Spoiler Alert from the Paleolithic Age

As you may have noticed already, this blog is definitely not spoiler safe. I love spoilers, I want to know things, I want to know as soon as possible. I am exceedingly curious.

I didn’t even suspect the existence of the concept of spoiler before 1995 when I started surfing the web. I had heard people say “please don’t tell me how it ends”, but it was usually about crime fiction. Nowadays everyone is saying that about everything, including books they are not going to read or films they were not going to watch anyway, or about stories that have been around for years if not for centuries or millennia, or historical facts that are, well, historical facts. I find it rather bizarre.

As the internet became more crowded, spoiler alerts became the rule, especially about tv series, so I simply started to use them as a way to find information, instead of avoiding it. There were a couple of fabulous web sites in the late Nineties, where you could find detailed X-files reviews and scripts a few hours after the episode was aired in the US. I used to wake up early in the morning to read them before going to the office. Reading them in the winter sunrise, learning about the truth out there from the web (there was still a fascinating cyberpunk aura to the web back then), was more exciting than watching the episode itself.

I am well aware that this approach of mine is rather unusual. I wouldn’t know how to be different, though. I can’t read everything and watch everything. Yet I deeply enjoy knowing how authors have dealt with characters, plots, narrative structures, and why, along the way. It’s the whole point of going to literature class, or film studies class. What was I supposed to do? Tell the teacher oh no no no stop talking, I don’t want to know how it ends, you’re spoiling my surprise, and no no no I’m not going to read the critical essays you’ve assigned, they may spoil my experience as a reader or viewer. He would have probably strapped me to a seat, taped my eyes open, and forced me to watch A Clockwork Orange, wouldn’t he.

My narrative experience is not spoiled by spoilers, it is actually enhanced by them. If I already understand the story, I am able to focus on details. And believe me I don’t care about surprise. Surprise is nothing to me. When my friends buy me a gift they don’t wrap it.

As I expect anyone with a sensitive spoiler mind  to have left here long ago, I will now proceed to write some spoilers about The Land of the Painted Caves, Jean Auel’s last installment of the Earth Children saga.

As I was mentioning a few days ago, I am kind of grateful this book starts with 500 pages of nothing. I’ve been experiencing some anxiety lately, so a boring book is exactly what I need. It’s dull and comforting, like processed mashed potatoes. I was also prepared for cruel author not to reveal the two pieces of information I’ve been waiting for in the past 15 years:

– what happens to Durc exactly
– who were Ayla’s parents

In fact, we don’t get to know who were Ayla’s parents, and as regards Durc, we have a very abstract, symbolic vision of what Durc will mean to humanity, but we don’t get to know anything about his fate. This is partly nice, because at the beginning of the saga the possibility of a half Neanderthal half Cro-Magnon person was only a speculation, while now, 30 years later, we do have few skeletons to prove that Neanderthals didn’t go extinct as it was previously believed, but they became scarce and a few of them merged with Cro-magnons (so if you meet someone who reminds you of a Neanderthal they probably are, and maybe we do posses some relics of Neanderthal temporal lobes – which is an intriguing notion). But it is also partly unfulfilling, because we don’t get to know anything about Durc’s fate (was it such a chore to invent something, just to make me happy?).

What I wasn’t prepared for, was for the saga to spiral into chaos in the last 200 pages and then end up in a disturbing way. Of course I already new the plot, having read the spoilers. I already knew that Ayla’s big invention this time was paternity. But I had not considered the implications. Ayla is always inventing something. In the first books she was inventing something every few pages. The sewing needle, the crossbow, shampoo, the domestic cat. I should have started worrying when I noticed that this time she wasn’t inventing anything at all, but just recalling past inventions. But I though that it was the consequence of leading now a sedentary life with tedious Zelandoni people instead of living with brutal but interesting Neanderthals, fierce Mamutoi people or wandering around Paleolithic Europe. Even the invention of paternity was a rerun, because already in the first book Ayla had started to suspect that children were generated by both women and men, and not by women alone, as it was generally believed in all the matriarchal societies of Jean Auel’s paleolithic world.

What happens in the last 200 pages of this last installment is that Ayla has a mystical confirmation of what she already knew, and she is finally able to tell fellow Zelandoni people making use of some authority, as she is now one of the shamans and not only a weird stranger.

But the knowledge of paternity leads to violent reactions and to the end of matriarchy in the matter of a few pages. As soon as they know they do generate life, these Zelandoni men start to punch each other, to run around screaming and to frown upon lunar calculations in order to ascertain if the children of their wives are actually their own. Meanwhile, the shamans have visions of the upcoming scary patriarchal world and fall in silent, worried meditation.

I am not sure I enjoyed it, given that I was reading it to relax and possibly avoid thinking. And if patriarchy must be, then I want at least a well developed one, where conflict begins earlier in the book, and is not crammed in the final pages. But I have to give credit to the author that she had the guts to shock us a little, us boring, dull readers of comfort sagas.

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