One thing I always wonder when watching The 13th Warrior is, how Ahmed learns the Norse language so fast. While I for myself could make some sense out of certain words, it must be significantly harder for an Arab to learn to speak it that fluently by merely listening to his Viking fellows for the time of their journey, be it even such a well-read man as Ahmed.

I of course understand that the time they are traveling and when he learns the language is longer than depicted and that the movie needs them to speak fluently with each other to forward the narrative (and his learning procedure hasn't been depicted too bad), so I don't have any problem with accepting this plot element as sufficiently plausible. Yet I still would like to know if this part or Ahmed's following conversations throughout the movie are actually true to the novel or in which way they might have been altered to a more movie-friendly narration, or if there is at least some information how long it took them to travel to King Hrothgar's court and Ahmed to learn the language.


1 Answer 1


First, the movie, The Thirteenth Warrior, is a screenplay based on the Michael Crichton novel, The Thirteenth Warrior, which is itself based on an ancient English poem, Beowulf.

The movie and Crichton book are reasonably close to each other. Both have the character, Ahmed, as the POV storyteller. The implication is that Ahmed is an outsider from the Middle East observing the history and writing about it, which was a common trope in some story adaption in the 1990s (eg. Robinhood, Count of Monte Cristo).

Is it realistic Ahmed learned the language? I recall there was a sense of timelessness in early parts of the story, so it's hard to judge. A year could have passed, 5 years could have passed.

Is it true to the book? Cricton has been writing books and screenplays for a couple decades, so I think we can assume his novel, The Thirteenth Warrior, was written to be a movie from the start.

Beowulf is a recounting of the acts of Beowulf. It doesn't have a POV storyteller, Ahmed. Some points are left extremely ambiguous, such as what Grendel is, exactly. Crichton resolves all of those ambiguities and writes a very accessible screenplay, instead, so it's not overly loyal to Beowulf, but it's entertaining none-the-less.

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    Thanks for the answer. Hmm, the answer is a bit overly vague at the moment, but I guess more information cannot be hoped to be extracted from the book (I know Beowulf didn't feature the Arab storyteller at all, so it's out of any sources for information thereon anyway, still thanks for including the reference, I guess it never wanted to be overly loyal to Beowulf anyway, just taking the general structure of the story from it).
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Commented Aug 6, 2014 at 8:20
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    @SonnyBurnett The character of Ahmed is based on a real Arab writer/traveller with the same name. The real Ahmed did travel to the "land of the Rus", and IIRC did accompany a group of warriors for a while. What I do remember explicitly is that the disgusting scene with the warriors sharing the same bowl of water to drink and wash was lifted almost exactly from the writings of the real Ahmed bin Fadlan! Commented Aug 6, 2014 at 17:09

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