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The Sword Endures

With all the different kinds of speculative stories, with fantastic weapons and wars, why is the symbol and themes of the sword so transcendent?
| Jul 13, 2012 | No comments |

The worlds of fantasy and science fiction branch into so many subgenres, you could spend an entire afternoon trying to determine exactly where the story you are reading truly fits. And each of those subgenres experiences an ebb and flow of popularity. One year cyberpunk rules the realm of book sales; in another time, steampunk holds center stage. Vampires or zombies? Gothic, urban, contemporary—or a mix of all three?

Beneath this current of shifting tastes in speculative fiction, the audience for traditional fantasy remains. You can always count on finding new books about sword-slingers, and authors can reliably count on encountering an audience for such stories. But what is it about the image of the sword in particular that endures so long beyond a time when the weapon has become little more than a collector’s item?

It’s significant that in the Bible, the sword appears from Genesis to Revelation—and I don’t think that only has to do with the audience that was living during the time of the books’ writing. After all, if the Bible is God’s inspired word, he could have chosen to inspire it at any point in history, or he could have given those who penned its words the vision to explain some sort of weapon besides a sword. We can be fairly certain Christ’s return will come at a time when ballistic weapons are part of the world’s technology, and yet, the Bible paints Christ as a wielder of a sword as his weapon of winnowing. Will it be a literal sword? Perhaps not. But why the choice of the imagery then, and what does that have to do with fantasy-lover’s innate appreciation for blade-based combat?

The way a sword requires the wielder engage his opponent has a lot to do with the fantasy reader’s fascination with them. Sword combat requires a combatant face his opponent, unflinching, and to be fully intentional about his engagement in the battle. Sword combat is highly personal. A swordsman cannot deny his clear connection to the damage he deals with his weapon.

In the same way, we know there is nothing haphazard about the way God will one day choose to defeat the enemy. No cross-fire, no collateral damage—just a series of very intentional strokes of a well-honed weapon meant for one purpose.

I believe fantasy readers long for the nobility, the bravery, the ownership of one’s actions a well-wielded sword requires. Fantasy is one of the few places in the literary world where clear delineations between good and evil get the spotlight, and in a similar way, a swordsman who fights in an underhanded way can only do so if he dares cheat within blade’s reach of the opponent he wrongs.

We love the sword because of the romanticism attached to a fighter who will stand his ground when evil is close enough to literally crush him. We resonate with the sword as a weapon that stands for truth, just as the Biblical Sword of the Spirit is God’s word—something to be wielded with skill and strength as part of our defense against our enemies, and more importantly, in the winning of a lost world. Whether the enduring appreciation of the sword is culturally generated, spiritually ingrained, or a little of both, there is no denying the subtle mystique that surrounds the weapon itself. And even more so, the one who wields it.

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Kat Heckenbach
Member

That’s cool, Rebecca. I had never thought of it that way!

I love this statement: “No cross-fire, no collateral damage—just a series of very intentional strokes of a well-honed weapon meant for one purpose.” That is not an image you can create with weapons of today.

And here’s my completely geeky observation: As you say, the Sword of the Spirit is “God’s word.”  (See the bold? Yes, I am that nerdy.)

Precarious Yates
Guest

I love how you point out that the sword appears from Genesis to Revelation! I’d never seen that before.

Literaturelady
Guest

Wow.  This is amazing and insightful.  I had never thought of the valor of sword-wielding that way (and I love your phrase “blade based combat”!).  Thank you for sharing these wonderful observations!
Blessings,
Literaturelady

Galadriel
Guest

The other day, my pastor mentioned how the Levites slew the Israelites after they made the golden calf. 

Pastor: Generally, it’s frowned upon to take up running around with a sword slashing people’s heads off. 

Which is true, but I still want one. A sword, that is. Not someone else’s head.  Also makes me think of a quote from the Binding of the Blade series (from memory)
 “The sword must be a thinking man’s weapon. They always  entrust the army to the guy with the sword. Never the guy with the spear or the bow and arrows or the war hammer. Prejudice. “
“That must be  it. It has nothing to do with the fact most soldiers carry swords, nor the fact that most guys with war hammers just come across as lugs who like to smash things.”
———– 

J Wilson
Guest

Wow. I just discovered today why I love swords so much. I’ve never thought much about it, and always just assumed it’s because they are mainstays of fantasy, but you are right — they are so much more because of what they symbolize.   

Kaci Hill
Member

Lovely post. 

Jeremy McNabb
Guest

This is absolutely brilliant, and the kind of post I hope for from a blog. Thanks so much for putting words to this concept. I never would have thunk it up. 

I’m going to go sharpen my sword now. 

Lauren
Guest

Wow! Great post. I’d never thought about swords this way before. Posts like this are why I love this blog!

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