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The Mammoth Hunters is the third novel in Jean M. Auel's epic Earth's Children saga. Set in the time after the last ice age, it follows Ayla, a Cro-Magnon woman raised by the Clan, Neanderthals, and Jondalar, a man she met after being forced to leave the Clan.
The Mammoth Hunters follows on immediately from the previous novel, The Valley of Horses, when Ayla and Jondalar had met some other people. These are the Mamutoi tribe, known as the mammoth hunters, whom Ayla and Jondalar live with during this novel. This is Ayla's first experience of life within a community of her own people, and there are many ups and downs, including problems for her and Jondalar as another man, Ranec, makes his interest in her quite clear.
As with the previous novels, the research and detail is quite astonishing. There are long passages describing every detail of Mamutoi life, and knowing that Auel is well respected by archaeologists, I have to assume it is largely accurate. I certainly read her novels with complete faith in the accuracy of her representations of life at the time. This detail gives such a clear picture of the life and land of that time, that it is easy to imagine how life was for Ayla, Jondalar and the Mamutoi. It occurred to me while reading it that it wasn't even a stretch to imagine life in a time before roads, towns and villages, or at least villages as we would recognise them now. The only visualisation which I struggled with was that of a herd of mammoths. I know what a mammoth looked like, and the descriptions are perfectly detailed, but it's still hard to picture something which has been extinct for so long.
I found myself liking and disliking the story of The Mammoth Hunters. I really liked Ayla's introduction to a community, and how they were baffled and almost scared of her and her relationship with animals. I loved their fascination in learning about this young woman who could ride horses. There always seemed to be something new and surprising being learnt about either Ayla or the Mamutoi. Partway through the novel there is the introduction of a cute new baby animal who becomes another of Ayla's companions, a welcome addition after Baby's departure. I find I become even more attached to the animals than the human characters.
However, I disliked the introduction of Ranec and the threat he brought to Ayla and Jondalar's relationship. Perhaps that's petty and a bit silly, but I want the happy ending for them. The character of Ayla was introduced at the age of five in the first novel, The Clan of the Cave Bear, she has been through an awful lot and found her perfect mate in Jondalar. Or at least that's my opinion. So I wasn't too happy when this smooth talking slimy type came along.
There are a lot of themes and lessons in the Earth's Children novels, but none so obvious as that of tolerance. The Clan are derided by the Mamutoi, and all people like them (including Jondalar at first), as being animals, known as flatheads. They do not believe the Clan are human. The Mamutoi are disgusted to learn of Ayla's background, but she gradually teaches them that the Clan are people too. The lesson is clear: all people are human, no matter what they look like, believe in or how they live. The prehistoric characters of Auel's novels are actually more accepting of Ranec, a black man (he is the only one in the region the Mamutoi live in) than of Rydag, a boy who is half Clan, half Mamutoi.
I really enjoyed The Mammoth Hunters. Each Earth's Children novel puts Ayla into a new situation, and it is fascinating to learn with her. I can't recommend the series highly enough, but you need to start from the beginning.
