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Literature / The 13th Warrior

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The 13th Warrior, aka Eaters of the Dead 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 sent 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 attack force looks like a "glow wyrm" when holding torches aloft.

Michael Crichton wrote the original novel, and it was something of a departure from his usual science-fiction fare. He supposedly wrote the novel on a dare from a friend who demanded he "find a way to make Beowulf interesting." 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. For the release of the film, some printings renamed the book after the film, with the note "Originally Published As 'Eaters of the Dead'".

The book provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Villainy: Wigliff is a Composite Character of Hrothgar's two sons (Hrethdric and Hrothmund), Unferth and Wiglaf from the original epic, with every positive trait removed and a lot of negative ones (cowardice, jealousy, physical weakness) added. Like Unferth, he taunts Buliwyf when he arrives in Hurot and is silenced by being exposed as a fratricidal killer, but he doesn't reconcile with him and doesn't give him a weapon to kill Grendel's mother. He later insults Buliwyf after he dies from the mother's poison and is killed in a duel by Herger, while in the poem Wiglaf killed the dragon after Beowulf was mortally wounded, and Beowulf willed his kingdom to him.
  • Adaptation Distillation: Of Beowulf, swiftly combined with the writings of Ahmad ibn Fadlan. Besides heavy doses of Demythification, the story never leaves Hurot (Heorod) after the main characters get there, instead of moving to Buliwyf/Beowulf's homeland and following him there in his old age.
  • All Cavemen Were Neanderthals: And cannibals to boot.
  • Anachronism Stew:
    • While Beowulf may have been written at any point between the 8th and 10th century, the earlier date is more generally agreed, and the story's Hrothgar is believed to have been a historical king in 6th century Denmark, much earlier than Ibn Fadlan.
    • The Wendol are Neanderthals who live in Viking Age Scandinavia, worship Venus figurines (a Homo sapiens artifact) and ride horses.
  • Barbarian Tribe: The Northmen (from Ahmad's perspective, along with the many non-Muslim peoples he meets as an ambassador before them), and of course the Wendol, who are said to be Neanderthals.
  • Bears Are Bad News: The Wendol intentionally invoke this as part of their disguise, weapons and style of fighting.
  • Black Is Bigger in Bed: Deconstructed. Every culture apparently has this myth about one ethnic group or another. The Nordic women encountered by the Arabic narrator assume he'll be massively endowed; being well-traveled, he remarks that he's heard identical rumors in most countries, usually about a population that lives far away from whoever is spreading the rumor.
  • City Mouse: Ahmad, who is, after all, a travelling writer in the book and banished court poet in the movie. It's addressed numerous times by different characters how unmanly and whiny he is.
  • Composite Character: A bizarre case is Wigliff, Hrothgar's son. In Norse mythology, Hrothgar has two sons who are too young to fight when Grendel attacks, hence why they can't be relied on to fight him. The character who taunts Beowulf and is silenced by being reminded about being a fratricidal killer is a courtier named Unferth. Unlike Wigliff, Unferth reconciles with Beowulf and gives him his family's sword to kill Grendel's mother. For added confusion, he is obviously named after Wiglaf, who in the poem joins Beowulf's retinue years later and succeeds him as king after killing the dragon that kills Beowulf.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Ahmad's worldview clashes with the Norse just as much as the reader's. For instance, the Norse consider 13 a lucky number.
  • Demythtification: One of the more obvious examples of the trope, since Crichton wrote the book exactly as such.
    • Grendel, a beast-like man with the strength of several men, who cannot be hurt by bladed weapons and is capable of ravaging a community for twelve years, is substitued by the Wendol, a tribe of relict neanderthals in bear skins with No One Gets Left Behind (even the dead) as a creed. Grendel's severed arm (his first, and eventually fatal injury) is changed to a Wendol's severed arm being the first evidence that they are corporeal beings that can be wounded and killed.
    • The Wendol's "mother" is their leader, an elderly matriarch. She shrieks and is hideously old, but she doesn't really put up a fight. However, she keeps living snakes over her body and uses their venom as a weapon. This is why Buliwyf kills her alone: he is still the only one that dares to get closer to the snakes.
