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Art of the Genre: Top 10 Fantasy Swords

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012 | Posted by Scott Taylor

montoya-300One of the things I’ve always enjoyed in the realm of fantasy has been the sword. There’s just something so pure about a good blade at your side, and if that weapon is somehow touched with magic or fate then all the better.

Something so ancient and primal is attached to a sword, and even when the world has outdated their use they still find their way into science fiction just because of the nostalgic power they evoke. Space pirates have swords ala Captain Harlock, and Jedi carry their glowing Lightsabers ‘which are not as clumsy or random as a blaster‘, to name just a couple of instances where time couldn’t deny man’s need for a blade at their side.

I myself have dreamed of blades, forged them with my imagination and made them come alive in both my writings and my games over the past thirty years. There is a power in such creation, and it goes back beyond my ability to remember my early childhood yet I see my own reflection in the actions of my son as he started swinging sticks in phantom duels as early as age three.


It’s truly an amazing thing, that yearning for a weapon to wield, and as I sat in my office this week and listened to Ryan Harvey continually check his prep list with Kandi concerning his Friday date with John Carter I started compiling a list of swords that not only had great meaning to me but also my readers.

macleod-300The list grew and grew as I sat with pen in hand, and I finally decided that if I was making this list I should turn it into a ‘Top 10’ which is so popular with our editor John O’Neill. So without further adieu, here is my personal list of the Top 10 Fantasy Swords of all Time.

NUMBER 10 Inigo Montoya’s Six-Fingered Man Rapier: The movie The Princess Bride was the final brick in the puzzle that was the 1980s fantasy movie castle, and even today the quality and setting of that film is both timeless and without peer. Not only does it address the fundamental principle of human existence, True Love, but it compels the viewer with a kind of magic that is anything but fireballs and orcs. Inside this rich mosaic, we find the plight of tormented duelist Inigo Montoya who is forever seeking ‘The Six-Fingered Man’. This villain killed his father for a blade so fantastic the world will never again see it’s equal. This blade key’s perhaps one of the most repeated movie lines any fantasy fan has ever delivered, ‘Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die!’. That in itself puts the blade on this list, but it’s only the icing on the proverbial cake for the beauty of this magnificent weapon.

NUMBER 9 Jabberwocky’s Vorpal Blade: It’s difficult to equate worth with age in the standard of the published word, but Lewis Carroll does deliver a wonderful note with his true masterpiece of a nonsense poem in Jabberwocky. The 1872 book Through the Looking Glass, and what Alice Found There gives a nice ‘bump’ in the age category for this blade that I had to take into account. In this poem the reader is introduced to a Vorpal Blade with the following verse being most keen in my minds-eye:

“One, two! One, two! and through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.”

link-300Here we see the power of this fabled blade, and with a ‘One, two!’ it can cut you ‘Through and Through’. It is perceived that it is a head taker, and as weapons go can there be a more deadly magic laid into a blade than cutting off your foes head? Thus, I find a place for it here among other great blades of its ilk.

NUMBER 8 Conner Macleod’s Katana: Again, the list finds a place for a weapon without enchantment but with the title of masterpiece. Created by the Japanese swordsmith Masamune in 593 BC this folded steal Katana is a blade of legend. It was so ahead of its time that Brenda, the NYPD Detective and famed metallurgist, is quoted as saying ‘it’d be like finding a 747 made a thousand years before the Wright brothers flew’. Truly, when you hear that line you understand the worth of this blade and why it needs to be on this list even without going into the massive franchise that Highlander became. With the help of this dragon-hilted blade Macleod wins ‘The Prize’ and becomes something more than a wandering immortal as he can now help all of humanity solve their differences by mentally guiding them to better solutions. Yes, this is a blade of destiny, and I’m proud to see it find a place on this list.

