Near the Pyrenée Mountains of Southern France, perhaps twenty thousand years ago, young Tao was repeatedly rejected by his tribe. As a baby his club foot might have been a death sentence, but his mother had fought the elders’ judgment to save him. Though she died very early, knowledge of her character taught Tao that his life depended on his judgment.
Tao, which roughly means “the way of that which is real”, had his mother’s talent with craft and design. To move better, he found a way to apply his clubfoot to the base of a spear handle (or pole), obtaining a lever action that enhanced his stride. Though only fourteen years old, the most athletic adults had trouble keeping up with him. His great love was the superb cave paintings of the Shamans. He drew animals whenever he could but, not being a Shaman, he knew he would be banished or killed if discovered.
Tao’s perspective as an outcast helped him see the world with his own eyes, unfiltered by the authority of tribal custom. The elders believed clubfooted infants could not travel, yet he was able to move adeptly. The elders believed wolves brought bad luck, but Tao’s shocking encounter with a wolf proved otherwise. The elders believed the swamp was inhabited by demons, but Tao soon saw differently. And, of utmost importance to Tao, the elders believed cave drawings influenced the spirits of migratory animals, bringing feast or famine to the clan. Tao’s secret drawings of animals had no such influence. He only saw how drawings could capture the beauty and spirited character of the animals he admired, as he appreciated them.
But Tao’s clear vision was no immediate source of security. His secret time spent drawing so reduced the amount of game he brought to the tribe that he was banished anyway. Staying within the limits of one’s tribe offers a certain security, but outside those limits there was a world of dangers to overcome, and of riches to discover.
Justin Denzel has created a character that holds his own mind sacrosanct, never intellectually subservient to the minds that surround him. A true hero could not be less.
Boy of the Painted Cave raises several issues that may be pertinent to youthful readers:
- How can Tao kill and eat animals when he can see the beauty in them while they are alive?
- Maybe the shamans truly believed they communicated with spirits, but do today’s religious leaders truly believe it too?
- The clan members believed in various omens, spirits and demons, and trusted in special amulets and curses to protect them or to fight off threats. Is modern religious practice any different?
- What facts of reality might a man adhere to, that would put him at odds with modern society?
Boy of the Painted Cave is most certainly a book for one’s home library. A specialized study program for this novel, in student and teacher’s versions, can be purchased from http://powerfulminds.org/L005.html#L005