A Tower of Strength: A Review of The Valley of Horses by Jean Auel

This is what I think of as a Y story.  There are two different branches that come into one, so here goes.   Branch 1 follows Ayla. She is traveling north to the mainland beyond the peninsula, undertaking the search for the Others.  She has been death cursed and not a limited one like the last time, this is the real deal, so she travels, having left behind her son and only family. It is early spring, rain and snow still fall. She hunts using her sling as Brun commanded all those years ago, and gathers as she moves as does a good Clan woman.  She even finds the skull of a dead aurochs that still has the horns attached. She breaks one off and uses it to carry a live coal so that she can have a fire every night easily.  She debates with herself a bit here, because in the Clan, women cannot  carry fire, only men, but then she says to herself that she has no one to carry it for her, so her totem, the great Cave Lion will just have to live with her carrying her own damn fire.   After several weeks, maybe months of travel, Ayla comes to a Valley filled with a large herd of horses (guess where the title comes from), a river running through it and even a cave that is livable.  This is no ordinary cave, it was onve inhabited by none other than her precious Cave Lions. Ayla stays for a few days, fishing, collecting, getting together essentials of life before she comes to the decision to stay in the valley for the winter. She wants to be sure that she has enough food to last the cold months and if she does not stay she may not find another cave in time. She continues foraging and realizes that there are many things that she will need for the cold winter months that can only be had by killing a large animal: fat, intestine to store it and other things, water bags, a new wrap, sinews and hoofs for glue, among other things.  After another argument with herself about the commandments of Brun and the other Men of the Clan, Ayla resolves to learn to hunt with a spear. This is another practice that was strictly forbidden.  This still leaves some gaps in her plan to hunt a large animal. The men of the Clan work together to bring down large prey, and she is only one woman. Thinking back to the Clan Gathering she attended Ayla remembers one cave who told a story of hunting a Wooly Rhinocerous using a pit trap.  Taking several days, Ayla fashions herself a spear in the Clan style, digs a pit and sets several torches aflame to scare the horses of the valley which she plans to hunt.  When the horses get near the trap, Ayla begins running at them and one falls into the pit. Ayla slays the frightened animal.  Now Ayla has another problem which she did not foresee. She has no way to get the carcass out of the pit by herself.   As she struggles to salvage the meat, butchering the animal in the pit, placing the meat and other pieces on a spare wrap and dragging it over to her fire to be dried, Ayla realizes that the animal she has killed was a nursing mother. At first Ayla shoos the young filly away, but then when the animal is attacked by hyenas Ayla drives the dirty animals away with her ever-handy sling.  Being lonesome, Ayla decides to raise the filly as her own child, much to replace her own lost Durc.  She names, in the style of the Clan, the young horse Whinney.  As Whinney gets older and stronger the horse makes it much easier to hunt.  Whinney lets Ayla ride her, and after some coaxing and getting to know each other, Whinney helps Ayla carry heavy loads. One day while hunting after Ayla has lived in the valley for more than a year she inadvertently causes injury to a young Cave Lion cub. Ayla, with Whinney’s help, brings the cub back to her cave and raises him as well. She calls him Baby.   Ayla spends three years in the valley during which time Whinney goes off with a herd of horses, and Baby learns to hunt, often hunting with Ayla, making it easier for her. Then Whinney comes back after the death of her stallion, pregnant with foal, and Baby goes off on his own to find a mate and carve out his own territory.   Now I’m gonna back track a little, as the two halves of the story happen simultaneously.  Everyone here is a new face, and a new type of face from the Clan members, although, some members of the Clan are here, they are background.   A young man of about 16-17 decides he will take a Journey. He want to see the end of the Great Mother River, and his older brother Jondalar, at the last minute decides to come along. This throws certain summer festivities of the Summer Meeting of the Zelandonii out of kilter as a young woman, who we do not meet but comes into the books corporially later,  has plans on Joining with Jondalar.  On their way west, the brothers visit Dalanar, the man of Jondalar’s hearth (father is not a recognized concept at this time, but Dalanar is the man who was Joined with Jondalar’s mother at the time of his birth and helped to raise him) before they cross the great glacier. Dalanar is also the leader of the Lanadonii people. On the other side of the glacier, the brothers stop for a time among another people known as the Losadunai.  They brothers have spent more time visiting than traveling, and have coupled with many young women. Thonolan finally gets impatient and says they will not stop for any more visits until closer to next winter as he wants to travel. Jondalar agrees, and the brothers are advised upon taking their leave from the Losaduai  to veer south as some strange reports have been coming back from those on trading missions.   