"Those who have experienced Paris have advantage over those who have not. We are the ones who have glimpsed a little bit of heaven, down here on earth." - Deirdre Kelly

Thursday, March 31, 2011

For the Love of Travel: "Time Travel"

The Earth Children Series

There are several modes of travel: land, air, water, and foot. But perhaps the most wide ranging, farthest reaching, essentially life altering mode of travel is...reading; books.

At a very young age, my mother whetted my appetite for travel. Not only by taking my sister and I traveling, but also by taking us to movies that were based in that theme: The Voyages of Sinbad, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, A Room with a View, A Year of Living Dangerously, The Killing Fields, Aliens, A Little Romance, and on and on.

A Year of Living Dangerously (1982)
Sigourney Weaver & Mel Gibson (well before he got creepy)

And T.V. shows: Star Trek, Space 1999, Doctor Who, The Planet of the Apes (the movies to, of course), The Land that Time Forgot. All of the movies and T.V. shows I watched has two central themes: travel and intelligent inspiring storylines...

In addition to movies and T.V. shows, there were books - beloved books. Within a book you can travel to another time, another place, be different people, experience different things. In one of today's classes, my students and I discussed the amazing autobiography: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave (1845). Through the testimony of this incredible man, we were all transported to slaveholding America. I and my students gained an intimate, life-altering understanding of a moment of time that represents the best and worst of humanity. There wasn't a dry eye in the classroom and we had one of our best discussions to date - heady, powerful stuff.

Before mom introduced me to the marvels of travel, she layed the groundwork by inspiring and encouraging me to read. She tells me that I took to reading like a fish to water; and that I started reading when I was two. Around the age of 13, my love for reading turned voracious. Luckily for me, the 70s & 80s was a sort of golden age for kids' books: Judy Blume, S.E. Hinton, Richard Peck, and Mercedes Lackey,  the Nancy Drew series, the Trixie Belden series and, of course, my beloved The Color Purple (to name a very few of my favorites).

Iggie's House - Judy Blume (1970)

In my 20s I was at university. And while my experiences at Loyola Chicago encouraged me to add a new genre to my reading repertoire - academic/intellectual/historical/feminist titles - my primary love (still) was fiction. I'm not sure when or where I decided to buy The Clan of the Cave Bears (by Jean M. Auel, 1980), but I certainly know why: a combination of the girl-power books I read in my teens, my insatiable quest for travel and experience via reading, my introduction to the fabulous world of explicitly feminist/academic women authors, and the desire to find more adult titles.

1. The Clan of the Cave Bear (1980)

The Clan of the Cave Bear is the seminal work of Jean M. Auel. It's the first in the Earth's Children series (1980-2011). The clinical 'proper' description: Earth's Children "is a series of novels set in prehistoric Europe that explores the interactions of Cro-Magnon people with Neanderthals." (Wiki). But it is so much more than that, and absolutely not as dry, dull and academic as is sounds.

The Valley of the Horses (1982)

Auel's 'Earth's Children series' is widely described as 'speculative alternative historical fiction' (who comes up with this stuff?). Of course, that is woefully inadequate in describing what this series is about, how important it is.

The Mammoth Hunters (1985)

The Earth's Children series is about the coming of age of a young woman named Ayla, how she forges a place for herself in a harsh and unforgiving world, and finds the love of her life (Jondalar). All while taking a series of journeys, beginning at the age of 5. I can't (I won't) say more about the plot. Partially because I want you to discover the wonders of this series for yourself (spoilers! That's a Dr. Who reference), the average book length is 800 pages, and the series spans 30 years (literally and figuratively).

The Plains of Passage (1990)

One the most intriguing things about this series is the methods Ms. Auel used to research and write it, her exacting attention to detail, and the world she created (the perfect blend of historical fact and fiction). Ms. Auel began extensive library research on the Ice Age to write The Clan of the Cave Bear 3+ years before it was published: she studyed the Ice Age (contacting and corresponding with the pre-eminent historians and archeologists of the day), joined a survival class to learn primitive methods of making fire, tanning leather and knapping stone (the ancient art of hand-cutting stone to make tools).

The Shelters of Stone (2002)

Ms. Auel also researched, studied, and learned about botany, herbal medicine, animal husbandry, Pagan/Goddess/Wiccan history and lore. The series is grounded in the mystery and power of womanhood - you know I love that! But the series is not academic nor particularly academic. It's not dry or boring, but filled with color and depth and endless possibilities. The end result is a series filled with complex, multi-layered, lush adventure. It's Lord of the Rings meets Charmed - fabulous!

The Land of the Painted Caves (2011)

Jean Auel's 'Earth's Children Series' is fascinating and exciting, she creates a woman's centered world that takes the reader from pre-historic Ukraine to France, via the Danube River Valley (the second longest river in Europe). I was captivated from the first line of the first book. And I can't believe that this particular journey began 30 years ago! It's been 10 years since The Shelters of Stone. Ms. Auel's millions of fans eagerly waited for the next volume - no explanation why. For the first few years, I regularly checked the internets for news - no joy. Eventually I gave up. Then about 6 months ago, for some reason, I started reading the series again. On a hunch, I checked Amazon and learned that the 6th and final (?) volume of the Earth's Children series was slated for release in March - oh joy! Today before I left for class I checked the mail (as per usual). The Land of the Painted Caves was waiting in my mailbox - a full circle moment, yes?

The Earth's Children series is time travel at it's best.

*All of the movies, t.v. shows, and books are available at Amazon.com

Explore! Discover! Dream!


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