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The Weapons of Fantasy

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014 | Posted by Jon Sprunk

Stormbringer, by Michael Whelan

Stormbringer, by Michael Whelan

I love weapons. No, not guns and rockets (although they can be cool, too). I prefer the weapons of ages past. Swords, axes, spears, arrows, and maces. Just like Napoleon Dynamite, I remember drawing them in my notebooks when I was in school.

When I was younger, the weapons were part of what drew me to fantasy. Science fiction has its laser guns and starships. Horror has axe murderers and vampires. But fantasy takes me back to earlier epochs in human history when people (and nations) settled their differences with bronze and iron.

Fantasy also adds an element of the mystical to these trappings, and one of my favorite literary devices are weapons so famous or powerful they have their own names. There’s just something… well, magical… about these weapons. Just saying their names evokes a world of pageantry and adventure.

I have some that are my favorites, which I’d like to share with you today.

Stormbringer/Mournblade

If you’ve been reading my blogs here for a while, you already know how much I love the Elric Saga by Michael Moorcock. So it should be no surprise that this fell blade ranks among my top fantasy weapons of all-time.

A huge, black, rune-covered vampiric sword that sucks the souls from those it kills and transfers a portion of that energy to its wielder, it is the perfect (albeit evil) companion for our tragic hero Elric. Sure, in the end it devoured all life in the universe, but hey, you can’t blame a demonic sword for following its heart.

Excalibur and the Lady in the Lake-smallOf course, no conversation about Stormbringer would be complete without mentioning its twin, Mournblade, which had all the same powers and was wielded by Elric’s ambitious cousin, Yyrkoon. Ah, their battles were legendary.

That reminds me. It’s time to go back and re-read that saga again.

Excalibur

The sword of King Arthur, given to him by the Lady of the Lake, not to be confused with the Sword in the Stone.

This sword’s powers are a little vague. It was said to blind Arthur’s enemies in battle, and its scabbard could supposedly prevent the bearer’s wounds from bleeding. Upon the good king’s death, he commanded the sword thrown back into the lake, to return to the lady. All in all, I love the name and the majesty imbued in this weapon.

Sting

Bilbo with Sting-smallAh, Bilbo’s “sword,” which he later passed on to Frodo. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings has many weapons, several of them with their own names and legends, but I like Sting the best.

Perhaps not as glamorous as Glamdring or Narsil, but it’s handy in a pinch. The perfect traveling weapon for a hobbit.

It’s another reminder from this fabulous epic that not all great things come in large packages.

Vorpal

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.

This strange sword is mentioned in the poem “Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll, and later as a deadly weapon of decapitation in the Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game. Although its origins may be nonsense, it retains a firm place in the pantheon of fantasy weapons, especially among us old-school gamers and lovers of weird poetry.

Thor and Mjolnir-small

Dragnipur

This huge, ink-black sword from Steven Erikson’s Malazan saga is wielded by the uber-impressive and taciturn hero, Anomander Rake. Similar in some regards to Elric’s Stormbringer, this sword sends the souls of those it kills into an alternate dimension where they are chained to an immense cart which they must pull for an eternity. Like its owner, Dragnipur is both awesome and terrifying.

Mjolnir

Finally, something other than a sword! Thor’s mighty hammer is a weapon to inspire awe and fear in everyone who looks upon it. It hits like a fleet of Mack trucks and never misses when Thor throws it (with the added feature of returning to his hand).

According to legend, it was created with a flawed handle, and so could only be wielded with one hand, but Thor never seemed to mind as he bashed through hordes of frost giants. Mjolnir remains today as a symbol of the Germanic neopagan faith.

Callandor

Lankhmar City of Adventure-smallFrom Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson’s Wheel of Time saga, this sword is made entirely from crystal. It is a very powerful sa’angreal that increases the prowess of a male magician.

It was located in a fortress known as the Stone of Tear, and its recovery (similar to Arthur’s Sword in the Stone) was one of the signs that Rand al’Thor was indeed the true Dragon Reborn. Although it confers great power, the sword is also flawed so that its use can have unintended (and often disastrous) consequences.

Graywand and Scapel

These are the swords of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser from Fritz Leiber’s sword & sorcery classic saga.

