“Eaters of the Dead,” by noted storyteller, Michael Crichton, is an epic story told through the prose of a 10th century Arabic writer by the name of Ahmad Ibn Fadlan. Ibn Fadlan was a familiar to the Commander of the Faithful of Baghdad, Caliph al-Muqtadir, who was sent to deliver a message to a wealthy and prominent merchant. This merchant had in his possession a young bride with unsurpassed beauty. While waiting for the master of the home to return, Ibn Fadlan is seduced by the young temptress and gets caught with his pants down - so to speak. When a request from a far off king is delivered to the Caliph to send an ambassador to him from Baghdad, the wealthy and influential merchant insists that the Caliph send Ibn Fadlan. To save face, the Caliph is forced to comply and sends Ibn Fadlan on this perilous expedition.
Along this journey, Ibn Fadlan records the events of his travels, and his encounters with the Baskirs, the Hazars, the Saqaliba, the Turks, and finally the Northmen (Vikings). It takes more than three years for Ibn Fadlan to return to his home in Baghdad, the vast majority of it spent in the company of the Northmen, whom at first he loathes with the utmost contempt.
Led by their fearless leader Buliwyf, the Northmen and Ibn Fadlan are “called by the gods” to a hero’s duty, far to the north, to rescue King Rothgar, a distant relative of Buliwyf, from a “nameless terror.” Buliwyf is a fierce and mighty warrior, who has in his possession the power of the giants in the form of Runding, a sword of the ancients.
It isn’t until Ibn Fadlan is forced, at first, to unite with the Northmen to battle the notorious “eaters of the dead,” that Ibn Fadlan begins to understand, tolerate, and respect the differences between people of his culture and those of the Northmen.
It is, in Ibn Fadlan’s words, “[by] the grace of Allah,” that one amongst them, a quick-witted young warrior by the name of Herger, is gifted in the Latin tongue. It is through Herger that Ibn Fadlan is able to communicate with, and ultimately understand their extraordinary ways.
|"Beowulf" - by pujaantarbangsa|
“Eaters of the Dead” is a retelling of the classical Scandinavian myth “Beowulf.” Author Michael Crichton weaves a masterful tale, melding fiction with historical facts, making it difficult to discern between the two, despite many fanciful elements within the story.
There is little argument that the Muslim Arabic writer Ahmad Ibn Fadlan did exist, and he was sent as an ambassador to the Bolgars, now modern Kazan. What is in question is what transpired once he encountered the Northmen. In my opinion, this represents the “crossing over” point in the story. In “Eaters of the Dead” Ibn Fadlan is on the ship with the Northmen warriors as they come upon the city of Bulgar, the very city he was sent to be emissary of. Ibn Fadlan pleads with the Northmen to stop and let him complete his task, but they do little more than laugh and ignore him. It is at this point I believe Michael Crichton deviates from fact to fiction, from the realm of the real into the realm of myth.
|Sua the dragon Beowulf battles.|
There are many similarities between the tale of “Beowulf” and “Eaters of the Dead.” In both stories the hero is summoned by an imprudent king far off to the north to assist him with a monster that is terrorizing his village. In the epic poem of “Beowulf,” Grendel is the monster. In Crichton’s rendition, Buliwyf is the hero, but the monster is the great fire wyrm, which turns out to be the fabled half-man half-beast people called the wendol (Neanderthals). Both heroes have to deal with a contriving underling who wishes to undermine their heroism; in Beowulf it is the King’s advisor, and with Buliwyf it is the King’s son. Both heroes do battle with a great dragon; Beowulf slays the dragon Sua, and Buliwyf battles the wendol who ride in the mist and take the form of a “glow-worm” given the name Korgon. Both heroes face off against the “mother” of the monster; Beowulf defeats Grendel’s mother by lopping off her head and Buliwyf defeats the “mother of the thunder caves” by stabbing her with a dagger.