Favorite Weapons: Be it Excalibur or the Point of View Gun, Stormbringer or the BFG, weapons in Fantasy and Science Fiction often have a personality and charm all their own, and sometimes are even characters in their own right.
Here are a couple of additional late correspondents from yesterday’s Mind Meld, who have also weighed in…
“My brother has his sword, King Robert has his warhammer and I have my mind…and a mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone if it is to keep its edge. That’s why I read so much Jon Snow.”
Over the years a lot of cool and destructive weapons have appeared in books and movies, but still the most dangerous one is that of the mind of cunning commander. Think about it, the most potent weapon is worthless if you face an opponent who can outsmart you at every turn.
It’s also a lot more fun to read how a character overcomes an obstacle and defeat his or her opponents by outwitting them instead of just swinging a big stick around and smashing heads. For example one of the joys of reading the Shadow Campaigns series by Django Wexler is discovering the strategy behind the battle orders of the brilliant but eccentric Colonel Janus. Commands that at first glance seem just weird or even suicidal turn out to exploit key weakness es of the oppossing army and secure an overwhelming victory.
It’s not just the genius stroke that makes the mind a formidable weapon. It’s also the intelligence to cooperate and coordinate that can give the edge to defeat a larger, stronger or more numerous opponent. In The Thousand Names, the first book of the Shadow Campaigns, it’s the soldier Winter Ihernglass who manages to prevent the massacre of her fellow soldiers during a patrol. How? Because she was smart enough to manuever them in a formation that was able to fend of an attack by mounted ambushers. Alone each soldier would have been cut down, but together they were able to form a tight formation and shoot en masse to defend against the attack. All because Winter was smart enough to realize how they needed to work together and her fellow soldiers were smart enough to follow her orders.
Reading how a brilliant strategy unfolds or a group of people learn to work together makes for a great story. To quote the strategist Hannibal, I love it when a plan comes together.
The story of the creation of the hammer is interesting: Loki bets his head with Sindri and his brother Brokkr, two dwarfs who accept Loki’s bet; they start working, but Loki turns into a fly, bites Bokkr’s eye and tries to prevent him from doing a correct job. The third bite of Loki is so deep that blood runs into Brokkr’s eyes and forces him stop working the bellows just long enough to wipe his eyes. When Sindri returns, he takes Mjölnir out of the forge. The handle is shorter than Sindri had planned and so the hammer can only be wielded with one hand. Despite the flaw in the handle, Sindri and Brokkr win the bet.
Thor does not care much about the short handle either. The hammer is more than his weapon – it is his symbol, it is associated with thunder and it is part of all the stories featuring Thor – maybe the most beautiful and inventive legends in Scandinavian mythology.
-The trumpets used by Joshua’s army in the bible to destroy the walls of Jericho. The story has always impressed me since I was a child. It is one of the rare times where a musical instrument is used as a weapon.
-In Greek Mythology, the harpe – a sword with a sickle protrusion along one edge near the tip of the blade. It was the weapon used by Cronus to castrate his father, Uranus. In his quest to slay the Medusa and recover her head, Perseus was also provided with an adamantine harpe sword by his father, Zeus.
-In Japanese mythology, the Masamune sword. A real Japanese sword (with alleged mythical abilities), created by Japan’s greatest swordsmith, Goro Nyudo Masamune. The swords of Masamune have a reputation for superior beauty and quality, remarkable in a period where the steel necessary for swords was often impure. He is considered to have brought to perfection the art of “nie” (martensitic crystals embedded in pearlite matrix, thought to resemble stars in the night sky). With such poetry at the heart of its creation, it is hardly amazing that Masamune swords are, by far, the most referenced Japanese sword in popular fiction, ranging through books, movies and computer games (ranging from various games such as SoulCalibur II, League of Legends, Final Fight, Realm of the Mad God, Golden Sun: The Lost Age, Final Fantasy and many others to Highlander (movie of 1986); Soul Eater anime and manga; Samurai Deeper Kyo anime and manga; the Trilogy’s Dark Heavens books written by author Kylie Chan, Journey to Wudang and Celestial Battle. Also, in the SF television series Warehouse 13 first season episode “Implosion”, a sword named Honjo Masamune, plays an important role as an artifact said to be so perfectly crafted, each layer honed to the thickness of a single atom that light bends around out, making the holder practically invisible (this was one of my favourite episodes of the series).
-The bow & arrows of Robin Hood. I don’t think the bow has any special name, but Robin Hood is one of my favourite legend heroes and his bow and arrows are almost magic. In fantasy, bows and arrows are less important than swords, but they deserve a mention too.
-Needle – the thin sword wielded by Arya Stark in Game of Thrones by George Martin. Needle was given to Arya by Jon Snow, who had it made by Mikken, the blacksmith of Winterfell. The sword is well suited to Arya’s slight build and is much better suited to the “Water Dance” style of fencing popular in Braavos and other Free Cities, which emphasizes speed and agility with a thin, light rapier used in quick thrusting attacks. Arya is one of my favourite characters in the book; the “Water Dance” is partly inspired by the Eastern-style martial combats.
-Sting – a knife used by hobbits in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Although made by the Elves as a large knife, it functioned well as a sword for the small-sized Hobbits. Bilbo Baggins named the weapon after using it to fend off the giant spiders in Mirkwood forest, then later passed it on to Frodo to use in his quest to destroy the One Ring. Sting would glow blue whenever orcs were nearby (also a property of Gandalf’s sword Glamdring and its mate sword Orcrist (Thorin’s sword).)
-I am quite fond of daggers. Unfortunately, daggers are not popular in fantasy literature. The Medici Dagger, a novel by Cameron West features a fictitious dagger invented by Leonardo Da Vinci from an alloy lighter and stronger than anything else known to mankind. When Da Vinci realized that the dagger was going to be used for evil, he hid it in an encoded map called Circles of Truth.
-Harry Potter’s wand produced a powerful Patronus Charm (the most effective defence against Dark Magic and the gloomy Dementors). It also shoots Voldemort “a spurt of golden fire” and destroys his wand.
– The Vorpal Sword used to fight against the Jabberwocky in Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carol. In the book, the sword is just used to kill the beast of the poem, but later, vorpal swords were used in various Role Playing Games and in the comic Fables by Billy Willingham.
-One thing I love (but it is not used very often), is when something unexpected is used as a weapon. For instance, in Harry Potter, the lethal spell “Avada Kedavra” used by dark wizards can certainly be considered as one of the most powerful weapons as it causes the instantaneous death of any living person or magic creature it is cast upon. In the Arabian Nights, in one of the stories of “The Three Ladies and the Porter of Baghdad”, a sorceress and a jinn kill each other at a magic duel (they metamorphose into various creatures and fight.) Magic is the main weapon in this story. Finally, in David Cronenberg’s Scanners, the mind of a powerful telepath can incinerate a body or make heads explode. In this case the telepath mind is a powerful weapon. In the movie Inception, an idea implanted in a dream becomes the most powerful weapon as it fuels the process of an assassination. Unfortunately, there is not enough room for a few of the inventive weapons in the comic worlds, so I will just mention Poison Ivy’s Killing Kiss (Ivy can kill with a kiss thanks to a lethal toxin on her lips.)
In 1992 movie Cool World a fountain pen is the most dangerous weapon in a cartoon world where real people are transported. Finally, in The Woods, a comic written by James Tynion IV and illustrated by Michael Dialynas, there is a notion of a strange world that is actually a weapon. I don’t know how this idea is developed because the comic is ongoing, but I am looking forward to find out as I loved the story and the art.