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'Valley of Horses' depicts emergence of modern man

Published in THE SNOWMASS VILLAGE SUN  Dec. 16, 1983

Review by Ann Carol Ulrich

Finally, after anxiously waiting two years, I was delighted to discover Jean M. Auel has come out with her second best-selling novel, The Valley of Horses. Seldom does an author make it big on a first novel, but this woman from Oregon did just that.

Her first book, The Clan of the Cave Bear, is the beginning of the series of Earth's Children novels depicting the emergence of modern man in prehistoric times. It is the story of Ayla's childhood. At the age of five, Ayla's parents die in an earthquake. Alone, frightened and starving, the blond-haired, blue-eyed girl is picked up by a clan of sub-humans ("Flatheads") who adopt her as one of their own. Her intellectual superiority soon sets her apart from the rest of the clan and provokes jealousy and resentment in the clan's new young leader.

Mistreated and raped, Ayla bears a child at the age of 11. When she loses the two people who have loved her most, her adopted parents, things only get worse. Condemned for her hunting skills and deviance, young and beautiful Ayla (who believes she is big and ugly) must leave the clan and all that she has known, including her baby boy, and face a lonely life in the wilds, where survival becomes her only purpose for living.

Where The Clan of the Cave Bear ends is where The Valley of Horses begins. and the second book is equally as excellent, if not even more intriguing. In her travels to the north and west, Ayla's search for "the Others" (her own kind) is hindered when she happens to find the valley of horses, a paradise that becomes her new home. A quick stop-over to rest and hunt turns into a winter retreat as she finds a large and suitable cave near a running stream.

Loneliness would probably have done her in except for the orphaned filly Ayla rescues after killing the mare for her winter supply of meat. The baby horse soon provides the necessary solace and companionship that were robbed from Ayla's existence.

In her solitary situation, Ayla comes up with thoughts and innovative techniques that her adopted clan was incapable of. The fact that she conceives of these "inventions" without any foreknowledge or guidance is excusable when you consider she is representative of our very roots. even though it's a bit fantastic that she should be the one to invent instant fire starting, and riding on a horse's back, etc., Auel is simply using her imagination in re-creating just how these experiences might have come about.

The author succeeds most in that she makes the reader care for these characters. You don't just read about the lives of some prehistoric Europeans -- you live those lives with them. You feel what they feel, fear what they fear, and love when they love.

At about the same time Ayla began her travels, a young man from the northwest and his brother have started out on a journey, hoping to find the end of the great Mother River. Jondalar is tall, blond, and blue-eyed with some extraordinary characteristics that will appeal to female readers.

You know from the beginning of the story that Jondalar and Ayla were meant for one another. The most frustrating thing about reading the book is that you begin to worry that he will never reach the valley of horses. Auel tortures the reader into waiting until the last quarter of the book before the two even meet, and then she complicates the plot even more, so you begin to fret and worry that you will be cheated out of the suspenseful climax of the book -- Ayla's "first rites."

Reading Auel's books has given me a better understanding of the human experience. Portraying God as a female -- the Mother (or "Doni") -- would seem at first to be an off-shoot of Women's Lib. Yet it is presented as a very old concept, as evidenced by the mother figurines the characters carry around with them. It makes you wonder where in history God had a sex change. I can barely wait for the next book in the series.




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