    • Before fighting the mother, the Northmen visit a "tribe" of dwarves. Norse dwarves kept in an isolated community by the others, who believe them to have magical powers nonetheless. They give the Norse "magical" daggers to kill the mother and Buliwyf uses one to do it. There is no indication that they are really magical, but the Norse believe they are.
    • The dragon is an optical effect, the sight of torches carried by Wendol raiders on the move. The effect is amplified because they only attack at night and under the cover of the mist.
  • Doing In the Wizard: Most mystical elements are taken out, but the seers are pretty accurate.
  • The Drag-Along: Ahmad is a lot slower in becoming a badass than his movie counterpart.
  • The Dreaded: At the beginning, the Vikings have real terror for the Wendol, and the legends that surround them. When Hrothgar asks them for help in fighting "an ancient evil — a terror that must not be named", the Vikings are so subdued that Ahmad ponders "What thing could affect them so?" As the warriors approach Hrothgar's kingdom, Ahmad writes, "I looked at Ecthgow, the lieutenant of Buliwyf, and saw that he stood in the boat and made a brave face, and yet his knees trembled, and it was not the stiffness of the wind that made them tremble so. He was afraid; they were all afraid; and I did not know why."
  • External Retcon: Of Beowulf, via Literary Agent Hypothesis.
  • Fan Disservice: The Wendol are naked under their bear skins, though heavily hairy. The Wendol mother wears living snakes instead of bear skins and is "so old she had lost all the characters of her sex."
  • Foreign Correspondent: Ahmad, being an Arab, is puzzled by many things common in Norse culture. However, being a 10th century Arab, he himself has beliefs in dissonance with modern readers.
  • Going Native: Ahmad begins to adopt Viking culture more and more, culminating with his sleeping with and helping strangle the girl chosen for a Viking Funeral. In the film version it's almost entirely omitted.
  • Hidden Elf Village: The Wendol caves. Subverted with the dwarf community, which only exists because the Norse leave their dwarf children there.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: The Wendol, hence the book's name.
  • Lost World: The refuge of the Wendol. Like in the movie, the limits of their territory are marked by posts with bear skulls, but the book says that they are much larger than common bear skulls, implying that they are cave bears. It is not established if cave bears are also still alive in the mountains around Hurot, however.
  • The Low Middle Ages: The action takes places during The Viking Age.
  • 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
    • Which is part of Crichton showing his work, as historians often have to deal with sources that have been partially lo
  • Off with His Head!: The Wendol steal the heads of those they kill, including some of Buliwyf's men.
  • The Reveal: Ahmad gets a clear view of a Wendol without his bear skin and describes his features in detail. It's undisputably a Neanderthal. This causes an "academic" storm in the book's epilogue.
  • Sea Monster: When Ahmad sees whales in the Baltic for the first time in his life, the Norse tell him that they are sea monsters and that they destroy ships by copulating with them. It is as unclear to Ahmad, the reader and the in-universe translators if the Norse really believe this or they are just pranking Ahmad.
  • Setting Update: The immediately post-Roman story of Beowulf is moved forward to the Viking Age.
  • Shown Their Work: As is typical of him, Crichton displays his erudition. His worldbuilding was and is so convincing that years later, not even himself could 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.
  • 13 Is Unlucky: Well, it was certainly unlucky for Ahmad to be picked as the 13th warrior of the party. But the Norse consider 13 a lucky number, and Ahmad is one of the few that survives to tell the tale.
  • Twice-Told Tale: Beowulf.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: Ahmad is forced to go with the Vikings because it's their custom to have a foreign 13th warrior, and they won't discuss it.

The movie provides examples of:

  • Actually Pretty Funny: After Ahmad shows off his skills with a sabre and eventually points his blade at the still sceptical Weath, he, without blinking, asks if he can give the cut-down sword to his daughter after Ahmad gets himself killed. Everyone cracks up, including Ahmad himself.
  • Adaptational Attractiveness:
    • The case of the Wendol queen mentioned above. She was originally a fat old woman, embodying the Wendol's "prehistoric Venus" stone figures. And it was done on Crichton's demand, because he wanted Buliwyf to be Distracted by the Sexy.
