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     Alternative Character Interpretation 

Jondalar

  • Is Jondalar really just someone that needed to find the "right" person to handle his "deep" emotions, as well as maybe maturing a little more than he did while flint-knapping with his father? Or is he a jealous, controlling, possessive, emotionally unstable man-child who could only find a lasting relationship with someone who has been programmed from childhood to subsume her own wants and needs to those of a man?
    • His most satisfying relationships have been: Zolena (the woman who taught him how to have sex), girls during their First Rites ceremonies (newly-pubescent girls who are culturally programmed to look at him as a special one-night-stand) and Ayla (who was taught that her own sexual needs were not important and that she should open her legs whenever a guy wants to screw her).
    • Whenever Ayla does anything that really asserts her independence, he goes positively ape-shit on her. It starts in Valley of the Horses when she stays out later than he thought she ought to be one night and just escalates to insane proportions during Mammoth Hunters. It doesn't really go away in Plains of Passage or Shelters of Stone, though it tones down a little because Ayla is more dependent upon him while they're traveling in areas she's unfamiliar with and once they arrive at his cave and she has to learn the ropes of Zelandonii life. But in Land of Painted Caves, Jondalar actually screws around with his former fiancée Marona because Ayla devotes more time to her Zelandonia training than she does to him. Somehow, though, his affair is less objectionable than Ayla being practically date-raped by Laramar.
    • Before Jondalar met her, Ayla traveled alone from Clan territory on the peninsula to a secluded valley on the steppes. She was emotionally devastated from the loss of her adoptive family and son, and yet she not only managed to successfully keep herself alive during that journey, but she also scouted a place to live, hunted and gathered and worked hard enough to create and store everything she would need to survive a winter, fended off predators, discovered a new way to make fire, raised a filly and a lion cub to fully grown healthy animals that responded to her commands, and then Saved. Jondalar's. Life. All on her own with no help from anyone, based on nothing more than the skills she learned from the Clan and her own wits. And yet, Jondalar treats her like she's an idiot child who can't do anything on her own or she'll get killed. Fear for her safety is a pretty paltry justification for ignoring her abilities to that extent, and he does it more than once.
    • The very idea that Ayla might want to have sex with someone other than him, let alone might want to have a relationship with someone who sees her for who she is and loves her because of it, not in spite of it as Jondalar seems to, sends him into a BSOD. At the point in Mammoth Hunters when Ayla and Ranec get engaged, Nezzie (the male camp leader's wife) actually wonders whether or not Jondalar's just going to go out and drown himself in the nearby river. Strangled by the Red String? Or just unable to accept the idea that Ayla might decide, upon discovering that he's not the only man in the world, that he's really not all that and a bag of chips?
      • To be fair, Jondalar is actually a teenager at the start of the series. He's stated to be around eighteen when he starts out on his journey in The Valley of Horses, meaning he's around 20 when he first meets Ayla. Therefore, could his emotional outbursts be partly explained by hormones and a still-developing brain?
  • It’s been speculated by some readers that Jondalar may possibly have Borderline Personality Disorder, due to certain behaviours matching some of the symptoms. Common signs or symptoms of borderline personality disorder include:
    • Inappropriate or extreme emotional reactions: Pretty much Jondalar in a nutshell. He becomes irritated, impatient and angry quite easily and states himself that he feels his anger is uncontrollable at times. He’s also been known to become aggressive or violent when angered (the incident with Madroman when they were both teenagers is a prime example). His relationship with Ayla is very emotionally intense as well (not though always in a negative way), be it arguing with her or making love to her.
    • History of unstable relationships: The vast majority of Jondalar’s relationships are passionate, but short-lived. His partners tend to find him too intense whilst he has difficulty connecting to many of them on a deeper emotional level.
    • Persistent fear of abandonment and rejection: He gets extremely jealous if other men pay attention to Ayla and becomes utterly despondent when they break up in the third book. Losing her seems to be one of his greatest fears.
    • Impulsive, risky or self-destructive behaviours: He left to go on a long journey with his brother on a whim, abandoning his other plans. He doesn’t really embark on self-destructive behaviours, though he does mentally beat himself up a lot.
