Tag Archives: lord of the rings

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.”


“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!


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In the latest Hobbit movie, (keeping this as spoiler-free as possible) an elven sword, clearly not designed for throwing, is thrown some 25 or 30 feet upwards and buries itself in the chest of an orc. The question is: is this even possible given the design of the weapon? (look up Thorin Oakenshield’s sword, Orcrist. The sword in question is similar to that.)


Yes, but see, they weren’t on EARTH-Earth, they’re in Middle-Earth. The physics are completely different.

No, it’s the people. Tolkien was building off of material like Beowulf, The Epic of Gilgamesh, Norse myth (which is why Tolkien named the dwarves after the Norse gods, on “a whim”), and (possibly) Greek mythic heroes. Middle Earth is supposed to be a long forgotten dark age.

As with Beowulf and Gilgamesh, the concept of an alternate world, or at least an alternate earth, isn’t there. It’s an overly dramatized account of (fictional) history. Or, at least, that’s what Tolkien was trying to do. Reading it as an alternate world is, mostly, the result of applying genre conventions to the work that didn’t exist when Tolkien was writing.

It’s not that the physics are different, it’s that the people that inhabit the world are far more than human.

The Elves and Dwarves are very clearly superhuman, but Tolkien’s “Race of Men” is more closely related to, again, characters like Beowulf and Gilgamesh. Everyone, even ostensibly human characters like Boromir, is trending into the superhero range. And, honestly, that’s kind of important for understanding what’s going on with the book.

If you want to get into a discussion on authorial intent, Lord of the Rings is a decent counter-example it. Tolkien was trying to write a kind of modern epic. Instead he co-opted and redefined modern fantasy, replacing authors like Robert E. Howard and Fritz Leiber.

justyouraverageauthor said:

Can I just say this only happens in Jackson’s adaptation; it did not occur in the original book.

Yeah, you certainly may. I can’t speak to the Hobbit films (I haven’t watched them) but, based on the Lord of the Rings films, Jackson’s adaptations are kind of like having an overexcited eight-year-old trying to relate the book he just read.

The details are kinda messed up, and there’s random tangents that run on, because: awesome. Important plot points get delayed because he forgot; so he has to go back and add those in later.

But, most of it’s there, more or less, and ironically the perceived tone isn’t completely wrong, it’s just not what the author intended in any way shape or form.

fulminata2 said:


I can’t remember if Thorin’s weapon is an Orc-bane, like Glamdring or Sting… but, basically? No.

It’s kind of important to remember that, even in Tolkien’s books, the entire setting is pushing towards a kind of epic of myth. Everyone is capable of feats that are well beyond actual human limits. Whatever issues I have with Jackson’s adaptations, it is a basic concept from the source material he clearly understands.

Given that Tolkien and Robert E. Howard are probably the two most influential writers for modern fantasy, and both of them were prone to that in their own ways, it probably doesn’t matter for your writing.

But, no, throwing a sword with enough force, and accuracy, to impale someone is basically not possible.


Some of the old longsword treatises have sections on sword throwing, specifically Fiore de Liberi.

And thus was born the world’s most gruesome game of lawn darts. It actually doesn’t surprise me much that Italian school fencing would have some throws buried in its history.

That the technique apparently died out says something… I’m just not sure what. Possibly that it didn’t work, or just that disarming yourself on the hope that you’ll kill your opponent in the process is a really dangerous gamble.

It is worth pointing out that, “yes, people did try to do this,” though.


In the latest Hobbit movie, (keeping this as spoiler-free as possible) an elven sword, clearly not designed for throwing, is thrown some 25 or 30 feet upwards and buries itself in the chest of an orc. The question is: is this even possible given the design of the weapon? (look up Thorin Oakenshield’s sword, Orcrist. The sword in question is similar to that.)

I can’t remember if Thorin’s weapon is an Orc-bane, like Glamdring or Sting… but, basically? No.

It’s kind of important to remember that, even in Tolkien’s books, the entire setting is pushing towards a kind of epic of myth. Everyone is capable of feats that are well beyond actual human limits. Whatever issues I have with Jackson’s adaptations, it is a basic concept from the source material he clearly understands.

Given that Tolkien and Robert E. Howard are probably the two most influential writers for modern fantasy, and both of them were prone to that in their own ways, it probably doesn’t matter for your writing.

But, no, throwing a sword with enough force, and accuracy, to impale someone is basically not possible.


What are some movies or tv shows that do an excellent job at fight (and gun) scenes? I wanted to know what you think, so that I can use them as a reference — be it for drawing or writing a story.

