A series of novels by Jean M. Auel that don't really fit into any one category. The basic idea is a portrayal of life during the Ice Age, but this includes elements of Romance Novel, Historical Fiction, historical fantasy, travelogue and Shown Their Work mixed with a lot of Artistic License.The novels revolve around "Ayla," a Cro-Magnon woman who lived about 30,000 years ago, somewhere near the Black Sea (modern-day Ukraine). Orphaned at five due to an earthquake, she is taken in by a group of Neanderthals. Auel goes into great detail on the physiology of these Neanderthals, who call themselves the Clan of the Cave Bear after their primary deity. The main difference between Clan and "Others" (Cro-Magnons) is that Clan have access to Genetic Memory, which makes them quick studies for anything their species already knows but very slow to accept innovation or change. Ayla is adopted by the clan's medicine woman, and her brother, a crippled shaman, learning a great deal of herb lore and practical medicine, but also learns to hunt in direct defiance of the Clan's traditions. Her clan's leader (the brother of the medicine woman and shaman both) accepts her as best he can, able to recognize her talents and skills even if they make him uncomfortable, but when his snotty son takes up the mantle of leadership, the son has Ayla exiled from the Clan (after raping her). This would be easier on 14-year-old Ayla if she hadn't borne a son, Durc, a Homo neanderthalensis x sapiens hybrid that must be left behind.From this point on, Ayla strikes out on her own, seeking her own kind. The story then begins to alternate between her point of view and that of her designated love interest, Jondalar, a Cro-Magnon from what is today France, as he journeys down the length of the "Great Mother River" with his brother Thonolan. Thonolan is killed during the adventure, and Jondalar wounded, but Ayla saves him, and the two fall in love. After spending a year with a Ukrainian tribe and entering a Love Triangle, they then begin to journey back up the Danube, arriving back at Jondalar's homeland just in time for the fifth book to start.The novels in the series:
Clan of the Cave Bear (1980), from Ayla's adoption (age 5) to ostracism (age 14).
The Valley of Horses (1982), in which Ayla lives a solitary existence in the titular location while Jondalar travels to meet her. This takes a good three or four years, with the remaining books falling into the pattern of relating one year per novel.
The Mammoth Hunters (1985): Jondalar has just convinced Ayla to start heading for his home when they run into the novel's titular Mamutoi, who are, after Jondalar, the first Others Ayla has ever met. Ayla learns a lot about living with her own species; Jondalar learns how much he loves her when a Love Triangle is introduced.
The Plains of Passage (1990): Jondalar and Ayla travel west along the Great Mother River, encountering various characters and peoples Jondalar had met on the way down, and some other surprises as well.
The Shelters of Stone (2002): Jondalar and Ayla finally arrive home, where Ayla begins to integrate herself among his people (the "Zelandonii").
The Land of Painted Caves (2011): Ayla continues her training to become a Zelandoni (priestess/medicine woman) for her tribe.
Auel is considered something of an expert on Ice-Age culture, due to the sheer amount of research (and hands-on experience) she has with the practices at hand, such as leather-tanning, flint-knapping and cave paintings. She has attempted to weave into the story as much archaeology from the period as possible, often depicting the creation of known prehistoric artifacts. Recurring themes include the differences between Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon intelligence, sapience and physiology, and the racial tensions resulting thereof, as well as Ayla's upbringing in the Clan and the prejudice she is subjected to for that reason.
Earth's Children shows examples of the following tropes:
Bigger Is Better in Bed: Deconstructed and reconstructed. Jondalar is so well-endowed that he has had to hold back with basically every partner he's ever had... except Ayla, whose painful past experience has given her sufficient "character depth" to love all of him.
Creb, for being a genius, infinitely patient, and being willing to love Ayla even when he couldn't accept her inappropriate behavior.
Mamut: "I have forgotten more than you will ever know."
Brun, who would be the best leader ever if he didn't love his Jerkass son Broud so much.
Zoug, the old hunter who is all about dignity in the face of brash young Jerkasses.
Costume Porn: The author frequently goes on for pages about what everyone's clothes look like, what they are made of, how they are made, how people wear them, what a certain piece of clothing's ceremonial use might be, how clothing affects social status, and how people react to certain pieces of clothing. This helps give a sense of place.
