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13th warrior 1.jpg

The 13th Warrior is an adventure story that inserts the Real Life Arabic traveler Ahmad ibn Fadlan into a tale of Nordic saga. Ahmad ibn Fadlan is an educated Arab courtier who is Put on a Bus to foreign lands as punishment for a courtly indiscretion. He is recruited to serve as the thirteenth member of a group of Norse warriors who answer a call for help from a far-away Nordic king. The kingdom is under attack from the Wendol. The bookish Ahmad ibn Fadlan narrates his adventure and his growing respect for the barbarians around him.

The story is a reworking of the classical tale of Beowulf. Buliwyf is an Expy for the hero Beowulf and the remaining warriors form his band. The classic battles are all reworked to replace the monsters with the cannibalistic Wendol. Rather than Grendel bursting into a mead hall, a group of cannibals attack. Rather than attacking Grendel's aquatic mother, the band sneaks into the Wendol's den through water. Rather than a dragon, the Wendol look like a "glow wyrm".

Michael Crichton wrote the original novel, called Eaters Of The Dead, and it was something of a departure from his usual science-fiction fare. He supposedly wrote the novel on a dare from a student who demanded he "find a way to make Beowulf boring." As Crichton was aware of the notoriously dry, bland Ahmad ibn Fadlan and his ability to make any miraculous new wonder sound prosaic and dull, he put the two together as if it were Ahmad giving an actual historical account. The Neanderthals serving as the film's villains are an expected flourish of science fiction.

The novel was later adapted into a feature film starring Antonio Banderas and directed by John McTiernan. Crichton himself performed some reshoots after test screenings, such as making the tribe's queen into a lithe Dark Action Girl.

Tropes used in The 13th Warrior include:

 Lo, there do I see my father

Lo, there do I see my mother and my sisters and my brothers

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


  • Barbarian Tribe: The Wendol, who in the book are said to be Neanderthals.
  • Big And Burly In Huge Fur Capes: These are vikings, so when they wear fur, it's half for warmth, and half to make them look even more imposing.
  • Boisterous Bruiser: Many of the Norsemen, but mainly Herger the Joyous, Ahmad's caretaker.
  • Conservation of Ninjitsu: In the first skirmish, the 13 take casualties against a small raid. In the first main battle, the remainder backed by the locals lose several more. In the caves, they lose yet more in tunnel fighting but take many enemies with them. In the last battle, four drive off an army and the only casualty was already dying from an earlier wound.
  • Dark Action Girl: The tribe's queen, in the film version.
  • Decapitated Army: First the tribe's queen, then their general.
  • Debut Queue: The seer casts the runes and names the warriors to be appointed on the quest one by one.
  • Demythtification: One of the more obvious examples of the trope, since Crichton wrote the book exactly as such, having been challenged to "historicize" Beowulf by one of his students.
  • Died Standing Up: Buliwyf dies sitting on a log, watching the enemy retreat.
  • Doing in the Wizard: Partly. Some mystical elements are taken out, but the seers are pretty accurate.
  • Dual Wield: In the final battle one of the warriors wields a sword and a short axe.
  • The Drag Along: Ahmad, for most of the story
  • Everything's Worse with Bears
  • Executive Meddling: See What Could Have Been below.
  • Expy: Buliwyf for Beowulf
  • External Retcon: of Beowulf, via Literary Agent Hypothesis.
  • Fanfare: The score by Jerry Goldsmith.
  • Frazetta Man: The Wendol.
  • Going Native: Ahmad begins to adopt Viking culture more and more, culminating in the novel with his sleeping with and helping strangle the girl chosen for a Viking Funeral.
  • Good Bad Translation: What Omar Sharif comments on what the Vikings say is pure comedy gold for anyone who understands Scandinavian. Not in the book though.
  • Heroic Spirit: Buliwyf is dying of poison, and still fights in the climactic battle.
  • The Horde: The Wendol.
  • Horny Vikings: Averted. The Vikings have their cultural quirks, to be sure, but the helmets worn seem oddly scavenged and the crew are generally motley.
  • Human Pincushion: the largest viking, Halga (played by Asbjorn "The Bear" Riis), gets stuck with a half-dozen spears, the red-headed Skeld gets stuck with four. Both during the second battle.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: The Wendol, hence the book's original name.
  • Informed Ability: The end credit lists the warriors with their attributes like, for instance, Helfddane (Fat). Apparently, the seer called for men with this attributes in the Debut Queue. But most of this is not displayed on screen, Edgtho the Silent gets more lines than Halga the Wise, Weath the Musician never plays music, Skeld doesn't seem any more superstitious than the others (or than any 10th century norseman would be). The only ones who seem to match their attributes are Heger the Joyous and Rethel the Archer.
  • Instant Awesome, Just Add Dragons: Subverted and lampshaded. It turned out the "fire wyrm" is just a cavalry with torches, and Herger said he would have preferred an actual dragon. Of course, given that the size of the fire wyrm in question meant it was comprised of literally hundreds of warriors, all mounted on horseback and moving independently, his preference for a straight-up lizard is understandable.
  • The Ishmael
  • Literary Agent Hypothesis: The book was claimed to be based on real sources. The movie merely specifies that it is the tales of Ibn Fahdlan without specifying if it is based on a real account or not. Like several other Crichton books, it contains a fake bibliography, which includes "Necronomicon [ed. H.P. Lovecraft]." The book was in fact inspired by the travels of a real Ibn Fahdlan, but spiced up to include the notion that Fahdlan was a real life first-hand witness of the "true story" of Beowulf, because Crichton wanted a Framing Device to Retool the story of Beowulf. The real ibn Fahdlan never made it to Sweden.
  • No Ending: The manuscript, and thus the book, ends just before Ahmad ibn Fadlan is about to embark on a new adventure, practically in the middle of
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits
  • Rated "M" for Manly
  • The Reveal: The nature of the Wendol.
  • Rule of Cool: Ahmad cannot swing his standard-issue Viking sword (based on the false idea that Western swords were more heavy and unwieldy than Eastern swords; such a Western sword would actually weigh 2-2.5lbs at most) so he grinds it into a pseudo-scimitar. The process would have destroyed the blade's cutting edge in reality, because of its blade geometry (such as the cross section would not take to grinding, nor be as strong when changed from straight to curved). But it does make him look more badass when he gets it to the shape he wants.
  • Rule of Funny: The Vikings mock Ahmad's little Arabian horse. While Arabian horses were relatively small at the time to better survive in the desert, Scandinavians rode ponies, which were also small to survive in the cold.
  • Shown Their Work: As per the course, Crichton displays his erudition. His worldbuilding was and is so convincing that years later, he later couldn't tell which parts he made up. He said one of the annoying parts was that he'd fabricated his references so well that he'd spend hours trying to look up a book, and sometimes still wasn't sure whether he just couldn't find it or he'd made it up himself.
  • Suddenly Always Knew That: In the film, Ahmad suddenly reveals that he's a total whiz with an Arabian-style saber, after having spent half the film showing that he's a Non-Action Guy.
  • Supporting Protagonist
  • Took a Level In Badass: Ahmad between the book and the movie. Actually it's more like Took A Level In Movie Hero. While the Ahmad in the book was banished for fooling around with another man's wife (in a random, loveless encounter), has no particular skills, and barely manages to keep himself alive in fights, the Ahmad in the movie was banished for his (implied to be unconsummated) love of a woman forced to marry another against her will, is a talented equestrian and swordsman and capable of learning language just by staring and listening, and probably racks up as many kills as the battle-hardened vikings he accompanies.
  • Translation Convention: In the beginning of the film, Ahmad ibn Fadlan speaks Arabic, which the movie-goers hear as English. He travels with Norsemen, who speak only Norse. Over a montage, he makes a dedicated effort to learn their language. The dialogue changes slowly but surely from Norse to English, showing that Banderas's character has learned the language. In the book, his character spends most of the story slowly learning the language and having most things translated into Latin by bilingual Norsemen (usually Herger).
  • Twice-Told Tale: Beowulf and Ahmad ibn Fadlan's travelogue
  • Tyke Bomb: The Wendol take the children of slain families and raise them as their own to boost their army
  • Wendigo: the fictional legend of the Wendol which the troll-like Neanderthals are mistaken for, on which Grendel is supposedly based in this version.
  • What Could Have Been: The film was heavily cut after poor reactions to test screenings and this shows up badly in the theatrical version - it's very clear entire sections of the film have been left on the cutting room floor in an attempt to make the film more appealing to a popular audience. In a pre Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings era, which proved audiences were perfectly happy to sit through long fantasy themed films, it's obvious the studio panicked at the poor test screening results and butchered the film. Ironically the cut down version received poor reviews and performed badly at the box office whereas who's to say how the originally envisaged version might have been received?