Okay, there’s an easy way to do this and a useful way, let’s start with the useful route. Find names. Not actors, and not usually directors. You’re looking for stunt choreographers, sword masters, or fight choreographers. Unfortunately the name for the positions vary. They will usually be credited in the stunts section on IMDB, if you’re using it. These are the people that actually train the actors and stunt performers. I’ll be honest, these guys can be a pain to track down. If you’re looking for excellent swordplay, the late Bob Anderson is probably the place to start. If you want hand to hand choreography, you’ve got more options, find someone who’s style looks good, and see if you can find other entries in their career where they’re actually coordinating the stunts.

Also, shows will trade off stunt coordinators, sometimes on an episode by episode basis, 24 had at least four different coordinators over the years. Films will sometimes trade off stunt coordinators when they shoot in different cities. So, if you’re looking at a specific fight, make sure you find the stunt coordinator from that episode or scene.

Everyone in stunts are criminally under-appreciated. These are often, very talented martial artists whose names you’ll never know. Tracking down a specific stunt fighter can be tricky, following their career can be even harder, but it is more likely to be useful than a loose list of random films and shows.

So, here’s the random list of films and shows that can get you started:

The Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings films have absolutely fantastic swordplay. Some of it is a bit over the top, Tolkien’s races of men aren’t really human, like the setting’s Elves and Dwarves, they’re a mythical race of super beings, so keep in mind that normal people can’t actually fight while being turned into an arrow pincushion.

Heat and Collateral. Both are focused on highly trained professional criminals with military backgrounds. Heat climaxes around the halfway mark with a North Hollywood shooting style bloodbath. Michael Mann’s work also deserves special mention for his commentaries. After you’ve watched Heat and Collateral, go back and rewatch them with the director’s commentary. Some of this is simple cinematography, or story development (which should still be useful for you), but some of it gets into his observations on criminology, and operations. The remake of Miami Vice also has a standout commentary from Mann (as I recall).

Spartan is focused on a semi-anonymous government operative. It’s treatment of violence is instructional. Also, if you’re writing characters with military hand to hand training, this is what they will do to people.

Strange Days. This is one of the rare films where the violence is really unsettling. It hammers home a lot of things we say on a regular basis, like how going up against multiple combatants is a losing game. (Also, one of the antagonists is a rapist who kills his victims, so a Trigger Warning: Rape is in full effect.)

Burn Notice, sometimes. The early seasons are better about this, but the narrator does offer some pretty solid advice, from talking about how to stage an ambush to explaining why you can’t just burst in shooting, this will give you a lot of the “why”, that controls what your characters do.

24. The writing’s hit or miss, and some of the seasons don’t really coalesce into a single story. You’ll probably learn more about staging and executing cliffhangers from the series (that is it’s forte), but it keeps the violence brief and explosive. It also goes through characters like kleenex, so it’s worth watching for that. The torture scenes waffle, and you’re going to have to use your own judgment on what you’ll accept. If you want to use torture, this is a good primer, then watch Burn Notice to remember why torture just doesn’t work.

If you’re dealing with a setting where some of your characters (particularly your villains) have superpowers, Blade Runner. Most of the combat in the film is unusually slow, as the replicants try to subdue their foes with their strength alone. It does show why the whole “stronger = better fighters” is crap. It’s also a fairly solid presentation of a character who is effectively a hired killer, going up against foes that can literally rip him limb from limb.

Highlander: The Series. Adrian Paul’s hand to hand form is a little unusual, but he is pretty good. The show alternates between actors someone tried to train in martial arts, and good martial artists turned actors. Still, there’s a lot of good swordplay, and writing that’s far better than it has any business being. If you’re wanting to write immortals of any streak (including especially vampires), this is a must see. The sword work in the first two seasons were choreographed by Bob Anderson, so, if you’re using swords, keep this one in mind.

If you’ve never seen it, watch Aliens. The first film is good, but not really relevant for this list. The important thing going in is that Aliens is a Vietnam war film set in space. Disciplined, well equipped soldiers up against a guerrilla force.

The film adaptation of Starship Troopers takes some of the same themes and pulls it clean into uncomfortable territory. I’m not going to recommend it for its combat, (though, that is well presented), but I would say it’s worth watching for the insight into military jingoism. Then realize you’ve been basically cheering for Nazis and now want to go vomit blood.

For reference: the film of Starship Troopers is a subversive parody, and the critical cue is seeing Paul Verhoeven’s name as the director. Similarly, Robocop (1987) is a pretty brutal take down of using violence to solve problems. Though, again, this is played straight.

Man on Fire (2004). I keep wanting to skip this one, but the fact is, it’s actually pretty good for what it’s doing. It also manages to convey, in a visceral sense how unexpected violence in the real world can feel. Though, I’ve probably spoiled that sensation by listing it on here. Forget that you read this here, forget the title, forget the fiery image on the cover and go watch it.

Sandbaggers is probably the most realistic presentation of violence in the espionage genre. Which is to say, avoiding it at all costs.

