The Fire in the Stone: Prehistoric Fiction from Charles Darwin to Jean M. Auel

Nicholas Ruddick



The Fire in the Stone: Prehistoric Fiction from Charles Darwin to Jean M. Auel. [Early Classics of Science Fiction.] Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2009. xx + 266 pp. 26 illustrations. Hardcover: ISBN 978-0-8195-6900-4; Kindle ebook, ISBN 978-0-8195-6972-1.

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Steve Trussel’s “Prehistoric Fiction” website.



The first comprehensive study of prehistoric fiction.

The genre of prehistoric fiction contains a surprisingly large and diverse group of fictional works by American, British, and French writers from the late nineteenth century to the present that describe prehistoric humans. Nicholas Ruddick explains why prehistoric fiction could not come into being until after the acceptance of Charles Darwin’s theories, and argues that many early prehistoric fiction works are still worth reading even though the science upon which they are based is now outdated. Exploring the history and evolution of the genre, Ruddick shows how prehistoric fiction can offer fascinating insights into the possible origins of human nature, sexuality, racial distinctions, language, religion, and art. The book includes discussions of well-known prehistoric fiction by H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, J.-H. Rosny Aîné, Jack London, William Golding, Arthur C. Clarke, and Jean M. Auel and reminds us of some unjustly forgotten landmarks of prehistoric fiction. It also briefly covers such topics as the recent boom in prehistoric romance, notable prehistoric fiction for children and young adults, and the most entertaining movies featuring prehistoric humans. The book includes illustrations that trace the changing popular images of cave men and women over the past 150 years.





Notes on References

Introduction. The Fiction of Hominization


1. From Boitard’s Paris before Man to London’s Before Adam

2. From Rosny’s First Artist to del Rey’s Last Neanderthal

3. From Fisher’s “Testament of Man” to Auel’s “Earth’s Children”               


4. Nature and Human Nature

5. Sex and Gender

6. Race, or the Human Race

7. A Cultural Triad: Language, Religion, Art

Coda: Baxter’s Evolution and Post-Hominization

A Prehistoric Chronology


Works Cited

Illustration Credits




“Ruddick has described an extensive, widely popular, and surprisingly persistent tradition of stories which, as he shows, is far more than an eccentric subtheme of science fiction. He gives the individual works the attention they deserve as literature, which leads to some original and surprising conclusions.” – Gary K. Wolfe, Professor of Humanities, Roosevelt University

“There is no other book that connects studies of evolution to mainstream fiction so thoroughly and thoughtfully.” – David Seed, Professor of American literature, University of Liverpool



“The Fire in the Stone closes with a coda focussing on Stephen Baxter’s 2002 novel, Evolution, which takes the reader from prehistory to the extinction of our species. In this breathtaking sweep, Ruddick sees the “unquenchable primate curiosity” (p. 205) which defines and powers prehistoric fiction. He has provided an entertaining, rigorous, and most of all convincing study of that genre, and the means it has used – and continues to use – to sate that curiosity. Where his book leaves questions, it has still provided so solid, accessible and complete a foundation for further study that it cannot reasonably be faulted. It leaves one with a fresh awareness, and a new enthusiasm, for pf in all its forms, and will hopefully inspire future work in the area. Here is that rarest of things, a supple academic text free of cant. Professor Ruddick should be congratulated.” – Dan Hartland, Strange Horizons

“The Fire in the Stone is a distinctive, welcome and timely addition to the growing library on the impact of evolutionary theory on literature. The first section is an effective work of reference which convincingly identifies a new genre, provides firm ground for future studies in the field and spares later scholars the ordeal of having to read many of the books Ruddick has dutifully covered. The second section is a perceptive and engaging account of why pf is worth reading, both from a cultural-historical perspective and as a form of speculative narrative that not only reflects but complements and even informs palaeoanthropology itself.” – John Holmes (University of Reading), The British Society for Literature and Science Book Reviews

Ruddick’s title phrase, also, resonates since nearly all the fiction writers he treats, as well as all of the paleoanthropologists who feed ideas to the storytellers, agree that the one central story in the progress of humankind as we have inherited that story is the classic Prometheus / phoenix story about the discovery of fire. … The layers of discovery
for Ruddick yield a rich and “tangled bank” of literature, to use Darwin’s well
known image from the final paragraph of On the Origin of Species (1859), and
I love the analogy because it reminds me so appropriately of my basement full of
books. … Finally, I think this is a very good book, with rich meanings; and it takes its place well in this growing series of books from Wesleyan University Press on early science fiction. – Donald M. Hassler (Kent State University), Science Fiction Studies

“The form that we shall henceforth follow Ruddick in naming pf has never before been the object of such critical attention. And it well repays the effort. However pf studies might develop in future, it has a solid, readable and excellent foundation in this book.” – Paul Kincaid, Foundation

“As though to underline his book’s utility to anyone thinking seriously about contemporary science fiction, Ruddick ends The Fire in The Stone with an impassioned coda singing the praises of Stephen Baxter’s novel Evolution. By fictionalising not only the emergence of the human genome but also the extinction of the creature with the last surviving human trait (maternal love), Baxter is demonstrating the profound kinship between PF and SF. As Ruddick so beautifully puts it at the very end of the book: ‘It is profoundly in our nature to seek to understand ourselves and our destiny by returning to our mysterious beginnings. And it is always in this hope that we mount our imaginary time machines, fuelled by unquenchable primate curiosity, and vanish into the unknown past or future.’ This image of a Wellsian time machine disappearing as easily into the past as into the future drives home the book’s message of a profound kinship between speculation about the future and speculation about a past that may or may not have ever existed.” – Jonathan McCalmont, Salon Futura

“This is an admirable book in everything save its title. Although the word Stone is a hint, it takes the reader a little while to realize that this is a book about Paleolithic Fiction, and not Prehistoric Fiction, The Mesolithic makes no appearance, and the Neolithic is mentioned only in passing. … Ruddick’s approach is to judge this fiction as fiction (to be more interested in literary quality and plausibility than accurate science) but also to situate this fiction in the debates of the period, which are not just scientific, but reflect much wider cultural issues. If one gets beyond the sixth word of the title to look at the book itself, Ruddick has done a superlative job.”  – Edward James, Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

“A fascinating read for scholars of prehistory, archaeology, and speculative fiction. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Graduate students, researchers, and faculty.” – S. Vie (Fort Lewis College), Choice