Cradle of Loneliness: Ayla does this Valley of the Horses. When she is banished from the Clan and forced to leave her son behind, the carrying cloth she used to carry him around in becomes the only memento of him.
Cursed with Awesome: Jondalar's... endowment... is so immense that he must hold back to avoid hurting his partners (until he meets Ayla, who can handle him). Poor guy, huh?
Does Not Like Men: Attaroa, a villain from the fourth book, who was apparently married to a half-Clan husband. He treated her with about the same level of respect Broud treated Ayla, and Attaroa liked it about as much. She became a violently misandric nutjob thereafter, locking all her camp's men in a pen and working them to death.
A Dog Named Dog: Ayla gets a pet named Wolf. Guess what kind of animal he is.
Averted with Baby. The jury is still out on whether this trope applies to Whinney.
Doorstopper: 6 books, each ranging from ~500 to ~860 pages.
Dystopia: Attaroa's band of S'Armunai has turned into a bizarre nightmare where men are kept in a large filthy cage with little food and no medicine, and slowly worked to death. The women are supposed to be the rulers — except talking to men isn't allowed (let alone physical intimacy with your former husband), giving birth to a boy is punishable by death, and the boys themselves are subjected to horrific fates. Attaroa's also incompetent, so they're nearly out of food. Really, the whole thing is just a show for Attaroa's sadistic megalomania. Though they try to pretend they're happy (complaining and disobedience are punished by hurting one's male relatives), many women get sick of it.
Eternal Sexual Freedom: Nobody has any concept of illegitimate offspring (fatherhood not having been discovered), nor have communicable diseases been figured out yet. Consequently, both Others and Clan have fairly lax sexual norms. A certain amount of partner-rotation is permissible amongst the Others, and before you get married you get to play the field. In the Clan there is a hand-sign, that can only be made by men, which indicates the man wants to "relieve his needs" and the woman should drop whatever she's doing and immediately present for intercourse. It is implied that the women find this just as enjoyable as the men do. The Clan women have found herbal versions of hormonal contraceptives, but usually do not prescribe them unless a woman might die if she gets pregnant again. While it's considered unlucky for an unmated woman to give birth and they will try to pair her off before, only two characters are known to have connected sex with reproduction so far, one of them being Ayla.
Everybody Wants the Hermaphrodite: Transgender people (not that they're called that) are socially expected to become mamuti (medicine people), since they're already marked as "special" by the Great Earth Mother. They're considered quite attractive by both sexes.
Exotic Extended Marriage: Most matings are one man & one woman, but sometimes a man will mate with two women, or a woman with two men. Whatever works for them.
Explicit Content: This series has a great deal of story and most of the content is entirely non-sexual, but most sex scenes are unnecessarily detailed.
Fantastic Racism: Race relations and racism are a major theme of the series. The Others call the Clan "flatheads" and claim they're animals related to bears, but despise them as unclean monsters in a stark departure from their attitudes towards actual animals (a hypocrisy Ayla points out to them). The Clan just think the Others are noisy, bizarre, and dangerous, and try to avoid them.
Fee Fi Faux Pas: Particularly during the first book, during which Ayla usually does whatever she wants to, even if it's in direct defiance of Clan traditions. (In the end they curse her with death. She's so cool, she outlives the death curse. Also, she's cursed again, and there are five more books! )
First Guy Wins: Ayla's longtime love, and the father of her daughter, is literally the first man of "the Others" (that is, a Cro-Magnon like Ayla herself) she meets.
Fish out of Water: Ayla, amongst every culture she comes in contact with. Somehow most of them come to love her anyway.
Florence Nightingale Effect: Thonolan falls in love with his future wife Jetamio this way. He's attacked by a rhino, and she helps the healer attend him. He almost immediately becomes infatuated. Jondalar and Ayla also meet this way, after her pet lion mauls him.
Fluffy the Terrible: Ayla's pet lion cub grows up to be the hugest, most well-nourished cave lion in Ukraine, and terrifies everybody who sees him. His name is Baby.
Food Porn: Auel can go on about the food people eat, how it was cooked, how many people it took to cook it, how it was hunted or gathered (sometimes with digressions about what animals aren't hunted, and why), how it tastes, the spices and herbs used to flavor it, what the food's nutritional value is compared to other food, and so on for pages.