    • Persistent feelings of emptiness or isolation: At the start of the series, he seems to be wandering aimlessly through life, not understanding his goal or purpose, and feeling misunderstood and unable to truly bond with romantic/sexual partners.
    • Intense mood swings: He can go from the extremes of very happy and excitable to downright depressed and back again in a matter of minutes, depending on the circumstances, and has moods that can last for days on end. He also becomes anxious easily.
    • Unstable/distorted self-image: He expresses a lot of self-hatred at times, sometimes brooding over for it hours or days.
  • Is part of Jondalar's clinginess over Ayla, mood-swings and angsting in the third book caused by his ongoing grief over Thonolan's death? It hasn't really been all that long since it happened after all - we're talking months, tops. It also hasn't been that long since Jetamio died in childbirth and he recovered from a traumatic injury. He's also been away from his home and family for nearly four years at this point. If most people on vacation had experienced something that traumatic, the first thing they'd probably want to do is get home or have their family there with them...only due to fact walking is the only option in this time period, Jondalar's stuck with complete strangers who's customs are unfamiliar, on the other side of the continent. Though is does not excuse his Jerkass behaviour towards Ayla and he should really have just talked to her about it, is it really that surprising he's so frustrated and emotional throughout the third book?

Other

  • The nature of Ranec and Ayla's relationship, specifically in regards to Ranec. He is far more accepting of Ayla initially, but is that because he just overlooks or ignores her flaws? He repeatedly refers to her as "perfect", compares her to his people's goddess and believes she can do no wrong. He's known Ayla for even less time than Jondalar and immediately decides he's in love with her. He never seems to notice how unhappy and reluctant Ayla is about the whole situation, even though everyone else finds it obvious. Thus, begging the question: is Ranec actually in love with Ayla, or is he more in love with the idea of her and overlooks the flaws in their relationship so as not to lose her?
    • There's also some issues surrounding consent in their relationship. Whilst it didn't seem to be Ranec's intention to take advantage of her, Ayla seems to think (due to her Clan training) the first time that Ranec propositions her that she has to go with. Whilst she may find Ranec attractive, she does seem to feel obligated to sleep with him anyway at his request, with Mamut even reminding her at one point that she can actually say no if she wants to.

     YMMV 
  • Angst Dissonance: A few readers get rather tired of Jondalar's frequent angsting over his relationship with Ayla, among various other things, (especially in The Mammoth Hunters where it's demonstrated in the end that he could've resolved many of these issues by simply talking it out with her), with some of them feeling he takes it to the point of Wangst. See also Unintentionally Unsympathetic.
  • Anvilicious: Some of the themes or morals of the series are not all that subtle, especially as they tend to be running themes throughout all the books. Of course, given that many of the themes revolve around prejudice and sexism, this may be justified (see Some Anvils Need to Be Dropped).
    • One example that is very prevalent throughout the series from the second book onwards is aversion of Sex Is Evil. With the numerous explicit sex scenes, various mentions of sex, Sex as Rite-of-Passage moments and the link between sex and conception becoming a major plot point eventually, the author really wants to make sure we all know that sex is wonderful and sacred, provided it's Safe, Sane, and Consensual, and nothing to be ashamed of. Heck, most Cro Magnon societies in the series are depicted as believing their goddess gave them sex as a gift simply because sex is awesome!
  • Author's Saving Throw: Originally, all the Neanderthals were dark haired and brown eyed, while Ayla was blonde and blue eyed, and many other Cro-Magnons had fair hair and bright eyes. This was criticized as a case of Humans Are White and put at further odds when genetic evidence showed that some Neanderthals were fair haired. In later books, Ayla met some fair haired Neanderthals, implying that the ones she grew around just happened to be dark haired. Ayla also meets Cro-Magnon who are explicitly non-white, such as Ranec, who is of mixed ethnicity and takes after his African mother in appearance, and Jerika and Hochaman, who are heavily implied to be from East Asia; Jerika's daughter Joplaya is also of mixed ethnicity.
  • Base-Breaking Character:
  • Best Known for the Fanservice: Downplayed to an extent, but besides being very long and extensively researched, the Earth's Children series is also known for having lots and lots and lots of sex. The unabashed and often explicit sexual content has also resulted in the books being banned in a few places over the years.