The brothers hunt and gather as they cross the plains. They are very efficient at cooking for themselves and caring for themselves.  Then in the middle of a hunt, the young men are accosted by a group of hunters from the Hadumai people.  The Haduma, the great grandmother five generations old  manages to convey through the communication breach that she would like Jondalar to honor her great-great-great granddaughter by performing in her First Rites ceremony. Jondalar has done this many times. This is the ceremony that teaches young men and women about the pleasures of sex, although for the boys it is different than what we see here and is gone over differently in another book.   Jondalar opens the young woman and the old woman says that there will be a child with Jondalar’s golden hair and blue eyes.  Jondalar wonders how that can be, but trusts to the old woman’s magic, then he and Thonolan are again on their way.   Again the brothers hunt,  this time a Wooly Rhinocerous, only this time the brothers are not lucky. Thonolan is gored in the groin. Jondalar makes camp, and uses what little healing he knows to help his brother, but it just isn’t enough.  Thonolan is dying. Jondalar hangs a tunic on a tree branch to dry it and the next day he sees a boat of people coming toward him.  He begins to yell, jump up and down, anything to gain their attention. These people have a healer on board the boat, and they heal Thonolan, insisting that the brothers winter with them to ensure that Thonolan heals properly.  These are the Sharamudoi people.  They are a different society than what we have seen before, but not terribly different.  Thonolan falls in love with a young woman whose name is Jetamio while there and decides he wants to Join with her.   The Sharamudoi have a rule though, in order to mate, you must be one of their people. So Thonolan works very hard to be adopted so that he can marry the woman he loves.  He and Jondalar live with the Sharamudoi for several months, probably something along the lines of 18 months or so, and once mated, Thonolan could not be happier. He still wants to see the end of the Great Mother River, but it can wait.  Jetamio wants a child for their hearth badly, but due to a childhood illness, she cannot carry one to term.  This casts sadness upon their union. One day shortly after Jetamio tells Thonolan she is once again pregnant, we realize that she is farther along than any pregnancy she has had yet. She is nearly due. But her hips are deformed and when she goes into labor, the infant’s head cannot pass through her birth canal. She dies.  In an effort to save at least the infant, the Shamud,  slices open Jetamio’s stomach, but the child has suffocated.  Thonolan is crushed. The next spring, as soon as weather permits, the brothers set out again to reach the end of the Great Mother River.  Thonolan no longer seems to care about his Journey. He only wants to die, to join Jetamio in the afterlife, but Jondalar won’t let him. Time after time Jondalar saves his brother’s life.   They encounter a group of Mamutoi on their way, who help them. They are Willow Camp. The members outfit the brothers who have with one thing and another lost all their clothes and point them in the right direction.  Then the brothers set forth again.  One day they are hunting (yeah, they hunt a lot. If they don’t hunt, they don’t eat. ), and a lioness takes the kill, along with Thonolan’s spear. Thonolan insists on tracking the lioness to get his spear back, he says…   Now this is where we merge into one cohesive story.   Ayla is hunting  and riding Whinney as the pregnant mare needs exercise. Usually they go west, but this time they go east. They’ve been riding for a while when they get to a part of the valley Ayla has never seen before.  Whinney begins to get skittish, they’ve passed into the territory of a predator, then Ayla hears the roar, and recognizes it. You know how it is when you have kids, if they scream, even if they don’t say anything intelligible, even if it’s just “aaaaah” you know your child’s voice, that is how Ayla knew that this was not any ordinary Cave Lion, this was Baby.  She slid off of Whinney’s back and ran into the cave. Baby has mauled two men out of instinct to protect his territory.  She pushes the lion off of the men, tells him no, then looks at the men. One is dead already, and she gives him a makeshift burial, using the strong spear shaft to cause a minor downslide of the rocks to cover his body and protect it from scavengers.  The other man, the one with golden hair like her own, still lived though.  Ayla loaded him onto her travois on which she tied onto Whinney and carefully took him back to her cave. I’m going to stop there, so that I don’t give away all of the secrets, all of the twists and turns. Leave it to say that this is a wonderful adventure tale, about getting to know oneself and first love.  This is yet another book I would recommend to young adolescent girls as it shows incredible strength of character to live alone for more than 3 years and to still have your own opinions.  Too many  times our girls are told that in order to be happy they must have a partner, and yet Ayla is happy and thrives by herself.   4/5 stars

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About Navah Vesper Anat Yehudit

I am an avid fan of the Ballet, am expanding my tastes in Opera and all all Classical Arts. I enjoy Japanese art, needle craft, crochet, knitting, and though my past-times are old-fashioned, and some of my ideas are, that isn't necessarily a bad thing in this age of progress for the sake of progress.
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