Hi! I’m a fanfic author working on a LotR Glorfindel-as-an-Avenger crossover, and I was wondering whether a staff, spear, or battleaxe would be the best choice of weapon (of course I know that the way the Avengers fight isn’t realistic!). Obviously I can’t use a bow, hammer/club, shield, guns, or batons because the other Avengers already use those. I know this is a wacky question, so I understand if there’s no good answer.

Actually, there’s a pretty good answer: Glorfindel’s sword, Laure (”Golden Light”) is the weapon he should be wielding. It is his second sword, the first was lost in battle with a Balrog during the First Age, and the weapon he carried when he brought Frodo to Rivendell in The Fellowship of the Ring.

Give him the sword he used when he went toe to toe with the Nazghul.

(I know I just sent some hardcore Tolkienite into a rage there for not including the proper characters on the ‘e’. I’m sorry, all I ask is that we not ask me to figure out how to do it in Tumblr’s askbox. )

It’s important to remember that Tolkien was writing myth when he wrote Lord of the Rings, he believed that all the world’s good literature ended with Beowulf. Tolkien structures his narrative and his characters (yes, all of them) around that style of storytelling. A style more akin to say, Norse Myth than it is to most of what you’ll find in the general fantasy section of your bookstore. For one of the founders of the epic fantasy genre, very few fantasy authors actually write like Tolkien.

When you’re working with any of his characters, it’s important to take that into account. The named weapons, especially the swords, are a huge deal in Western European mythological tradition. The characters themselves are more archetype than individual in the classic sense of characterization, they are intended to be larger than life. (In this way, a Marvel/LoTR crossover is not as odd as it might seem at first glance.) The swords act as symbols, communicating a vast amount of information to the reader about who these characters are supposed to be, how we’re supposed to perceive them, and what their place in the narrative is.

In European myth, the sword itself is not by itself a symbol in the same way that the katana is for the Japanese. Rather, because swords were common, specific swords become a means of denoting importance. The named swords, from the purely legendary ones like Excalibur to the real life swords carried by Kings, Lords, and famous retainers like Charlemagne’s Joyeuse and (the ironically more famous) Durendal (’Endure’) carried by his paladin Roland.

It’s so crazy and important in myth that Beowulf’s sword Hrunting, carried into battle against Grendel’s mother and lent to him by Unferth, gets its own Wikipedia entry.

These swords have their own lineage, history, and stories behind them. How they were gotten. What their names are. Who made them. Who handed them out. What battles they fought in.

“This is my sword.”

Or:

“This is Frost, named by the Seven Singing monks in the valley of the Black Mountain, gifted to my father Omar Strongjaw by King Redovir for his service in the War of Five Blades, and borne into battle against the giant Gorim Longtooth.”

It’s the epic’s way of saying, “Hey, in case you weren’t clear, THIS GUY IS IMPORTANT.”

Tolkien adores this trope, almost every single important character (and probably even the unimportant ones) are going to have a sword or a bow like this, with a name, and the weapon itself has a history equivalent to the one who wields it. Just like Thor’s hammer Mjolnir. And it should be pointed out that the legendary/mythical Thor (not to be confused with Marvel’s Thor) is one of the inspirations for all this in the first place.

Do the elves hold a similar narrative position to Marvel’s Asgardians?

Yes, they do.

Tolkien gave his characters the weapons he did for a reason. Aragorn is the obvious go to with Narsil as the Excalibur stand-in to point out that he will be king, but Legolas’ bow, Frodo/Bilbo’s Sting, and Gimli’s axe are all subtle to not so subtle narrative tells communicating information to the audience about who these characters are.

I mean, honestly, they’re so recognizable as archetypes that we have an entire array of DnD classes based on them.

It’s so specific in its intent that these characters cannot have their weapons switched out without changing the substructure of how we as the audience are supposed to see them as their presentation hinges on a subconscious understanding of how Western European myth functions. They are bound up in their weapons and their weapons are bound up in them.

It’s as signature as a signature weapon gets.

Don’t think about it in terms of effectiveness but rather storytelling significance. If you want to do research outside of Tolkien for your LoTR characters, I recommend the classics and Tolkien’s classics only aka Beowulf, Gilgamesh, Norse Myth, The Welsh Triads (Mabinogion), etc. What he drew from to create his own myth.

Also, trust that Tolkien understood myth and how to draw out those storytelling qualities to create mythological characters within the consciousness of the modern reader better than you or I ever will. He was a Cambridge Professor, myth was both his passion and his job.

Take the opportunity of playing in Tolkien’s playground (especially in adaptation) to get into the nuts and bolts of how he worked. Why his characters worked and why they are so enduring in our consciousness.

If you get stuck, Joseph Campbell (beyond The Hero With A Thousand Faces) might be helpful in unpacking the mythic tropes that Tolkien mastered, what they mean to the human psyche, and why these themes so captivate our imaginations.

And if you ever have any question about what weapon a Tolkien character should wield, always check what their canonical weapon is first. It may be difficult to track down, but that’s what the thousands of Tolkien scholars on the internet are for! The beautiful thing about Tolkien’s popularity is that if you don’t know, someone else probably does and will expound upon it at length, in great detail, until all you want is for them to go away.

Happy writing!

-Michi

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