Eaters of the Dead by Michael Crichton

After seeing the film ‘The 13th Warrior’ with Antonio Banderas and a lot of hairy Scandinavians whilst I was spending time with my boyfriend, I randomly googled it while in a free period at school and soon discovered that the film was based on a book called ‘Eaters of the Dead’. Intrigued, and having enjoyed the film, I proceeded to make a quite scout about for reviews of the novel before finally ordering it. when it finally came in the post, I was a little dismayed at how thin the book was; I have always been a keen reader and I take a lot of pleasure from very thick books and the prospect of making my way through its pages and, to be honest, I had expected something a bit thicker for 6 quid. When I began the novel, it began with an introduction that said that the novel was based on manuscripts from the 9th century written by a real person! Much of the manuscript itself had been lost and in many places meaning had been lost with all of the translations but I was awed by the prospect of reading something that was real and written so long ago.

The novel is written in the perspective of a man called Ibn Fadlan who is sent from Bagdad, the City of Peace, to deliver a message to the Caliph of another kingdom. As he travels north, he encounters a band of Northmen, the like of which he has never seen before. He openly comments and criticises the culture that seems so strange to him but it is obvious that he is fascinated by the people in question. Soon, a messenger arrives bearing news of a King in the North who is under attack from a force that the Northmen fear to name and won’t translate for Ibn’s benefit. The leader of this party, Buliwyf, then pulls together a band of warriors to go to this King’s aid; as each warrior volunteers, the Angel of Death who advised the size of the party suddenly points to Ibn and insists that the 13th warrior must be a foreigner, and it must be him. much to his dismay, Ibn is forced to abandon his quest to travel north with the Scandinavian’s and all the while he keeps us informed on the journey, the men’s customs and culture as well as putting in his own commentaries – often critical but not to the point of telling them to behave otherwise; Ibn makes it clear that their culture is not for him but from his narrative voice we can discern that he is amazed by the ways of these Northmen and extremely intrigued to learn as much as possible.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel; the style of the writing in the form of manuscript meant that often all that the character Ibn was doing was reciting facts and embellishing it lightly in places with his own opinions and thoughts as well as clear admirations and commentaries. Though, as a result, we get quite a biased perspective of these men of the North, we nevertheless get an insight I had never anticipated this thin book to hold. The writing itself is without hyperbole, without description in immense detail of any sort: everything is told as it is and any use of metaphors, similes or anything like that is minimal – and I mean once or twice in the whole novel. This book made me laugh a lot and my eyes were glued to the pages as soon as the book was opened but there was one big dissapointment for this novel. When I finished it, I went on to read the afterword written by the author – throughout the novel, I had questioned why Crichton’s name was on the front of the novel when it was the manuscript of Ibn Fadlan. I was shocked to discover that actually only the first 3 chapters were based on the manuscript – the rest was all fiction worked by Crichton. Though I have to admire Crichton for his flair with the writing – I certainly thought this novel was real – I felt cheated. Betrayed. I had honestly thought that this novel was based on the actual manuscript – the foreword misleads the author – and when I say ‘mislead’, I don’t mean I misunderstood; Crichton actually says that it comes from the manuscript and all he changed was syntax in places and he comments that he cuts out lengthy and unnecessary bits of text. I have been increasingly interested in the Scandinavians and the Vikings recently and this novel almost forged dreams for me – it led me by the hand into a world I believed was real and all of that was destroyed when I discovered it was fiction. I don’t think I would have minded so much if Crichton hadn’t lied in the Foreword and hadn’t openly joked that some of the citations were just placed there to make it look like the book was real. So, I may have enjoyed this novel but the deception of the author tainted it, somewhat.

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