I’ve been meaning to do this write-up since I finished the book (over two weeks ago), but kept putting it off. The Plains of Passage comes in at just under 800 pages, but they’re 800 pages in which nothing much happens. It’s meant to chronicle the trip Ayla and Jondalar make from Ukraine to France (on foot, across a glacier) that takes over a year. You end up feeling like you’re there with them the entire time because it’s so. much. nothing. happening. If you take out the minutiae of the scenery and plants (and the Pleasures bits), I’d be willing to bet this book would be less than 200 pages. That’s a whole lotta nothing, guys.
The book starts with a mammoth pr0n scene. By this, I don’t mean a lengthy scene with much lasciviousness, I mean actual mammoths having actual sex. In great detail. For many pages. I’m talking all the gory details about scents and what the male mammoth’s…manhood…looks like – it’s really too much. I almost put the book down right then, but I had to keep reading because I know you guys are expecting me to. See how much I heart you?
More nothing happens for a while, then they come across a herd of funny looking animals and Ayla asks her One True Love what they are. He tells her that they’re onagers and she laughs at the funny name and the funny sounds they make, and even wonders why she’s never seen them before. This part made me super annoyed. Why? Because with as much research as Ms Auel does for her books, she can’t remember that she’s mentioned the stupid onagers at least five times already, including the time that Ayla hunted them because she wouldn’t kill horses anymore? They were what she was hunting when she found Baby!
They passed massive herds of bison, and giant deer with huge palmate antlers, horses, onagers, and asses… – CotCB
Once the pitfall was prepared, Ayla whistled for Whinney and circled wide to get behind a herd of onagers. She couldn’t bring herself to hunt horses again, and even the onager made her uncomfortable. – VoH
Then she poured water into a cooking basket from the large onager-stomach waterbag that was hanging on a post, and she put some cooking stones in the fire to heat. – VoH
So, yeah. I was only, like, 6 chapters in and I already wanted to punch someone. In case you are wondering, this is what an onager looks like:
So, after the onagers debacle, more nothing happens. They pass a little village, but the people all run and hide from them because they think the people traveling on horseback with a wolf at their side are obviously evil spirits. This leads to a lot more nothing happening for A LONG TIME.
Finally, something happens when they reach the Sharamudoi (those people Jondalar stayed with in Valley of Horses? His brother married one of their women?), who are all thrilled to see Jondalar again. Ayla heals a woman (mate of the leader) whose arm was broken and healed wrong, and soothes long-held prejudices against the Clan. Unfortunately, these parts didn’t last very long and we were back to nothing much happening.
They cross the same river a few times and meet up with those people Jondalar met at the beginning of VoH…remember the whole First Rites thing, where he was supposed to give the virgin a baby with blue eyes? Yeah, those people. Unfortunately, they don’t speak the same language. The one guy seems to be telling them not to continue the way they’re going, but Jondalar is all “Damn the torpedoes!” because they have got to cross this glacier before it starts to melt or the consequences could be dire. Also, Jondalar is too self-conscious with Ayla there to even pantomime asking whether Noria was ‘blessed by the mother.’ He’s worried she’d get jealous or feel bad about herself since they’ve been together for so long without any pregnancies.
Against the advice of the Horse Hunters, they continue north. Since it’s almost winter, there’s a lot of foul weather and they decide to hole up for the night in a little cavelet (is that even a word? I’m making it one). In the middle of the night, Whinney is kidnapped by a renegade band of wild horses! OH NOES! This part was kind of confusing because I guess I didn’t realize that wild animals went around stealing other animals to be part of their herds. Huh.
Ayla has to have Whinney back because they’ve got this super special bond, and she just can’t bear the thought of going on without her. They track the horses to an open plateau area, and as Ayla is trying to coax Whinney back to her, some hunters spook the horses into stampeding over the edge! While she’s trying to gain control of both horses, Jondalar is knocked out and spirited away.
Finally, something is happening.
