There is something wondrous and intensely beautiful about a blade. Something about that shining steel with an edge like breaking dawn that grips the heart of you and won’t let go.
I received my first sword at the ripe age of five or six. It was a beautiful blade that shone in the moonlight that streamed through my bedroom window, hand-fashioned by dad out of aluminum foil so I could face the night terrors (orcs, goblins, and the like) that I was convinced were hiding in the darkness beyond my bed.
How I loved that blade.
Unfortunately, aluminum foil is not dragon-forged steel, and my sword did not last long. But my fascination with weapons, and particularly with swords has never completely gone away. Yes, in this regard, I earn my geek card … and wear it proudly.
Rarely do you read about magical axes or legendary spears, though there should be a challenge in that for all us fantasy writers out there. But swords have earned a special spot in fantasy, myth, and history alike. In history, swords became endowed with religious significance to the knight. In myth, swords became masters of destiny and weapons of power. And in fantasy, swords run the gamut from lifeless steel to dragon-forged steel, to blades invested with magical abilities, to swords that can talk.
Cursed blades. Blessed blades.
Legends and tales of faerie are filled with both.
So for all you sword-lovers out there, here’s a look at some of my favorite examples of fantastical swords out there. It started out about a mile-long, but I have done my best to trim it down … Okay, so it’s still a mile-long, but awesome.
So without further ado, and in no particular order, SWORDS!
1. Anduril, Flame of the West
He [Aragorn] cast his sword upon the table that stood before Elrond, and the blade was in two pieces. “Here is the Sword that was Broken!” he said.
The Sword that was Broken has claimed a special place in my imagination since I first read The Lord of the Rings. In the movies, I actually liked Aragorn’s Ranger sword better than Anduril. It was just … cooler. The simplicity of the design, the hue of the steel, the knife in the sheath … really, really, awesome.
But as a kid reading the books, I was captivated by the idea of Strider, the weather-beaten Ranger, who went about with a broken sword in his sheath. (Why would anyone do that?) I still remember my awe at discovering the history of that broken blade. Narsil, the blade that cut the ring from Sauron’s hand. Wow. And I was filled with even more awe when it was reforged into a mightier blade still, Anduril!
The Sword of Elendil was forged anew by Elvish smiths, and on its blade was traced a device of seven stars set between the crescent moon and the rayed Sun, and about them was written many runes; for Aragorn son of Arathorn was going to war upon the marches of Mordor. Very bright was that sword when it was made whole again; the light of the sun shone redly in it, and the light of moon shone cold, and its edge was hard and keen. And Aragorn gave it a new name and called it Anduril, Flame of the West.
– The Fellowship of the Ring
*cue all the awesome heroic feelings*
“Honestly,” she said. “You would think that you’d admit that bringing a five-foot-long black sword out in public would be rather conspicuous. It doesn’t help, mind you, that said sword bleeds smoke and can talk in people’s minds.”
I love reading about talking swords. Kind of like I love reading about talking cats. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of the idea, so if you have read a book with an awesome talking sword (or talking cat, for that matter), send it my way!
Nightblood, the talking sword from Brandon Sanderson’s Warbreaker is so funny. (It may also show up in certain other of Brandon Sanderson’s works which will remain unnamed, because SPOILERS!)
It’s a thin-bladed sword with a pure black hilt that bleeds black smoke when drawn from its silver sheath. It also kills things, frequently, including its wielder if the wielder is not prepared properly.
I did very well today, a voice said in his mind.
Vasher didn’t respond to the sword.
I killed them all, Nightblood continued. Aren’t you proud of me?
Vasher picked up the weapon, accustomed to its unusual weight, and carried it in one hand. He recovered his duffel and slung it over his shoulder.
I knew you’d be impressed, Nightblood said, sounding satisfied.
Dangerous as the blade is, Nightblood really is quite awesome. (The sword itself says so!) Though I can’t say I would care to wield it …
3. Artair’s Sword
The blade glowed with a pale shimmering light, like that of the moon. It rippled beneath the surface of the metal, fading now as she gazed upon it.
Of course, I can’t write a post about magical swords without mentioning the white gold blade of the Songkeepers from my own beloved Songkeeper Chronicles. I (somewhat) broke with tradition in that series by not giving the sword a name of its own. In the books, it is simply referred to as Artair’s sword (the name of its original owner) or the sword of the Songkeepers.
But it is a beauty.
The strips of cloth shriveled, as if consumed by fire, and fell back, revealing the sword. Long bluish-white blade, glowing and wet, like flames seen through rippling layers of water. A gold crossguard and pommel. Leather-wrapped hilt. A high-pitched metallic voice emanated from the blade and blended with Birdie’s melody.
The sword was singing.
Yes, a singing sword. *grins* Come on, you have to admit that’s pretty awesome. I know I want one!
The sword was vibrating in her hands now, and the hum of it seeped beneath her skin, settled in her bones, and grew in volume until it became the melody, and her voice awoke in answer.
And like any good magical sword, it’s got more than a few tricks up its sleeve. Or … scabbard?
Amos’s heart sank when he recognized the blade—Artair’s sword. It must have slipped from his belt when he fell. The pirate held the sword aloft so firelight glinted off the gold hilt and blued blade and then dropped it suddenly, cursing. He clutched his hand to his chest, and Amos could have sworn he saw steam arising from the man’s blackened skin.
The sword was up to its old tricks again. Amos spat a glob of blood out of his mouth and grinned at the pirate. “Smarts, don’t it?”