Gender Is No Object: All of the Others (except the violently misandric band of S'Armunai encountered by the protagonists).
Gender-Restricted Ability: The Clan have built-in gender restrictions on learning totally mundane skills necessary for survival: men cannot learn to cook, tan leather, make clothes, find edible plants, or practice medicine. Clan women cannot learn to hunt or make weapons. This is explained as a trade-off that evolved along with their Genetic Memory, but it makes them unable to survive alone even briefly.
Genetic Memory: The Clan have this, mostly in an unconscious form. Only an extremely skilled mog-ur like Creb, with what amount to psionic powers, can make it conscious. This requires two huge trade-offs (Gender Restricted Abilities, and an inability to innovate) which are described as the reason they couldn't adapt to climate change and eventually went extinct.
Genius Cripple: Creb has one eye and one arm, walks with a limp, and can't hunt, so technically he's not even a man. But he's the most spiritually powerful mog-ur (religious leader, "shaman") of the whole Clan, brilliant and capable of insights most Neanderthals can't figure out.
Genre-Busting: Romance x Historical Fiction x Historical Fantasy x Travelogue x Ecology Essay
Green-Eyed Monster: Marona is excruciatingly jealous of Ayla for having Jondalar's love. Much earlier in the saga, Broud deeply resents the attention Ayla draws, though among the Clan that's never sexual attraction (by their standards she's butt ugly). Bodoa apparently felt this way after Joconan married Marthona instead of her. And Jondalar is crazy green-eyed over any guy who flirts with Ayla — much to her distress.
Half-Human Hybrid: Any of the half-Clan/half-Other characters who have cropped up in the past, such as Durc, Rydag, and Echozar; there's even a three-fourths-human character, Brukeval (or at least it's hypothesized he is). Of course, the whole point of the race-relations depicted in the series is that Neanderthals are human, so the trope name doesn't reall fit. (Auel seems to have gotten their existence at least partially right.) The Clan all think they're deformed, and most Others consider them despicable inhuman "abominations."
Heartwarming Orphan: Rydag, a half-Clan/half-Other boy who is adopted by Nezzie, the mate of the headman of the Mamutoi's Lion Camp. He's even sickly (a weak heart), but after Ayla teaches him the Clan's sign language, the rest of Lion Camp learn it to varying degrees so that they can communicate with him. When he dies of heart failure toward the end of The Mammoth Hunters, most of the Lion Camp are devastated (and even some readers get a little teary-eyed.)
The idea of The Clan using sign language was based on a theory that Neanderthal vocal cords were constructed in a way that limited the range of sounds they could verbalize. Specifically, there was no evidence that they had a hyoid bone. Recent excavations have debunked this, as a hyoid bone has been found in Neanderthal remains.
Neanderthals are portrayed as almost universally dark-haired while Cro-Magnons show all the phenotypes found in modern (mostly European) humans. Recent studies in neanderthal mDNA have shown that at least some of them were red-haired. Additionally, its likely that the Cro-Magnons would have been fairly dark skinned, since they'd have recently (from an evolutionary perspective) immigrated out of Africa.
The technology and cultures of the Others are a mixture of several different distinct Late Pleistocene material cultures, now known to have been separated by multi-millennial gaps in time.
Hot for Student: When a boy of the Others becomes a man (by making a mess in his sleeping furs), he is submitted to the care of an older female for sexual mentoring (remember what we said about Eternal Sexual Freedom?). Because the female is considered to be filling a religious role, such relationships are expected to stay platonic... but Jondalar fell in love with his donii-woman and she with him. Another man, who desired said woman, spied on them planning to marry and publicized the whole thing. Jondalar punched him, there was a scandal, and Jondalar was sent to his divorced dad's place until it died down.
Humans Are White: The story takes place entirely in Europe, and the characters generally have modern European coloration. Two exceptions:
Ranec, who is half-black. His father walked from (modern-day) Ukraine to northern Africa (yes, walk) before meeting his black mother's people. However, Ranec gets around sexually (like most men in this story), and many characters have observed his genetic influence on the younger generation, suggesting his skintone will not stay least-common among the Mamutoi for very long.
