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The 13th Warrior

A book by Michael Crichton

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Both True and Fictional

  • Aug 19, 1999
  • by
Contrary to what has been said by many of the reviewers here, this book is in fact based on a real manuscript by the Arab traveller ibn Fadlan in the tenth century who made his way from the Caliphate to the shores of the Volga to treat with the Bulgar kingdom which was then ensconced there (apparently to entice the Bulgars away from their Khazar overlords who were then enemies of the Arab empire). This ambassador of the Caliph faithfully recorded much of what he saw among the barbarians, including encounters with the Oghuz Turks and the Norsemen who were then frequent travellers along the rivers of what would one day become Russia. (In fact some thinking has it that the Norse, in the guise of "Rus" -- eytemology unclear -- actually gave their name, along with their ruling princes, to Russia since the first major Russian state, Kievan Rus, was ruled by princes of viking heritage, with the help of second and third generation viking adventurers serving them as mercenaries.) But Crichton's book is not just a reprint of ibn Fadlan's manuscript (which is available, in English, in various scholarly tomes). Crichton enlarged upon the tale he found and appended an apparently fictional second half which takes ibn Fadlan north, in the company of his new-found Norse comrades, to the viking lands, there to face a shadowy menace of unknown origins. In this second half, Crichton blended historical speculation with the Beowulf tale in Old English (the chief of the viking crew which inducts ibn Fadlan is called "Buliwyf") to suggest an ending to ibn Fadlan's adventures which surely never happened. But it's done quite nicely, hard to tell where the real tale ends and the author's fictional enterprise begins, and it keeps you reading right to the final moments. It's not a particularly stirring tale, rather dry in fact, but it's thought provoking and well-paced and a wonderfully interesting way to do an historical novel. The movie (THE THIRTEENTH WARRIOR) unfortunately struck me as a might simplistic but it did a very nice job of putting viking flesh on the narrative's bones so I wasn't sorry I went to see it.

By the way, there are a whole slew of good books out there for those into vikings and historical adventure, including a brand new one by Jeff Janoda called SAGA: A NOVEL OF MEDIEVAL ICELAND which details the events surrounding an intriguing episode in Eyrbyggja Saga (one of the most renowned of the original Norse sagas). It tells the story of a great feud between two chieftains over a little piece of forested land in an Iceland in which wood had become as precious as gold. THE GOLDEN WARRIOR by Hope Muntz (about Harold and William and the struggle for the English throne in the mid-eleventh century) is another. Others worthy of your time include ERIC BRIGHTEYES by H. Rider Haggard, STYRBIORN THE STRONG by E. R. Eddison, and THE LONG SHIPS by Frans Bengtsson. And, if you're still game for more, there's even one I did, THE KING OF VINLAND'S SAGA, a tale of Norsemen in North America circa AD 1050.

author of The King of Vinland's Saga

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review by . September 10, 2004
I read some of the negative reviews and my goodness, some of these folks used such big words....way over my head! From the stand point of someone who just loves to read, rather than attempting to impress with my limited vocabulary, I must say I enjoyed the book. The story of course is taken from the epic Beowulf, and the author uses a nice slant in using a outsider to describe events, and this makes it just simply interesting. Actually, I must admit to have read this one more than once and probably …
review by . March 21, 2000
This book had a lot of interesting information and some vivid descriptions. Unfortunately, the way it was presented made a lot of it seem boring. If it had flowed in a more interesting way, I could have easily given the book 5 stars.It is difficult to determine what is fact and what is fantasy. Even with the extensive footnotes it is sometimes hard to understand. Someone familiar with Gary Jennings and especially Raptor can see what might have been with Crichton's novel.The book has its moments …
About the reviewer
Stuart W. Mirsky ()
Ranked #231
I'm a retired bureaucrat (having served, most recently, as an Assistant Commissioner in amunicipal agency in a major Northeastern American city). In 2002 I took an early retirement to pursue a lifelong … more
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Michael Crichton takes the listener on a one-thousand-year-old journey in his adventure novelEaters Of The Dead. This remarkable true story originated from actual journal entries of an Arab man who traveled with a group of Vikings throughout northern Europe. In 922 A.D, Ibn Fadlan, a devout Muslim, left his home in Baghdad on a mission to the King of Saqaliba. During his journey, he meets various groups of "barbarians" who have poor hygiene and gorge themselves on food, alcohol and sex. For Fadlan, his new traveling companions are a far stretch from society in the sophisticated "City of Peace." The conservative and slightly critical man describes the Vikings as "tall as palm trees with florid and ruddy complexions." Fadlan is astonished by their lustful aggression and their apathy towards death. He witnesses everything from group orgies to violent funeral ceremonies. Despite the language and cultural barriers, Ibn Fadlan is welcomed into the clan. The leader of the group, Buliwyf (who can communicate in Latin) takes Fadlan under his wing.

Without warning, the chieftain is ordered to haul his warriors back to Scandinavia to save his people from the "monsters of the mist." Ibn Fadlan follows the clan and must rise to the occasion in the battle of his life.--Gina Kaysen

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ISBN-10: 0345354613
ISBN-13: 978-0345354617
Author: Michael Crichton
Publisher: Ballantine Books

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