NUMBER 7 Link’s Master Sword [Blade of Evil’s Bane]: Ok, so I couldn’t very well have a list without including something from the video game era of fantasy. Link seemed the perfect choice as The Legend of Zelda has been going strong since it was first released in Japan in 1986 [although better known to most readers for its 1987 NES debut here in the U.S.] Link, the protagonist elf, was one of our first forays into the art of the computer based graphic RPGing, and his evolution and quest that culminates in the achievement of ‘The Master Sword’ has been the goal of countless hours of gamers lives for over twenty-five years. This weapon has all the calling cards of thick RPG fantasy as it was forged by a goddess, Hylia, bathed in the Three Sacred Flames of the Kingdom of Hyrule, and given the power to repel evil with an ego that allows it only to be wielded by a hero of heart and will strong enough to defeat the arch-villian Ganon.

green-destiny-300NUMBER 6 The Green Destiny Sword: When Ang Lee’s Chinese epic Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon came to the U.S. in 2000 it’s doubtful anyone could have fully understood its impact on the culture of fantasy in the West. With this movie also came the legend of the Green Destiny, a blade that has traveled the scales of time in China from the hand of Wudang master to Wudang master. This blade, although having the veneer of magic, never allows the viewer to be certain if it is truly kissed by divine blessings or if the hand that wields it gives it the power we so enjoy in its legend. I include it here, however, not for its beauty or legend but for the fact that it provides those in the West with another version of an Asian weapon, the Chinese Jian Sword. This Tai Chi blade shows us that the Japanese Katana isn’t the only fine weapon to cross the Pacific into our collective fantasy conscious and so I move it onto this list with great reverence.

NUMBER 5 The Sword of Truth: Why the Sword of Truth? Well, because Terry Goodkind created an epic fantasy franchise named after a sword, that’s why. The blade of Richard Cypher certainly can get lost in these massive volumes, but the essence of the blade still remains in the series title and that moves it into a prominent position. I’m also taken with this blade because it isn’t a stunning creation, and actually is more common than one would think, the simple etching of the word ‘truth’ in the grip giving it any real flare at all. The power of the blade seems to come through the wielder, and as a ‘Seeker of Truth’ the blade’s true destiny is revealed as well as its power.

sword-of-truth-300This blade reminds me of a Saberhagen weapon, something pulled from his Books of Swords, and as there are too many and too varied blades in Saberhagen’s great work so I will default to Goodkind’s version of a Saberhagen blade. I draw this comparison because the Sword of Truth works through the Seeker’s perception, and will cut through anything the wielder sees as an enemy. However, if there is any doubt in the Seeker’s mind concerning his enemy, the blade will stop mid-swing inches from the target. [Saberhagen’s blades always carried a curse with their blessings] The Sword of Truth also brings forth a mighty rage and righteous anger when its wielder is pressed with injustice increasing the Seeker’s strength, dexterity, and will. At the end of the day, not a bad blade to have at your side if you are on the side of righteousness.

NUMBER 4 The Sword of Shannara: Ok, so Shannara is at its core a rip-off of Lord of the Rings, I get that, and yet the collective conscious of fantasy seems forever impacted by Shannara, and thus it’s most famous introductory novel, The Sword of Shannara. I place this sword in the list not because it deserves to be here of its own power, but for the contribution it made to ALL fantasy since its release in 1977. Although the blade itself has a nice back-story with epic forging, old world formula influence, and druidic magic its only true power lies in its ability to confront anyone who touches it with the absolute truth about themselves [seemingly the flip side of the Sword of Truth]. In this fashion, it is perhaps the greatest weapon ever forged against the undead because revealing to the undead that they are truly dead destroys them utterly. I enjoy that concept, and the fact that Terry Brooks discovered it at the age of twenty-three when he began the series harkens back to the movements of the 1960’s [he started it in 1967] where power to the people was desperately trying to wake up the sleepy eyes of the middle-class masses to the evils of governmental and corporate servitude. Now if only we could get the Sword of Shannara into the hands of the 1% so they could see some absolute truth…

