Thursday, January 8, 2015

Stop Firing Your Bows (and Arrows)

I love me some Tolkien.  I don’t know how many times I’ve read the books (you may have read them
No, seriously.  Stop.
more, I don’t mind).  I have at least three versions on my shelves, and another on my Kindle.  I have heard most of the audio versions, and own one of the BBC radio broadcast versions on both tape and CD.  I own the Ralph Bakshi and the Rankin Bass and the Peter Jackson versions of the movies.

Tolkien is why I started writing.

I love me some Tolkien.

But way back in 2002, I was quite disappointed.  I was sitting in the movie theater with my then fiancée, thrilled out of my fanboy gourd to watch one of my favorite books turned into one of my favorite movies, with one of my favorite chapters being vividly translated—the Battle of the Hornburg (also known as the Battle of Helm’s Deep).  Everything is set, the tension is rising.  I’ve paid for the whole seat, but I’m only using the edge.  Battle is about to be joined and I’m leaning forward, bursting at the seams because I know—I know—that Peter Jackson and his crew are sticklers for the details.  As much as I love historical accuracy, they love it more.  All the reports, all the leaks, all the discussion has boiled down to this one moment and I know—I know—I’m about to see a cinematic sin righted.

The Uruk-hai pound their spears, Aragorn draws his sword, I bite my nails and then, at 2:40 in this clip, this happens:



No.  No.  No. No. No.  No.  No. No. No.  No.  No. No. No.  No.  No. No.


If you keep watching, you’ll see that the sin isn’t repeated just once, but several times.

Damnit, Peter Jackson (and everyone else).  Bows are not “fired”.  Arrows are not “fired”.  Not in Middle Earth.  Not anywhere on Earth prior to the 12th or 13th century depending on your continent—and really not even then.  The only way to “fire” an arrow is to wrap the head in some kind of fuel, like pitch, and then literally light it on fire.  In that case, the command to “fire” arrows would be to literally set the arrow on fire, but nothing more.  The archers would still be holding their now blazing arrows and wondering why you’re looking at them funny.

Gimme a minute.
My match is on a smoke break!
This is an unfortunate sin that has occurred, and keeps occurring, because writers (myself included) are lazy.  Movies, television, and books have all been guilty of misusing the term “fire” when what they really mean is “loose” or even “shoot”.  In a world where gunpowder doesn’t exist, or is just starting to be used, archers would not be given the command to “fire” their weapons.  That command is used to tell someone who is holding a firearm to literally apply their fire.  The first firearms didn’t have a trigger mechanism, and was essentially a tube, with a big hole at one end where the projectile went in and (hopefully) came out, and a little hole at the other where the something fiery, usually in the form of a slow-burning “match” was applied to make the gunpowder go BOOM!

But bows?  Not so much firing going on as much as relaxing the fingers that drew the string and letting the mechanical energy shoot the arrow into someone’s favorite vital organs.

I know, I know—it’s a small thing.  It’s a minute detail.  But therein lies the realism of the story.  Archers don’t fire, and fires don’t archer.

Or something like that.

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