  • Broken Base: Aside from the Base-Breaking Characters mentioned above, fans tend to be divided over the later books. Some completely ignore everything after book four due to Seasonal Rot, whilst others still enjoy them even if the quality has dipped in comparison to earlier entries. Then there's the issue with Durc. Some fans hated that his story was never properly concluded, seeing as he was set up as a kind of Chosen One for the Clan. Others actually think this was appropriate, as the series follows Ayla's story, not her son's, and it's made explicitly clear that Ayla and Durc's paths diverged forever when she was banished. The only things readers generally agree on is that the first book is the best and that, regardless of the plot, the sheer amount of research into the Ice Age down to meticulous details is impressive in and of itself.
  • Ensemble Dark Horse: Durc, Ayla's hybrid son, only physically appears in the first book, but he seems to be a pretty popular character amongst fans. In particular, he is frequently the subject of fanfictions, with many people wondering what became of him after Ayla left (especially due to the implications he would be responsible for the clan's future someday, as Creb predicted, which would probably put him at odds with Broud, who unbeknownst to them both, is actually his biological father).
  • Escapist Character: Ayla can come across as this, especially in later books – she's an intelligent, beautiful and badass cavewoman who comes up with all kinds of cool inventions and innovations, tames wild animals, is an expert healer, a total Dude Magnet and has amazing sex with a hunky caveman who adores her. Although the parts where she grew up being viewed as a bit of a social pariah who struggles to be accepted, got abused and raped as a child, lost her entire family (including her son) either through death or banishment and gets crap from people for being raised by the Clan do put a bit of a damper on things.
  • Esoteric Happy Ending: Of a sort. It is actually acknowledged or hinted at within the series itself that Ayla's revelation about men's role in conception will make big changes to society - not all of them good. But realising that a few thousand years down the track, the Zelandonii and other societies with their positive attitudes towards sex, and women who are respected and equal to men, will be replaced by societies were women are oppressed and deemed inferior, whilst people can be shunned or even killed for engaging in certain sexual practices, even if they're not inherently harmful, is pretty depressing when you think about it. Not to mention the exploitation of natural resources and all the fun stuff like pollution that comes with it...but the sexism and misogyny we know is coming is made all the worse due to the implication that Ayla herself had a hand in it...whilst being completely unaware of it. And all she wanted to do was help people...
  • Fanfic Fuel:
    • What happened to Durc and the rest of the clan after the first book is a pretty popular topic, seeing as we have no idea what went on after Ayla left.
    • To a lesser extent, another common topic is what would've happened if Ayla chose to stay with Ranec and the Lion Camp.
    • The loose ends left hanging at the end of the series and the large cast provides a lot of Canon Fodder for fanfic writers. Continuing the series after the sixth book (or straight up re-writing the fifth and/or sixth books) is fairly common.
  • Fanon Discontinuity: Many readers prefer to think the series ended with The Plains of Passage, book four. The fact that it took twelve years for the fifth book to be published and that Seasonal Rot kicked in pretty hard with that installment certainly contributes.
  • Fan-Preferred Couple:
    • There are some fans who wish Ayla had stayed with Ranec instead of going back to Jondalar, citing the fact that Jondalar spends much of the third book being a petulant Jerkass before his Character Development and that Ranec is far more kind and charming towards Ayla, and unconditionally accepts her past with the Clan (whilst half of Jondalar’s problem in the third book is feeling ashamed about Ayla’s past and learning to get over himself).
    • There are even some fans who ship Thonolan and Ayla together, probably because Thonolan is a cheerful Nice Guy who is very open-minded, and so would probably get along well with Ayla. This is a case of Ships That Pass in the Night, as the two never actually meet (the first and only time Ayla even lays eyes on Thonolan is finding and burying his body after he’s mauled by her cave lion).
  • First Installment Wins: Even hardcore fans of the whole series agree on this.
  • Funny Moments: A couple in the Film of the Book.
    • Creb having to have one of his rotten teeth pulled by Ayla and Iza. Iza prepares to pull the tooth out while Ayla comforts him, saying that nothing scares the great Mog-ur. As soon as Creb is shown the tooth, he promptly faints onto Ayla's lap.