sting-300NUMBER 3 Sting: No, not the pop music singer, but the legendary blade of the Baggins clan of Middle-Earth. This was a very tough choice, not because Sting didn’t deserve to be on the list but because there are SO MANY swords in Lord of the Rings that could have taken places on any Top 10. To make the decision, I had to boil down the essence of all Tolkien’s wonderful blades into a single version that meant the most to those people familiar with his work. I chose Sting because it is the blade carried by his two most famed characters, Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, and while it by no means holds the power of Glamdring, Orcrist, or Narsil, it is still paramount in the minds of most Middle-Earth laymen. Personally, I’d take Glamdring, but for this purpose I’m going with Sting and that’s that. Sting is a fine blade, a dagger or knife forged by the elven smiths of Gondolin in the First Age. For a Hobbit, however, it makes for a rather nice short sword. Its power includes the ability to glow blue in the presence of nearby orcs and is extremely sharp as it can cut the webs of giant spiders and even wound trolls. It was never claimed that the blade was a ‘Spider Bane’ but as it got its name from Bilbo by ‘Stinging’ the giant spiders of Mirkwood and its most lethal strike came against the demon queen of spiders, Shelob, I’d personally grant it that power if I were designing it myself. I’d also like to add that the inclusion of this blade in Rankin & Bass’s classic animated Hobbit helps move it up the list as even those children who would never go on to read fantasy still identify with Sting after having seen it in that wonderful movie as a kid.

excalibur-300NUMBER 2 Excalibur: I know what you’re thinking, ‘Excalibur is #2? Really? Then what could possibly be #1?’ Well, I’ll agree that Excalibur is a great choice for the Number 1 on this Top 10, but as I sat debating it I couldn’t help but weigh the actual worth of the blade in question against what I consider its greatest rival. Excalibur is a sword of Western legend, a gift from the divinity of The Lady in the Lake, and the symbol of nobility and the right to rule England. Now certainly that’s important, and old, having first been published in full as Le Morte d’Arthur in 1485 [and can be found in Welsh poems as early as 1100], but as a fan of fantasy and an American I just can’t accept its rule over me. Still, there is no question that in the circles of the West, Excalibur is the most universally known blade in existence. The famed ‘Sword in the Stone’ has been the subject of countless movies and been re-imagined in everything from video games to comic books. I can well remember watching John Boorman’s 1981 movie Excalibur and being completely overwhelmed with grief when the sword is cast back into the water at the movies end. My very first Dungeons & Dragons character wielded Excalibur [and the Glaive from Krull for all you scoring at home so watch out!] because I was so intrinsically connected to the overwhelming history and power of this weapon. The main magical characteristic of Excalibur is it’s keen edge as the blade can cut through iron as easily as wood, which in the day of plate armor is a great power indeed, but that is it’s only noteworthy designator other than implied sovereignty to the gifted wielder [which was so keenly lampooned by Monty Python]. In the end, as moved by Excalibur as I am, there aren’t any world shattering powers that push it to the Number 1 position.

stormbringer-300NUMBER 1 Stormbringer: Come on, the name alone is almost enough to put it on the list, and if you ever understand what Stormbringer is, then you get why its moves into the Number 1 spot with a bullet. Michael Moorcock’s seminal creation wowed the collective fantasy world with the release of the Novella ‘The Dreaming City’ in Science Fantasy #47 back in 1961, but it wasn’t until his Novella ‘The Stealer of Souls’ in 1963 that we first witness the power of Stormbringer.

The black blade, a weapon made of a demon and bound into the shape of a huge rune-covered sword by the magic of a thousand arch-magi. This is the blade of all doom, the edge keen enough to shred any armor save those protected by great abjuration magic, and a single prick from it will allow the demon to devour its enemy’s soul. Intelligent and deadly, Stormbringer can push its wielder into blood rages, and its hunger is nearly insatiable. It is both the blessing and the curse of Elric, and in the end not only does it destroy everything the last Emperor of Melnibone cares for but it turns on him as well. It is this sword’s unmatched power and ultimate doom that place it so high on my list. For sheer power, Stormbringer takes the Number 1 spot because there is no other blade on this list that could stand against it.