Jondalar wakes up locked up in a little cage, and discovers that he’s being held prisoner by a group of people called the S’Armunai. They have this Amazon-like leader (Attaroa), that’s a total man-hater and has all of the men of the village being held inside this giant enclosure. Her line of thought is that men are the cause of all of their society’s ills, and if they get rid of them all, the Mother will be forced to use the spirits of two women to create babies, and only girl babies will be born. [sigh]
He’s locked up for a few days while Ayla is tracking them and trying to figure out how to proceed, but he doesn’t know that she’s even still alive. Ayla rides up as he’s about to be tortured and sets him free. Everyone thinks she’s a spirit at first (because they all think this), but they’re still invited to a feast. Our Power Couple figure she’ll try to poison them, so they resolve to only eat what they’ve brought. When Attaroa realizes she’s not going to be able to kill them easily, she starts to attack Ayla, but Wolf jumps out of his hiding place and rips her throat out. Good boy.
The S’Armunai try to get them to stay the winter, but Jondalar is all impatient about the glacier again.
They move on, and eventually get to the Losadunai, keepers of the Great Mother’s Sacred Waters (these are naturally occurring hot springs). While there, Ayla helps a girl who’s been gang-raped feel better about herself, and the girl consents to go through her First Rites at the next Summer Meeting, because she’s been purified in the Springs and doesn’t think she’s worthless and used up anymore. There is a band of men from different caves in the area that grew tired of forcing women of the Clan, and moved on to young girls that are out by themselves. The Losadunai also try to convince them to stay, but Ayla and Jondalar move on before there’s any kind of conclusion with that situation.
They’re almost to the glacier now, but have to make one last jaunt through
flathead Clan country. They’re in the process of making camp for the evening when they hear cries coming from nearby. Those guys that raped that little girl? They’re in the middle of attempting to force themselves on a Clan woman, but they didn’t realize her mate was there. Even though his leg is broken, he’s still trying to fight them all off and keep them away from his (second) mate. Ayla and Jondalar chase them away and she gets to use her years of Clan Sign lessons to communicate with them, and even Jondalar joins in the conversation. Ayla convinces them that she’s a medicine woman of the Clan and that she can help him with his leg. He finally lets her set the bone, then hobbles off the next day.
Time for the glacier!
Days and days and days spent crossing the ice. The horses’ feet start bleeding, so Ayla invents the horseshoe (actually little booties for the horses and wolf)…then she falls in a crevasse and (for the very first time) sees that glacier water is the same blue as Jondalar’s eyes. Barf out.
As they’re almost across the ice, a warm wind starts to blow, so it’s a race against time. Will they make it? OF COURSE THEY WILL! They ride their little bowl boat down the side of the glacier and just barely make it to safety. Of course once they’re off the ice, they stop to share Pleasures (barf again).
From the ice, it’s only another 50 pages or so until we get to the Lanzadonii. This is where ‘the man of Jondalar’s hearth’ lives. He left the Zelandonii to start his own people (with blackjack! and hookers!), and Jondalar lived with him for a while after he beat the crap out of some guy for telling everyone that he was involved in an inappropriate relationship with the woman that taught him how to pleasure other women. Anyway, they get there and Ayla meets Jondalar’s father, step-mother and half-sister…even though none of those terms are used. Turns out that Joplaya (step-sister, or close-cousin) has been in love with her brother for years. Once she sees that Jondalar isn’t going to run away with her, she agrees to marry this guy Echozar, a man that’s half-Clan. They stay there for a few days, and receive yet another invitation to stay. By now they’re so close to the Zelandonii that Jondalar is even more excited than ever to get home.
They stop on the way to clean up and share more Pleasures before they get to his home cave…the Ninth Cave of the Zelandonii. Whinney goes into heat again, and almost gets napped by another band of renegade horses. Ayla follows them, and they watch while Whinney gets it on with the Stallion of the herd. Ayla smiles, thinking that Whinney will have another baby, and they’ll be pregnant together. Yup. She got knocked up when they got off of the glacier.
When they walk up to the cave leading the horses, Ayla gasps. She’s had a dream about this particular cave and realizes she’s finally home.