They don’t seem to have any magical powers, but then again they don’t need to when wielded by the world’s most dangerous swordsmen. I’m including them because of the cool names and to honor the legendary heroes who wielded them.

Nightbringer

From The Dragonlance Chronicles by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, this evil mace was wielded by the Dragon Highlord Verminaard (what a great name, eh?). With an oak handle and a head of black steel, this dread weapon had the power to strike its enemies blind. With it, the Highlord almost defeated the entire cast of heroes single-handedly, until Goldmoon’s touch robbed him of his terrible powers.

That’s my short list of beloved fantasy weapons. But I know I missed some good ones, so let’s hear them. What are your favorites?


Jon Sprunk is the author of the Shadow Saga (Shadow’s Son, Shadow’s Lure, and Shadow’s Master) and a mentor at the Seton Hill University fiction writing program. His next epic fantasy series begins in March 2014 with Blood and Iron.

18 Comments »

  1. The two scimitars wielded by the Drow ranger Drizzt Do’Urden Twinkle and Icingdeath! Twinkle was exceptionally sharp and protect it’s wielder and Icindeath is the bane of fire creatures!

    Comment by brewdus - January 29, 2014 8:16 pm

  2. Wirikidor – Mankiller, Slayer of Warriors…The Misenchanted Sword.

    Comment by TW - January 29, 2014 8:41 pm

  3. Excalibur is classic, but it is Stormbringer that sticks with me. The black blade, the red runes, the soul-sucking hunger . . . just awesome.

    I’d have to add the Sword of Shannara (Brooks) and the Sword of Truth (Goodkind). Yes, Goodkind went off the rails, transforming a solid fantasy trilogy into a plodding saga of politics and morality, but the concept of Richard’s sword was very cool.

    Comment by BeautyInRuins - January 29, 2014 10:14 pm

  4. The Swords of Saberhagen’s Swords books are among my favorites.

    Comment by Princejvstin - January 29, 2014 10:23 pm

  5. Aaah! The good old days when a hero’s weapon had a name, and a personality!

    Comment by James McGlothlin - January 29, 2014 11:19 pm

  6. Oh, yes, Fred Saberhagen’s Swords books. Awesome weapons, and stories. Don’t know if I can remember all of them, but …

    Coinspinner
    Dragonslicer
    Shieldbreaker
    Farslayer
    Wayfinder
    Townsaver
    Woundhealer
    Stonecutter

    Grr. I know there are others. There were 12 in all.

    Actually, I don’t know if Saberhagen’s estate would ever agree to such, but Fred’s Swords world would be great additions to Kindle Worlds.

    Comment by Ty Johnston - January 30, 2014 2:31 am

  7. Moorcock’s Stormbringer is a classic example of an author taking an idea from a previous generation of writers and tweaking it slightly to make the new version seem novel.

    The ancestry of Stormbringer actually starts with the Norse sagas/eddas. The archetypal black blades of evil were Gram (the reforged blade used to slay Fafnir) and Tyrfing (the iron-cutting blade cursed to do evil and slay a man every time it was drawn, notably friends and relatives).

    Tolkien took those legendary blades and combined their powers as the blade Gurthang in his Silmarillion. A black blade reforged from the blade Anglachel, which was used by Turin to slay Glaurung. Notably Turin killed himself on the blade, after it spoke to him…

    “There he drew forth his sword, that now
    alone remained to him of all his possessions, and he said: ‘Hail Gurthang! No lord or loyalty dost thou know, save the hand that wieldeth thee. From no blood wilt thou shrink. Wilt thou therefore take Túrin Turambar, wilt thou slay me swiftly?’
    And from the blade rang a cold voice in answer: ‘Yea, I will drink thy blood gladly, that so I may forget the blood of Beleg my master, and the blood of Brandir slain unjustly. I will slay thee swiftly.'”

    Moorcock openly purloined the personality and nature of the black blade Gurthang lock, stock and barrel to create Stormbringer and Mournblade, giving them the additional ability to pass on the vitality of living things the slay to their wielder.

    Erikson has since followed suit, Dragnipur being an almost exact replica of Stormbringer save that it sends the souls of the slain to the realm of Kurald Galain where the pull the immense wagon which contains the Gate of Darkness.