    • Neither the (final version) Wendol mother nor the male leader (both introduced in reshoots) look in any way Neanderthal.
  • Adaptational Badass: While the Ahmad in the book was on a diplomatic missions, 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, swordsman and blacksmith; and is capable of learning a language just by careful observation and listening (at least in an immersive environment). He starts the movie about as competent in a fight as his book equivalent, but it turns out it's because he doesn't know how to use that style of sword.
  • Advantage Ball: As long as the Wendol are considered supernatural, they seem almost invincible, slaughtering the 13 with ease. The moment their true nature is revealed, they start dying and fighting like standard Mooks. It is implied this is because the warriors lose their fear of them.
  • All Cavemen Were Neanderthals: The movie keeps the Wendol's love for bear skins and human meat but oddly subverts this. They have their own language, enough engineering skill to build a solid bridge, and can wage hit-and-run cavalry warfare. It is debatable if they are still Neanderthals in this version. While those in the scenes shot by McTiernan have some passable Neanderthal eyebrows and chins, the new mother and the chief added in the reshots by Crichton don't, and their tech only complicates things (see Anachronism Stew).
  • Anachronism Stew:
    • The Wendol get this even more than in the original book. In addition to the Venuses, they also have body paint (we don't know if Neanderthals did, though they may), cave paintings (very unlikely), and they also fight with horses and throwing javelins (certainly not). Relic Neanderthals or Cro-Magnons, it is not unbelievable that they'd pick new technology from their neighbors if they lived for another 31,000 years.
    • Each of Buliwyf's men wears a completely different set of armor that in many cases won't be made for centuries, or is outdated by centuries. There is a Roman gladiator's murmillo, a Spanish conquistador's morrión and breastplate, a Greek-looking set of scale armor, and Buliwyf wears a Vandal helmet and part of a 15th century knight's plate armor at the same time.
    • Ahmad turns his broadsword into a shamshir - a Turkic cavalry saber introduced in the Middle East from Central Asia in the 12th century.
  • Artistic License: Ahmad, unable to wield a Viking broadsword, uses a grindstone to turn it into a Arabian shamshir. This would result in a useless sword. Because of the different forging techniques used to make them, the sword would now be nearly unable to hold an edge and would be incredibly weak - likely either breaking or bending the first time it hits something. Not only this, but he manages to do it in what appears to be a fairly short period of time. A grind of this magnitude on a hand-worked wheel would take days.
  • Artistic License Geography: The map in the beginning shows Baghdad in the middle of the Caucasus, at an equal distance between the Black and Caspian seas.
  • Ascended Extra: Ahmad has a romance with an unnamed Norse girl, however brief. In the book, he simply found himself ravaging random slave girls like his Norse comrades before the battle.
  • Automaton Horses: While some care and feeding of the horses belonging to the Viking band is depicted (Ahmad is shown carrying hay for his horse) and some sense of the difficulty of transporting horses by longship is shown, the movie would have the viewer believe that not only was a tribe of hundreds of Wendol able to live undetected in a cave within miles of the Viking settlement but that they also kept hundreds of horses there. A single horse would need at least an acre of excellent pasture, year-round.
  • Badass Beard: Many Vikings. Buliwyf is beardless, but he's still the most badass character in this movie.
  • Badass Bookworm: Ahmad Ibn Fadlan, but he's more of a ladies' man.
  • Badass Creed:
  • Barbarian Tribe: Besides the Norse and the Wendol, the movie adds a Tatar army at the beginning of the movie who promptly scampers at the sight of a Viking longship.
  • Bears Are Bad News: This part is kept like in the book. However, here is also used against them. Ahmad asks the Northmen how do they hunt for bears, thus leading to his realisation that they need to find a cave system large enough for the entire tribe to live in it.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: before the final battle, the women prepare to kill the children in case of Wendol victory.
  • Bilingual Bonus: In an early scene, there's a fairly lengthy speech in Swedish.
  • Blood Knight: All of the Northmen, who seem to enjoy battle more than anything else in the world.
  • Boisterous Bruiser: Many of the Northmen, but mainly Herger the Joyous, Ahmad's caretaker.
