Partridge India Writing Tips| Swords in Fiction
Few weapons are as popular in fiction, whether fantasy or sci-fi, than the sword. Something about a sword, either due to history or culture, has given it weight within popular culture. From Exaclibur to the lightsaber, swords have been popular and prominent objects in fiction for centuries if not millennia. Unfortunately swords have also been surrounded with misconceptions and misunderstandings that also enjoy prominence in popular culture. In this entry of Writing Tips, Partridge India will explore the role of swords in fiction, the key misconceptions surrounding them, and certain types of swords.
The Roles of the Sword
Few objects are as associated with kings, heroes, and warriors as the sword. Swords have been heavily associated with rulers and commanders of rank. This is often the case even when a society or culture does not rely upon a sword as a primary weapon of war. With some exceptions, swords across human history were usually secondary weapons to spear-like weapons or such weapons maces, axes, and warhammers.
In medieval Europe, carrying a sword was fairly common as it was relied upon for self-defense. In the event of actual battle, the preferred weapons were those better capable of piercing or bypassing heavy armor. This is not to say that swords were useless in actual combat, far from it, but depending on the protective technology of the time and place there were far better and more efficient weapons to pick.
In Japan, the signature weapon of the Samurai was not originally the sword but the bow, particularly when fired from horseback. Overtime the sword became more closely associated with the samurai class (during certain periods only samurai were permitted them, on pain of death), but even then sword was more a status symbol, primarily used in duels.
Popular Types of Swords
Gladius- the signature weapon of the Roman Legions. Whether fighting for the Republic or the Empire, the gladius was the weapon of a Roman soldier. Short, heavy, and pointed, the gladius could puncture most forms of armor and protections and do so repeatedly thanks to the near-mechanical precision of a fully trained legionnaire. The relative heft of the gladius also made it good at chopping. Requiring little training compared to other types of sword, and easily mass-produced, it did not take much to properly train and equip a block of legionnaires and train it into a deadly machine.
European Longsword- Perhaps one of the most prominent types of sword in Western culture, the longsword is an incredibly versatile weapon and can come in a number of variations suited for different purposes. At its most basic, a longsword can be wielded with both hands or with one hand and the other hand holding a shield. It can be used to hack, but due to its sharp and ‘thin’ point, it can also be used to thrust through gaps in a foe’s armor. Surviving training manuals out of Medieval Europe also show that a great deal of grappling and manipulation went into combat between two longsword wielders, helped by the fact that the part of the blade closer to the hilt was often dull so that it can be gripped.
Japanese Katana- the Japanese katana is an elegant weapon with an unfortunately contentious place in popular media. While no doubt a beautifully crafted weapon requiring an incredible amount of skill to create, the reputation of the katana has been overblown to a point well beyond its historical role. The katana is in part famous due to the folded-steel technique used in forging, this technique being necessitated to make the most out of limited and often poor quality sources of iron accessible in Japan. The katana is also praised for its sharp edge, being capable of delivering devastating cuts and slashes in the right hands. Unfortunately the katana design has limited effectiveness against heavier forms of armor, especially those fashioned from metal.
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