Fiction and the first humans

Arts & EntertainmentBooks & Music

  • Author Cathy Macleod
  • Published January 8, 2012
  • Word count 512

THE telling of stories is unique to the human race, no argument. Debate begins only when we ponder our origin.

And God said, "Let there be writers." Flash bang hocus pocus! Cave walls shone with glorious doodles, and the book trade evolved from there. Its writers (and indeed its readers) wondered how things began, and imagined the very first people.

Scratched on leaves, or on clay tablets, even carved in stone, there are numerous stories of the earliest folk. The very first? Each culture tells a different story passed down, often orally, from anonymous tribal sources.

For instance, Adam and Eve of the Old Testament are matched by Ask and Embla in the epic Norse Edda. Different lands have different (often similar) fables.

There’s a Chinese account of how the Creator Pangu (left eye the sun, right eye the moon) got the goddess Nuwa to make people from drops of mud. Japan has deities Izanagi and Izanami populating the world. In Africa, the Bantu identify everybody’s ancestors as Gikuyu and Mumbi, while Australian Aborigine folklore names Wurugag and Waramurungundi. The ancient Greeks described Deucalion and Pyrrha repopulating the planet after the gods destroyed, by flood, a race called Pelasgians.

Clearly, the first stories were of Creation and First Humans. Tales of Creation, of course, can be a bit dull. Did God design the human race or did it naturally evolve out of the oceans of Planet Earth? Or did God design evolution? No matter. The more interesting plots about The Beginning involve people, and these tales have prevailed since Eden to the present day.

Every generation has had authors who present their own wild visions of prehistory. Just a few in recent times are HG Wells, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling, Jack London, Doris Lessing.

Nowadays a bestselling author who springs to mind is Jean M. Auel (Clan of the Cave Bear). In this novel, first of a series at the dawn of modern humans, a girl named Ayla finds conflict and love in a harsh and beautiful Ice Age.

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Or Sue Harrison (Brother Wind). During an eternal winter, a mother named Kiin is claimed by a brutal enemy. She has to sacrifice her love for the sake of her tribe and the safety of her children.

Or William Sarabande (The Sacred Stones). He writes of the battle for survival by the first Americans.

Apart from the telling of tales, what makes a two-legged beast ‘human’? I like the premise suggested by John Ivor (Java’s Dream). This novella relates how humanity began when a reluctant cannibal challenged the hunting and eating of one’s own kind. Java and his mate Suva risk all in making the world’s first moral stand.

Like the other books mentioned, this is a situation before history that modern readers can relate to. And they’re darn good stories too. All the above, plus additional ebook prehistoric fiction, are easily found by googling the title or the author’s name.

Happy reading! from Cathy Macleod at Booktaste, week ending 25 November 2011.

Cathy Macleod is an independent literary critic. Follow her weekly blog at http://www.booktaste.com for news, views and interviews concerning the book world.

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