The book is short (about 175 pages) and it has probably been twenty years since I first read it. But it struck me after this reading that Crichton was reimagining the classic story of Beowulf. Since I’ve been focusing on the re-imagining of legends and classic tales on this blog, I thought I’d write briefly about Crichton’s novel.
The leader of Crichton’s Vikings is a warrior aptly named Buliwyf. When they reach Venden, they are treated to feasts in the great mead hall of a Viking king named Rothgar. But at night, when the mist comes down from the mountains, Rothgar’s kingdom is attacked by mysterious and brutal creatures called the wendol. The beast-like wendol, though many in number, are a clear representation of Beowulf’s Grendel, and the story proceeds in the manner of the Old English poem, all the way down to a severed arm placed over the mead hall and a deadly encounter with the mother of the wendol.
The story is tense and exciting, and the Vikings, observed through Ibn Fadlan’s eyes, start out as savages but end up being noble warriors. Crichton succeeds in this retelling of the legend of Beowulf, but what I liked the most about the novel is the explanation he provides for the wendol. Without spoiling the ending, Crichton suggests a scientific explanation for these creatures that led me to wonder if his wendol explain the stories of trolls, goblins and other monsters that have existed in myths for thousands of years. When a novel makes me think like that, I know it’s done its job well.
If you’re interested in a quick read about Vikings or want to experience another legend reimagined, you won’t be disappointed in Eaters of the Dead.