In The Plains of Passage, we are introduced to Jerika (East Asian), the second wife to Jondalar's (European) father Dalanar, and their daughter Joplaya, and Jerika's father Hochaman.
I Am Not Pretty: Ayla continues to view herself by the Clan standards with which she was raised, according to which she's too tall, unfeminine, and very ugly. Everyone around her was a Neanderthal, so that's the appearance she's used to. By European Homo sapiens standards she's actually beautiful, but she can't wrap her head around that.
Icy Blue Eyes: Jondalar's blue eyes are an intense glacier blue described as "magnetic" and "charismatic" and capable of seducing any woman he uses them on.
I Thought Everyone Could Do That: Ayla's Canon Sue powers are often like this. Somewhat justified, as her "inventions" aren't entirely hers. At least some are clues to her past, memories of what she saw in her birth tribe. By the age of five, one observes and stores away quite a bit. When she finds the people who already have the things she's "invented," she will know she's closer to home. Of course, by the end of book 4, she's about a continent away from where the Clan found her.
Broud is a sadistic, arrogant, out-of-control, all around unbearable character. By the end of the first book, even his father almost disowns him.
Jungle Princess: Ayla qualifies, especially if you believe the Clan are animals. (Jondalar has to teach her to speak verbally.)
Lady Land: What Attaroa creates on the assumption that, if no men are present, all babies will be born female. (The Others believe that The Great Earth Mother decides when each child is conceived, and chooses the "spirit" of a nearby person to kindle in the mother's womb. If no men are available, only women's spirits will be chosen, yes? Meanwhile, Ayla notices that the only babies conceived during Attaroa's reign are to women who sneak out to the men...) It's as if Attaroa designed a (sadistic) experiment for Ayla to test her fatherhood hypothesis.
Language Of Truth: Because the Clan speak in a mostly-silent sign language that incorporates body language, it is impossible for a person of the Clan (or Ayla) to lie, or be lied to: they always know you're withholding something.
Love Dodecahedron: In the third book, it starts as a Love Triangle between Ranec, Ayla and Jondalar (who are the Official Couple, so you can guess how it turns out) and then the another Mamutoi character, Vincavec, makes a bid for Ayla's attentions, but nobody except him ever thinks he's a real contender. Ranec also has his ex-girlfriend Tricie who still carries a torch for him, and Jondalar has his (not present) ex-girlfriends Zolena/Zelandoni, Marona, and Serenio. It continues in the sixth book: Jondalar's cheating with Marona.
Marital Rape License: When men of the Clan make "the Signal," women are expected to drop everything and present for a sexual encounter. The Signal is generally done only with one's mate, but it can be given to any female if the male's need is that pressing. Broud does it to Ayla only to pound her viciously (he's a sadistic bully), and Ayla is shocked to learn later that other women like sex and are not above flirting with their men. Even Clan women employ certain seductive postures and motions to give men ideas.
Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: The series seems to be iffy as to whether the rituals of the mog-ur (Clan shamans) and the zelandonii (Other shamans) are genuine mystic journeys and psychic abilities, or just the result of good drugs.
Thonolan's eventual wife is named Jetamio, which resembles the French "je t'aime," "I love you." Arguably, also serves as Foreshadowing. (It makes a certain sort of sense because, according to the map of Europe in the books, Jetamio lived and died in Romania, but her husband and his brother are from what is now France.)
The sickly, pregnant Mamutoi woman Fralie (she's frail!) and her harridan of a mother Crozie (she's a bitter old crone!). Who is cross a lot of the time, and must be a real cross to bear if she lives at your hearth. But it also has "rosie" in it, suggesting a time long ago when I Was Quite a Looker.
The Losadunai girl Madenia (she's a maiden!) who was gang raped before her Rites of First Pleasures.
In The Shelters of Stone, we have Portula (she's portly!) and Kareja (who is courageous — her name sounding like "courageous" is even mentioned in the book), and, perhaps, also Marona (she's a bit of a moron!).
One of Jondalar's flames, Serenio (she's serene!)
Broud is one letter off from proud — he has a huge ego and that's a big reason why he hates Ayla.
Moral Guardians: Due to its unabashed sexuality, including Ayla being raped by Broud, the book has been frequently banned.
Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Judging by Ayla's vision of the Mother being forsaken for the Son and a number of Zelandonii men's reactions to her new verse in The Land of Painted Caves, our heroine may have established the basis for future patriarchies. She's almost certainly bringing an end to Eternal Sexual Freedom amongst the Zelandonii, and later, other groups, with her concept of fatherhood. Those Who Worship the Great Earth Mother will probably not be best pleased.
In Clan of the Cave Bear Ayla sees some Clan children using a special sign which means "Mother" and starts using it on Iza, who is deeply touched.
In The Mammoth Hunters: Ayla teaches Rydag, a Clan child raised by Cro-Magnon humans, some Clan sign language including Mother, which he then uses on the woman who is taking care of him.
No Guy Wants an Amazon: Played straight in the Clan since Ayla is extremely tall and hideously misshapen to their eyes, and then averted by Jondalar and most of the Others, who have no problems with Ayla's self-sufficiency. Stands to reason, too: if you live in communities of 50-100 people or so, you'd be suicidal to turn down able-bodied workers just because they happen to have tits.
Every time someone of the Others tries to justify their Fantastic Racism towards the Clan with some terrible thing a Neanderthal has done (such as Broud raping Ayla), she points out that some of the Others have done the exact same things (with actual examples) and asks if that makes them dirty animals.
Attaroa turns her camp into a misandric matriarchal dystopia and tries to work all the men to death... because her husband, the former leader, forbid women from hunting, treated them as inferiors, and encouraged men to beat their wives. The hypocrisy is totally lost on her, because she's batshit insane.
Nubile Savage: Ayla, especially when played by Daryl Hannah. Auel goes to great lengths to justify this — Ayla learns to brush her hair with a teasel pod, swims and bathes regularly, eats a varied diet, and even wears a leather band around her explicitly large and turgid (or "full") breasts.
Omniglot: Ayla is capable of learning a new language in about a week. Maybe less, due to her upbringing within the Clan, where she had to learn everything quickly to avoid upsetting anyone.
One Million BC: Averted with a vengeance. The author did a lot of research, and loves to go on for pages about the landscape, ecology, wildlife, and technology, all of it suitably Late Pleistocene. She did get some things wrong (see History Marches On) and certainly made up the stuff about the Clan's society and Genetic Memory, but she took the effort to make it mostly accurate.
Pet Baby, Wild Animal: In order: A) Ayla's horse Whinney, which she adopted after killing the foal's mother for food; B) Baby, a cave lion cub who later became the inadvertent sort-of matchmaker between her and Jondalar; C) Whinney's son Racer, later Jondalar's steed; and D) Wolf, a cub whose mother Alya killed because she (the mother) was being a pest, only to find out the mother was nursing and rescue her one surviving offspring out of guilt.
Poor Communication Kills: If it weren't for the lack of actual resultant deaths, The Mammoth Hunters could be subtitled Poor Communication Kills: the Novel. Ayla may have learned to speak Mamutoi and Zelandonii, but she and Jondalar still spend the entire book perpetually miscommunicating and misinterpreting each other. Part of the problem is that their unspoken cultural assumptions are totally incompatible; the other half of the problem is Jondalar's numerous silly hang-ups, unwillingness to just tell Ayla he's jealous, and rather low self-confidence. This trope nearly breaks them apart permanently before the Mamutoi finally talk sense into Ayla.
Power Trio: Siblings Brun (the clan leader), Creb (the mog-ur/shaman) and Iza (the medicine woman). They're also the tops in their respective fields among all the local clans.
Purple Prose: Although the prose is usually easy enough to read, certain categories of objects or events — sex, geography, food, and so on — are described with a considerably larger vocabulary than other objects.
Raised by Wolves: Not literally in Ayla's case, but considering how animalistic the Others consider the Clan to be, there's little difference in their eyes. Inverted when Ayla domesticates Wolf, who is the first of his kind Raised By Humans.
Rape as Backstory: Though never stated as such, this is implied to be part of Attaroa's past, and possibly part of how she became so screwed up.
