Saturday, June 02, 2007

Weekend Post

Of all the books Michael Crichton has ever written his best was his earliest, the Eaters of the Dead. I finally got around to watching the movie adaptation, which is not nearly as powerful as the book, but very good all the same. The movie is called the 13th Warrior, with Antonio Banderas as the 8th century Arab come on an quest with a fictionalized Beowulf.

Those of you who who have read the book know that in the original, the Beowulf story is recast as a duel between surviving Neanderthals and the Vikings, an all-star match if ever there was one. But both in Crichton's book and surprisingly in the 13th Warrior, the story is also about a comparison between world views. That of the Muslim and the Northman. Crichton is smart enough to show us the nobility of each. And in the end the reader is left in awe both of Valhalla and the Arab's 8th century faith. Of the book I will say no more. But in the film, the standout and keynote scene is when the Norsemen face seemingly certain death before the onslaught of the Wendols and the Arab prays to Allah. It is a moving and familiar enough prayer. But in a cinematic moment fit to vie with the rendition of Men of Harlech in Zulu, the Norsemen pray too in words that express the entire tragic and heroic warrior ethos. They are words the West has forgotten, and many more besides.

Lo there do I see my father.
Lo there do I see my mother.
Lo there do I see my brothers and my sisters.
Lo there do I see the line of my people back to the beginning.
Lo they do call to me;
They bid me take my place among them in the Halls of Valhalla,
Where the brave may live forever.

And in the end, the Arab allows that it may be his prayer too.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, "13th Warrior" is indeed very good.

Although I still hold Oriana Fallaci in esteem, my opinion of her was dealt a blow when I discovered that she included in "The Force of Reason" a review of "13th Warrior" filled with falsehoods. Clearly, she had never seen the movie and was implying that she had. I will post this and see if I can post without an account. If I can, I will find the relevant passages and post again.

6/02/2007 05:08:00 AM  
Blogger Buddy Larsen said...

Very fine film. Didn't realize it was from a book, much less a Crichton. But it's worth a multiple view--I think twice so far, maybe thrice. Great charcters, story, and the scenery is fantastic.

6/02/2007 05:23:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The following is from Oriana Fallaci's "The Force of Reason", page 171 (in the translation from Fallaci's Italian, the movie title has become "The Thirteenth Knight", but there is no doubt it is the same movie; Antonio Banderas is named as the actor playing the Arab):

...And do you know who is, the Thirteenth Knight? A most handsome, most mild, most merciful and of course most religious Muslim who, escorted by a no less perfect tutor (Omar Sharif) in the Tenth Century ends up right among the fjords of Nordkinnhalvaya. There he meets twelve obtuse and ignorant blond louts who, being infidel-dogs, are in need of his Islamic virtues. Out of pure nobility he joins them, together with them he establishes peace and civilization. Then he reunites with Omar Sharif who being a Muslim and therefore a pacifist had stayed behind to pray and, carrying off a Norwegian girl clearly destined to become the first of four wives, rides off into the sun..."


As you can see, it's hard to know where to start in pointing out the errors in this passage.

In the real "The 13th Warrior", the Arab is forced against his will to accompany the Vikings on a quest. The Vikings are depicted as highly intelligent and brave, although also primitive and superstitious. The Arab character learns much from them, and ultimately learns much from them. I could go one (the Arab character does not bring a Norwegian bride home; in fact the action probably does not take place in Norway, although Fallaci's geographical error is not so bad as her clear factual errors.)

Errors of this magnitude make one question everything she wrote. Quite a shame.

6/02/2007 05:25:00 AM  
Blogger nonomous said...

I enjoyed the book, but thought the movie a travesty. It exaggerates the book's flaws without including any of the faux scientific/historical charms.

Like Fallaci, I was offended by the lack of integrity. If you want to waste 2 hours watching blond hunks strut, and a Spaniard whimper, have at it. None of the book's mystery makes it to the screen.

6/02/2007 06:32:00 AM  
Blogger Buddy Larsen said...

Well, it's action/adventure for sure. But the 'saga' structure is cool.

6/02/2007 07:25:00 AM  
Blogger doolz said...

