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Prominence of Swords in Fantasy Settings

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Black Dragon, Feb 27, 2019.

  1. Black Dragon

    Black Dragon Staff Administrator

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    Why do you think that swords feature so prominently in most fantasy stories? Is it due to symbolism, historical significance, or something else?
     
  2. pmmg

    pmmg Dark Lord

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    Cause they're cool...

    I think it really has a lot to do with the romantic and chivalric imagery. A sword kind of represents taking ones destiny into their own hands, and bringing about, for good or for ill, whatever change needs to come about. And it carries with it an honorable method of bringing about, I am not challenging the fates in an underhanded or unfair manner, they get to pick up their sword and defend what they do not want to change if they can.

    I don't think other weapons carry this connotation as strongly, but I think there is a similar feel with six shooters via gun slingers in the west, and WWII fighter planes dog-fighting it out.

    In a fantasy setting, I also think swords kind of make sense. Its like an easy to carry, to use, and universal type of tool. I can see why many would carry one. Not always the best choice, but never the worst.

    I've heard others talk about the phallic nature of the sword and its imagery and suggest that that is also part of it. Male symbols of power forcing their way upon things, but I never quite found that imagery to resonate. Maybe...
     
  3. Snowpoint

    Snowpoint Mystagogue

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    Swords are so extra. Axes are cheaper, easier to make and use, you can throw it. But the real winner is STICK. Can't beat stick.
     
  4. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Dark Lord

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    Spears were the original guns. They’re the best and most widely used weapon.
    As far as the ‘cool’ factor, i think spears and swords are about equal. They both have about the same level of symbolic meaning.

    I think the prevalence of swords in fantasy mostly comes from how well known Excalibur and the Sword in the Stone are in the modern West. There’s no mythological spear with a reputation like that.
     
  5. pmmg

    pmmg Dark Lord

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    The spear of destiny. Even Hitler went looking for that one :cautious: Sorry, but swords are cooler than spears in my book. But...spears would be better to give to an army.

    If it had been the Axe in the stone, I don't think it would have caught on as well.
     
    Last edited: Feb 27, 2019
  6. skip.knox

    skip.knox Staff Moderator

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    Well, most fantasy stories are set in pre-industrial times. True, there's a window there of after gunpowder but before the 19thc, and has its own little sub-genre, but far more stories are quasi-medieval or quasi-ancient. So, swords.
     
  7. Firefly

    Firefly Master

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    I honestly think a lot of it has to do with familiarity. We all know, generally, how someone fights with a sword, we've all seen swordfights in movies and read enough of them in books to have picked up a little bit of vocabulary. A writer who's read a lot of fantasy novels can usually write a scene where characters fight with swords without any extra research and have it seem fairly plausible to the average reader. The same is not true (Or at least, less true) for most other weapons. The MC in the story I'm working on right now fights with axes and I'm sorely tempted to change it back to a sword every time it comes up because I just have no clue what kind of training or tactics would make sense and I'm not super excited to go out and research it.
     
  8. Malik

    Malik Shadow Lord

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    I built a career on the fact that vast numbers of fantasy authors don't.

    The sword does a thing that other weapons don't--and can't.

    The sword is defined by its singularity of purpose. It's a tool for the taking of human life. Daggers, spears, axes, hammers, bows . . . they all have secondary roles. More to the point, they're tools that have been repurposed.

    Swords kill people. Period. You don't hunt with it, you don't drive nails with it, you don't split wood with it, you don't eat with it in a pinch. If you carry a sword, you're carrying a prominent thing for the sole purpose of killing someone with it. Throughout history, that has spoken immense volumes: if you've trained with a sword, you're a trained killer. If you're carrying one, you're ready to kill someone at any moment. Just contemplate that for a moment. I think it gets lost in the trope quite a bit. It's not a thing to be taken lightly. For all of time immemorial, the hard and fast rule has been to stay the f*** away from someone carrying a sword. We never see this, of course, because it's the go-to for fantasy characters ("Oh, you have a sword? Cool! I have a sword! YAY SWORDS!") but when you really think about what a sword is, and what it does, and what it stands for, it gets kind of weird to think that everyone is carrying one all the time, everywhere. I mean, that's an awkward and ultimately untenable social construct, right there. Just my two cents.
     
  9. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    Put the pointy end in the soft part of the bad guy. How hard can it be? :p
     
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  10. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Staff Article Team

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    Very, to be honest. You're carrying around a three foot razor blade and hoping you don't lop your own head off. Sword fights can be blindingly fast.
     
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  11. Malik

    Malik Shadow Lord

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    [​IMG]

    Only took ten years of study and practice and only cost me the tip of one finger. Just sayin'. Y'all better hurry.
     
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  12. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Staff Article Team

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  13. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Staff Article Team

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    I remember, when I was younger, working with a group called Renaissance Sword Theatre who performed with live steel. I was only seventeen, so no sword work for me, but I got to pick up a few fingers and hold pressure on one guy who'd been run through.
     
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  14. Malik

    Malik Shadow Lord

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    I ****ing love you maniacs, just so much.
     
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  15. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    I'm gambling on you forgetting this exchange before WorldCon. ;)

    Seriously though, I get where you're coming from. I hadn't considered the point about how swords were designed exclusively for killing humans (and that's probably telling), but it makes sense now you mention it.

    That said, I also wouldn't have attempted to write combat scenes like the ones in Dragon's Trail.
     
  16. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Staff Article Team

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    My entire goal in life is to be Malik when I grow up. :D
     
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  17. Malik

    Malik Shadow Lord

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    Remind me to show you the finger. Unfortunately, it's one removed from the one I'd like to show you.
     
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  18. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    I lost my fingertip to regular door, and I can't write a werewolf story even if the main character is a werewolf - apparently.

    ...and I'll stop derailing the thread now.

    As to the original question of why swords are so prominent...

    I think a lot of it is to do with genre convention, reader expectations, and the "cool" factor.
    Heroes in fantasy stories fight with swords, because that's what fantasy heroes do. It may be a bit of a simplification, but I don't think it's necessarily wrong.
     
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  19. Malik

    Malik Shadow Lord

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    Living the Research
     
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  20. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Staff Article Team

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