What is it about magical swords and fantasy fiction? The concept of such weapons seem perfectly natural in a fantasy realm, and they feature as a centre point to many classics of the genre. They fill readers’ minds with wistful thoughts of holding such weapons themselves, and being able to smite adversaries with the ease of the heroes (or villains) who wield them in the books. Despite the regularity of such swords turning up in fantasy novels, the idea never grows tired, as a succession of authors have invented new modifications or types of mythical blades, seamlessly interweaving new flavours of mystery and interest into the forging of their weapons.
The list of them all would be endless, so instead I have just a few of my favourites.
Excalibur – numerous authors.
Where else to start but the mythical blade of King Arthur, King of the Britons, and one true King of its shores. Also referred to by its Celtic name, Caliburnus, it is interwoven into the legend of King Arthur almost as strongly as the Round Table, or Merlin the Wizard. It was said that only the true king could draw the weapon from the stone which Uther Pendragon drove it into on his death. Many tried, but only his son Arthur, hidden from his enemies by the sorcerer Merlin since birth, managed to pull the sword free and went on to rule Camelot for an age.
On his demise, the sword was returned to the Lady of the Lake, to once again await the true king, who will come when the land was once again in dire peril.
Narsil – The Lord of the Rings, J R R Tolkien
The sword of Elendil, that was wielded by Isildur, striking the finger and Ring from the hand of the Dark Lord Sauron, shattering in the process. The Ranger Aragorn held the blade and re-forged it at Rivendell, renaming it Anduril – The flame of the West. Argorn used it to identify himself as the heir and rightful King of the West, something that proved useful in convincing the shades of the men of Dunharrow to fulfill their vows and come to aid of Minas Tirith.
Tolkien showed with this sword, that is isn’t just magical powers or traits that make a sword (although the sheath that Legolas gave Aragorn for it meant it stayed ever sharp and unbreakable) but also its history, its own story, that makes a sword special.
The other magical blade in The Lord of the Rings, was named Sting. It didn’t have quite as spectacular back-story, but it did glow when orcs were near, and showed its worth against the giant spider Shelob when Sam drove her off by poking holes in her.
Shardblades and Honorblades – The Stormlight archive, Brandon Sanderson.
The Shardblades of the Stormlight Archives are truly awesome weapons, cutting through armour and other blades as easily as a knife cutting through butter. Their wielders dominate the battlefield, being able to cut down anything in their path. The only objects that can resist their destructive power are other Shardblades or the equally impressive Shard-plate that can resist several blows from such weapons before dismantling.
Originally these weapons were the preserve of the Knights Radiant, ten mythical orders of knights that kept justice in the world of Roshar. However, the Knights Radiant, for reasons unknown, left the world and abandoned both their armour and the mighty blades – leaving them to be picked up by less virtuous and worthy recipients. Due to their power, the holders of these weapons soon became the land’s nobility as the weapons were passed down from father to son.
However, Shardblades are not the ultimate weapons in Roshar. These are Honorblades, which were held by the Heralds, the ten demi-gods that each order of Knights Radiant followed. Only ten ever existed and they are far more powerful than Shardblades, being able to destroy Shard-plate, and imbue the wielder with other powers.
Otataral swords – Malazan book of the fallen, by Steven Erikson.
The last one I would like to discuss are the dark swords, made from Otataral ore, that appear in Steven Erikson’s excellent series based in his realm of the Malazan Empire. These swords have the ability to nullify magic, and are therefore carried by individuals who are adept at being mage-killers, redressing the balance of power in his novels, which otherwise would be completely dominated by the all-encompassing power of the mages. I think it is an interesting twist on the magical sword, opening up new avenues of stories and conflicts of power. It just shows that although magical swords in fantasy novels are nothing new, there are always ways of adapting this idea, and coming up with ways of making it original.