A little over 30 years ago, I was attending a conference in a faraway place when disaster struck. I became sick, really sick—the sort of illness where one can barely crawl out of bed, let alone attend conference sessions. Lacking care of any sort, I lay in bed for two days, waiting for some semblance of recovery.
Monotony finally led me to switch on the television. Back then, HBO was the hot new form of entertainment—recent theatrical releases, broadcast without interruption! My hotel had access to this wonder, and so I watched, back to back, two films that first day. The effect was overwhelming.
The first of these was Quest for Fire (1981). Set in Paleolithic Europe, it tells the story of the Ulam tribe, a vaguely Homo sapiens group with somewhat sloping foreheads. They speak in grunts. Their social and sexual interaction is random and animal-like; parentage within the band is uncertain. What distinguishes this little tribe is the fact that it possesses a fabricated bone satchel in which it carries and maintains embers of fire, obtained originally from some natural source—lightning, perhaps. This is their great treasure. However, a brutal attack by another humanoid band, followed by an attack by wolves, drives the Ulam into a marsh. Their fire-tender stumbles, and the embers are doused, leaving them to die from exposure.