Over recent weeks, I have written reviews on the first two instalments of the Earth's Children series - The Clan of the Cave Bear (the famous one!) and The Valley of Horses. Now it is time for the third book of the series - The Mammoth Hunters - to come under the dooyoo microscope! I really am not making life easy for myself by choosing to write about these books, as they cover such a huge and epic storyline of massively popular and widely read proportions that reviewing them is about as straightforward as trying to review other modern classics such as LOTR. Anyway, if you have read my previous reviews please feel free to skip through the background stuff and go straight to the body of the review itself - if not, you may find it helpful to have a look at it. - The setting for the book I feel that it is important to mention a bit about where and when the Mammoth Hunters is set, as this really forms the peg onto which the whole series is hung. The novel is one of characters living in Upper Palaeolithic Europe (the late Stone Age), around 30,000 years ago, when the continent was in the grip of an Ice Age. The ice sheets cover all of Britain and Scandinavia, and extend as far south as northern France and the low countries - there were times when the sheets was even larger, but this time is a warmer period (called an interstadial), when the ice has retreated far enough to allow people to live in central and southern Europe. Having said that, it is still a very cold periglacial climate (think northern Canada today) and survival is by no means an easy thing. At this time, there is also something else special about Europe - there are two species of human living in it. The older of the two is the Neanderthal (known in the book as the Clan), while the newer are the Cro Magnons or early Homo Sapiens (known to the Clan as the Others, but who call themselves Earth's Children). The two groups would have looked and behaved rather differ
ently from one another, and although we don?t know how (or indeed if) they would have interacted with one another, in this book they have a basic awareness of each other, but distrust and avoid the other species. An interesting point to note is that although the destiny of the Cro Magnons is clearly for them to take over the continent and become the dominant species, the Neanderthal is by no means portrayed as being the shambling idiot caveman that some people still consider them to be. And quite rightly too - you don't survive for 200,000 years without a certain amount of skill and intelligence you know! - The background to the Mammoth Hunters Being the third book in the Earth's Children series, clearly a considerable about of storyline has passed already - I will provide an overview of it here for anyone unfamiliar with the books, who still wants to make sense of the review! The books in this series concern the life story of a remarkable woman called Ayla, who is born to Cro Magnons but orphaned at age five by a terrible earthquake that kills her family group. Suddenly alone in the world, she is lucky to be found by a travelling community of Clan members whose compassion saves her life, despite the fact that they too have been made homeless by the earthquake. The child is now compelled to adapt to Clan ways in order to survive ? to learn their language and customs and fit in with their strict hierarchy, but despite this, still makes an enemy of future leader Broud, who comes to resent her for her differences. By the time Ayla reaches age eleven, she finds herself being beaten by Broud for the least mistake, and even being raped by him on a number of occasions. However, when she gives birth to her half-Clan son Durc, Ayla finds something of a silver lining in her treatment and loves her new baby dearly. Her happiness is not to last though, as she is expelled from the Clan just three years later, when Broud makes his first
act as leader to order a death curse to be placed on her. Leaving the security of the only home and family she can remember, Ayla sets out from the cave she grew up in, alone and with only the most basic possessions to try and survive in a world where it is expected she will simply not be able to cope by herself. Travelling north to try and find the Others - her own people - with which to live, she instead finds herself wintering in a small cave hidden in a valley populated by steppe horses. Ayla is uniquely equipped to survive alone here: she has the resilience and confidence taught to her from her earlier survival experience, the ability to hunt with a sling which she taught herself throughout the summers of her childhood and the knowledge of plants and medicines she learned from living at the hearth of the Clan's medicine woman, Iza. Here Ayla lives for three years with a young horse she adopts, slowly giving up hope of ever finding the Others, until one day she meets the handsome Jondalar. This man is the first person of the Others Ayla can ever remember seeing, and although he is gravely injured from a cave lion attack when she finds him, her skills help her to nurse him back to health. Almost inevitably, they fall in love in one another, and make plans to leave the valley together. - The plot of the Mammoth Hunters The Mammoth Hunters picks up directly where the last book left off. While out on the steppes one day with Ayla's horse Whinney and her colt Racer, the two lovers meet up with a group of hunters from a local community of people who call themselves the Mamutoi or mammoth hunters. It is hard to tell who is the more shocked at this point - Ayla at meeting so many new people at once, or the Mamutoi for seeing tame horses which allow people to ride on their backs! Welcomed as guests, Ayla and Jondalar visit this group of Mamutoi in their home, an earthlodge built to survive the harsh winters of this landscape -
