

drufus (#24,190)

Good call on The Thorn Birds. Classic Trash indeed. I was so obsessed with that book when I was about 12.

Limaceous (#2,392)

@drufus Oh, yes, The Thorn Birds. One of those books I occasionally reread just so I cry through it again.

@drufus i think that's where i got my seed for the sexy priests obsession.

@drufus i'm not ashamed to admit that the thorn birds is one of my favorite books of all time. its just perfect combo of family saga/trashy amazing/priestly desire and i can't get enough. i also own the mini series on dvd. boo-ya.

JennFizz (#172,488)

@drufus I named my first dog ralph de bricassart. I was only four.

Don't Panic (#12,659)

Just wanted to reaffirm what others had said re reading Valley of the Horses and the later books in the series. Don't get me wrong, Clan of the Cave Bear is great, but if you are looking for trashy, sexy goodness, the other books are where it's at. My 12 year old mind was utterly blown. I still sort of think my mother encouraged me to read them specifically as a form of sex education beyond What's Happening to My Body Book For Girls.

tigolbitties (#2,150)

You have to keep reading, only so that you can get to Ranec… even way back then Black dudes sleeping with the White ladies = NOT OK!

sara@twitter (#14,000)

@tigolbitties Aw, I loved Ranec. SO TORTURED!

mrschem (#1,757)

assume the position

riotnrrd (#840)

I refuse to believe they didn't know that babies came from humping. Wouldn't it have been super-obvious that babies come from humping?

Years ago in college, I remember reading about an anthropological theory that early men didn't really understand the link between humping and babies until animals were domesticated. It kind of makes sense – there's a fairly long period (for humans) between The Hump and The Obvious Pregnancy and, if men and women led fairly separate lives in hunter-gatherer societies, men may not have had the chance to make the connection. Not until nomadic tribes became sessile, and humans' food supply depended on breeding animals did sex and birth really get connected.

The evidence for this is pretty thin and open to misinterpretation: agriculture and animal husbandry arose around the same time as walled cities, which means war, and around the same time as the end of a lot of matrilineal/goddess-worshipping religious traditions (if artifacts are anything to go by). The assumption here is that once men learning that humping equals babies, and that if they owned the ewe that had a lamb they owned the lamb too, then maybe they owned women as well.

I like this theory because it tells a good story but, in my heart of hearts, I know that means it's probably not true.

The thing "people didn't know" that has always baffled me is the circulation of the blood. People had been beheading people like forever and it took some guy to "discover" this? What did they think that stuff was – pesto?

mrschem (#1,757)

'Sometimes you read books set in the long, long ago, and it seems pretty great. There's a lot of lying around naked on soft grass, or a permanent and willing underclass helps you do your hair in a variety of fun styles, or men fight each other over your hot self. That is not the case with Clan of the Cave Bear. Not by a long shot. Everything seems sort of cold and dirty and men punch you for addressing them directly, and when you eventually get to trip balls on ergot, it winds up being a real bad scene. I appreciate that. The past sucked, you know?'

-Miss Lazy, you rock.

Hirham (#1,709)

@mrschem AKA the Lucky Jim stance of: 'thank God for the twentieth century'. One thing Amis got right is I don't think anyone with sense who's studied the middle ages, say, would want to live there.

Batsheva (#160,884)

@Hirham Visit, maybe. Until you got a toothache. Or your period. Or had to do #2.

Bittersweet (#765)

@Hirham: I just finished Massie's new biography of Catherine the Great, and my biggest takeaway was "thank goodness I didn't live in the mid-18th century, because the healthcare sucked, even for empresses."

lobsterhug (#66,323)

Yes, read Valley of the Horses if you want all the sex and more of Ayla inventing everything with horses.

And can we talk about how Jondalar only loves Ayla because her vadge is giant enough for his giant peen.

I'm so excited for The Thorn Birds! That was my introduction to literary masturbation and then it was an historical romance slippery slope down through Julie Garwood and Jude Devereux to Bertrice Small, Queen of Smut.

@lobsterhug we can't discuss COTCB and sucessive books without delving into (lol!) ayla's capacity for jon's giant peice. or that fact that all women want him to deflower him because of his beautiful blue eyes.

…i think i just may have discovered some of meyer's source material

Pound of Salt (#15,166)

@lobsterhug Yeah wtf it's basically implied her vj is so so deep because she was raped by a Neanderthal.

lobsterhug (#66,323)

@Pound of Salt Ah! No! Really?!? I thought it was just that she was so majestically tall that her vagina was proportionately larger.