  • Big Guy Fatality Syndrome: Of course, the biggest (and oldest, therefore more experienced) of the 13 is killed in battle with the Wendol. And he has the slowest, most painful death of all.
  • Bullying a Dragon: Inverted. When Herger is purposefully bullying Angus, he's doing it exactly to get him angry, force a duel and kill him by surprise.
  • Chekhov's Lecture: The explaination behind Thunder Cliffs and the sound they make. It comes to play in the final act, when the remaining warriors are trapped deep in a cave system and suddenly start hearing thunders. What starts as a joke about incoming rain quickly turns as a way of figuring out a escape route through the water.
  • Conservation of Ninjutsu: 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.
  • Cool Sword: Ahmad's scimitar, which is basically a Norse broadsword grinded down into a sabre. It still has a hilt of a broadsword, giving it an uncanny look and is absurdly sharp, making up for Ahmad's lack of strength.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass:
    • Herger won the duel using this. From the point of view of his opponent he was an older, shorter and weaker guy with a really big mouth and ego to match. What Angus didn't know was that the whole situation was a set-up to get him killed and send a message to his boss.
    Herger: Deception is the point! Any fool can calculate strength.
    • The Northmen treat Ahmad like an useless Funny Foreigner Tagalong Kid at first, but he can actually fight and be useful in their quest.
  • Dark Action Girl: The tribe's queen, at least in the final version.
  • Dare to Be Badass: The choosing of the thirteen (until Ahmad is drafted as number 13) consists of calls of "Who shall be the Xth man?" "I shall be the Xth man!"
  • Decapitated Army: First the tribe's queen, then their general. It's lampshaded by a local oracle when she gives cryptic advices to the remaining warriors.
  • Debut Queue: The seer casts the runes and names the warriors to be appointed on the quest one by one.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Several of the vikings have their moments. But perhaps the most memorable moment is when the vikings are told that the oracle they must consult is a mad old woman, and Herger comments "the perfect advisor."
  • Demoted to Extra: Wigliff and his herald disappear after Herger's duel with Angus.
  • Demythification: By removing the dwarf daggers, the movie's version of Buliwyf's fight with the mother weirdly gets closer to the original poem, yet keeps the non-fantastic approach. He decapitates her with his sword (rather than it breaking down and him using another random, older, more powerful sword lying around in the cave to do the did), but he loses it still during the escape from the Wendol's cave (which is more accidented than in the book, where the Wendol guards simply left their posts after the mother was killed).
  • Department of Redundancy Department: "In the halls of Valhalla", Valhalla meaning "hall of the slain" (singular).
  • Developing Doomed Characters: Averted, and unlike a typical case - with amazingly bad results for the story. Since most of characters are completely underdeveloped, there is no impact to their deaths, as they aren't even named in-story and some of them exist only in the Debut Queue scene.
    Vladimir Kulich: We shot for 10 months. We had plenty of time to establish characters.
  • Died Standing Up: Buliwyf dies sitting on a log, watching the enemy retreat.
  • Do Not Go Gentle: Buliwyf is poisoned and so fatally sick that he can hardly stand, but when the battle starts he's there with his sword and his dog because that's just how Vikings do it.
  • Dual Wield: In the final battle one of the warriors wields a sword and a short axe.
  • Due to the Dead:
    • Herger gives some gold to Wigliff for Angus's funeral, after killing him.
    • Hrothgar pays for Bulliwyf to have a royal funeral as thanks for his heroism.
  • Embarrassing Nickname: Ahmad is initially referred to by the northmen as "Eben, a mispronounced "Ibn", which means "son of" in Arabic. Later on Herger starts affectionately referring to Ahmad as "little brother."
  • Fanfare: The score by Jerry Goldsmith.
  • The Fatalist: The movie presents Norse culture as such, leading to Not Afraid to Die. Before their first battle Herger tells Ahmad not to fear death because his fate is fixed and nothing he can do will change that. Real Life Islamic culture of course tends at least as much towards fatalism as Norse culture possibly didnote .
  • Flat Character: Vladimir Kulich, who played the lead would later lament that one of the reason why the movie didn't live up to its true potential was because the 13 characters weren't developed properly. Half of them don't even have spoken lines beyond "I shall be the Xth man!" in the choosing of the thirteen scene.