which would have been located in what is today the Ukraine. The community (who are named the Lion Camp to distinguish themselves from other Mamuoti groups) comprise some 27 people living in seven hearths (or family groups) within this lodge. Ayla and Jondalar are put up in the fourth hearth with the group's spiritual leader or Mamut, and it is here that they end up spending the winter of Ayla's eighteenth year. Over the course of this winter, Ayla's life is no less eventful than we have come to expect. The Mamutoi regard her very highly, not just for her "magic" with animals, but also because she can understand and communicate with an unusual member of the Lion Camp - a half-Clan boy named Rydag, who was taken in and raised by a woman of the camp. Mamut also sees special spiritual qualities in Ayla, and Jondalar's love for her is put to the test when she encounters a second unusual member of the group, in the form of Ranec. Ranec is unusual because he is dark-skinned, the explanation being that his father had met his mother while on a long journey that took him far south of the Mamutoi homeland. This is not actually as far-fetched as it may sound, as the skeleton of a Negroid male has actually been found at a Upper Palaeolithic site called Markina Gora in this region! What is intriguing is that Mamut tells Ayla that he feels the woman has a great destiny set out for her, although we are left guessing as to what this greater purpose might be... - My opinion of the Mammoth Hunters By this stage in the Earth's Children series, the reader is very familiar with Ayla, and this in itself makes you want to read more about her, to find out what happens next and what her future adventures will be. I greatly admire these books, and the author Jean Auel has done a fabulous job in carefully researching each one to build up a world that is workable, believable and accurate based on what we know (or like to think we
know) from the archaeological and anthropological evidence for this period. This is evident not only in the length and scale of the books, but also in the attention to detail and the length of time between them being published - I for one get the feeling that the Upper Palaeolithic world could certainly have functioned in the manner she has constructed throughout this epic. But however much I enjoy these books, there are unfortunately a few problems in this one that I feel I have to mention. The Mammoth Hunters takes our compulsion to find out what Ayla does next, and moves the story on through a relatively short space of time in comparison to the earlier books (less than a year passes in these 700 pages). While this is done because a number of significant events occur in our heroine?s life over this short period, it does unfortunately makes some parts of the book feel a little "samey". To cover such a short space of time in one long book means a great deal of mundane detail is gone into, and I have to say that I felt some of the period detail has been given not to help the plot or improve our understanding of Ayla's world but rather to fill in a little space. A few subplots and happenings felt a little unnecessary or contrived, but I need to stress that this is in a minority of cases and does not affect the readability of the book to any great extent. As for the characters themselves, I feel I have to say that Ayla is becoming a little two dimensional. In the Clan of the Cave bear I could really identify with her as a real person with both positive and negative attributes - but by now she seems to be just a little too perfect. While Jondalar shows jealousy, frustration and anger, all of Ayla?s mistakes seem to be explained away simply by her cultural background, and nothing is ever her fault! As much as I have grown to love her character, I would be much happier if she became a real person again. These complaints as
ide, the Mammoth Hunters is still a highly readable book that brings the Palaeolithic to life in a very vivid way. It is original and for the most part absorbing, and I have no problems in recommending it to readers of Auel?s earlier works or to anyone else with a taste for period novels or epic stories. I would say it was suitable for anyone aged from around 15 upwards, providing you have enough concentration to stick with books of this length! ------------------------------------------------------ The full series of Earth's Children are: 1) The Clan of the Cave Bear (1980) 2) The Valley of Horses (1982) 3) The Mammoth Hunters (1985) 4) The Plains of Passage (1990) 5) The Shelters of Stone (2001) Useful stuff: http://ecfans.com/ Excellent fansite, with all sorts of articles on the author, the books and recent archaeological work on the Palaeolithic http://www.mikedust.com/history/neanderthal.html See what the Neanderthal looked like (as far as we know!) http://www.mikedust.com/history/cromagnon.html Read more about the early homo sapiens of Ayla's species http://www.geocities.com/auelpage/series/bk1clan.htm See a Neanderthal morph into a Cro Magnon http://www.geocities.com/auelpage/series/bk3mamhunt.htm Some background information about the Mammoth Hunters Price: The first four books in the series are available in paperback for £7.99. The most recent is still in hardback, and costs £9.99 - but it is due to come out in paperback next summer.
This is the third novel (of five) in the Earth's Children series. This is the kind of book that gets you gripped from the very first pages. I honestly couldn't put it down. I would advise anyone who has a taste for discovery, adventure, history and maybe just a touch of romance to read this book. Please note that even though the book is part of a series, it is NOT essential that you read the other two books first. There is some reference towards them but these are well explained. Certainly, reading this book will entice you to read other books in the series. I have read two other books in the series so far and though I enjoyed them, "The Mammoth Hunters" was the first one I read. It's also my favourite so far. I know it may seem a little strange that I'm reading the series in a backwards manner (actually book 3, book 4, book 2, book 1 and then book 5). It wasn't intentional, but think of it this way - It's like the new StarWars films, you step back and find out events leading up to the novels you have already read. I would suggest reading them in correct order though (I can't vouch for the first book yet, will update soon).