*** SPOILERS! ***

My only problem with it was that these Neanderthals, who lived in a big old cave not too far from the Viking town, rode horses.

Horses require forage, which does not grow in caves. If they had pasturage outside the caves, their location would not have been much of a mystery.

And domestication of animals is not really a Neanderthal trait. It's something that came about only during the Neolithic, when that subspecies of Archaic Homo Sapiens were already long gone.

6/02/2007 08:22:00 AM  
Blogger Buddy Larsen said...

Ah, jeez, Doolz, those were a splinter group that did have horses, and the hidden valley was safe because of terror and no airpower. C'mon.

6/02/2007 08:28:00 AM  
Blogger Crazy Marzouq Redneck Muslim said...

Dear Wretchard,

Your timing is like a thunderclap from The Most High. I am a Muslim of Norse descent. I am a walking irony. According to oral history brought down through my Norse ancestors on my Grandmother's side, I am a descendent of Erik the Red. I take this with a grain of salt but tears well up every time I see that scene where the Arab prays and the Norsemen pray.

13th Warrior is the only DVD I ever purchased and I want to read Chrighton's book Eaters of the Dead as soon as time permits.

There is a parallel between the Norse and Muslim sailors. Their hull designs were of similar proportions and their methods of raiding were similar. The eater of dead is a enemy Muhammad and the Vikings in the movie had in common. Pre Islam Arabia was rife with infanticide and cannibalism. The trials of a hot land and cold land were the same.

You and I have much in common, more than you know at this time. I consider you my mentor and teacher. You and your commenters have done so much to help me grow and expand my mind. I consider you and them my professors.

Salaam eleicum,


6/02/2007 08:34:00 AM  
Blogger ADE said...

Lo there do I see my father.
Lo there do I see my mother.
Lo there do I see my brothers and my sisters.
Lo there do I see the line of my people back to the beginning.
Lo they do call to me;

Lo there I see our Belmont Club host, BC commenters.

michael, buddy, nonomous, doolz, crazy, I meet you every day.

Arabs are a foreign country.


6/02/2007 08:42:00 AM  
Blogger talnik said...


6/02/2007 08:53:00 AM  
Blogger wretchard said...

The great omission in the movie was the last debate between a tense Buliwyf and the seeress, whose name I cannot now recall. She knows what he is struggling with. 'You knew, Buliwyf, the answer to the question you have put to me. It is not just about the mechanics of how you will attack. No. There is another question. There is before you the way of the Captain. But you know the other road. It is the road of the Hero, and what lies on that road. I know you have made up your mind which path to take, Buliwyf. Am I not right?'

The scene is the core of Crichton's novel. It is the exposition of his understanding of what the Northmen saw as meaningful. Mortal man's sole snatching at immortality consisted, if you were strong enough, at taking the road of the Hero. Though you knew what lay on it. And Buliwyf laughs. His tension vanishes. He has made up his mind. And by some magic of writing, Crichton asks us, the readers, whether we have made up ours.

From that point on we accept what is going to happen and the reader wonders too, even years after reading the book, where he has been led.

6/02/2007 08:54:00 AM  
Blogger Mətušélaḥ said...

You are what you eat. And no, there's no heroism in that, Wretchard Cat, just hunger.

6/02/2007 09:52:00 AM  
Blogger Buddy Larsen said...

crazy, read the wiki --it has more on the early story.

The prayer is wonderful, so simple it has no shadows.

6/02/2007 09:53:00 AM  
Blogger Mətušélaḥ said...


I think it's best if we meditate on The 8th Passenger as analogue to our salvation.

6/02/2007 10:20:00 AM  
Blogger Buddy Larsen said...

Ha --good one. The 8th Passenger on the Nostromo was the Alien (shiver).

6/02/2007 10:36:00 AM  
Blogger Crazy Marzouq Redneck Muslim said...


Thanks! Being a redneck Muslim was tough at first. After answering The Call, it was tough to keep the covenant. Giving up BBQ, bourbon and beer and all...

My Imam is a very good man. I have great affection for him. Being away from him and his lessons has left a hole on my soul. I miss him so.