    • When Broud attempts to force Ayla to mate with him again shortly after she discovers she's pregnant. While he struggles to get aroused enough to penetrate, Ayla merely has an "oh well, sucks to be you" kind of expression while trying to contain her laughter. Broud promptly throws a tantrum, pushes Ayla to the side and leaves, while one of the women demonstrates the loss of an erection with a stick.
  • Heartwarming Moments: Has its own page.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight: In The Plains of Passage, Ayla is referred to as S'Ayla by the S'Armunai camp she helps out as a sign of respect. Over 20 years later, Far Cry Primal was released, which features a cavewoman protagonist named Sayla; plus, the main character of that game is, like Ayla, The Beast Master who rides around on a big cat. They also both take on a tyrannical tribe run by a deranged woman with a superiority complex who murdered their child when they rebelled.
  • Idiot Plot: The Mammoth Hunters, for some readers. It could be argued that half of the drama involving Ayla and Jondalar's relationship woes could've been solved fairly easily if they'd just...y'know, talked to each other like adults?
    • One could also make this argument for their relationship in Land of Painted Caves. Ayla and Jondalar both know that Ayla has some rigorous trials ahead in her studies that will require both of them to make sacrifices, and they never discuss how they will handle it or make arrangements? Nor do they appear to ask Zelandoni (or Jondalar's family) for advice; this is particularly egregious since not only is Zelandoni a close friend, but Jondalar comes from a family of leaders who are certainly no strangers to balancing the needs of family and leadership.
  • Iron Woobie:
    • Marthona. The woman has been through a whole heap of crap, but you wouldn't know it just by looking. Her best friend, whom she loved like a sister, turned on her and left without a word due to the man they both loved picking Marthona instead. She never heard from her again, even wondering if she'd died out in the wilderness. Her first husband unexpectedly died of illness only a few years into their marriage, leaving her to take up leadership of the Ninth Cave and raise their baby by herself. Her second marriage ended in divorce, with she and her mate unable to reconcile their differences despite loving each other. She then finds out her youngest son died horribly halfway across the continent, she can't bring his body back for a proper funeral and she finds out that before his death, he'd been depressed due to his mate and baby dying. And in spite of grieving for Thonolan, she still manages to be happy for Jondalar and his fiancee and even helps plan their wedding.
    • Ayla (see The Woobie for details). Her early years were practically a non-stop Trauma Conga Line, but she still holds her head high through it all.
  • Jerkass Woobie:
    • Brukeval just about epitomizes this trope. The reason he's a Jerkass is largely because of how awful is life has been. And this is going back more than one generation. His grandmother was taken in by the Clan after getting lost on a hunting trip and lived with them for several months. When she returned, clearly something bad had happened; she was deeply traumatised and developed a terror of 'flat heads'. It's strongly implied that the poor woman was sexually assaulted during her time with the Clan, due to the cultural barrier - Clan women will have sex with any man who chooses her, Cro Magnon women...not so much. Clan men don't really understand the concept of consent as we do though, so if one tried to 'relieve his needs' with Brukeval's grandmother, expecting her to react like a Clan woman...you get the picture. Anyway, she later died giving birth to a daughter - Brukeval's mother - who was strongly implied to be of mixed spirits. For that, she was otracized as a freak of nature; she also suffered poor health and died when Brukeval was young. So then the poor kid got saddled with his relative, Marona's mother, who was very neglectful. He was bullied by other kids growing up because of his appearance, had no father figure and the shadow of what happened to his grandmother hanging over his head all his life. It's not surprising he grew up to be at least a little jaded about it all. And then at the end of the series, he finds out that the theory that he himself is part Clan - which he has always vehemently denied - is probably true given the revelation about conception. His last on-page appearance is him running off, screaming hysterically that it isn't true and that's he's "not an animal". Ayla herself feels bad for him, criticising the Zelandonii's prejudice towards the Clan for turning "little boys into Brouds".
