The Reality of the Fantasy: How Swords and Armor Really Work

I’ve been a fan of fantasy fiction since I was a kid.  Starting at about twelve, I collected everything Tolkien-related I could afford.  I read my copies of the primary trilogy and The Silmarillion to tatters, then I sought out The Lost Tales, The Tolkien Illustrated Encyclopedia…if it had been thirteen years later, I would have had Fellowship action figures all over the place.

From there, I went on to Dragonlance, Forgotten Realms, Lloyd Alexander, David Eddings, R.A. Salvatore, Richard A. Knaak, Terry Brooks…I even went as far back as Ivanhoe.  The feeding frenzy only ended when I realized that the dark lords and scary monsters were my favorite part, and I sought out a genre that specialized in them.

Still, even today, when my primary focus is on Koontz, King and Lovecraft, I still appreciate a good fantasy.  Every movie made from Tolkien’s work is on my shelves – and I do mean every movie, live action or animation – as are the works of Gail Dayton, Guy Gavriel Kay, and Mercedes Lackey.

But one thing I’ve become aware of as I’ve gotten older is how…well…inauthentic some of it can be.  Of course, in a genre with magic, nonhuman races, activist gods and dark lords who unite all non-evil creatures against them (thus creating political situations that the real Middle Ages never dreamed of), you have to suspend your disbelief quite a bit.  Still, it’s interesting, as an adult, to be reminded that most of the authors I loved weren’t historians as a rule, and that the actors I see on screen are trying to create an interesting spectacle while avoiding hurting the person they’re swinging a sword at.

It’s even more interesting to learn how things were really done.  For example, here’s what a fight between those glorious knights in shining armor might have really looked like once they got down off their horses:

Pretty much just a shiny brawl, isn’t it?  But it makes sense.  Getting a sword through a steel plate can’t be easy, or good for the sword.  If it’s even possible – I certainly don’t know.  Surely you’d be looking for weak points.

What really surprises me is how they were holding the swords.  It doesn’t seem like you’d want to handle a bladed weapon by the blade like that.  And one of the commenters does ding them for both inauthenticity and breaking important rules of safety by neglecting gauntlets.

By the way, did you notice how mobile they were, wrestling around while wearing plate armor?  I thought knights couldn’t move once they were knocked off their horse!  Well, as it turns out…

Again, this makes sense.  I mean, would you go into a fight wearing “protection” that rendered you helpless if something went even a little bit wrong?

Here’s another example of armored mobility:

Still, all of these demonstrations are well and good, but I’d like a bit more information.  Turns out Keller Longbow is happy to provide:

…huh.  I wouldn’t have guessed the belt to be that important.  I guess even chain mail, less technologically advanced than plate mail though it may be, is still more complicated than it looks.

Incidentally, it looks like Mr. Longbow would agree with the commenters who disapproved of that first clip for neglecting the gauntlets, doesn’t it?

Anyway, Mr. Longbow goes on to demonstrate some proper fighting techniques for us:

I do think he’s a bit harsh on Hollywood here.  After all, a climactic sword fight that ended in seconds would be a deeply unsatisfying thing, and effective sword fighting – like so many efficient things – doesn’t actually look that impressive to those who don’t know what’s going on.  Still, I can’t blame an expert in a field beset with myths for getting a bit frustrated, and I suspect that’s why he agreed to do the interview in the first place.  To spread some accurate information.



Filed under Inspirations, Links, My Life

4 responses to “The Reality of the Fantasy: How Swords and Armor Really Work

  1. Reblogged this on Library of Erana and commented:
    Another useful world building post.

  2. Pingback: It’s Easy To Forget They Were Angels | Dreams of the Shining Horizon

  3. Pingback: Left Behind Fridays Writing Seminar: Research, The Danger of Superlative Characters, and Basic Goddamn Human Characterization | Dreams of the Shining Horizon

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