Thursday, August 4, 2011

Worldbuilding: knights, part 2


The classic fantasy weapon. Symbolic shorthand for masculinity, power and death.

They've been around for millennia and come in every conceivable shape and size. Then fantasy got a hold of them and expanded into the inconceivable.

Here are a few real-world things I learned about swords: 

It's only a broadsword in comparison to the thinner, lighter rapiers that came later. If your world doesn't have rapiers, then a broadsword is just a sword.

It's not a blood groove. That channel running down the middle of the blade is a fuller and it's there because it changes the weight and bending dynamics of the metal. Swords bend -- they're supposed to, or they'll break -- and they're supposed to snap back true. 

When I was doing research on weapons, I ran into a lot of discussion about: what's the "best" sword? The katana achieved a state of metallurgical and aesthetic perfection centuries ago, and was able to remain there thanks to the stability of the Tokugawa shogunate. In Europe, swords underwent continual adaptation to the changing state of warfare and hand-to-hand combat. Each one had its time and place.

Ultimately, it's not about having the "best" sword. It's having the right sword for your situation. More than that, it's the hand on the sword. Which leads to extensive dissections of fighting styles, mostly involving Asian martial arts because the only European fighting style that's practiced much anymore is fencing... I did run across a persuasive argument by someone who's studied a variety of martial arts that it's not the sword and it's not the fighting style. A duel will be won by the "better" warrior.

What does "better" mean? The one who's prepared, alert, focused, motivated, got a good night's sleep, ate his/her Wheaties, and has something worth fighting for. It could be anything that gives one the edge over the other. In other words, it's about the characters. But we're writers, we knew that already...

Some of my favorite real-world swords:

Katana -- of course. They're beautiful, oversized razor blades. The wavy line along the blade is called the hamon and it's a by-product of the forging process. It's the mark of the genuine article and unique to each sword.

Claymore -- I'll let my Scottish roots show. Big honking sword, though there is plenty of disagreement over how big. The claymore purported to have been William Wallace's is five and a half feet long.

Flambard -- better known by its incorrect name, the flamberge. How's this for scary-looking?

Yes, it's a rather vanilla list. For more interesting things, Google image of "kora sword" or "ngombe sword".

I will post some of my favorite fantasy swords (and the fiction that goes with them) at some point. Do you keep your swords simple, or do you get fancy and exotic?

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