Pound of Salt (#15,166)

@lobsterhug Er at least that's the connection my 13 year old brain made.

lobsterhug (#66,323)

@Pound of Salt I can see how that would happen. Broud was the worst.

laloca03 (#8,010)

we read the sexy bits of "the mammoth hunters" to each other in summer camp the year the book came out. not bad for 9th graders in 1985.

i remember being kinda grossed out when i saw a photo of auel. that dumpy woman was writing that stuff? yeesh.

in other news, damn, i'm old.

grandpa27 (#804)

This illustrates the thinness of the literary world for the past 30 years. Sleaze wins over class,

I did a book report presentation about this book in 7th grade in costume as Ayla. A lot of fun fur was involved. Also had various cave props.

I don't know if we were required to wear costumes. I suspect we were not. :0

ipomoea (#207,034)

In eighth grade, every girl in my church-taught sex ed course tore through these books (I think at the time Plains of Passage was the newest). We'd then get together at class each Sunday afternoon and compare the dog-eared parts. Re-reading them later is just… Jondalar is the original Mighty Wang of Magic Loving (tm Smart Bitches). he's ashamed it's so big! Let's mate like the horses do!

lobsterhug (#66,323)

@ipomoea Mighty Wang of Magic Loving! That is perfect. He was so sad about being so big, until Ayla came along.

Auntie Maim@twitter (#178,787)

Because I am an anthropologist, I actually have an answer on the Neandertal names! This was written at a time when one fairly active theory was that Neandertals did not have the throat anatomy to produce the full range of modern human vocal sounds. Auel ran with that, but posited that they had the mental capacity for full language, hence their gutteral sounds but fluent sign language.

theodrfurst (#207,067)


Maureen (#1,839)

Was reading Rebecca the other day. Is that classic trash? Has it been covered? ANYWAY, regarding villains the protag should have promptly dealt with – certainly the second Mrs. DeWinter should have fired Mrs. Danvers. I know she was too weak and insecure to do so, but ehhh, you know?

@Maureen i looveee rebecca. love love love.

@Maureen "Is that classic trash". Like a lot of famous books it was trash when it came out, but it survived and is now a classic.

Maureen (#1,839)

Also, maybe not quite a classic villain but certainly memorable to me. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase: Miss Slighcarp. WHY was she hired?

Vera Knoop (#2,167)

@Maureen I LOVED the Joan Aitken books! Black Hearts In Battersea, was my other favorite.

Lemonnier (#14,611)

@Maureen I know! It was like, SIR WILLOUGHBY IT IS SO OBVIOUS THAT THIS WOMAN IS GOING TO SEND THE GIRLS TO A WORKHOUSE! Her name is SLIGHCARP, for pete's sake! But I guess he was distracted by his wife's mysterious illness.

Vera Knoop (#2,167)

It wasn't his totem; it was his organ! This entire review is perfect.

TableNine (#1,104)

How did I miss this in my impressionable youth??? I feel like all my time furtively staring at the television, trying to decode boobs from the scrambled channel was wasted. The discovery of channel J was a revelation.

Megano! (#16,245)

Fun story called I inherited these books from a dead aunt. But I haven't read them yet. NOW I MIGHT HAVE TO. If I can remember where they are.

PennyBloom (#207,196)

1. Your critique was amazing. I also wanted her to kill Broud. It would have to have been poison though because clearly his skull would have been too thick to bash in. Also, since she had his baby I feel like she would have developed an anal fistula or something from the birth of her half-Neanderthal son, but clearly she has an incredibly stretchy vagina.
2. Yes, read the second book. I read them all last year at the age of 27. Books 1-3 are enjoyable, after that there is only so much Ayla perfection a girl can handle.
3. Richard Chamberlain ruined the Thorn Birds. He could not hide his sexual orientation, and Meggie was clearly not enough of a red head to fit my mental image of her.
4. Maybe read the Outlander series next by Diana Gabaldon. The books keep getting better as you read on.

themegnapkin (#201,538)

@PennyBloom I started the CotCB series years and years ago, and totally agree that 1-3 are fun. 4 (Plains of Passage), kind of crazy and too long, 5 (Shelters of Stone) is awful, and 6 (Land of Painted Caves) is so terribly terribly awful that it makes me revise my opinion of the whole series and Auel as a writer of glorious trash.
And – Outlander!!!! I cannot believe I never read these until now. I'm through the beginning of Dragonfly in Amber now and I <3 it with the heat of a thousand suns!

@PennyBloom the outlander series is definetley romance, but i don't think it's trash necessarily. and be honest, the sexy bits are HOT.

the only think i disliked about the series (i've only read up to drums of autum) were the prolonged rape scenes.

lobsterhug (#66,323)

@PennyBloom Outlander forever! So freaking hot. The next book is not coming out till 2013. What is a girl to do?

gigglyfart (#207,205)

I wish I could remember which book it is, but in one of them, Jondalar's thang is actually called a 'throbbing member'. Read the first three for sure.