We may get to see more of the blade in Book Three of the Songkeeper Chronicles, Song of Leira (coming June 5, 2018), but I make no promises.
This blade is among the more obscure among the legendary blades of Middle Earth, though if you’ve read the Silmarillion or The Children of Hurin, you should be familiar with it.
As one would expect to find in a tragedy the likes of the tale of Turin Turambar—if you haven’t read it yet, prepare for a feast of tears, my friends, a feast of tears—the blade Anglachel is cursed. Perhaps not in the traditional sense, but if you combine a blade forged from iron from a fallen star and influenced by the dark heart of the smith who made it with the son of a man cursed by Morgoth himself, you should expect tragedy to ensue.
“There is malice in this sword. The heart of the smith still dwells in it, and that heart was dark. It will not love the hand that it serves; neither will it abide with you long.”
[SPOILER ALERT ] Through a tragic (of course) series of events, the sword Anglachel passes from Turin’s friend Beleg to him and is reforged and renamed Gurthang, Iron of Death. With the Black Sword, Turin fights many enemies, earns a dozen new names, and eventually slays the Father of Dragons, Glaurung, before he is driven to madness by the way the curse of Morgoth has unfolded and turns the blade upon himself. (Did I mention this was a tragedy?)
In that moment before Turin’s death, the blade speaks.
And from the blade rang a cold voice in answer: “Yes, I will drink your blood, that I may forget the blood of Beleg my master, and the blood of Brandir slain unjustly. I will slay you swiftly.”
This is one mighty blade from this list that I would not want to own.
But as tragic as the tale may be, I was always fascinated by Turin’s story and will admit to being a big enough Tolkien geek that I read it in every format available—The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, The Children of Hurin. (Yes, I wear my “Tolkien” geek card no less proudly than my “I Love Swords” geek card.)
Honestly, the blades of Middle-Earth deserve their own post, because there are so many magnificent ones—Angrist, the blade that cut the Silmaril from the crown of Morgoth, Sting, Glamdring, Orcrist, and so many more. Tolkien loved his mighty blades.
But for the sake of time, it’s probably best that we move on to other sword-rich fantasy tales.
5. Caudimordax (Vulgarly Tailbiter)
“This sword,” said the parson, “will not stay sheathed, if a dragon is within five miles; and without doubt in a brave man’s hands no dragon can resist it.”
Okay, okay, so I said we would move on from Middle Earth, and I wasn’t lying, even though this next blade happens drawn from another Tolkien tale, Farmer Giles of Ham.
Caudiomordax (or Tailbiter, in the vulgar) is an ancient sword of a magical nature that is bestowed upon a gruff old farmer in reward for his “bravery” in chasing off a marauding giant by shooting him in the nose with his blunderbuss. (In truth, the giant thought he had been stung by a large fly, and disliking being stung by flies as much as the next person, he decided to go home instead.)
The beauty of Tailbiter is that the sword can fight and win a battle practically on its own, and though it’s far more deadly in the hands of a trained swordsman, it’s enough to give an old farmer the means to win a victory, no training required.
He [Farmer Giles] stepped toward Chrysophylax, waving his arms as if he was scaring crows. That was quite enough for Tailbiter. It circled, flashing in the air; then down it came, smiting the dragon on the joint of the right wing, a ringing blow that shocked him exceedingly.
Of course Giles knew very little about the right methods of killing a dragon, or the sword might have landed in a tenderer spot; but Tailbiter did the best it could in inexperienced hands.
As much as I would love to own an Anduril or an Excalibur, Tailbiter might be the best blade for my own, admittedly, less experienced hands.
Oh, yes, speaking of Excalibur, let’s touch on that one next. Because, really, no list of magical swords could be complete without mention of the sword of Arthur, King of the Britons. Forged in dragon fire, drawn by the king from the rock—or offered up by the Lady of the Lake, depending upon the tale—Excalibur is one that has filled the imaginations of children for centuries.
Excalibur … Excalibur …
The word itself rings with the weight of legend and might and song.
As much as I love the tale of King Arthur, I haven’t actually read many books on the subject. (Though I love BBC’s show, Merlin!) But I fully intend to rectify that this year, so please overwhelm me with all your favorite King Arthur book suggestions!
I have a lot of catching up to do.
All right. Last one. I promise. This magnificent blade forms an important part of the tales told in the Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander.
Although jewels studded the hilt and pommel, the scabbard was battered, discolored, nearly black with age. For all that, it had an air of ancient lineage, and Taran was eager to hold it.
Drawn from the barrow of a dead king by Eilonwy, Dyrnwyn is a mighty, light-wielding, flaming blade, and one that brings terror and ruing upon the Horned King, the Cauldron Born, and even Arawn himself. The sword’s scabbard bears a symbol of power to warn the unwary user from drawing the enchanted blade and perishing in fire.
Eilonwy interprets the words as saying that the sword can only be drawn and wielded by one of royal blood. Later on, it’s revealed that one of “noble worth” or even “purpose” might be a better translation. But like most enchanted blades, wielding it incorrectly is sure to get you burned, so it’s better to play it safe than sorry.
And now you get to geek out about your favorite fantasy swords! There are so many more I could have mentioned here (Amos’s very non-magical but very awesome-all-the-same bronze dirk, Shardblades and … other … blades from the Stormlight Archive, etc.) but it’s probably best I leave it there and let you all take over.
- Do you have one to add to the list?
- Or did I already select one of your favorites?
- And the all important question, which sword would you most like to wield in battle … and why?