    Vladimir Kulich: You've got 13 characters that you don't develop fully. So when you start to lose them to the battles, you don't really care, because you are not connected to them. And I made a suggestion, which unfortunately didn't happen, 't was: We are on this boat. All you have to do is take a hand-held cam, walk around the boat as you travel and give each character 20 seconds. (...) But they never got that, so we lost a lot of characters in the first battle. You didn't knew who they were.
  • Funny Foreigner: The Vikings take Ahmad for this although he progressively earns their respect. Bizarrely, one of the final trailers stressed the first part without referencing the second, making it look like a comedy.
  • General Failure:
    • Despite being under constant Wendol attacks to the point of his people being depleted of men of fighting age, Hrothgar doesn't even put up a palisade before Buliwyf and his companions show up.
    • Despite the Wendol's earlier mastery of cammouflage and scouting, once the Wendol leader breaks out the cavalry, he just keeps a frontal attack on one point of the Norse fortress and attempts to Zerg Rush it.
  • Good Bad Translation: What Omar Sharif comments on what the Vikings say is pure comedy gold for anyone who understands Scandinavian languages.
  • A Good Way to Die: When wounded Helfdane decides to stay behind in the cave tunnels, he remarks to the sorrowful Ahmad, "today was a good day," even smiling. As said below, all of the vikings are invigorated by battle, and do not fear dying in combat.
  • Heroes Love Dogs: Buliwyf is accompanied by a large red dog for most of the movie.
  • Heroic Second Wind: Downplayed with Buliwyf, who still shows up for the final battle despite being fataly poisoned and barely walking, but it's obvious for everyone he won't last long regardless of circumstances.
  • Heroic Spirit: Buliwyf is dying of poison, and still fights in the climactic battle.
  • Hijacked by Jesus: Ahmad's Muslim prayers would sound Christian-lite to a Muslim audience. Muslims do not refer to Allah as their father.
  • Hollywood History: Guilty of assuming big Vikings = big swords = big horses and using it to showcase Ahmad as the odd man out. In reality, the Arabs used similar swords (curved swords are much more recent) and had larger horses.
  • Hollywood Tactics: The Wendol cavalry sends charge after charge against an entrenched enemy and only attacks on one place. When their leader is killed, they immediately retreat to presumably never be heard of again.
  • The Horde: The Wendol, who have a number big enough to be taken for a "fire wyrm" when they move with torches in a myst. There are apparently hundreds of them, if not more.
  • 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.
  • Hotter and Sexier: McTiernan filmed a fight between Buliwyf and an old Wendol mother like in the book, played by 73-year-old Susan Willis. When the studio removed McTiernan and gave the directing chair to Crichton, he reshot the scene with a young "mother" played by 31-year-old Kristen Cloke, and even claimed that Buliwyf was injured because he was Distracted by the Sexy. The credits still list Willis and not Cloke despite the movie not featuring the former at all.
  • 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 Need a Freaking Drink: After (barely) surviving the Wendol's assault on the village, Ahmad is looking out at the devastation when Herger walks up to him with a flask of mead in hand. He offers Ahmad a cup, which he refuses on the grounds that alcohol made from grain or grapes is forbidden by his religion. Herger laughs and presses the cup into Ahmad's hand, telling him it's made from honey. Ahmad stares at the cup for a long moment, then chugs it down. He then passes it to his Norse fling, who also welcomes it.
  • 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 column 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.
  • Jumped at the Call: The other 12 warriors, who eagerly embark for the quest.
  • Loophole Abuse: Herger offers Ahmad a post-battle drink, which Ahmad refuses saying he cannot partake of alcohol made from grape or grain. Herger cheerfully points out the mead is made from honey, so Ahmad shrugs and joins in.
  • Madness Mantra: Ahmad manages to kill one of the Wendol in the second battle, and gets a chance to inspect the body to discover that the Wendol are not supernatural creatures but rather ordinary humans. The revelation breaks him for a moment, and he can only repeat "It's a man" before flying into a rage and attacking the rest.