I totally WROTE A BOOK REPORT for my gifted and talented English class in 8th grade on this book. This was allowed by my teacher. My mother encouraged me to read all of the books and lent them to me, and then we talked about them a lot (other than the sexsexsex parts).

I hear the one that came out recently is just terrible. Of course I am kind of dying to read it.

sara@twitter (#14,000)

@Mandy Aguilar The last one is so beyond terrible that it's not even worth reading. It is criminally boring. I recommend going to Goodreads and reading the spoiler-filled reviews. There's so much RAGE over there; it's awesome.

i loved the thorn birds, i've been scared to re-read it and have it lose some shine. my favorite trashy book is one i re-read every year, it's royal seduction by jennifer blake. it hits all of the romance tropes, and the dialog is bonkers.

Mr. B (#10,093)

I can't help but notice how Class Trash posts only shoot to the top of the most viewed rankings after they've been cross-posted to The Hairpin the next morning.

Anyway, loved this — the first Classic Trash book I'd actually read, as a bug-eyed 13-year-old (assigned summer reading for 9th grade Advanced English). Before that the dirtiest things I'd read were probably a couple of '80s-era Stephen Kings.

Cesy (#207,249)

I read the Land of Painted Caves while off my face on painkillers after getting my wisdom teeth out. Whoever said they know where S.Meyer got her source material for Twilight, it would appear it went both ways as in every chapter there is something about Wolf "imprinting" on Ayla. There is also a real lack of sex scenes and far far too much on painted caves. Here's a cave, there's a cave, everywhere there's a cave cave, Ol' Miss Ayla had a cave, ei-ei-oh.

So my advice: stick with the first 4, the last 2 aren't worth the paper they're written on.

GoodGodLemon (#207,252)

What IS it with that sex scene? This is the first book we read for my Real Adult Ladies book club (not what we actually call ourselves, but how I think about it in my head), and my DAD said, "I read that book 100 years ago and all I remember is the sex scene." (FYI, now my dad's gay. Probably because of the atrocious sex scene.)

Re: "What can't Ayla do?" I am sure that this book made an impression on a young Stephanie Meyer, since Bella-as-vampire is essentially 21st century Ayla. They run, they speak english…similarities abound.

Danzig! (#5,318)

• In the days before the Internet, what depressingly marginal works of literature did YOU masturbate to? Or was it more like George Costanza and that issue of Glamour?

My parents were fairly erudite and as such they had several volumes of of Anais Nin's erotic short fiction. That was a pretty big addition to the spank bank for awhile.

Danzig! (#5,318)

@Danzig! Oh hey, most of them are digitally available on Amazon for like $1!

TokyoPlum (#201,810)

Jean M. Auel's characterizations of both male and female genitalia confused the hell out of me. Especially using words like "tangy salt" to describe the lady bits. The sex was so graphic that I actually didn't find it titillating, just shocking

As to pre-internet masturbatory material, I was a total Vampire Chronicles nut. Lestat and Louis nuzzling necks with no sex at all was a lot hotter to me than pages and pages of members, mounds, warm folds, and throbbing.

"About halfway through the novel, I began to have a niggling suspicion that it was secretly written by Dr. Sears as an advertisement for attachment parenting. Babywearing, co-sleeping, natural childbirth, breastfeeding, elimination communication, cross-nursing, baby-led weaning…those are some attached little cave-babies, you know?" HAHAHAHAHAHA. Oh god, I am laughing so hard. Dr. Sears was my baby's pediatrician… this was the first adult novel I ever read… there MUST be a connection here.

FIDGE (#207,885)

Man, this took me back. We passed these and the V.C. Andrews books around at summer camp like they were precious, precious contraband. You should read Valley of Horses and Mammoth Hunters, but then stop, because the rest just start getting ridiculous. They're ALL ridiculous, granted, but the last ones more so.

hypnosifl (#9,470)

Didn't Neanderthals have some kind of weird psychic powers in this? I seem to remember a scene where they all went into a trance and saw our modern world with all its technology and shit, though I forget how they reacted to this and I think it was just a throwaway scene with no relevance to the plot.

I'm late into the chat, but there are a few hunter-gatherer tribes today who do not directly associate sex with birth because they can't make a firm connection between "thing happening now" and "much later event." Once a woman begins to menstruate she is ripe for baby-making, and sex is associated with it, but other factors (the fertility spirits, etc.) come into play. Ayla's connection that the man's semen gets the process started so the totems can battle it out for impregnation is very close to what a very few living near-Stone-Age tribes think. On the first read 30 years ago, I was intrigued that there was no concept for "rape," until asshole Broud invented it as a means to humiliate Ayla. It shows what a piece of crap he is, and suggests that while everyone else in the Clan had sex in a hippie-like free-love environment, Broud used sex as a weapon for control and humiliation. I read this when I was in college and one of our anthropology profs talked about it at some length regarding the tools, social structure, use of resources etc.

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