Eaters of the Dead

I just read this adaptation by Michael Crichton. Supposedly it’s the true manuscript of one Ibn Fajlad, Arabic diplomat.

I started not liking it at first, but as I got further along into it I really began to enjoy it. It’s different, the suspense builds because the author is so matter of fact about observing everything. I have some thoughts:

First of all, I’m not being whooshed am I? This isn’t a big old William Goldstein/S. Morgenstein is it?

Barring its falseness:

I read the appendix. Apparently this has stemmed a great big debate over whether the wendhol were Neanderthals. I think that’s utterly fascinating. Apparently also it seems to one school of thought that Neanderthals have not died out, actually are amongst us (look! there’s one now). I.e., have been bred into us.

Also, the idea that the Vikings were much more civilized then we had ever thought is interesting to say the least. It seems they contributed to European society in many ways. And I really had no idea Stonehenge was built before the pyramids. (Well I had a concept, but never really thought about it).

Any thoughts? I finished the book, and I went in to my SO and said “Is there any chance you’ll read this?” He said no, so I immediately logged on (on Saturday!) to get on the SDMB. I knew someone here would have read it.

WHOOOOOOSH! :smiley:

:confused: I’m not reading Beowulf. Anyway, we can still discuss the stuff even if I am being whooshed.

  1. Is there any truth to the idea that Neanderthals didn’t die out when we thought they did?
  2. Is there anything to the idea that maybe Europe wasn’t quite such a barbaric place while the pyramids were being built?
  3. Did anyone else like this book???

That’s the point. All the stuff about the book being a translation of an Arabic manuscript is fake. Eaters of the Dead is Michael Crichton’s adaptation of the Old English epic. You are reading Beowulf.

from an Amazon review:

Ibn Fadlan was real, but as a writer I can tell you that “blended aspects” means stole descriptions and made up the rest.

  1. 1976 is an eon ago in terms of what we know about the Neandertals. In fact, we don’t even spell them the same way. :slight_smile:

Modern consensus is that the Neandertals died off completely around 28,000 BCE and that they did not interbreed or otherwise leave their genes behind. (Note the word consensus. There are a few who disagree but they are fewer in number each year.)

  1. Define barbaric. Define civilization. The Egyptians had a culture that is closer to being a civilization in the terms most people think of it. That doesn’t mean that the dwellers on Britain were barbarians, just as it doesn’t mean they built massive cities either. Different cultures, different sensibilities, and neither one was much of anything like you get taught in school or from tv documentaries.

It’s not even completely meaningful to say to Stonehenge is older than the Pyramids. First, Stonehenge had various building activities taking place at the site over thousands of years. Second, the pyramids were erected over thousands of years. So which is older? Depends.

  1. Sorry, no interest in it.

As Terimus pointed out, yes you are ;). In a sense, anyway.

Now as it happens Ibn Fadlan was a real historical character sent as an emissary to the Volga Bulgars in the 10th century and he briefly encountered the Rus and wrote a little about them. However he never got near Scandinavia proper and Crichton’s story, a few little historic details like that aside, is completely fictional and based heavily on Beowulf.

No. Or at least to the best of anyone’s knowledge.

No. Though ‘barbaric’ is a very relative term, granted.

Yes :). One of Crichton’s stronger works and one of the few I still have a fondness for. The movie adaptation, The Thirteenth Warrior is pretty decent as well - at least IMHO. Though granted the reviews were mixed.

  • Tamerlane

I also thought “The Thirteenth Warrior” was a decent flick. Never read “Eaters”.

Eaters of the Dead was the one Chrichton book I’ve enjoyed. Only The Great Train Robbery comes anywhere close.

As for Viking culture, bear in mind that most descriptions we have of what they were like were written by monks in countries that were subject to periodic Viking raids. Now, these monks saw big, scary, pagan warriors getting off their boats, killing, stealing, pillaging, carrying off women and raiding their monasteries and churches for the gold relics inside. What kind of descriptions of the Norsemen do you figure they wrote down? English monks tended to write the exact same sorts of descriptions of the “wild Irish” and “heathen Scots” raiders they had to deal with as well. Irish monks wrote these desriptions about Irish raiders from neighboring regions - a monk in Connacht might use these sorts of descriptions to describe the evils of Ulstermen and their depraved habits. It’s all a matter of perspective.

On the other end of things, Vikings settled large areas of Scotland and Ireland (the first cities in Ireland that were more than simple farming communities were founded by Viking settlers - Dublin is a good example) where they engaged in trade, agriculture and other activites besides raiding, and eventually the Viking influence merged with the local culture. Vikings had high-quality steel weapons and tools, excellent marine technology, and benefitted from trade with far-flung areas of the world including the middle-east. Other than their habit of throwing together raiding parties when they were bored, they seem like a fairly enlightened culture to me…

As you now know this “adaptation” is almost entirely fictional, so the “original” never inspired any such scholarly debate, but there is a theory among some folklorists that the Neanderthals may have been the inspiration for stories about trolls/giants/elves/whatever. Not because their species survived longer than was previously believed, but because they did coexist with our own species for a good long time. It seems improbable that our ancestors wouldn’t have had something to say about them at the time. Based just on what we know of human culture I think we can be pretty certain that there were stories about Neanderthals told by their Cro-Magnon contemporaries. But if these Neanderthal stories have come down to us in any form at all, they have probably been so altered over time that it would be impossible to prove a connection now.

If you’re interested in the “real thing” from medieval northern cultures, check out the saga literature - “Orkneyinga Saga”, “Njal’s Saga”, several others I can’t think of off the top of my head - all widely available at your local bookstore in translation and all extremely readable and entertaining. I love the Orkneyinga Saga, which is about the doings of the Earls of Orkney, which is where you are when you’ve run out of Scotland and keep going. There’s this fantastic bit where one of them goes on a pilgramage to Jerusalem and gets this huge crush on a French lady they run across and writes her bloody Norse battle poetry, and she’s all “Uh, thanks.” And then they get to Jerusalem, and you have to think about what that place could have been like at the time, when few people went anywhere but if you went to Jerusalem you could run into people from freaking Orkney!

It’s just really fascinating stuff. I did very much enjoy Eaters of the Dead, though, don’t get me wrong.

Huge, huge Beowulf fan here.

I enjoyed Eaters of the Dead a lot. Cleverly done, liked the outsider narrator device. Retellings of the Beowulf story are almost always pretty interesting – I liked (Niven & Pournelle?)'s scifi spin called The Legacy of Heorot too.

I can second the recommendation to the sagas. They’re fantastic, in all senses of the word, very bloody and riveting and other. There’s something righteous about being able to put on your (blue) killing colors and announcing to all the farms that you have a serious beef with someone – thereby making it legal to kill them. I can hardly get my head around the concept but it surely is fascinating.

Mrs. Furthur

Another fascinating take on this idea in in Mary Renault’s The Bull From the Sea (1962). King Theseus of Athens becomes friends with the king (forget his name) of the Lapiths of Thessaly, who coexist more or less peacefully with a strange, hairy people called the Kentaurs.

I sort of liked Eaters of the Dead and thought it was a clever way to reimagine Beowolf, but I was disappointed in the way he was too literal with his interpretation of Grendels mother. Grendel’s mother should have so obviously been a goddess worshipped by the Neanderthals. How the battle could have been envision, I’m not sure, perhaps a fight with some kind of temple warriors or something, but I just felt so sure that Grendel’s mother should have been a goddess. It was one of those times where I desperately wished I could “fix” a book I was reading.