Salaam eleikum friend,


6/02/2007 10:46:00 AM  
Blogger Mətušélaḥ said...

Yeah, Buddy. Salat is good for you. But trolls are even tastier.

6/02/2007 10:57:00 AM  
Blogger DeathtotheSwiss said...

Part of the story though, was that Antonio wasn't a "good Muslim" and had gotten in trouble with a little hanky-panky with some big-wig's wife/daughter or whatever.

So, his acceptance of infidels only made sense in the movie.

Still, loved the book, one of the last good ones. (State of Fear should have just been a non-fiction)

6/02/2007 11:33:00 AM  
Blogger Buddy Larsen said...

Mat, what better for world peace than an infusion of redneck muslims? Get 'em to NASCAR and AQ will wither away.

Yep, the wiki tells of an actual saga, the basis for the later stories which became the book & movie. In the oldest story, the teller had been banished for breaking the local taboos.

6/02/2007 12:36:00 PM  
Blogger John Lynch said...

13th Warrior is set when Islam was civilization. The West didn't exist yet. There were a bunch of tribal kingdoms parked on the ruins of Roman civilization. Byzantium was civilized, but wasn't a Western empire.

Antonio Banderas' character was a member of a self- confident, progressive civilization. Islam then had little in common with Islam now. Or rather, it has too much in common.

Change is good. Think how much Scandanavia has changed since the 8th century... How much are today's Swedes like the Vikings?

6/02/2007 01:32:00 PM  
Blogger whiskey_199 said...

Good points John Lynch though there is one thread of continuity from Classical Greece down to the Vikings age. That is the idea of courage existing only as part of a group. Not lone warrior stuff, but that of citizen soldiers defending their fellows.

Chrighton deliberately pairs the "Western" way of fighting that includes Ibn with lots of discussion, trust, dissension, consensus then complex time and space maneuvers with the tribal way of fighting of the enemy. Who just show up, without much complexity or care for their fellows.

6/02/2007 02:12:00 PM  
Blogger Mətušélaḥ said...


Aha. NASCAR girls in Burkas. Me thinks more meditation is in order.

6/02/2007 02:23:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...



6/02/2007 05:01:00 PM  
Blogger BrianFH said...

Didn't see or read the story, but in search of anachronisms -- did the Neanderthals use stirrups? (MUCH later invention!)


6/02/2007 05:39:00 PM  
Blogger Charles said...

Here's an interesting piece. Apparently there is a growing body of evidence that the last ice age ended when a comet blew up over eastern canada 12,900 years ago. The comet took out all the megafauna like the mammoths & giant sloths as well as the the european clovis/solutrian peoples in north america.

6/02/2007 07:12:00 PM  
Blogger Charles said...

This animation gives the current model for prehistoric human migrations.

6/02/2007 07:32:00 PM  
Blogger JM Hanes said...


"The great omission in the movie was the last debate between a tense Buliwyf and the seeress, whose name I cannot now recall."

Actually, what you proceed to describe as the debate came across pretty well in the movie without needing to be made explicit in the manner you seem to expect. What you debate in a book, you must show on film, and the "translation" from one medium to another is not a literal process -- that's part of why authors so often do such lousy screen adaptations of their own work.

In any case, as a stand alone piece, 13th Warrior is terrific, and it's already a classic at our house. It's one of those films, like Kingdom of Heaven, which didn't get critical props, but which remains watchable even after multiple runs. If you've only watched 13th Warrior once, try it again and see if you don't end up liking it better than you did the first time around. Even the sets & cinematography are are 1st rate.

6/03/2007 12:04:00 AM  
Blogger Lorenzo said...

Love the film, haven't read the book. Though the armour some of the 12 norse warriors wear is a travesty. Odd when effort has clearly been made with all the other backdrops.

6/03/2007 12:43:00 AM  
Blogger Orion said...

That particular prayer always reminded me of Jethro Tull's song 'Broadsword'...