The only Tarantino film I’d actually recommend is Reservoir Dogs. The violence is self contained, and the bulk of the writing is the characters responding to the violence. This is actually some pretty smart writing, and you can probably learn something from it. (For the record, I like most of his work, but, it’s just not as applicable here.)

Mortal Combat (1995) is a goofy movie. But, as we’ve said before, the martial arts are technically good, and slow enough you can follow.

I almost never recommend video games, but, Spec Ops: The Line is an exception. (You can ignore the prior games in the franchise, they’re completely unrelated.) At first glance it looks like a conventional cover-based modern military shooter, it isn’t. The game isn’t particularly realistic, at least the combat isn’t, it’s also not conventionally “fun.” But, it is a very solid study of combat fatigue as well as the burdens and responsibilities of command.

This is a game that will make you do really horrible things, wear you down, and leave you numb and exhausted. If you want to tell the story of an action hero presented with real combat, you really need to play this. No, you need to play this. Nothing will cure a casual violence addiction faster.

Watching LP videos won’t carry the same effect, this is one of those times where you really need to be the one responsible for your actions, to get the full effect.

This is a Heart of Darkness homage (it’s not really an adaptation), if you want a hint of where it’s going thematically.

(Also, TW: Violence, because Spec Ops gets really messed up in a way nothing else on the list approaches.)


Aside from Lord of the Rings what movies/books have good depictions of sword or knife fights?

Anything involving Bob Anderson as the swordmaster or fight coordinator. That includes all three Lord of the Rings films, the Pirates of the Caribbean films, the Antonio Banderas Zorro films, the Highlander TV series, and a lot of Errol Flynn films.

Also you should check out the ARMA instructional videos. They’re useful for providing a functional understanding of sword fights you’ll need to write them.

For using swords, my first thought is actually Andrzej Sapkowski’s Witcher books. The fight scenes themselves aren’t that useful, but there’s some solid information scattered through the books.

We’ve got a couple questions pending about knife fights, but the short version is: they don’t happen. At least not the way they’re presented on film or in books. Knife fights are about shanking someone and wandering off, to the point that the hidden blade kills in the original Assassin’s Creed are about the extent of “realistic” knife fighting.

The best source on knives is probably from Michael Janich. He’s developed quite a bit on the subject. It’s not going to historically appropriate, but for using knives in a modern context, it should be helpful.


Do you have any tips on writing scenes with swords involved?

If you’ve got a local renaissance fair, your best bet would be to actually find the people using swords and seeing what they’d be willing to teach you. Most of the renfair participants I’ve known, have been more than happy to explain what they know.

There’s that old cliche about writing what you know, but if you can get hands on experience, it’ll go a lot further than anything I can offer you.

Beyond that, I’d recommend spending a little time familiarizing yourself with German school fencing.

The general idea with German School fencing is to maximize the efficiency of blade movement. Most guards are kept across the body, to aid with parrying. Most hews (strikes) focus on very narrow blade arcs.

For an experienced fighter, their blade will feel like a natural extension of the arm. I know it sounds corny, but it’s also true. They’ll know exactly where the blade is at all times. The weight and balance of the weapon will have been completely internalized, to the point where they’re probably not even actively aware of them anymore. If they’ve trained on multiple blades (which is very likely), then they should be able to acclimate to a new sword fairly quickly (which is usually what those test swings you’ll see in fiction are for).

Obviously, there’s a bit more difference if you’re moving from a shortsword to a longsword or from a saber to a claymore, but so long as your character is using a sword that’s similar to the one they’re familiar with, acclimation should be fairly easy.

Also, it’s worth pointing out, German School fencing is specifically intended for European longswords, you can use an arming sword, Viking sword or bastard sword, but it won’t be a perfect fit. Additionally if your character is using something like a scimitar or a greatsword, those all encompass different styles.

Ironically, the original Star Wars trilogy isn’t a bad visual reference for German school fencing. There’s more blade on blade combat then you’d like in a real combat scenario, but a lot of the techniques and stances are there.

Michi would be irked if I didn’t recommend the Errol Flynn films as visual references. Just keep in mind that the actors are fighting very conservatively, because they’d been given live blades, and, for the most part, are trained in Italian School fencing, which evolved to use lighter blades.

If you’re talking about using swords in mass combat, as opposed to dueling, then I’d be tempted to suggest Aragorn and Boromir from the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings films. I’m not as familiar with mass combat forms, but what they’re doing looks close to what I’d expect.

I keep saying this, but look at Robert E. Howard’s Conan. One of the necessary parts of being a writer is finding someone else who went before you and seeing what they did. When it comes to sword combat, and accessibility, Robert E. Howard is probably the best source I can suggest. There’s a fairly cheap three volume paperback set that’s in print, and, because it’s public domain, most of it is available through Project Gutenberg.