Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Swords

Omnipresent default Weapon of fantasy (hence Sword and Sorcery), the sword's phallic symbolism is obvious. The archetypal Magic sword is Arthur's Excalibur or Caliburn, whose healing scabbard is an Amulet; in his Life of Manuel, James Branch Cabell named another magic blade Flamberge after the swords of Charlemagne and others; Board-cleaver in William Morris's The Sundering Flood (1897) carries the not uncommon Condition that once drawn it may not be resheathed without taking a life; Sacnoth in Lord Dunsany's "The Fortress Unvanquishable, Save for Sacnoth" is more cunning in battle than its wielder; further examples abound. Notable broken swords include: Sigmund's, broken against Odin's spear in Richard Wagner's The Ring of the Nibelungs and remade by Siegfried; Narsil in J R R Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings (1954-1955), whose reforging as Anduril signals the emergence of its Hidden-Monarch bearer, Aragorn; and the eponymous cursed blade of Poul Anderson's The Broken Sword (1954), broken by Thor (> Aesir), whose renewal stinks of Wrongness. Many swords embody Spirits (> Bondage): the Soul-eating, strength-giving Stormbringer carried by Michael Moorcock's Elric is this doomed Antihero's dark Shadow; Glirendree in Larry Niven's "Not Long Before the End" (1969) is a transformed Demon; the Living Blade in Diana Wynne Jones's The Homeward Bounders (1983) is a psychic projection (> Talents) that compensates for its owner's withered arm; the tediously chatty Kring in Terry Pratchett's The Colour of Magic (1983) expresses its desire to be a ploughshare. Stormbringer is the model for cursed swords (> Curses) in Games, which can be let go only with great difficulty – or in extreme cases, as with Glirendree, not at all. Some swords are of unusual materials: G K Chesterton's eponymous The Sword of Wood (1928 chap) deals handily with an "enchanted" blade which defeats steel swords because magnetized; the Sword Called Llyr in Henry Kuttner's The Dark World (1965) and Eirias in Susan Cooper's Silver on the Tree (1977) are both crystal, enabling the former's concealment within a pane of glass; the reforged sword in Michael Scott Rohan's The Forge in the Forest (1987) appears, in a sly Technofantasy hint, to be reinforced with carbon fibres. Some have odd properties: Orcrist and Glamdring in Tolkien's The Hobbit (1937) warn of nearby Goblins by glowing (presumably to the detriment of ambushes); that in The Sword of Shannara (1977) by Terry Brooks merely compels truth, which alone destroys a less than resilient Dark Lord; that in Piers Anthony's Wielding a Red Sword (1986) is the empowering emblem of war; Need, the magic sword of Mercedes Lackey's Vows and Honour sequence, must be carried by a woman and will not strike a woman, however inimical. Very many fantasy Heroes and Heroines routinely carry named swords, as Roland carried Durandal – a determined exception being tegeus-Cromis in M John Harrison's The Pastel City (1971), whose blade is unfashionably nameless. Examples of noteworthy swords and sword-bearers include: Oscar in Robert Heinlein's Glory Road (1963), waxing sentimental over his blade The Lady Vivamus; Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, with Graywand and Scalpel (plus the Mouser's dagger Cat's Claw); the 12 named swords of Fred Saberhagen's Swords sequence, with their plethora of magical abilities; the eponymous swords of Tad Williams's Memory, Sorrow and Thorn; and Roger Zelazny's Corwin of Amber with Grayswandir. Of special note is Severian's lovingly maintained Terminus Est in Gene Wolfe's The Book of the New Sun (1980-1983), an executioner's blade whose ingenious design (mercury flows in an internal channel to shift the centre of gravity) has led unwary readers to assume it magical. [DRL]

see also: Sword in the Stone; Weland Smith.

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.