Prehistorical romance: a new genre in popular fiction; The Clan of the Cave Bear, by Jean M. Auel. New York: Bantam. 1980. Paperback. The Valley of Horses, by Jean M. Auel. New York: Crown, 1982, paperback, Bantam. The Horse Goddess, by Morgan Llywelyn. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1982, New York Pocket Books, 1983. 439 pp. $3.95. Lion of Ireland, by Morgan Llywelyn. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1979. New York: Berkley Books, 1982. 559 pp. $3.75. The Wicked Day, by Mary Stewart. New York: William Morrow & Co., 1983. 453 pp. $ 15.95. The Crystal Cave, by Mary Stewart. New York: William Morrow & Co., 1970. Paperback. The Hollow Hills, by Mary Stewart. New York: William Morrow & Co., 1973. Paperback. The Last Enchantment, by Mary Stewart. New York: William Morrow & Co., 1979. Paperback.
There is a new genre shaping up on the popular fiction scene. It is science fiction in reverse, going backward in time to lost worlds and civilizations. Pocket Books calls it historical fantasy. I prefer to call it ancient fiction. The books in this genre contain the usual fiction elements with anthropological details added. These contain varying amounts of fantasy. When they include historical figures, those figures are so wrapped in myth and legend it is difficult to know where the truth ends and the myth begins.Skip to next paragraph
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Some are solid candidates for the ancient fiction genre. Those include: Jean M. Auel's ''The Clan of the Cave Bear'' and ''The Valley of Horses'' (both currently on the mass market paperback best-seller list), Morgan Llywelyn's ''Lion of Ireland'' and ''The Horse Goddess'' (published earlier this fall by William Morrow & Co. and currently on the fiction best-seller list) and her Merlin Trilogy - ''The Crystal Cave,'' ''The Hollow Hills,'' and ''The Last Enchantment.''
It would be stretching it to call ''The Clan of the Cave Bear'' and ''The Valley of Horses'' historical fiction since they are set in the prehistoric Stone Age. These two books are the first in Miss Auel's ''Earth's Children'' series.
For research she lived with Eskimos and learned their survival skills. Miss Auel's books place more emphasis on the anthropological details that characterize this genre than the other books. At times these details can be overwhelmingly boring, as in her exhaustively detailed account of the making of a hand ax. The plot, however, is always interesting.
In ''Clan of the Cave Bear,'' blond and beautiful Ayla, an orphaned Cro-Magnon girl, is adopted and raised by a tribe of Neanderthals who call themselves the Clan of the Cave Bear. Each member of the clan has a totem, an animal spirit that protects him and shapes his destiny. Ayla learns about plants and the healing arts from Iza, the clan's medicine woman. She learns about the clan's religion, a blend of magic, superstition, and pantheism, from Creb, the clan's holy man.
Ayla teaches herself to hunt. This brings her into conflict with the other clan members, since women are not allowed to hunt. Because of her powerful totem , the spirit of the Cave Lion, the clan men grudgingly allow Ayla to be initiated as a hunter. Still, Ayla is resented and feared by many of the clan members because she is so different from them. By the end of the story, Ayla is forced to leave the clan, and she sets out in search of others like herself.
In ''The Valley of Horses,'' Ayla is all alone in a lush and fertile valley with only a horse for companionship. She perfects the skills she learned from the clan, which include hunting for small animals, toolmaking, and food-gathering. She teaches herself new skills such as firemaking, riding, and hunting large animals. About the only thing she doesn't discover is the wheel. Miss Auel describes each newly acquired skill in minute detail.
There is also romance in ''The Valley of Horses.'' When Jondalar, a Cro-Magnon man as beautiful as Ayla, arrives in the valley, Ayla learns about love and speech, and prepares to leave the valley to join Jondalar's tribe.
Morgan Llywelyn's ''Lion of Ireland'' and ''The Horse Goddess'' are part of a series about the Celtic peoples. A third volume in the series, ''Bard,'' will be published by Houghton Mifflin next fall.