37 pages 1 hour read

Michael Crichton

Eaters Of The Dead

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1976

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Summary and Study Guide


Eaters of the Dead is a 1976 historical novel by Michael Crichton. Crichton (1942-2008) is known for his best-selling novels, many of which have been adapted into movies, as well as TV and filmmaking. His books include Jurassic Park, The Andromeda Strain, The Lost World, Prey, and Disclosure. Crichton also worked in filmmaking and in the TV industry, most notably on Westworld (writer, director), ER (creator), and on the Jurassic Park franchise based on his own novels. His works falls into various genres, including science fiction, medical fiction, and technology-driven thrillers.

Borrowing heavily from a historical manuscript by the real Ahmad ibn Fadlan and the epic poem Beowulf, Eaters of the Dead charts the journey of a Muslim Arab who travels from Baghdad to Scandinavia in the 10th century. The novel was adapted into a film in 1999, retitled as The 13th Warrior. This guide refers to the Vintage eBook edition of the novel.

Plot Summary

Eaters of the Dead presents a freely adapted retelling of a historical manuscript by the 10th-century traveler Ahmad ibn Fadlan. The novel first establishes the provenance of the manuscript and the portrayal of the Viking Norsemen that Ahmad encounters.

The events of the novel begin when the Caliph of Baghdad sends Ahmad on a diplomatic mission. Ahmad travels West with a large party and encounters Turkish tribes, whose people are unfamiliar to Ahmad. Before Ahmad reaches his intended destination, he meets a group of Norsemen who are even more unfamiliar to Ahmad than the Turkish tribes. Though he does not speak their language, Ahmad begins to learn about Norse culture. Ahmad witnesses the death of the old leader and the ascent of a new leader, an imposing man named Buliwyf. On the morning that Ahmad is set to resume his diplomatic mission, a Norse boat arrives. A young man named Wulfgar brings a message from his father Rothgar, a king in distant land. Rothgar’s kingdom is being attacked and he wants assistance. Buliwyf accepts the request and gathers 11 of his best men to join him on this mission. A soothsayer tells Buliwyf to recruit Ahmad as the 13th member of his party. Though Ahmad does not want to go, he is told that he has no choice. Ahmad sets sail with Buliwyf and the Norsemen.

Along the journey, Ahmad learns more about Norse culture with the help of a Norseman named Herger who speaks a common language with Ahmad. At first, Ahmad thinks the Norsemen are drunken bandits who only care about their specific interpretation of honor. However, the Norsemen show their martial prowess and Ahmad is increasingly intrigued by their culture. The party visits the home of Buliwyf’s parents, but they find that the town has been attacked and burned to the ground.

The party arrives in Rothgar’s kingdom, where Rothgar has built a large building named Hurot Hall. Though Ahmad is impressed, the Norsemen claim that the lavish building is a symbol of Rothgar’s arrogance. Rothgar’s kingdom is being attacked by the wendol, a cannibalistic people who live in the mountains and eat their enemies. The wendol attack Hurot Hall at night. After a fight with the Norsemen, the wendol retreat. Buliwyf takes over the defense against the wendol, much to the annoyance of Rothgar’s son Wiglif. After eliminating all but one of his rival heirs, Wiglif spreads malicious rumors about Buliwyf. The wendol return with burning torches. Despite the Norsemen’s best efforts, the wendol kill many people and burn down the buildings surrounding Hurot Hall. Ahmad fights alongside the warriors and begins to adopt many of their behaviors.

Buliwyf leads his warriors into wendol territory, but the mission is a failure and Buliwyf realizes that his plan was not honorable. At the suggestion of a local mystic, Buliwyf and his men return to the wendol territory with a more honorable plan. They enter the caves where the wendol live and Buliwyf kills the female wendol leader, though she stabs him with a poisoned pin. The warriors return to Hurot Hall to wait for the violent response of the wendol. In a decisive battle, Buliwyf recovers enough to lead his warriors and defeat the wendol. However, he dies in the process. Buliwyf is given a hero’s burial and praised for defeating the wendol and saving Rothgar’s kingdom. Ahmad stays a while with the Norsemen but eventually returns to Baghdad where he writes down the legend of Buliwyf.