    • Marona. Though it's more her backstory that makes you feel sorry for her than anything else. Her mother (the same woman who raised Brukeval, so you how this probably turned out) was a lazy, irresponsible parent, letting her daughter do whatever she wanted. The neglect and lack of affection she received probably has a lot to do with her bitchy, attention-seeking behaviour now. Most of her relationships are shortlived and emotionally unfulfilling and she's never had children (it's even suggested she might be barren). Finally, the only positive traits she's seen as having are her beauty and sexuality. That's pretty sad. Not to mention, it's outright stated that her beauty will probably fade in time and that unless she changes her ways, she's going to end up very lonely.
  • Moment of Awesome: Has its own page.
  • Moral Event Horizon:
    • If he hadn't already crossed it, Broud does in the middle of The Clan of the Cave Bear when he rapes Ayla.
    • Charoli and his gang are viewed in-universe as having crossed it by gang-raping Madenia (especially as she had never even had sex before that), although considering that he'd previously targeted Clan women too, he'd probably already crossed it.
    • Attaroa probably crossed after murdering a group of her own people who were trying to escape her tyranny - including her own child - and only allowing Cavoa to live because of her pregnancy, whilst threatening to kill both her and her baby if the child is a boy.
  • Narm:
    • "HE'S MAKING MY BABY" sent the scene from disturbing to hysterical. For context, the scene occurs near the end of the sixth book and involves a drunken Jondalar screaming the aforementioned line whilst beating the snot out of Laramar after he catches him having sex with Ayla. He believes Laramar will 'start a baby' with Ayla, which partly fuels his jealous rage, but his way of wording it is rather...odd and indeed comes across as funny to some readers, breaking the tension of the scene.
    • In The Plains of Passage, there's a scene where Ayla and Jondalar see a pair of mammoths mating and then get inspired by it to roleplay as mammoths themselves when they 'share Pleasures'.
  • Nightmare Fuel: Has its own page of horrors.
  • Padding:
    • Around a third of every novel - though particularly the last three books - is dedicated to lengthy, detailed descriptions of the landscape, wildlife, buildings, clothes, technology and so on. This is actually a case where it might not be considered a bad thing, as it really shows the author’s done her research and helps establish or broaden the setting, though some readers find it a bit much.
    • One of the things criticised about The Shelters of Stone is that it has lots of random, mostly plot-irrelevant conversations between characters, often involving Ayla and Jondalar relaying their adventures to people. Seeing as the readers already know what happened because they read about it in the first four books, it gets rather tiresome reading about the same thing over and over.
  • Seasonal Rot: Many readers considered The Shelters of Stone to be the weakest book of the series until The Land of Painted Caves was released and lowered the bar.
    • The Shelters of Stone took over a decade to be released and was seen as a letdown by several readers, due to its plot largely consisting of Ayla settling into Zelandonii life and getting involved in a few domestic disputes, which provides the only real conflict in the story, and not a lot else. It then rather abruptly ends on a Cliffhanger with Ayla having just given birth to her and Jondalar’s daughter and accepted Zelandoni’s offer to train her as a shaman. This is compared to the previous book, The Plains of Passage, which is a great deal more action-packed and had more genuinely threatening villains and conflicts. Some of the editing in the book raised eyebrows too, namely the Wanton Cruelty to the Common Comma.
    • The first half of The Land of Painted Caves follows a similar formula to The Shelters of Stone, with the central conflict of Ayla's Family Versus Career dilemma and her Character Development only really picking up in the second half, which quickly gets monotonous for some readers, especially seeing as both novels equal close to 800 pages. The sixth book also left several loose ends hanging which some readers had been waiting for around three decades to be resolved.
  • Sequelitis: Readers tend to think this started with The Valley of Horses. Arguably, the main problem is that, whilst the first book always had something going on, most of the action in the sequels (especially the last two books) is mainly relegated to beginning and end, meaning some readers can find getting through the entirety of the books (which are very long) tedious. Some of the plots, such as The Mammoth Hunters and particularly The Shelters of Stone focus mostly on relationship drama and the like, and so come across as 'soap opera-y', which doesn't sit well with some readers. While The Valley of Horses, The Mammoth Hunters and The Plains of Passage are still generally well-regarded (which one of the three is the best is debated on), The Clan of the Cave Bear is still seen as superior.