    So Stormbringer is by no means unique. Its merely another, later, aspect of the Eternal Black Blade – as Moorcock himself would probably phrase it. :)

    Comment by Pete Nash - January 30, 2014 8:17 am

  8. Oh and by the way, Graywand and Scapel are the names that Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser always give their swords, since they sometimes lose or break them.

    Comment by Pete Nash - January 30, 2014 8:19 am

  9. Don’t forget Changeling from C.J. Cherryh’s Morgaine books — a crystal sword with a dimensional vortex at its tip.

    Comment by Joe H. - January 30, 2014 9:34 am

  10. So many to choose from! I’ve thought about this longer than I should have.

    I will have to second a vote for the black sword of Turin in the Silmarillion.

    Also another weapon that stands out in the Silmarillion is the Hammer of Grond.

    The fight between Morgoth and Fingolfin is probably my favorite of the entire book.

    Salvatore does a great job creating memorable fantasy weapons in most of his worlds, the Drizzt series stand out as having some of the best.

    +1 for mentioning Dragonlance although I was surprised by your choice.

    Comment by Glenn - January 30, 2014 10:17 am

  11. I’m fond of Arya Stark’s rapier, Needle, from A Song of Ice and Fire. The scene in which she tries to be polite to a fine lady who has helped her by conversing about needlework, which for Arya has always meant sword fighting, is a favorite memory from that series.

    As a side note, some modern practitioners of the Norse faith would take umbrage at being called Neo-Pagan. They can trace an unbroken line through Iceland, where Asatru was never outlawed and has been one of the official national religions since the 1970s. (There are a bunch of Asatruar characters in my book, and I had to do a lot of research to get them right.)

    Comment by Sarah Avery - January 30, 2014 6:44 pm

  12. I find it interesting that there aren’t more famous spears in fantasy, since the spear was a much more common weapon in the real world.

    I supposed that it’s a matter of the spear lacking the cache of the sword, which was always more of a noble’s weapon.

    Comment by Ebonsword - January 30, 2014 7:51 pm

  13. Excalibur was able to cut through even armor, kept its edge, was indestructible. Also it was said that anyone who lied when holding it would be slain, but that was even in the times it was accepted history called into question. They did a good take on this in “Camelot 3000”.

    Excalibur was said to be made from Meteorite iron. Also in the middle ages, especially during the time of the crusades, there were swords encountered in the east called “Singing Swords” mainly during the crusades. These were rare, ultra expensive weapons almost certainly made in India. Only the nobles could afford them and they were highly prized by crusaders, said to “Hack through armor, or even cleave an enemy’s sword, but then could cut silk floating in the air”. The Pattern-weld aka “Damascus” sword is an attempt to re-create this type of blade, since the technique to make it in India has been lost. (or so they tell us)

    My favorite fantasy weapon is “Terminus Est” from Gene Wolfe’s “New Sun” series. It’s not magical, except that it was made in the far future by a retrograde technology and thus seems magical. A simple “beheading sword” it doesn’t have a point, and has a less sharp but stronger male edge and a weaker but sharper female edge. The most distinguishing feature is that inside it has a hollow channel and a bead of Hydragyrum (Mercury) is in it to give it an edge on the downswing. It is made of normal metal, though of a very pure type, and does need to be oiled/sharpened like a real sword constantly.

    Comment by GreenGestalt - January 30, 2014 9:21 pm

  14. Don’t forget Beowulf’s sword Hrunting that Unferth gave him. If failed.

    Then there is my personal favorite, Sacnoth, that came from the back of the dragon crocodile.

    Comment by CMR - January 30, 2014 9:51 pm

  15. Yes! Terminus Est! How could I have forgotten?!?

    Jennifer Roberson’s Del & Tiger books also had some nice swords although I’m fuzzy on the details.

    Comment by Joe H. - January 30, 2014 9:55 pm

  16. CMR, thank you for Sacnoth!

    Comment by Sarah Avery - January 31, 2014 1:41 am

  17. I would add the krill of Loric from The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliver: a short sword with a white gem embedded in its blade.

    Comment by Golgonooza - January 31, 2014 10:54 pm

  18. […] few weeks ago my colleague Jon Sprunk gave us a marvelous post on the weapons of fantasy. Like Jon, the weapons were very much what attracted me to fantasy in the first place. But I loved […]

    Pingback by Black Gate » Blog Archive » En Garde! - February 28, 2014 7:31 am


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