Anaklusmos, Caladbolg, Dyrnwyn, Elric, Excalibur, Fish Wielder, Guest Post, Jim Hardison, Lewis Carroll, Lord of the Rings, Michael Moorcock, Percy Jackson, Rick Riordan, Seven Superbly Ensorcelled Swords, Stormbringer, Vorpal Blade
Seven Superbly Ensorcelled Swords
He took out his sword again and it flashed in the dark by itself. It burned with a rage that made it gleam if goblins were about; now it was bright as blue flame for delight in the killing of the great lord of the cave.
Ever since I first read those words about Glamdring the Foe-Hammer in The Hobbit, back when I was about ten years old, I’ve been in love with magic swords. Since then, every time I’ve come across one in the pages of a fantasy novel, I’ve compared it with those excellent blades, Glamdring, Orcist and Sting that Bilbo and his companions recovered from the Troll cave in the chapter Roast Mutton. For your reading pleasure, and with a few, hopefully minor spoilers, here’s a list of seven superbly ensorcelled swords that I had in mind when crafting the magic sword Blurmflard for my epically silly epic fantasy novel, Fish Wielder.
- The Barrow Blade of Westernesse: This is the blade Meriadoc, the hobbit, uses to stab the Witch King of Angmar in the back of the knee in L.O.T.R. I’m starting with this blade because it doesn’t get nearly the credit it deserves. Yes, Éowyn delivered the killing blow, but her strike wouldn’t have made the slightest bit of difference if Merry hadn’t stabbed the Witch King first. Tolkien clearly states, “No other blade, not though mightier hands had wielded it, would have dealt that foe a wound so bitter, cleaving the undead flesh, breaking the spell that knit his unseen sinews to his will.” I was very upset when the whole Barrow-Downs scene was left out of the movies—and consequently the finding of the excellent magic Barrow swords never happened. Without that ensorcelled sword and Merry’s blow, the whole War of the Ring might have ended differently.
- Dyrnwyn: While we’re on barrow swords, my favorite is the flaming sword discovered by Taran and Eilonwy in the barrow under Spiral Castle in The Book of Three, the first book of the Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander. Removing Dyrnwyn from the tomb destroyed the entire castle. The black blade had jewels studding its hilt and pommel, and an inscription was entwined around the hilt and scabbard (much of which had been scratched away) but which read, “Draw Dyrnwyn, only those of noble worth, to rule with justice, to strike down evil. Who wields it in good cause shall slay even the lord of death.” The blade was the most powerful in Prydain and when drawn, glowed with fire. It would, however, kill anyone unworthy who tried to draw it. So, there’s that.
- Excalibur (Caliburn/Caledfwlch): And while we’re on swords that can only be drawn by a chosen few, what list of magic blades would be complete without Excalibur? Actually, there’s pretty solid agreement amongst experts on magic swords that Excalibur was not the sword from the stone, as Arthur was actually given Excalibur by the Lady of the Lake. You can read about Excalibur in literally tons of books, but I personally recommend Arthur Rex: A Legendary Novel by Thomas Berger. According to legend, Excalibur’s blade was engraved on one side with, “Take me up” and on the other with, “Cast me away”. Its flashing metal could blind the wielder’s enemies and its scabbard prevented the wearer’s wounds from bleeding. It was supposedly able to cut through iron like it was wood and conferred the holy right to rule on whoever could draw it (not a bad deal, if you can get it). The Excalibur legend was based on a blade from Welsh myth called Caledfwlch which is a compound of the Welsh words caled “hard” and bwlch “cleft” or “breach”. Don’t ask me how that got translated into Excalibur. I’m a sword enthusiast, not a linguist.
- Caladbolg: As long as we’re kicking around legendary Welsh blades (figuratively! Never kick a sword!), let’s not forget Ireland and the two-handed sword of Fergus mac Róich. When swung, it was said to make a circle like an arc of rainbows, and to have the power to cleave the tops from the hills. Some people have suggested that Caledfwlch and Caladbolg were the same blade, but I don’t believe that for a second. You should read about this sword in The Táin translated by Thomas Kinsella.
- The Vorpal Blade: This is one of my favorites, although probably the most mysterious of the magic swords. It is mentioned in the poem Jabberwocky in Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll and is used to slay the mighty Jabberwock. There’s really very little detail about it except this:
“One, two! One, two!
And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.”
So, apart from being able to chop off the head of a Jabberwock, it also clearly invented the Snickers bar as a tasty snack. Tons of people have borrowed the Vorpal blade for other stories, as in Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
- Stormbringer: Another black blade, but unlike Dyrnwyn, this one is as evil as they come. Stormbringer is actually a demon that has taken the form of a sword. Its edge can cut through pretty much anything not protected by powerful magic, and it has the nasty habit of drinking the soul from whomever it wounds, even if it just scratches them. Its wielder, Elric, loathes the sword but he’s such a wimp on his own that he wouldn’t survive long without it. Unfortunately, the sword has a mind of its own and it’s an evil jerk. It often betrays Elric by blinding him with bloodlust so that he accidentally kills his lovers and friends. You can read all about this wicked, wicked blade in Elric of Melniboné (and its sequels) by Michael Moorcock.
- Anaklusmos (Riptide): There are so many great swords from fantasy fiction that it’s hard to end this with only one more, but I’ll finish up with Anaklusmos from Rick Riordan‘s Percy Jackson & the Olympians series because my older daughter would kill me if I left this one out. Anaklusmos was originally the sword of Heracles (that’s Hercules for you Romans out there), given to him by a daughter of the god Atlas. The sword is made of celestial bronze, which means it can harm gods, demigods and monsters, but will just pass through mortal flesh without damaging it. Anaklusmos also has the power to change shape, so that when it’s not in use, it appears as a ballpoint pen (although whether the pen is mightier than the sword, I can’t say). It also magically reappears in Percy’s pocket whenever it’s lost—which is really handy. The sword was given to Percy by Chiron the centaur, on the instructions of the god Poseidon. Read the books to find out why.
Fish Wielder is J.R.R.R. (Jim) Hardison’s first novel novel (He wrote a graphic novel, The Helm, for Dark Horse Comics). Jim has worked as a writer, screen writer, animator and film director. He started his professional career by producing a low-budget direct-to-video feature film, The Creature From Lake Michigan. Making a bad movie can be a crash course in the essential elements of good character and story, and The Creature From Lake Michigan was a tremendously bad movie. Shifting his focus entirely to animation, Jim joined Will Vinton Studios where he directed animated commercials for M&M’s and on the stop-motion TV series Gary and Mike. While working at Vinton, he also co-wrote the television special Popeye’s Voyage: The Quest for Pappy with actor Paul Reiser.
Jim has appeared on NBC’s The Apprentice as an expert advisor on brand characters, developed characters and wrote the pilot episode for the PBS children’s television series SeeMore’s Playhouse and authored the previously mentioned graphic novel, The Helm, named one of 2010’s top ten Great Graphic Novels for Teens by YALSA, a branch of the American Library Association. These days, Jim is the creative director and co-owner of Character LLC, a company that does story-analysis for brands and entertainment properties. He lives in Portland, Oregon with his lovely wife, two amazing kids, one smart dog and one stupid dog.