Friday, March 3, 2017

Sword Types and Describing Them

Type of sword? BIG!
As is often the case with some of these more detailed entries, a discussion about the term “broadsword” (which isn't really a kind of sword) kicked this one off into high gear.  As usual, this is a fleshed out and more fully developed entry that touches on the typology of swords, and using them in writing.

Anymore, I shy away from calling a sword anything but a sword.  As a young author, I used various terminology, and used it wrong.  Worse, breaking out swords in your fantasy world by terminology is something of a crutch (whether you know it or not), which lets you get away with not accurately describing a sword or other weapon.

Let’s boil this down into simple terms.  Swords are tools, and as such, weren’t categorized by their users and owners until academic study came along (see Oakeshott typology). For comparison, the English longbow wasn’t called anything but a “bow” or a “war bow” because it was just another tool in the army’s arsenal. The greater majority of swords were essentially “mass produced” anyhow, and not of great quality. They were handed out as needs dictated, just like modern armies equip their soldiers, and intended to be returned after they were done being used (or collected from the field from the cold, dead corpses).  As discussed previously, the sword was actually a secondary weapon—spears and later polearms were the mainstay of any decent army.  If you were of higher rank and wealth, you’d have a sword made, and then it would be higher quality, individualized for your needs (based on region and your requirements of length and whatnot), and likely you’d have at least two made (one long and one short) along with customized armor, etc.

There are plenty (hundreds) of books that go into the typology of swords, and all the various bits and pieces . . . which most soldiers/warriors simply didn't know or care about.  They wanted a good blade that would spill their enemy's blood while keeping their own safely inside where it belonged!  If you'd really like to get into the proper naming terminology, the following video is a decent enough primer to get started:

These days, because I know more (or enough to be dangerous to myself) unless a character’s sword is significantly different from others (like the film Conan sword), or the type of sword (due to historical considerations) is reasonably unknown to most audiences (or both, like the falcata in Tears of Heaven), I leave it mostly up to the reader’s imagination, and stick to “sword” or “short sword” designations.  This allows the reader to come up with their own version of what kind of weapon the character is using, which generally lends to a more “realistic” experience for the audience.

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