The Lost World (novel)

bones of dinosaur head look menacing
Something has survived.

In Michael Crichton’s novel The Lost World, scientists find genetically-cloned dinosaurs living on a small volcanic island.

Crichton made a name for himself by writing fiction that sounds like reportage, but The Lost World doesn’t even sound like reportage.

The story begins believably enough, with mathematician Ian Malcolm speculating at a seminar of scientists about why dinosaurs became extinct. The verisimilitude disappears when two middle school geniuses get involved.

Before you can say Jurassic Park, Malcolm, paleontologist Richard Levine, field biologist Sarah Harding, applied engineering professor “Doc” Thorne, and Thorne’s foreman Eddie Carr are on the southernmost of Costa Rica’s Five Deaths island.

And the middle-schoolers, who stowed away in the science team’s exploration vehicles, are there, too.

Although there’s plenty of believable detail, such as jargon-rich conversations between scientists, only the most gullible of readers would believe The Lost World is anything but fiction written with Hollywood in mind.  There are high-speed chases, literal cliff-hangers, and blood and gore enough to fill a giant popcorn box.

But for the less-gullible, Crichton includes musings about the history of science, the scientific process, why the dinosaurs disappeared, and the rise of mass culture signals the end of the human species. That material is better than the story.

The Lost World by Michael Crichton
Alfred A. Knopf. ©1955. 393 p.
1995 bestseller #02; my grade: B+

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

The Mammoth Hunters

Hunters prepare to drive mammoths into an enclosure in the glacier
The prey is in sight

The Mammoth Hunters is about a couple who almost miss each other because of their failure to communicate.

What makes the novel unusual is that Jean M. Auel sets the story in Eurasia during the Ice Age.

The couple are Ayla, a huntress, healer, and animal trainer, and Jondalar, an explorer whom she nursed after he was injured near the valley where she lived alone.

Ayla is traveling with Jondalar to his home when a group of mammoth hunters invite them to spend the winter in their camp.

Seeing Ayla’s shyness with other people makes Jondalar worry that she would never fit in with his tribe back home.

By the time Ayla is accepted for her skills, Jondalar has withdrawn so that Ayla thinks he doesn’t love her anymore.

While readers wait for the totally predictable ending, Auel overwhelms them with descriptions of flora and fauna, instruction in making flint knives, and techniques for tanning hides.

Hunters is more interesting its immediate predecessor, The Valley of the Horses, because it has more people in it.

However, Auel’s descriptions of prehistoric politics and tribal prejudices have a 21st century vibe that feels out of place among the mammoth bones.

The mammoth hunters by Jean M. Auel
Crown Publishers. ©1985. 645 p.
1985 bestseller #1; my grade B-

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

The Valley of Horses

Cover of “The Valley of Horses” shows Ayla, sling in hand, looking at horses
Ayla’s a whiz with her slingshot

For most of its length, Jean M. Auel’s The Valley of Horses* is two stories about prehistoric Europe.

In the first story,  a young woman who has been turned out of her adoptive home finds an unoccupied cave in a remote valley.

Ayla is tall, blonde, and beautiful, a skilled hunter, healer, and toolmaker.

She tames a wild colt and a great lion cub, but she’d rather have a human mate.

Meanwhile, 1,000 miles away, two human brothers are setting out to explore.

Their journey takes them to a riverside village where Thonolan meets and loses the love of his life.

Despondent, Thonolan packs to leave. Jondalar, fearing for his brother’s mental state, accompanies him, though he’d rather go back home.

After losing their boat and belongings, the brothers end up in the mountains where Thonolan is killed by Ayla’s lion and Jondalar—Did I mention he’s a gorgeous hunk?— is rescued by Ayla.

Valley is full of fascinating, esoteric information about prehistoric life, but Auel’s depictions of primitive men’s use of language is ludicrous. In one paragraph, strangers are bewildered by each other’s grunts; five sentences later they’re discussing fluid dynamics like engineers in a graduate seminar.

I’ve heard more plausible prehistoric male communication up the street at Bob’s Diner.

The Valley of Horses by Jean M. Auel
Crown. ©1982. 502 p.
1982 bestseller #6. My grade: C

*The Valley of Horses is the second novel in Jean M. Auel’s Earth’s Children™ series (The Clan of the Cave Bear was the first) and the only one of the series to make the 20th century’s bestsellers list.

© 2019 Linda G. Aragoni