Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

The conventional weaponry of fantasy generally defaults to what might be found in a medieval or Renaissance armoury. Accurate descriptions and terminology can lend conviction to stories with Alternate-World historical settings (>>> History in Fantasy; Military Fantasy). Gene Wolfe cleverly assimilates sf energy weapons into the fantastic setting of The Book of the New Sun (1980-1983) by assigning them ancient names like "contus" or "korseke", and there is a certain sf thrill in devices like Greek fire – featured in Son of Sinbad (1955) (> Sinbad Movies) – or the just-plausible 30ft solar reflector used to incinerate invading ships in Terry Pratchett's Small Gods (1992) or the special gunpowder in Roger Zelazny's The Guns of Avalon (1972), which unusually makes firearms operable in Fantasyland. However, to be of specific fantasy interest a weapon should exploit Magic.

Magic Swords are endemic, and any object may be enchanted in almost any way, notably Amulets, armour, Rings, Talismans, etc.; in J R R Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings (1954-1955) the battering-ram Grond used on the gates of Minas Tirith carries "spells of ruin". Wizards are apt to hurl fireballs and gouts of raw magic; as with enchanted objects, there are innumerable varieties of offensive Spells. Technofantasy weaponry is more usefully anchored in reality: the confusion projector of Randall Garrett's Too Many Magicians (1967) has the brass-bound solidity of Victorian scientific apparatus; a gun in Piers Anthony's Blue Adept (1981) fires a bullet which will lethally animate within the hero's flesh; the devastating eponymous weapon of Michael Scott Rohan's The Hammer of the Sun (1988) achieves, in effect, a magically triggered nuclear explosion; and conventional iron projectiles in L E Modesitt's The Order War (1995) are infused with essential "order", causing Chaos wizards to explode when hit. Many weapons are similarly aimed at Achilles' Heels: anything of Cold Iron is anathema to Elves; Norse Myth relates that only Loki's improvised spear of mistletoe could kill Baldur; in Oz, water destroys the Wicked Witch of the West; and garlic and holy water hurt Vampires – in Kristine Kathryn Rusch's The Fey: The Sacrifice (1995) priests have problems of conscience with profane use of their religion's sacramental water as the sole effective weapon against invaders. Among many other examples is the effect kryptonite weapons have on Superman. [DRL]


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.