Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Culture Blogs: The Weapons Cache (Swords)

Those of you who follow my blog already know, I'm a fan of "The Legend of Zelda" series of games.  As I've grown up becoming a knight has always been one of my dreams.  Running around with a sword and a shield defending right and defeating evil.  I learned from Link that being a knight was a state of mind rather than a title, because throughout the series of games, he is never once a knight of his Kingdom.  The culture that it established between knighthood and being a good person is the reason I still play the games today.

Weapons play an interesting role in how a culture works.   For example the Samurai and their law of Bushido is often represented in the katana.  Knighthood or the idea of good verses evil is represented by the English broadsword or longsword.   An ax usually represents a lumberjack or an explorer of some kind.  Each of these different weapons has a very specific way they define the culture they belong to.  From time to time I plan on coming back to this series on weapons to present new ideas and concepts to you.  However for our purposes today I thought it best if we began with a weapon everyone is familiar with: The Sword. 

Most folks are familiar with Star Wars and the Jedi-Sith's iconic lightsaber.  These marvelous weapons create an entire culture on their own.  While it is possible to see in the Star Wars movies folks who aren't Jedi or Sith wielding them, you won't see (or rather read about) anything other than a Jedi or a Sith make one.  This is because the process of building the lightsaber is intrinsic to the training process of both Jedi and Sith.  Each one makes their own lightsaber.  Like in the example to our right you see both Mace Windu and Obi-Wan Kenobi with their lightsabers.  Each one was handmade by the Jedi themselves.  Not only handmade, but they found all of the resources to build the lightsaber themselves.  So when you are looking at a lightsaber, you aren't just seeing a man with a blade of light, but instead it is a man with blade of their own light.  This culture is developed further in the movies, because all Sith have red lightsabers and each Jedi has their own iconic color.  Anakin or Darth Vader and his son Luke are the only characters who change throughout the series and this has much to do with their identities changing.  Anakin the legendary Jedi uses a blue lightsaber, and later becomes Darth Vader, Dark Lord of the Sith, with a red lightsaber.  As opposed to Luke who begins with his father's blue lightsaber, and eventually builds a green lightsaber like Master Yoda's.  This represents his progression from student to master (by default of being the only Jedi).  This is a great example of how a weapon defines not only the culture, but the people inside of it.

Perhaps one of the most renowned swordsmen of all time is a Japanese Kensei by the name of Miyamoto Musashi.  From the age of sixteen he fought in various duels.  He never lost a duel in his life.  It is reported that he fought in about sixty duels during his life, but this estimate is low because he also fought in a several wars also.  What defines him best is his style of fighting, because he is the father of the two sword method of fighting with katana and wakasashi.  This is described in his most famous book known as The Book of Five Rings.  Most folks don't know when they are watching various movies with two sword fighting in it they are learning about the way this man fought.

The iconic battle of which he is most famous is between him and Sasaki Kojirō, better known as The Demon of the Western Provinences.  Sasaki was famous for his ability to wield a nodachi.  Musashi arrived not only to the duel three hours late, but he didn't even bring a metal sword, instead he had a bokken (that legend says he carved from the oar of his boat).  The duel was a short one and Musashi killed his opponent with the bokken.  There are tons of theories behind why he won so quickly or easily, but the fact of the matter is that he knew enough about swordsmanship to recognize that the material of sword didn't matter, but rather the material of the swordsman.

A common trope of the sword is the Legendary Sword.  Arthur and Excaliber, Link and the Master Sword, and even the mighty Sword of Gryffindor are all examples of this.  Each one of these is an example of a sword creating a culture though.  Excaliber was how England would know its true King had arrived.  The Hero of most Zelda games is established by the possession of the Master Sword.  And the Sword of Gryffindor not only was prized by the House of Gryffindor in Harry Potter, but also by the Goblin community.  Each of these swords are precious not only because of the special powers they have, but the fact that they are unlike any real sword.  A real sword gets chipped and it warped by use in battle.  But have you ever heard of any of these blades being destroyed by use in battle?  They are nigh indestructible.  And that can be a very important part of the culture the sword can create.  If there is one sword more precious than others it has to have some special quality that affects the culture. Remember Anduril?  In the Lord of the Rings books that sword would only be wielded by the man who was the true King of Gondor.  And when Aragorn received it we knew that there would be changes culturally that would take place because of it.

Regardless of how you choose to use swords or other weapons in your stories, always make certain you do your research on the type of sword you are using and the culture it represents.  And if it doesn't have a culture that it is attached to, make certain to give it some sort of culture.  A weapon without culture isn't a weapon, but a prop that reveals the hand of the author in fiction.

And as I reveal my hand in gratitude near the end of each blog for your continued readership and deepening our conversation, I wish to remind you of our books of the month.  Tankborn by Karen Sandler and Dhalgren by Samuel Delany.  Both of these are excellent books and I'm giving them away this month to a lucky follower of the blog.  Cause I know that not everyone can follow my blog there are two ways to get entries.  One is to actually follow the blog this will get your name put into my hat three times, and the other is to leave a comment on the blog.  For each comment I receive on my blog during the month of February I'll put your name into the hat once.  I actually really enjoy doing this because it gets me reading different books, supporting authors I love, and it allows me an opportunity to give back to the audience I am building.

Next time our discussion will be on the Hypocrisy of Religion.  (I'll be doing more weapons blogs over time, be patient.)  This is Jayrod Garrett, the First OG, with one question for you.  What swords have inspired you over the years?


By the Power of Grayskull!
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