Five Legendary Swords of Fantasy Fiction
This was meant to be a post about five legendary weapons of Fantasy fiction – but when I started counting them off on my fingers, there were other styles of weapon, sure, but by far and away the greatest number of any one kind were swords. Heck, if I wanted, I could just stick with the Tolkien ’verse, starting with Orcrist, Glamdring, and Sting. (OK, so Sting is an elvish dagger – but for Bilbo, and then Frodo, it’s a sword so I’m going to rest my case right there.)
In terms of other swords, I’m going to stay with Tolkien for the first contender, which I feel has to be Narsil, the sword of Elendil that was broken – then reforged an age of the world later as Andúril, the Flame of the West, for Aragorn to carry into the final battle against Sauron. I am sure you all know the story well, from the film version of The Lord of the Rings, if not the books. I would argue, though, that the power and mystery of the sword is a more persuasive and compelling force in the books than in the film, starting with the initial rhyme that sends Boromir on his ill-fated journey to Rivendell:
“Seek for the sword that was broken, in Imladris it dwells…”
Andúril’s potency also includes the moment in The Two Towers when Aragorn provokes Sauron to strike against Gondor too soon, by showing him the sword reforged.
Powerful stuff – and a hard act to follow. Arguably, Michael Moorcock didn’t try with Stormbringer in the Elric novels. In a world where gods and demons, order and chaos contend, Stormbringer is the ultimate soul-sucking sword – and does not restrict itself to sucking the souls of its wielder’s enemies, but takes a perverse delight in consuming the souls of Elric’s friends as well. Ultimately … But that may be a spoiler for those of you who have not yet encountered Elric of Melniboné and Stormbringer, so I shall simply say: go; read – and appreciate (since ‘enjoy’ may not be quite the right word) the demonic swathe cut by Stormbringer.
Another sword with a perverse, though far more benign, sense of humour is Gonturan, the blue sword in Robin McKinley’s novel of the same name – and subsequently (although the story is actually a prequel) in The Hero and the Crown. Gonturan is distinguished by being a sword that rightly belongs to a damalur-sol, or female hero: no man may bear it past his twentieth year, or risk the sword’s betrayal. A risk that most would take seriously, since Gonturan is a sword that slays dragons and causes mountains to fall on invading armies.
In terms of swords carried by female heroes, but which display similar soul-sucking propensities to Stormbringer, it’s hard to look past Changeling, the sword of Morgaine in the CJ Cherryh novels. Although Changeling does not precisely devour souls, it has to be said, but rather transports unfortunate victims otherwhere in space-time. The Morgaine stories are epic fantasy with an SF-nal twist and in this sense Changeling is both weapon and wormhole – definitely not a blade to be wielded lightly.
Possibly the most famous of all the legendary swords, however, and the one most closely associated with one of the great epic cycles, is King Arthur’s Excalibur. The sword in the stone, which is also the sword taken from the hand of the Lady of the Lake, has appeared in a vast array of novelizations and almost as many guises. One of my favourites is Mary Stewart’s Roman-British rendition of Excalibur as Caliburn, the sword of the fallen Emperor Maximus that comes to Arthur in The Hollow Hills. When the young Arthur is challenged to prove his birthright to the assembled Roman-British kings and warleaders, revealing possession of Caliburn proves a convincing argument.
From Excalibur to Andúril; Gonturan to Changeling and Stormbringer – these may be only a small sample of the legendary swords of Fantasy fiction, but they are all unquestionably mighty.
Thank you to Helen Lowe for this awesome post.
And as if this page doesn’t have enough awesomeness already, to celebrate the release of Helen Lowe’s Daughter Of Blood, (The Wall Of Night Series, Book Three), our good friends at Orbit Books have offered two sets of the entire series so far (The Heir of Night, The Gathering Of The Lost and Daughter Of Blood) as prizes. All you need to do is fill-out the contest form below:
Contest Rules & Disclaimer
The rules are... you must be in the UK to enter and you should not already own all three books, 'cause that's mean: let someone else read 'em.
Yep... that's about it.