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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.)

NarsilIn 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.

Elric-StormbringerPowerful 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 small-exilesgatepast 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.

ExcalibrePossibly 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:

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Orbit Books are offering you the chance to win all three 'The Wall Of Night' books. All you need to do is tell us the name of your favourite sword and give us a few details and you are in with a chance of winning. Yes, Fantasy-Faction and Orbit really do run the easiest competitions, don't we? 😛
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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.

If you’d like more from Helen then do visit her “…on Anything, Really” blog or follow her on Twitter via @helenl0we.

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9 Comments

  1. Bob Milne says:

    Great post, and all great swords – honestly, so long as I saw Stormbringer in the list, I was OK. 🙂

    The only one I would add is Dragnipur, the sword wielded by Anomander Rake in the Malazan Book of the Fallen.

  2. Heath Gober says:

    There are so many good ones, Drizzt’s Icingdeath and Twinkle, Entreri’s Charon’s Claw, Anomander Rake and the Andarist’s Vengence, which became Dassem Ultor’s Grief. The ones mentioned above as well as Blackfyre, Ice, Longclaw and all the other Valaryian steel swords of ASOIF, but for me #1 Sword wise has to be Dragnipur from Malazan BotF. Forged by Draconus by hammering countless chains to form a realm to hide the gate to Kurald Galain and keep chaos from devouring that world and ever other, it imprisoned the souls of those it has slain and uses them to drag the wagon containing the gate forever.

  3. Faolan says:

    Helen, I LOVE your covers. Might I ask who did the artwork for you? I am hopefully going to be done with my freshman attempt at a novel this year and I will need to be looking for a cover artist pretty soon.

  4. Dave Bergfelder says:

    And you can now add to the list the sword of Annomader Rake’s: Dragnipur from Steven Erickson’s series Malazan Books of the Fallen

  5. Danny says:

    Fave swords are the Swords of Night and Day in David Gemmell’s Drenai series wielded by Skilgannon. The gold and silver blades are possessed (like all good swords).

  6. Helen Lowe says:

    Dragnipur is definitely a sword of awesome — but with Stormbringer and Changeling already in the mix I felt I had to “stop already” with the soul-sucking swords. 🙂

    Faolan: I believe the covers are done by someone within the Orbit art department but as the artwork is not attributed in the books you will have to direct your query to Orbit.

  7. Ash says:

    Personally, I’d go for Nightblood, from Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson (and other books. Spoilers ;)) It’s a sword brought to life through magic, and has the innate command to “destroy evil, thank you very much.” I think a combination of the lore behind him, as well as the source of its power – magic – and it’s source of life as an Awakened being makes it more than just a sword, but an interesting character as well.

  8. JamesV says:

    I admit to being partial towards Blackwand, the longsword of Morrolan e’Drien, or Iceflame, the dagger used by Sethra Lavode.

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