Michael Crichton

Eaters Of The Dead

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Eaters Of The Dead Summary

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Michael Crichton’s 1976 historical novel Eaters of the Dead: The Manuscript of Ibn Fadlan Relating His Experiences with the Northmen in AD 922 tells the tale of a tenth-century Muslim Arab travelling with a group of Vikings. Sources that Crichton used as inspiration include Ahmad ibn Fadlan’s record of his true journey with Vikings and the legend of Beowulf. The book is alternately known as The 13th Warrior as it was reissued after a film adaptation was released under that title. The narrative approach varies in the novel. It is largely presented as an ancient manuscript being commented on from a scientific viewpoint. The narrative voice explains that the story being told is pieced together from commentaries and translations of the works of the original teller. Voices that share in the narrating include the narrator/editor, translators, and the original author. At times both actual and fictional sources are referred to.

Ibn Fadlan is sent by the Caliph of Bagdad to go on a journey to the North Country. As he begins his mission he meets a group of Vikings who have him join them on a different journey. They explain to Ibn Fadlan that tradition dictates that they need a group of thirteen men in order to undertake this journey and that it must be a foreigner who helps the group complete that total. Ibn Fadlan attempts to refuse but there is no way that he can avoid becoming part of the group. As they travel farther and farther into the Northern regions, Ibn Fadlan has mixed responses to what he encounters there. Some things engage his interest while other things shock him. All along he tries to remain true to the beliefs of the Muslim faith. The Vikings however do not like it when he prays or when he makes references to Allah. While Ibn Fadlan does not find the Vikings appealing at all, he begins to discover that their culture may not be completely different from his own.

The leader of the thirteen-man band travelling across the Rothgar kingdom is Buliwyf. It is learned that Buliwyf will become the king of his own realm if he is able to successfully return from the journey. The hall of Rothgar, it is reported by a messenger, is under attack by a vicious monster called the wendol. Due to his advanced age, Rothgar is unable to amass a group of warriors to mount a counter attack against the wendol. Buliwyf, in spite of a premonition indicating that he will not survive against the monster, agrees to battle the wendol.

A wendol has human-like traits but is not fully human. They are hairy monsters and they often attack suddenly. The leader of the wendols is an old female surrounded by snakes. She lives in an undersea cave. Buliwyf and his followers attempt to vanquish the wendol but they are not successful. A dwarf appears and tells them that the necessary course of action is to find the female deep in the thunder caves under the sea. Once they have killed the female, who is the mother, the wendol on land will be less powerful and easier for them to defeat.

Ibn Fadlan lacks battle experience but never the less, he is expected to take part in the battle along with Buliwyf and the other Vikings. In short order Ibn Fadlan finds himself involved in the battle and having his way with slave women the same way the Vikings do. As different cultures begin to blend Ibn Fadlan stays true to the tenets of his Muslim background while at the same time adopting many of the Viking ways. As a result of his active and willing participation in the activities of the Vikings, Ibn Fadlan earns a place of honor among them and in Rothgar’s Hall. Ibn Fadlan is among the warriors selected to be part of the funeral rites for Buliwyf who was poisoned during his battle with the mother of wendol. This is considered an honorable death for Buliwyf as he died in battle, thus earning a place alongside the gods and the heroes who met their deaths before him. In spite of the lofty position he has obtained, Ibn Fadlan is anxious to return to his native land and continue with his original mission for the Caliph, and is granted permission to go back. Just prior to taking his leave he promises the Vikings that he will write about their adventures including the battle and the story of the heroic Buliwyf.

While not viewed purely as a retelling of the Beowulf epic, Eaters of the Dead and that earlier work share many similarities. In each, a king turns to a hero from far away to help kill a monster that is a threat to his kingdom. Both heroes undertake a great battle and ultimately defeat their opponents. The heroes in the end suffer fatal wounds as a result of their heroic deeds.