Books for the Busy Signal Blues you ask? Books!? I thought that your life revolved around computers? Well, amazingly enough I do enjoy entertainment that doesn’t involve a computer once and a while. One thing I really do enjoy are books of any sort: fiction, non-fiction, fantasy, sci-fi– anything as long as it has a good story. So I’ve started this section of the M@Gazette to share some of my favourite books with our readers.
Eaters of the Dead
(The Manuscript of Ibn Fadlan,
Relating his experiences with the Northmen in A.D. 922)
This book was recommended to me about 2 years ago, but unfortunately until now it’s been very hard to come by. But thanks to the success (Chaos knows why) of one of Crichton’s other books Jurassic Park it seems that Hollywood is bound and determined to turn all of his books into really bad movies. Hollywood currently has its sights set on one of Crichton’s older books, Eaters of the Dead. This of course means that EotD has been reprinted in paperback form. Which is good news for folks like me that have been aching to read this book for ages.
This book’s story is fascinating on many levels. On the very outside, EotD is a retelling of the Epic Poem of Beowulf, the only early Germanic epic left, conceived and written by Crichton on a dare that he couldn’t make so-called boring history texts interesting. It took him quite a while to find the correct context for the story, not an amazing fantasy epic, but events that could have been real, that over centuries of embellishment became a tale of great heroic deeds. This context is based in part on actual fragments of a document, written by Ibn-Fadlan, an ambassador of the Caliph of Bagdad in the 10th century. In fact, the first three chapters of the book are a slightly modified rewriting of the Ibn-Fadlan fragments. Crichton then continues the story in the same style. It is told from Ibn-Fadlan’s perspective, along with the footnotes one would expect from a scholarly examination of an ancient document.
The story starts with Ibn-Fadlan being sent on a mission as ambassador to the King of the Bulgars. His mission ends up quite awry when he ends up getting kidnapped and dragged along by a group of Vikings on a mission to save their people from an unknown, ageless evil. Ibn-Fadlan is appalled by the Viking’s lack of civilization at first– their blood rituals and open sexual practices are amazingly offensive to this cultivated Middle Eastern courtier. His lack of misunderstanding is helped along by the fact that there’s a huge language gap between his Arabic and the Viking’s tongue. He does manage a small amount of communication with one of the Vikings that has knows a little bit of the common language of Latin. This communication adds to the suspense of the conflict with the ancient evil. The attack of the Glow Worm Dragon is an amazing example of this. I have no idea how Hollywood is going to handle this aspect of the story, I fully expect them to ruin it by having everyone in the movie speak perfect English.
The process of learning and growing that Ibn-Fadlan goes through is one of the book’s best features. Stories where characters evolve are always very interesting and Ibn-Fadlan certainly does his share of evolution in this book. By the end you’d hardly believe he was the same gentlemen who started the story. Yet you never question the plot, the evolution is completely natural, and you come to respect Ibn-Fadlan as an adventurer, observer and commentator.
Eaters of the Dead passed my ultimate test with flying colours. The deep mystery to just what sort of evil is haunting the Northmen is a great plot device. The Northmen, led by the great hero Buliwyf, never come to fully understand this evil. It’s only from our perspective, ten centuries later, that its nature becomes clear. But the Northmen do understand one thing that escapes Ibn-Fadlan until the end: he takes his literacy for granted, but the Northmen fear his ability to draw sounds. They understand the true power of the written word, which folds back upon the idea that gave Crichton the context in which to write the book.
I’ve read some negative reviews of Eaters of the Dead by people who enjoy Crichton’s more recent books (EotD was originally published in 1976). I think that these people are full of B.S., this is a great book! They seem to think that Crichton’s writing has become vastly superior over the years, but I’m of the opinion that this book shows that he’s always been a great writer. This story just happens to be told in a different way than his more modern adventures.
Eaters of the Dead Rates 8 Manitoulin Gold Flowers out of 10. I hope you enjoy this book as much as I did. You can click on the link at the top of the page to go directly to EotD on Amazon.com, a wonderful resource for anyone that likes a bargain, or who is not in easy reach of a well-stocked bookstore.
– Dylon Whyte