Swords and Swords-and-Sorcery

When we think of a sword in a swords-and-sorcery yarn, most often we think of a barbarian swinging a broadsword. We know what that means. We can visualize it. No matter that “broadsword” is not a term of art, and that in fact a broadsword, properly speaking, is far from the heavy spatha or arming sword we associate with our barbarian hero. And that’s fine. Secondary world fantasy or fantastic fictionalizations of our world don’t demand technical accuracy.

But sometimes layering in realistic detail helps build verisimilitude. With heroic fiction, focusing some effort on realism in weaponry can yield benefits for the readers. I”ve found books such as Swords and HIlt Weapons to be not only interesting reading, but valuable resources in my own writing. Not to mention reading. I’m sure there was some point at which I had to look up a word such as “tulwar.” And you never know when a writer (probably a Vance or a de Camp) is going to throw in “anlace.”

As a writer, being able to say that a character is not merely wielding a “dagger” but instead a baselard, or rondel dagger, or — better yet — a ballock knife, adds a layer to the world building, and a touch of flavor. Having someone swing around, say, a yataghan adds an exotic spice to the story. I named the eponymous Falchion of the Falchion’s Company series after his favorite weapon, hoping to imbue the character with some of the quirks of the weapon. Something in his makeup would be lacking if I’d equipped him with a garden variety longsword. (Want to see a cool variation on a falchion? Check out the video of Skallagrim unboxing the “Skalchion” designed specifically for him. But watch out for falling down that rabbit hole of videos.)

Do I have any business proffering writing advice? Eh, the jury is still out. But, for what it is worth, I suggest that when writing S&S, pay attention to both “Ss.” Make the magical or supernatural aspect interesting and distinct. At the same time, devote at least some attention to the length of sharpened steel.