So there you have it, my varied and certainly controversial Top 10 Fantasy Swords, but I’ll go so far as to give you other examples that just didn’t make the cut because I’m sure there are those who would argue. Honorable mentions include: Greyswandir from Amber, Roland’s sword Durendal, Glamdring, Orcrist, Anduril, Blackrazor from White Plume Mountain, Drizzt’s Icingdeath & Twinkle, Thundar’s Fabulous Sun Sword, Fragratch, Grey Mouser’s Cat’s Claw & Scalpel, Fafhrd’s Greywand & Heartseeker, He-Man’s Power Sword, Marvel Comic’s The Black Knight’s Ebony Blade, Ice of House Stark, ANYTHING in Saberhagen’s Books of Swords, Cloud’s Buster Sword from Final Fantasy, Conan’s Father’s Sword, Conan’s Atlantean Sword, Dar’s Sword AKA The Beastmaster Sword, The Bride’s Hattori Hanzo Katana from Kill Bill, The Sword of Omens AKA Lion-O of the Thundercats Sword, the Three-Bladed Sword from The Sword & the Sorcerer, the Sword of Kas, Wirikidor – Slayer of Men AKA The Misenchanted Sword, Morlock’s Tyrfing, Witchfire from Iron Kingdoms, Heron Mark’s Sword from The Wheel of Time, Loric’s Krill from Thomas Covenant, The Sword of Selar by Zelazny, Tad Williams Sorrow Memory and Thorn, and Terminus Est from Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun.


If you like what you read in Art of the Genre, you can listen to me talk about publishing and my current venture with great artists of the fantasy field here or even come say hello on Facebook here. And here’s a view of my current Kickstater

31 Comments »

  1. Fun list. Enjoyed the article!

    Comment by RaptorBunny - March 7, 2012 12:37 am

  2. A fine list. I would add only Anakin Skywalker’s Lightsaber from Episode 4. Which is, of course, debatable.

    Comment by darangrissom - March 7, 2012 2:49 am

  3. Well, on the net these Top — lists can be flame bait…

    I simply argue that Excalibur and Stormbringer should be switched in that Excalibur might well be “Real” and Stormbringer is after all just a fantasy.

    Among the other things about Excalibur is that it was forged from meteorite iron, essentially a high grade space forged alloy before things were possible. Even today bladesmiths look for meteorites they can get to make stuff out of them, I read that one sold for $14K to an Arab prince a few years back.

    Also, Excalibur has been in countless later fictions and even legends and probably almost as many fake blades have fetched quite a sum as “Shards of the True Cross” (uh, NOT insulting you know who, just pointing it out)

    Another thing for the list is the “Singing Sword”. For a time there was a metallurgy in metals in India that was very great and they made swords that could hack into or even through armor but could still cut silk in the air with a swing without being sharpened. They tended to be very rare and expensive but the crusaders encountered them and tried very hard to get them. The later “Damascus” blade is an attempt to re-create it. Singing swords were the cliche of fairy tales so much that later “Fantasy” writers moved away from them.

    Comment by GreenGestalt - March 7, 2012 3:21 am

  4. Can you answer the Riddle of Steel?

    ;)

    Comment by TW - March 7, 2012 7:16 am

  5. Nearly insatiable? I thought it was quite easily satiated. All you need is enough bodies to throw at it, and that’s just busy work.

    Comment by Jeff Stehman - March 7, 2012 9:20 am

  6. Yay for the Three-Bladed Sword from The Sword & the Sorcerer!

    Who the hell can FIGHT with a three-bladed sword? It makes no sense! Hurray for Hollywood that they could make that magic happen. After I saw that, I truly believed anything was possible.

    Except maybe the scene where Talon shoots one of the blades across the set like a rocket launcher. That can’t happen. Seriously.

    Comment by John ONeill - March 7, 2012 11:38 am

  7. RBunny: Thanks, how many mistakes did I make in it? ;)

    Comment by Scott Taylor - March 7, 2012 12:44 pm

  8. Dgrissom: I tried to stay with Fantasy instead of science fiction, but yes, Lightsabers are REALLY cool!

    Comment by Scott Taylor - March 7, 2012 12:45 pm

  9. GG: Excalibur being real was a detractor to me because the list is Fantasy Swords. A fun list would be real swords, which would certainly include Singing Swords, the Sword of William Wallace, etc.

    Comment by Scott Taylor - March 7, 2012 12:46 pm

  10. TW: Nice one! ;) Now I’m sending you to the Tree of Woe!

    Comment by Scott Taylor - March 7, 2012 12:48 pm

  11. Jeff Stehman: In reading the books, there was only a single time I ever saw Stormbringer sated, and that was after killing nearly a whole army…

    Comment by Scott Taylor - March 7, 2012 12:49 pm

  12. John: I created that blade for D&D. Stats:
    Main Blade: +5
    Left Blade: +4 of Slaying Law, can be fired at a foe doing X2 damage [range 30']
    Right Blade: +4 of Slaying Chaos, can be fired at a foe doing X2 damage [range 30']
    Hidden Dagger inside hilt release: +4

    Damage per swing: 1D12+2D8+13!

