I had to drop a note in here because there was a serious problem with one of the basic assumptions. Everything started out so well…
How exciting! Fantasy is so fun! You can do anything you want to your universe, because it’s fantasy - which is really great, because you’ve always wanted cats to talk and everyone else to share your distaste of squash. Plus you could have magic! Or not, you know, low-fantasy works too….
And I read for a while, and then hit this part…
Oh, you gave her a sword. Well that’s a relief, those monsters/henchmen we tossed out into your world are crawling all over the place and so it’s a good thing to keep- she can’t wield it, can she?
No, no, you gave her a broadsword. Her fingers are soft and smooth like silk, you just described this two pages ago. A swords woman has callouses. And even if you lie about that, or gloss over it, you just gave a petite blonde a broadsword. (Do you know what a broadsword is? Have you ever tried lifting one, and then swinging it around for a half hour? Never mind, don’t do that. You’ll hurt yourself trying.) She just lost the fight. …
Let’s do this over again.
I think we’d better.
Let’s take this from the top. I am 5 foot 7, and while I’m not at my optimum weight right now, I am by no means hefty and would be classed as petite if I were four inches shorter. In any case, here’s my broadsword.
It is an Oakeshott Type Xa made by Fulvio Del Tin of Del Tin Armi Antiche in northern Italy. Fulvio specializes in both museum-quality replicas and “hero weapons” for major motion pictures. (For example, he forged Mel Gibson’s famous hero weapon in Braveheart.) From point to pommel the sword is 39 inches long. …And there’s my hand for size comparison.
Now watch what happens when I put this sword on the kitchen scale.
It weighs twelve hundred and twenty four grams, or just under two and three-quarters pounds. This is a normal weight for a broadsword of the period. They did not weigh tons. That myth, and its fellow urban legend that armor of the period was so heavy that a knight wearing it had to be winched onto his horse and couldn’t get up again if knocked down, are the direct result of popular British music hall comedies of the Victorian period. They have no basis whatsoever in fact, as any museum’s armor curator will immediately tell you (while either groaning and tearing their hair, or snickering a lot). I mean, seriously, what possible use would there be in a weapon that either a man or woman would get tired of using after half an hour? The people who used it would select themselves out of the gene pool in very short order. (And their relatives would select the weaponsmaker out of the gene pool immediately thereafter.)
Now, on the off chance that my relatively small hand makes this seem not very much like a broadsword to you (though I guarantee you, it is one): okay, let’s pull out our other one.
Here it is, once more with my hand for scale. This is an Oakeshott Type XIII, a so-called hand-and-a-half or “bastard” broadsword of the same general type as the first one, 48 inches long from point to pommel. (Peter got it because it was a close match to the description of Khávrinen in the Middle Kingdoms books: in fact, we used it on the new ebook cover for The Door into Fire). It was meant to be used easily either one-handed or two-handed. So now let’s weigh it.
Fifteen hundred seventy-six grams, or about three and a half pounds. Again, I have to emphasize that this is the proper weight for a sword of the period, and indeed, many of similar size were lighter because they were made of better steel. (Fulvio forges his swords of steel that will be able to cope with the mishandling inherent in use on film sets, or the much more intensive banging around that’s expected when such a sword is being used by re-enactors.) Both this sword and its smaller sibling are balanced with extra weight in the hilt and pommel so that the blade is astonishingly easy to handle… as both Peter and I know from personal experience.
So can we pleeeeeeeeze get rid of the idea that a woman, even a relatively slight one, can’t handle a broadsword effectively in battle? (I was tempted to add substantiating video here, but decided against it, as I have no desire to freak out the neighbors.)
Thanks. And now I need to get back to the concept that was really the most problematic for me (and I didn’t for a moment think the original poster believed it, but I just have to say this anyway because so many people fail to think this through and take it at face value):
You can do anything you want to your universe, because it’s fantasy -
I have to stress that I really do understand the devil’s-advocate-ish dialectic style in which the original posting was being written. (And also, would agree broadly with many of its premises as regards “the masculine gaze” on fantasy in general and women appearing in it in particular.) That said, I feel strongly that it has to be stated here by someone who’s been doing this for a while: Sorry, but as regards doing whatever you want in a fantasy universe — unfortunately, you can’t.
I mean, you can write anything you want…chuck magic all over the landscape and cause all kinds of crazy things to happen… but if you do, it probably won’t be good fantasy. Absolutely crucial to well-constructed and written fantasy is a solid basis of fact and reasonable-sounding rules, so that your audience will have something to support them when you ask them to step out into the void and trust you with the fantastic elements.
This, for example, is why Peter and I own swords in the first place: so that as occasional writers of a particular school of fantasy, we can speak knowledgeably about what the favorite iconic weapon of high fantasy can genuinely do. Neither of us was willing to depend on hearsay in this regard (to the point that, long before I ever met P., I’d started studying iaido.) When you can graphically and personally describe from body memory how using a sword feels — and then take this through to the details of what it can do to the unfortunate opponent — your reader will have no choice but to believe you. This is why we research weapons vigorously: so that when we invent one, that underpinning of truth is solidly in place, and the context of fiction we construct around it makes the reader perceive it as more real than they would otherwise. This is an effect it’s tough to quantify, but it absolutely works.
Now, I’m not advocating that everybody should run out and buy swords! But you must do solid research, even on the little things. Especially on the little things. It makes all the difference in your ability to imagine what’s supposed to be happening and then communicate it effectively to your reader.
And much more to the point: even the airy-fairy stuff, even the constructed magical beings and the magic itself in fantasy, must be grounded in solid rules that can be depended on not to change at a whim. You can’t do just anything. “Just anything” is boring and impossible to stay interested in, either for the writer or the reader. Magic with rules, beings with limitations, are where the action is. You have to set rules and limitations first: then create inside the rules.
Come to think of it, isn’t this what gods are supposed to do? So we’re working from a good template here.
Anyway: thanks for your attention. Now I’m going to go make some pasta. :)
(BTW, just in passing: as for women possibly not being swordfighters in Europe in the middle ages: you really want to get your hands on some of the 13th and 14th-century combat manuals that have been turning up in the last couple of decades, and see what they were using to fight. And don’t get me started about the medieval divorce-court routine that would wind up with both parties slugging it out while dressed in greased leather body suits. …I am NOT making this up! Go do your own research.) :)
And this is what happens when a masterfully crafted katana collides with a masterfully crafted longsword.
Suck it, katana
suck my fuckin’ diiiick
Aren’t katanas and longswords made for different overall purposes tho
Katanas are slasher weapons made for cutting masterfully through human flesh so obviously it’s not gonna get through a fucking longsword which is really fucking thick and heavy and made for beating the shit out of people as well as hacking at armour
A katana would slice the shit out of you guys so idk what the fuck you’re so smug about
this is basically like driving a ferarri into a tank.
Now /that’s/ a metaphor
And fun, too, but the above comparison between the purposes and structures of the two types of swords is simplistic and (at core) incorrect. …I’ve got things to do this morning, though, so I’ll just reblog this for the moment and ask Peter to spell it all out when he gets up. (Very briefly, though: longswords are not “really fucking thick and heavy”; this is that Victorian-era myth surfacing again. …I have a long posting about this on my own tumblr: right here:
Never has a droid been so colourful or tentacular. LEGO wizard Matt Armstrong, aka Monster Brick, created these incredibly awesome RU-KRAZY!? and R2-Cthulhu LEGO R2-D2 sculptures. Visit Matt’s Monster Brick Flickr account to view more of his fantastic LEGO creations.
[via Nerd Approved]