I see a dark sail on the horizon
Set under a black cloud that hides the sun

Bring me my broadsword and clear understanding
Bring me my cross of gold as a talisman
Get up to the roundhouse on the cliff-top standing
Take women and children and bed them down

Bring me my broadsword and clear understanding
Bring me my cross of gold as a talisman
Bless with a hard hearth those who surround me
Bless the women and children who firm our hands
Put our backs to the north wind, hold fast by the river
Sweet memories to drive us on for the motherland


6/03/2007 01:08:00 AM  
Blogger Charles said...

I read the book & saw the movie. They both do well as stand alone pieces. The great lines from the movie:
Lo there do I see my father.
Lo there do I see my mother.

replaces with courage -- the fear that evoked by the book of be predated and even replaced by an earlier and more primitive species.

In todays terms it might be the equivalent of pharonic man winning out over republican man.

If the model of 1500-1600's europe is repeated--it will be that the pharonic form wins on earth and the republican form goes to the stars.

A week or so ago I talked to a woman from a US government agency called AID. Her agency got precious few hits to their website. Even less than I get for my blog. (though I think mine are well targeted.) Her agency is trying to propagate Hernando De Soto's ideas on property --among other things. She's worried that latin america is going backwards..

6/03/2007 10:31:00 AM  
Blogger java_thread said...

That'll be the next book on my summer reading list...

One of the good technical (movie making) features of the movie is the way the Arab slowly learns the Norse language. As he does it comes across to the listener in bits and pieces as English, until finally all dialog is in English.

In a parallel path, while the Arab does not understand the Norse language -- the Northmen act barbaric (such as the scene when they share the same water & wash basin for washing their faces and blowing their noses). They are less barbaric after he gets to know them.

6/03/2007 11:23:00 AM  
Blogger Crazy Marzouq Redneck Muslim said...


I'm reading the book. Wow, what insights! Those Wyks they sailed to are in my old country, my motherland.

Creighton is a great writer on very intersting subjects. The one about nanotech was cool too.

Salaam eleichum friend.

6/03/2007 01:05:00 PM  
Blogger Walter said...

Eaters of the dead is a rewrite of the book "Aeaters of the Dead". A novelized form of an attempt by Poul Anderson (the sci-fi writer) translate a supposedly worm eaten book, from that time period, found in the libraries of Istanbul.

Now in Poul's book he states that the 13th warrior was an early sociologist who was forced on the trip because of too many problems trying to interview the Persian Sultan's harem.

After the story he is supposed to have been sent to China on a political mission and was killed messing around with the emperor's harem. (like he never learned..) Then he exits history until the book is rediscovered in Istanbul.

6/03/2007 07:26:00 PM  
Blogger BrianFH said...

you misread. The comet was just co-incidental with the retreat of the ice cap, about half-way through. The remaining sheets disguised the impact points somewhat. The point is that the ice age and climate change in and of themselves did not cause the extinctions; it was an essentially unrelated fireball that scorched the continent. And the fireball did nothing much to speed the retreat of the ice -- far too large a process to be influenced by a point-event like that.

6/04/2007 09:49:00 AM  
Blogger Crazy Marzouq Redneck Muslim said...


I am an "honest to Allah" Muslim who enjoys doing "redneck" stuff. Although I am a former Christian, I, like Mohammad (Peace be upon Him) love Jesus.

I am a scholar of scripture. I gave up beer, bourbon and pork after answering The Call of Islam.

I am sincere and not a troll. I have been a fan of The Belmont Club for years.

By the way, I like the art on your blog.

Salaam eleikum

6/04/2007 11:40:00 AM  
Blogger kilmer4 said...

BrianFH said...

I don't think we disagree.

6/04/2007 09:40:00 PM  
Blogger kilmer4 said...

BrianFH said...

I don't think we disagree.

6/04/2007 09:40:00 PM  
Blogger Sparks fly said...

Crazy Marzouq:

Jesus Christ and the Mohammadan religion are antithetical. You may not embrace them equally.

Acts 4:12

"And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given amoung men by which we must be saved."

That name is Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ is Emanuel: God with us. HE alone can forgive sin and save from hell and deliver an eternal happy ending.

Heads up!

6/06/2007 12:56:00 AM  

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