    Comment by Scott Taylor - March 7, 2012 12:53 pm

  13. Don’t forget Terminus Est from Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun.

    Comment by Joe H. - March 7, 2012 1:00 pm

  14. Joe H: Great call and I added it to the list!

    Comment by Scott Taylor - March 7, 2012 1:19 pm

  15. I climbed down from the Tree of Woe because I thought of a fantasy sword that I really liked:

    Wirikidor – Slayer of Men, AKA The Misenchanted Sword

    Comment by TW - March 7, 2012 2:19 pm

  16. TW: That’s going on the list! One of my all-time favorite books, and did you know that Lawrence W-E is credited with making up the word ‘misenchanted’? I met him at SDCC last year standing next to Phil Foglio’s booth. A true random thrill.

    Comment by Scott Taylor - March 7, 2012 2:40 pm

  17. with the Princess Bride basically being my introduction to anything fantasy, the six fingered man’s sword has a special place in my heard.

    Comment by Glenn - March 7, 2012 5:48 pm

  18. Glenn: You aren’t the only one, and because of that it makes the list! :)

    Comment by Scott Taylor - March 7, 2012 5:50 pm

  19. Loved the article – The Del and Sandtiger by Jennifer Roberson books come to mind – Sword Dancer :D And C.J. Cherrh’s Tree of Sword and Jewels – they had some pretty nice swords in the art. I haven’t read any of James Barclay’s books yet but the cover for Elves: Rise of the TaiGethen has some pretty decent swords. :)

    Comment by Shadowfox13 - March 7, 2012 11:03 pm

  20. and of course I would misspell C.J. Cherryh’s name. *grumble*

    Comment by Shadowfox13 - March 7, 2012 11:04 pm

  21. Shadowfox: I’ve never read Jennifer Robinson, but I love the look of her books. And as to Cherryh, it’s not hard to do. I continually misspelled the name until I realized its just Cherry with an ‘H’ on the end. ;)

    Comment by Scott Taylor - March 7, 2012 11:21 pm

  22. I forgot to add the cover for S.M. Stirling’s Sword of the Lady – one of the Emberverse books It’s a pretty decent sword too.

    Comment by Shadowfox13 - March 7, 2012 11:32 pm

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  24. Shadowfox13: Oh! And there’s also Changeling, the sword from C.J. Cherryh’s Morgaine books!

    Comment by Joe H. - March 8, 2012 12:59 pm

  25. Ah, but what of Tyrfing?!

    As Morlock often reminds us Tyrfing is not a true sword, rather it is a focus that allows its wielder to enter a conscious Talic state. Using a focus as a weapon comes with an agonizing price. To kill someone with Tyrfing is to fully experience their death, as the focus touches your enemy’s Tal.

    There could be no Tyrfing without Stormbringer, but what a lovely thing Tyrfing is.

    Comment by ChristianLindke - March 8, 2012 1:44 pm

  26. Christian: An excellent choice in Tyrfing and it gives back to one of our own! I’m adding it to the HM!

    Comment by Scott Taylor - March 8, 2012 2:06 pm

  27. Any of the three swords Memory, Sorrow, or Thorn from Tad William’s ‘ Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy.

    Comment by b_sinning - March 8, 2012 3:02 pm

  28. Scott, yeah, but if I recall correctly, it wasn’t much of an army. The only thing it had going for it was bodies. Like I said, busy work.

    I actually thought that was a clever exploit (and I didn’t find much clever between the opening and closing of that series, exclusive).

    Comment by Jeff Stehman - March 9, 2012 2:52 am

  29. Great post Scott, a lot of fun. But of course I can’t help adding a blade that I feel should be on your top 10:

    Gurthang, from JRR Tolkien’s The Children of Hurin:

    “Hail Gurthang, iron of death, you alone now remain! But what lord or loyalty do you know, save the hand that wields you? From no blood shall you shrink. Will you take Turin Turambar? Will you slay me swiftly?

    And from the blade rang a cold voice in answer.

    Comment by Brian Murphy - March 9, 2012 8:09 pm

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