From the diary: “March 17, 1985
“Finished Valley of Horses.”
I haven’t gotten any further with Jean Auel’s Earth’s Children (TM) series. I read Clan of the Cavebear because it was a bestseller -- remember I said I’m always up for trying what somebody else thinks is great? and isn’t bestsellerdom an indicator of greatness? or much-likedness anyway – and because someone recommended it to me saying Auel had done a good job of recreating prehistory. The Neanderthals were perfectly intelligent, as I recall, but because they didn’t have speech-friendly constructs in their mouths & throats they used a lot of sign language. That was a theory I knew about, that early humans perhaps signed before they switched over to spoken words. There’s not really a way to test the theory but it gained currency not long after the sign languages of the Deaf were recognized as “real” languages, not primitive versions of English (or whatever spoken language surrounded a particular Deaf community). Even if the Neanderthals really didn’t have the equipment for speech (and that’s an if all right) one can’t say with certainty that they didn’t have language. Sign languages also got some glory for being featured in ape language studies – chimps and gorillas do not have the vocal equipment for speech but they do have hands which can shape recognizable signs. And chimps and gorillas do use the signs they are taught or pick up on their own.
One thing I remember about Clan of the Cavebear was stumbling over Auel’s extensive research. I’ve since encountered this sort of thing elsewhere, usually in Mysteries, the undigested lump of research regurgitated into the reader’s path. This can be interesting, but usually isn’t because not integrated into the story in a way that makes you think thank-god-I-learned-that. You know it from the monster movie when the scientist stops the action dead to give a little lecture full of technobabble that supposedly explains everything. That over with we’re back to the monster munching on the premaritally sexual.
The heroine of Clan and Valley of Horses, Ayla, is an orphaned CroMagnon girl who is adopted by Neanderthals. In Valley she’s all grown up and ready for romance with one of her own kind. Before reading Valley a friend warned me that it wasn’t as good as Clan. It wasn’t.