For a short period of time in the first book, Ayla is raped by Broud, the son and heir-designate of the clan's leader. Since he gave her the Signal, the women of the clan can't figure out why Ayla objects, whereas Ayla knows he does it to humiliate her. And indeed, Broud loses interest when she stops resisting because she got pregnant by him.
Later, a band of ruffians rapes an adolescent girl, who had not gone through the ritual deflowering ceremony and now refuses to have sex. Though Auel doesn't mention it, this brings up a possible reason for why a culture would guarantee girls have a magical first time: any woman who can have children will be willing to try, which is nice for population growth (or at least maintaining a population with realistic prehistoric mortality rates.)
Revenge Against Men: Attora in The Plains of Passage doesn't like her man, so she kills him, makes all the women-folk give up their men too, and locks them in a cage.
Runaway Bride: Ayla decides, on the day of her planned Matrimonial ceremony to Ranec, to go back to Jondalar and journey to his people.
Runaway FiancÚ: Jondalar decides that, instead of showing up at his wedding, he's going to go east with his brother Thonolan. (You can guess where he's going to end up.)
Scenery Porn: The books often describe in detail what the landscape looks like, what type of plants grow in steppe-tundra, which animals live there, how the food chain works, what the weather is like, and how glaciers affect it all. When described from Ayla's point of view, the landscape can also be overlaid with herbal medical knowledge.
Schedule Slip: The letter of the trope is averted: Auel never missed release dates because she just didn't announce any. But the delays between books grew quite a bit.
Sequel Gap: The final three books were released in 1990, 2002, and 2011.
Sent Off To Work For Relatives: In the backstory to the series, as a teen Jondolar got sent to his divorced dad's new settlement to learn a trade after he got in trouble for beating up another character so bad it knocked his teeth out.
Sex as Rite-of-Passage: All over the place, but most explicitly in "First Rites" — the ritual deflowering of a virgin girl by an experienced man, designed to give her a safe and gentle first time.
Sex God: Jondalar is portrayed like this, due in no small part to his hardware and how well it and Ayla's own fit together.
The Stoic: This is the Clan standard of masculinity. They expect men to completely control their emotions at all times, no matter what. One character is embarrassed to show pain when his leg is broken and he's been sitting on it for half an hour. Broud, being a complete Jerkass by every other metric, also fails this standard.
Teen Pregnancy Ayla is raped and impregnated at the age of 11. The clan in general mature faster and live shorter lives than the others, so this would be a normal, if not even late, age for a clan woman to get pregnant, but it's way too early for Ayla.
Un-Person: Essentially what the death curse is. The Clan believes it turns the person into a spirit, and that it is unlucky to look at or acknowledge them. So they simply ignore the person and dispose of their belongings, and usually said person just gives up.
Victory By Endurance: Used several times. In one instance a group of hunters tire out a woolly rhinosaurus by each one jumping into its field of vision, making it chase them, and then another person jumps in, etc. At the end the rhino is practically dead from exhaustion, and they finish it off with spears.
Wanton Cruelty to the Common Comma: The Shelters of Stone is so filled with comma splices (where a comma is used where a period, semicolon or dash would be more appropriate) that it makes one wonder if the book had any editors.
What Measure Is a Non-Human?: When Durc the Half-Human Hybrid was born, the Clan leader attempted to expose him because he was "deformed;" another Clan woman who bore a hybrid (she was raped by one of the Others) was demoted to the bottom of the pecking order. The Others rarely tolerate halfbreeds, calling them "abominations" and consider them ritually filthy — and don't even get started about how they treat the women who bore them.
Your Mind Makes It Real: The death curse, the ultimate punishment among the Clan causes those so cursed to believe they are dead (as does everyone else), and generally just lie down and die. If they didn't pine to death the co-dependent gender-based memories will get them; e.g., men can hunt but don't know how to butcher and preserve their kills, and literally can't learn to gather edible plants or cook. Women could gather vegetation but their only defense is running, with zero tracking skills to avoid danger, and they're totally unable to learn to hunt. A number of real cultures have death curses, wherein the entire tribe treats a member as dead, and eventually they give up and die. Anthropologists call this "voodoo death." Similarly, the kurdaitcha or bone-pointing curse found in some Aboriginal Australian groups is thought to cause death because the people cursed by it believe it will kill them, and then waste away slowly due to the nocebo effect.