Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Winding Up a Series

I just finished reading THE LAND OF PAINTED CAVES, the final book in Jean Auel's "Earth's Children" series, which started with CLAN OF THE CAVE BEAR several decades ago. If an author produces an open-ended series like Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover, the Star Trek universe, Terry Pratchett's Discworld, or Jacqueline's Sime-Gen future history, the stories don't necessarily ever have to stop. A "closed" series, though, has to come to a satisfying end. In theory, Auel could have gone on writing about Ayla and her family and friends indefinitely. Life, after all, doesn't have a definite end (as I mentioned last week); art creates that illusion. But Auel chose to set the climax of her heroine's life story at the point where Ayla achieves her goal of becoming a Zelandoni (spiritual leader and healer) among the people of her mate, Jondalar. In my opinion, this book is a bit weak on plot. Fans of the series will probably enjoy, as I did, reading about the geology, fauna, flora, life, customs, foods, medicines, and crafts of the Stone Age and meeting familiar characters again. Somebody who hasn't read the earlier books would be lost. The story meanders along from one easily overcome obstacle to another until a strongly defined conflict appears in about the last 100 pages. The novel is held together by thematic elements, echoing Ayla's growth throughout the series, and by the phases of her Zelandoni training. Her status in this book reminds me of a reviewer's comment about the characters in Robert Heinlein's later works: They don't have problems, only transitory difficulties. Fortunately, Ayla doesn't feel like a Mary Sue because she's puzzled by other people's astonished reactions to her, doesn't consider herself extraordinary, and shows awareness of her own mistakes and flaws. Auel's conclusion to the series has Ayla emerging from the rite of passage of her "call" as a Zelandoni with a life-changing new Gift of Knowledge for the people.

This week, coincidentally, the TV show SMALLVILLE airs its series finale. The conclusion of this story cycle has to be less theme-focused than plot-focused. We've known from the beginning that as the climactic final event, Clark has to publicly assume the role of Superman. Since the basic premise of the series was "Clark Kent as a teenager and young adult in his pre-Superman years," I originally thought it would end with the end of Clark's boyhood, when he started working at the DAILY PLANET alongside Lois Lane. I was a little surprised when the series continued past that point, and personally I haven't found the last couple of seasons as absorbing as the earlier ones. Nevertheless, I'm eagerly looking forward to the grand finale. Glimpses in trailers and reviews have assured us we'll see Clark transforming from the Blur to Superman and, almost as important for some fans, marrying Lois. Their romance and the unveiling of Clark as the hero he was always destined to become constitute the story arcs this program has to resolve in order to satisfy its audience.

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt

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