“The Hunger Games” smash-hit book and movie got my daughter and one of her friends interested in archery. Maybe John A. Heatherly’s novel “The Cave and the Sea” will do the same for teenagers regarding learning primitive survival skills.
by Leon Pantenburg
There is too much fiction in the preparedness/wilderness survival area, passed off as fact, and written by people with little or no knowledge of the subject matter. But The Cave and the Sea, a Novel by John A. Heatherly is up-front fiction, a good read, and you might learn something from it.
Before there was the written word, there was a whole area of unrecorded history we can only guess about. There are some oral legends that survived. (I remember reading “Beowulf,” in college. It is one of the first such recorded legends, and we had to read it in the original Olde English. As a reading nerd and Journalism/English major, I thought the piece was kinda cool.)
But historical fiction, which is loosely defined as a story based on fact, can be really useful to help us learn how prehistoric people survived and thrived under adversity.
Set in the North American landscapes of the 1600s, the story of The Cave and the Sea is one of philosophy and survival, Heatherly writes, that incorporates myth and facts in an historical timeline. The survival techniques are real. But other parts of the story, he adds are speculation, such as the use of the macauhuitl, the “Broadsword of the Aztecs.” (See the Discovery Channel video below about Native American weapons of that time period.)
The first seven chapters of Heatherly’s novel are excerpts from an earlier short story called “The Medicine Symbol“.
The Cave and the Sea story starts in the cistern, a hidden depression in a rocky outcropping. The main character, Coe, falls into it after taking second place in a macauhuitl fight during a larger battle. Knocked unconscious, Coe comes to and finds the battle is over, he is wounded and all alone. He will have to survive using the skills that have been passed down to him.
He starts crawling away from the battlesite, and finds his way to the cave, a place with mystical properties. There he meets the second character, a woman named Mycha. She has come to the cave because of philosophical reasons, and to seek her own vision.
What I like most about the book is how Heatherly weaves aboriginal survival skills into the plot. Heatherly is an experienced writer and outdoorsman and has appeared on this website with his previous non-fiction book “The Survival Template.” He is the graduate of several survival schools, and uses that knowledge to create a tale of fantasy combined with real survival techniques.
The reader will definitely get immersed in the plot. Then, before realizing it, the reader has been exposed to a survival technique, such as learning how to make an improvised lamp from pine resin and cedar bark. The survival skills are mentioned in passing, and are brought up as part of the natural sequence of events.
This is the strength of the story and plot. As a survival writer, my concern is education and providing valid, useful information. The Cave and The Sea provides a vehicle for getting a survival-clueless person’s attention. Written for a young adult audience, the novel combines an adventure story with an introduction to wilderness survival skills.
The Cave and the Sea is not intended to be a how-to survival manual, and you won’t learn actual techniques from reading it. But my hope is that young readers will get interested in the plot, and then get further involved with the idea of survival.
That sort of thing happened with “The Hunger Games,” and I’m all for anything that will get people interested and learning more!