  • Mad Oracle: As one of the Vikings sardonically notes, "The perfect adviser."
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: In addition to the strange oracles, Buliwyf's reappearance at the end for the final battle is rife with Pagan symbolism of the god Odin, implying a supernatural source for his Heroic Second Wind.
  • Mighty Whitey: Averted. Ibn Fadlan impresses the Vikings with his skills, not least his literacy and horsemanship, but he never surpasses the Vikings in the skills they teach him, and while he is a fairly competent fighter he is nowhere near a match for any of the Vikings. If anything, the Vikings consider him the Tagalong Kid, even going so far as to call him "little brother". And of course, Ahmad ibn Fadlan is an Arab.
  • Million Mook March: The "fire wyrm" is in fact hundreds of mounted warriors, each carrying a torch.
  • Mr. Exposition: The young nurse-like Norse woman and the Mad Oracle are there just to tell the heroes what's going on and what they should do next.
  • Off with His Head!: Besides the Wendol kills, there is also Herger decapitating Angus in their duel.
  • Overly Long Name: When asked his name Ahmad starts giving his full lineage. The Vikings get annoyed and decide to call him Evan (after the Arabic ibn, "son of") from then on, likely because they heard him repeating the word as he gave his name and assumed that it was an important part of it.
  • Pelts of the Barbarian: These are vikings, so when they wear their huge fur capes, it's half for warmth, and half to make them look even more imposing.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The only thing the 13 share in common is being embarked on the same quest. The Vikings get along pretty fast, most of them already knowing each other, but for Ahmad it takes most of the story to finally start getting along.
  • Rated M for Manly
  • A Real Man Is a Killer: In the novel Ahmad is timid and wimpy until he learns how to fight and be a real man from the Norse warriors. In the movie, it is heavily implied that he already has some skill with a scimitar, and the Norse gain a great deal of respect for him once it becomes apparent he can hold his own.
  • 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. The Vikings' attitude toward Arab horses is Truth in Television for a lot of people who don't know what these Pint-Sized Powerhouses are capable of. In reality they are Hidden Badasses which have been bred for battle for centuries.
  • Sadly Mythtaken: In the film, Herger tells Ahmad that the All-Father (Odin) "wove the skein (thread) of your life a long time ago." In Norse mythology it was the Norns who wove the threads of fate (comparable to the Fates in Greek mythology), not Odin.
  • Shown Their Work:
    • While the movie is historically speaking a step down from the scrupulously researched book since it introduced many anachronisms and errors, it did have a more or less direct quote from Beowulf:
      "Luck, often enough, will save a man if his courage holds."
      Wyrd oft nereð unfægne eorl þonne his ellen deah (Wyrd often spares an undoomed man when his courage endures.note )
    • The "Mead is OK" justification under Loophole Abuse is not considered valid by many modern Muslims, but was in fact largely accepted in the period the story is set in.
    • After killing Angus in a duel, Herger throws a weregild at the prince's feet.
  • 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: Ahmad is the viewpoint character of Buliwyf's story.
  • Sword Drag: Right before the final battle starts, Buliwyf shows up as the last act of defiance. Since he's fatally poisoned, he can barely walk and drags his sword behind him.
  • Training the Peaceful Villagers: Downplayed. There is a "turning the village into a fortress" scene (which the villagers had not done already, despite the constant attacks by the Wendol), and they shoot arrows while the surviving warriors hold the field alone in the final battle.
  • 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 Ahmad 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).
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The prince and his remaining henchmen are never seen nor mentioned after the sham duel. Most likely they were lost somewhere in the cutting room with other lacking pieces of the film.
  • The Worf Effect: In the beginning, Ahmad's party panics at the sight of a coming Tatar army. They take refuge in a river creek, where they are approached by a Viking longship. The Tatars flee immediately.
  • Worthy Opponent: Buliwyf gives the leader of the Wendol a respectful salute at the end of the first siege.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: The Norse consider that every man's fate has been written siunce the day he was born. When the Northmen's oracle decrees Ahmad is to be the 13th warrior, his protests are completely ignored.

Alternative Title(s): Eaters Of The Dead, The Thirteenth Warrior, The13th Warrior