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Otherness Redoubled and Refracted: Intercultural Dialogues in The Thirteenth Warrior

  • Judith Klinger
Chapter
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Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)

Abstract

Portrayed as darkly savage or brightly innocent, the cinematic Middle Ages have long operated as a mirror highlighting both modernity’s advances and its failings. Frequently, this ambivalence is mitigated by the notion of an unchangeable human “nature”—such as the longing for love and freedom or an innate morality—hidden beneath the historical costumes.1 The dialogue between periods that each medieval movie initiates is thus often trapped in a dichotomous pattern. Some films celebrate emancipated enlightenment vis-à-vis brutal medieval primitivism, others paint a romantic image of medieval artlessness and integrity in stark contrast with modern decadence and alienation. Since these films juxtapose familiarity and otherness to allow for both recognition and dissociation, the degree of medieval alterity a given film is willing to tolerate necessarily depends on the categories supposedly defining modern identity. As a bottom line, the medieval Other often presents contemporary viewers with a suitably recognizable mirror image: a rough stranger nonetheless conforming to our standards of identity.

Keywords

World View Historical Difference Intercultural Dialogue Muslim Faith Funeral Ceremony 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Cf. Roland Barthes, “The Romans in Films,” in Mythologies (New York: Hill and Wang, 1972), pp. 26–28.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    The Thirteenth Warrior, dir. John McTiernan and Michael Crichton (US: Touchstone Pictures, 1999).Google Scholar
  3. For a detailed review of Warrior’s reception, see Elizabeth S. Sklar, “Call of the Wild: Culture Shock and Viking Masculinities in The 13th Warrior (1999),” in , ed. Kevin J. Harty (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2011), pp. 121–34. In medievalist quarters opinions are divided. Sklar reappraises the film; for a sterner analysisGoogle Scholar
  4. see Lynn Shutters, “Vikings through the Eyes of an Arab Ethnographer: Constructions of the Other in The 13th Warrior” in Race, Class, and Gender in ‘Medieval’ Cinema, ed. Lynn T. Ramey and Tison Pugh (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), pp. 75–89.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    Cf. Wladyslaw Duczko, Viking Rus. Studies on the Presence of Scandinavians in Eastern Europe, The Northern World 12 (Leiden: Brill, 2004).Google Scholar
  6. Birgit Scholz, Von der Chronistik zur modernen Geschichtswissenschaft. Die Warägerfrage in der russischen, deutschen und schwedischen Historiographie, Forschungen zum Ostseeraum 5 (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2000). While the identification of Ibn Fadlan’s Rūsiyyah with the Varangians has been contested (cf. James E. Montgomery, “Ibn Fadlān and the Rūsiyyah,” Journal of Arabic and Islamic Studies 3 [2000]: 2–5 [2–26] for an overview), both Crichton’s novel and the movie adaptation identify the Rus’ as Vikings.Google Scholar
  7. 9.
    In medieval movies, Arabs usually appear as Saracens in crusade-themed films. The Saracen typically serves as a foil to the heroic Christian knight. These depictions do not necessarily result in starkly negative images of the Saracen. Discussing the character Azeem in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991), Lorraine Stock identifies an orientalizing stereotype of Arab/Muslim characters, drawing on their “reputation . . . for skills in medicine and science . . . and in the practice of hygiene and sanitation superior to that of the West” (Lorraine Kochanske Stock, “Now Starring in the Third Crusade: Depictions of Richard I and Saladin in Films and Television Series,” in Hollywood in the Holy Land. Essays on Film Depictions of the Crusades and Christian-Muslim Clashes, ed. Nickolas Haydock and Edward L. Risden [Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009], p. 118 [93–122]).Google Scholar
  8. 10.
    Jack G. Shaheen, Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People (New York: Olive Branch Press, 2001), p. 482.Google Scholar
  9. 12.
    Edward W. Said, Orientalism (London: Penguin, 2003), p. 3 and p. 7.Google Scholar
  10. 14.
    Northern “barbarians” occupy a particularly prominent place in medieval discourses of the Other; cf. David Fraesdorff, Der barbarische Norden. Vorstellungen und Fremdheitskategorien bei Rimbert, Thietmar von Merseburg, Adam von Bremen und Helmold von Bosau, Orbis Mediaevalis, Vorstellungswelten des Mittelalters 5 (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2005), pp. 68–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 15.
    Beginning with Rudolph Valentino in The Sheikh (1921), exotic sensuality dominates Hollywood’s representations of the Oriental Other (Matthew Bernstein, “Introduction,” in Visions of the East: Orientalism in Film, ed. Matthew Bernstein and Gaylyn Studlar [New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1997], p. 3 [1–18]).Google Scholar
  12. 21.
    Ibid., 13; Richard N. Frye, Ibn Fadlan’s Journey to Russia: A Tenth-century Traveler from Baghdad to the Volga River (Princeton, NJ: Markus Wiener Publishers, 2005), p. 66;Google Scholar
  13. A. Zeki Velidi Togan, Ibn Fadlans Reisebericht. Abhandlungen für die Kunde des Morgenlandes 24, 3 (Leipzig: Deutsche Morgenländische Gesellschaft, 1939), p. 88, 16–20.Google Scholar
  14. 27.
    Michael Crichton, The Thirteenth Warrior (formerly titled “Eaters of the Dead”): The Manuscript of Ibn Fadlan Relating His Experiences with the Northmen in A.D. 922 (London: Arrow Books Limited, 1997), p. 114.Google Scholar
  15. 32.
    Cf. Mikhail Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays and Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics, ed. Michael Holquist (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1981).Google Scholar
  16. 36.
    Cf. Manfred Schneider, Der Barbar. Endzeitstimmung und Kulturrecycling (Munich: Hanser, 1997), pp. 14–15.Google Scholar
  17. 54.
    Cannibalism has been a Western/European trope of monstrosity since Early Modernity. As a means of demonizing the Other, the “cannibal myth” plays an important role for justifications of colonialism. See especially Frank Lestringant, Cannibals: The Discovery and Representation of the Cannibal from Columbus to Jules Verne, The New Historicism: Studies in Cultural Poetics 37 (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1997).Google Scholar
  18. 62.
    Cf. Klaus von See, “Was ist Heldendichtung?” in Edda, Saga, Skaldendichtung. Aufsätze zur skandinavischen Literatur des Mittelalters (Heidelberg: Winter, 1981), pp. 154–93.Google Scholar
  19. Walter Haug, “Die Grausamkeit der Heldensage. Neue gattungstheoretische Überlegungen zur heroischen Dichtung,” in Studien zum Altgermanischen. Festschrift für H. Beck, ed. Heiko Uecker (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1994), pp. 303–26.Google Scholar
  20. 64.
    For detailed discussions of gender relations in Warrior see Shutters, “Vikings through the Eyes of an Arab Ethnographer,” and Lisa DeTora, “‘Life Finds a Way’: Monstrous Maternities and the Quantum Gaze in Jurassic Park and The Thirteenth Warrior,” in Situating the Feminist Gaze and Spectatorship in Postwar Cinema, ed. Marcelline Block and Jean-Michel Rabaté (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars, 2008), pp. 2–26.Google Scholar

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© Andrew James Johnston, Margitta Rouse, and Philipp Hinz 2014

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  • Judith Klinger

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