Who's Afraid of Beowulf? is a comic fantasy novel by Tom Holt.Archaeologist Hildy Frederiksen has always wanted to make a major discovery, and an intact Viking ship burial certainly fits the bill. She most definitely does not expect the dead Vikings to come back to life, and is understandably rattled when they do.It seems that a thousand years ago, King Rolf Earthstar of Caithness ('God-forsaken place but it is my Kingdom') and his band of heroes fought a dreadful battle with the evil Sorcerer King. They won the battle but lost track of their enemy, and so found it necessary to do a 'King Arthur'; that is, put themselves into an enchanted sleep to wake when they are needed to destroy the Sorcerer King once and for all. Thus Hildy finds herself the dazed and bewildered guide to an unflappable King Rolf and his bickering band of heroes as they make their way southward to confront the enemy in his new stronghold, London.
The Alleged Car: Hildy buys a minibus which she christens "Sleipnir" (after Odin's horse). Later the King and his elite strike team flee London in a car held together by body putty and magic. Then there's the Sorceror-King's car, an ancient compact which he has enchanted to be able to outrun sports cars, causing much cursing on the highway.
Butt Monkey / Conspiracy Theorist: Danny Bennett, BBC reporter. Once assigned to the story of the Viking ship, nothing goes his way again. It doesn't really help that he tries to connect everything he ever hears- really everything- to the JFK assassination.
Calvinball: Two imps have spent the past thousand years playing "Goblin's Teeth". They're still on their first game. Descriptions of the gameplay suggest it contains elements of chess, Monopoly, Scrabble and several others.
Can't You Read the Sign?: Vikings Arvarodd and Brynolf come to a perfectly logical but completely wrong conclusion about the London Underground by reading the signs.
Cheaters Never Prosper: When the police and British Special Forces assault Rolf's castle, they use "special effects" (guns, grenades, helicopters) instead of good, honest spears, axes, and swords. The heroes regard this as unsporting. (Since the Vikings are wearing Magitech armor, the bullets don't worry them, it's just that they were hoping for some straightforward violence.) The attackers fail miserably, on live TV, and the heroes counterattack, forcing the high-tech assault force to flee for their lives.
Reporter: For the love of God, will you get me out of here? For BBC News, this is Moira Urquhart, Borve Castle, Caithness.
The magic stones Arvarodd lends to Hildy come in handy on many critical occasions, almost qualifying for Chekhov's Boomerang status especially since one magically turns into a boulder when you throw it, then returns to your hand as a pebble.
The game of Dragon's Teeth is used to help the Sorceror-King mend his ways. He is last heard debating the rules with King Rolf as they sail towards Valhalla.
Circling Monologue: The last Viking king, Hrolf Earthstar, circles the evil Sorcerer King before battle, determined to break his attempt to rule the world. Unusually, the mighty but doomed villain accepts the Last-Second Chance given by the hero. After all, someone could have got killed.
The Dragon: Thorgeir Storm-Shepherd, former timber-wolf.
Drives Like Crazy: The Sorceror-King may be 1,000 years old, but he drives like a teenager.
Duel to the Death: Averted. As the Sorceror-King said, "I never did like all that running around and shouting."
Go Ye Heroes, Go and Die: Arvarodd gives a variation of this to Hildy, explaining that their job is simply following the King's orders. If things work out, it proves what a great leader Rolf is, and if not, everyone goes to Valhalla. This is described as a "win-win" scenario.
I Am X, Son of Y: The heroes start to introduce themselves to Hildy this way, but don't get very far before one of them calls for a song or something instead.
I Have Many Names: King Rolf gets this when he asks the Sorceror-King to reveal his name, while Rolf is being held at swordpoint. By the time his enemy is done reciting his aliases, Rolf's side stages a rescue. It turns out the Sorceror-King's real name is Eric. Even spelling it with a "K" didn't make it evil enough.
King in the Mountain: Played for laughs: Viking King Hrolf of Caithness (god forsaken country—but it is my kingdom) and his band of heroes are disinterred in time to put an end to their ancient enemy, the Sorcerer King's, attempt to take over the modern world via magic—or as we call it, technology.
Our Werewolves Are Different: Thorgeir started life as a gigantic wolf, shapechanged by the Sorceror-King's magic into a human being. When the heroes suppress the magic in the enemy HQ, he goes back to being a humongous wolf, who can nevertheless hold a decent conversation.
Papa Wolf: Subverted when Thorgeir has a hard time getting enraged for a fight with Arvarodd. It's noted that most wolves won't attack humans unless their whelps are being threatened- and Thorgeir's are both safely away at boarding school.
Punch Clock Villain: The Sorceror-King and Thorgeir was a threat to the entire human race 1,000 years ago, but, as Rolf points out, hasn't yet been able to actually take over the world despite the lack of any opposition. This means the sorceror-king has undergone such extreme Villain Decay that he is now an Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain, who even prefers to watch his enemies on TV at one point rather than go out and fight them just at that particular moment.
Took a Level in Badass: Hildy. Also Danny the reporter, by the end of the book (being around the Vikings tends to have this effect on people).
Traffic Wardens: The heroes find their vehicle has been clamped while they were in the museum. The king responds to this by drawing his sword and cutting the clamps off. All bystanders cheer.
Translation Convention / Translator Microbes: The heroes think they are still speaking perfectly good Old Norse, and so is everyone else- but Hildy hears them in English. The King explains that his wizard, Kotkel, put a translation spell on the heroes. Since it's unclear when this happened relative to them waking up, either trope may be in effect early in the tale as the Vikings converse in their mound.
The Unintelligible: Kotkel the wizard. When he talks, he sounds like "a coffee grinder," "a hierophantic lawnmower," and so on. His speeches have to be interpreted for Hildy because, A) the above-mentioned translation spell misfired when he tried it on himself (so that his mirror now speaks all languages), and B) in any case, he has a speech impediment and mumbles.
Vitriolic Best Buds: Angantyr and Bothvar, among the Vikings. Actually, Angantyr and almost anyone (he's a rather miserable sort of fellow). Subverted with Danny and his film crew, who really do despise one another.
Voluntary Shapeshifting: Viking Brynjolf has this power to an extreme degree. His default shape is a grim man with an axe, but he changes into everything from a huge bear, wolf, and eagle to a chess piece (they lost the rook). He can also assume the appearance of other humans, including uniforms, giving him Magic Pants.
When Hildy gets the heroes gray flannel suits as a disguise Brynjolf turns himself into an exact replica of said self but with narrower lapels and all around better tailoring.
Wrong Genre Savvy: Investigative reporter Danny Bennett thinks he's been kidnapped by the CIA (the Vikings are temporarily wearing grey suits), when in fact he's fallen in with mythical Norse heroes on a quest to save the world from evil.