Deep Time is a quite erotic novel, not just in the obvious sense – though there is some of that – but also in a broader sense, loosely from Plato, of ‘eros’ as an impulse towards beauty and ultimately towards a transcendent world beyond.
This erotic aesthetic involves a sensuous connectedness with the world around us, through vision, hearing, smell, and especially through the skin and an awareness of the body in motion. Prehistoric settings are well suited to mediating tactile experience, so long as the climate is warm, because they normalise a degree of nudity that allows people to feel the sensations of sun, wind, rain, earth on their skin. It’s something that many of us today only get to experience on the beach. For modern people used to being indoors staring at a computer screen, this state of being can evoke both a challenge of discomfort and vulnerability and a longing for earthly paradise.
Such states of undress also expose one to other people’s gaze. Whether or not that’s conducive to wholesome relationships between people depends on the power dynamics in play. That’s why a naturist beach doesn’t quite work if some people are nude and others are not. It’s easy to critique – or laugh off – the power dynamics of a male viewer ogling beautiful actresses in fur bikinis in films like One Million Years BC (pictured) and When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth. But some prehistoric fantasy movies have handled this question of nudity and gaze in more nuanced and mindful ways, for example the French films Quest for Fire and Ao, the Last Neanderthal.
With the shedding of clothing comes of course the possibility of shedding inhibitions about sex – of releasing the beast within. The graphic physicality of prehistoric romance depicted in Jean Auel’s novels The Valley of Horses and The Mammoth Hunters has been instructive for two generations now of adolescent readers. More powerfully inspirational to me, though he didn’t write prehistoric fantasy, is D.H. Lawrence. In books like Sons and Lovers and Lady Chatterley’s Love, there’s a wonderful synergy between the erotics of sexuality and of one’s connectedness with nature, and an affirmation that in this may be found a gateway to redemption from the world’s ills and beyond that to an experience of the transcendent.