We’re at 50 already! This commemorative book, the 50th in the Choose Your Own Adventure saga, celebrates the big five-oh with a time travel adventure framed as a direct sequel to the first official CYOA book, The Cave of Time. Although it’s nothing special, Return is at least a solid, readable adventure with some interesting twists. It’s not an award-winner, but it’s not bad.
Return to the Cave of Time by Edward Packard (illustrated by Don Hedin)
Published: November 1985
Number in the CYOA Series: 50
Edward Packard, the author of this book, not only wrote the inaugural book in Bantam’s Choose Your Own Adventure series, The Cave of Time, published in 1979, but he wrote the first CYOA-style book, Sugarcane Island, ever written. (That was eventually published in the series a bit later on). He was the natural choice to return for this book which must have been planned ahead of time as a commemorative edition. This is actually not the first sequel in the series, nor is it technically the first sequel to The Cave of Time. Book number 14, The Forbidden Castle, begins with “you” entering the cave, but you only make one trip. So this makes the third foray into the cave in the series. It’s not explained why you do so, but it’s not important.
If you’ve read The Cave of Time, you know the drill. The cave’s entrance is in Snake Canyon. You walk in. Some passageways will take you to the past, the other the future. But wait! Before you get to that inevitable fork in the plot, you encounter an old guy sitting on a throne, an oracle of some type whom illustrator Don Hedin (a/k/a Paul Granger) draws in a way that eerily foreshadows Christopher Lee’s Saruman in the Lord of the Rings films. The oracle offers you the chance to see the beginning of time, or the end of it. It actually doesn’t matter which one you choose. Each event is different and equally inexplicable, but both take you back to page 6. Then you have to choose whether to go to the future or the past.
Neanderthals, intelligent Stone Age hominids that went extinct millennia ago, feature prominently in Return to the Cave of Time.
This first choice is a gimmick. Obviously Packard was looking for something to do to differentiate this book from the original Cave of Time, but the trips to the beginning and end of time are a digression, and pointless to the plot–you learn nothing of value that will help you in any other part of the book, and the beginning and ending of time are never referred to again. This meandering annoyed me. But after that, the book settles into some interesting if somewhat predictable adventures. In the future you end up in some strange dystopian society where people live only for pleasure, but resources are so thin that all you do is lay in a bed all day with a wire attached to the pleasure center of your brain. You can escape and wander to various planets of the galaxy, including Earth, but there’s nothing really special on any of them. Going to the past opens up a few different scenarios. The longest and most involved one involves going back to the Stone Age and living with a tribe of Neanderthals. Or you could end up on a slave ship in the 18th century, or aboard the Bounty during and after the famous mutiny of 1789.
The Neanderthal plot is, in my opinion, the strongest part of the book. It’s creative in that it shows Neanderthals not as primitive savages but actually intelligent, empathetic people–which in fact they were. Packard is also careful to point out that Neanderthals were not proto-humans, but a totally separate branch of the evolutionary tree that also produced modern humans. (Ironic and sad, isn’t it, that evolution was less controversial in 1985 than today–imagine the hue and cry from conservatives if someone tried to depict evolution in a children’s book today). There’s also a subplot where you have to try to survive alone in a cave for the winter, essentially hibernating like a bear. This is pretty interesting.
If you know how the 1789 Bounty mutiny turned out in real life, you’ll know which choice to make–but the result, in this book at least, is surprising.
The slave ship plot is also daring for its time. Though naturally you couldn’t show the Middle Passage in a children’s book with all the graphic horror you’d need to make it accurate, the cruelty and injustice of slavery does come across on the page, and there’s a plot where you try to convince the ship’s captain to get out of the slave business. The Bounty plot generally does stay pretty close to history, although I was surprised that the outcomes, at least vis-a-vis happy and sad, are reversed from what I expected. The central choice is (of course) whether to join the mutiny against Bligh or accompany him on the launch cast off from the ship. If you know what happened in the real Bounty mutiny you’d know which choice is more likely to lead to your long-term survival, and I won’t spoil it for you; suffice it to say, if you want the happy ending, make the other choice.
Return to the Cave of Time is interesting, and Packard did try pretty hard to make the book accurate, thought-provoking in its social implications and different from the original adventure. He doesn’t always succeed, but at least the stories move quickly and rarely get boring. The first choice is a clanger and the whole plot in the future is kind of lackluster, but the rest of the book holds up reasonably well. It’s probably worth a read, and if you’re a collector you must have the 50th book in the series.
Next up: will The Magic of the Unicorn turn me into a Brony? I guess we’ll find out.