  • Some Anvils Need to Be Dropped:
    • The author makes it very clear that people of both sexes should be treated equally and with respect, and are both important to humanity. That goes for women and men, with the S'Armunai subplot in the fourth book really hammering home the point that sexism and abuse towards either sex is harmful and wrong.
    • Prejudice based around race, ethnicity or appearance is also presented as very wrong, being both harmful to individuals and detrimental to society as a whole.
    • As far as the author seems to be concerned, rape (of women and men) is one of the worst crimes there is, just as bad as murder in some cases. Defiled Forever is strongly averted and/or deconstructed with rape victims in this series.
  • Squick:
    • Some of the sex scenes have this effect on some of the readers.
    • The graphic description of Jondalar's injuries from the cave lion attack.
    • Ayla's gruesome Screaming Birth in the first book, combined with Nightmare Fuel, as Ayla is only eleven at the time.
  • Stoic Woobie: Brun by the end of The Clan of the Cave Bear. He entrusts his son with leadership of the clan, only to immediately realize this was a horrible mistake as Broud tosses aside the lessons Brun painstakingly taught him over the years and begins abusing his power. The clan are going to be in real trouble under Broud’s rule, but there is nothing Brun can do about it. To make matters worse, in prompt order, Brun’s home is destroyed (again) in an earthquake, his brother – who is his only living sibling left at this point is killed and Broud then curses the innocent Ayla with death. Brun realizes far too late that he has come to love and respect Ayla like a daughter, whilst being utterly disappointed in his son and ashamed of his own failure. He risks bad luck to subtly acknowledge Ayla and promise he’ll care for her son to atone, which causes his own son to threaten him. Brun is so disgusted with Broud at this point, he nearly publically disowns him and wishes he had been more appreciative of Ayla. He never really openly angsts about any of this and doesn’t even flinch when his son tries to threaten and humiliate him.
  • Tearjerker: Has it's own page.
  • They Wasted a Perfectly Good Plot:
    • The subplot introduced in the fourth novel, where after meeting and rescuing Guban and Yorga, Ayla and Jondalar raise the possibility of trading with their clan. Jondalar actually brings it up with Willomar in the next book and he seems interested in the idea, which could’ve lead to some very interesting interactions between the Clan, the Zelandonii and Ayla. But…as of the sixth book, nothing seems to have come of it and Yorga and Guban are barely mentioned, even though several years have passed. It would arguably have added another exciting plot branch other than Ayla training to become a zelandoni and relationship drama, and it would’ve been nice to focus on the Clan again, as they haven’t been prominently featured since the first book, also bringing Ayla’s story 'full circle', in a manner of speaking.
    • One of the biggest mysteries of the series - where Ayla originally came from before the earthquake – is never actually resolved by the end of the series. Whilst this was likely intentional, as the story focuses on who Ayla becomes, not who she was before, some readers still wished we’d found out more and the subject is ripe for speculation and new plotlines.
  • Too Cool to Live: Creb, the Genius Cripple / Cool Old Guy shaman and Ayla's unofficial dad. Even though he's Killed Off for Real in the first book, he's so cool he keeps popping up in dreams and such in subsequent books.
  • Unintentionally Unsympathetic: Jondalar can slip into this at times for some readers. He's intended to be a conflicted, highly emotional and misunderstood man, but to some he comes across as a whiny, immature Jerkass who causes most of his problems himself. Readers will debate endlessly on how sympathetic Jondalar is and whether or not his numerous issues justify his actions in any way.
  • Visual Effects of Awesome: The film adaption. Whilst it was not especially well-received by critics or audiences, the make-up effects for the Neanderthals were pretty good and believable, and still don’t look half bad today, whilst the dramatic red and white face-paint Ayla wears during a ritual (featured prominently on posters and the cover) is almost iconic. The film actually received an Oscar nomination at the 59th Academy Awards for Best Make-Up.
  • What an Idiot!: You could practically hear the readers face-palming when it's revealed in the sixth book that Jondalar is cheating on Ayla...with Marona, of all people. Even he thinks he was dumb as hell, along with pretty much every other character.
  • The Woobie: Has enough of them to warrant its own page.

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