Jilly: Girl With Sword

Michaeline and I both found ourselves captivated by the same snippet of news this weekend: the story of Saga, an eight year-old Swedish girl who found an authentic 1,500 year-old sword while playing by a lake.

Click here to read Michaeline’s post, which includes links to news articles as well as one of the best Monty Python sketches ever. Micki also points out that last summer a seven year-old girl found a sword in an English lake associated with Excalibur, King Arthur’s legendary blade. Are you seeing a pattern yet? Micki is, and she’s developed a Theory. Check out her post to find out more 🙂 .

My response is simpler than Michaeline’s. I just love, love, love the Girl With Sword trope (must add it to my Id List), and judging by the number of GWS Fantasy and Urban Fantasy book covers currently gracing the Zon, I am not alone. I added a few examples to this post, so those of you who don’t read fantasy can see what I mean.

I hadn’t really thought about it until this weekend, but swords are special, right?

These images are about more than seeing a strong, powerful heroine defend her community or embrace her destiny. I don’t think I’d respond the same way to Girl With Crossbow or Tomahawk, and I’m really not keen on Girl With Gun.

I think there are three main reasons I’m all over Girl With Sword:

1. Swords have the weight of history behind them. According to Wikipedia, renowned swords appear in the folklore of every nation that used swords. The Vikings, Maori, Samurai; Parsifal, Charlemagne, Beowulf, Arthur… Give your heroine a sword, especially one with a name, and you’re placing her in the pantheon of legends.

2. Swords have character. In the days before blast furnaces, metallurgy and accurate temperature measurement, great swords were made by master artisans who kept their techniques and processes deathly secret. A great blade could be months in the making, and one slight misjudgement of temperature could ruin the weapon. Swordsmithing was so intensely personal that many cultures believed the smith gave part of his soul to the blade. Check out this 2017 BBC video of Samurai sword makers at work in Kyushu.

3. Swords signal a moral code: bravery, honor, chivalry, legitimacy, a just cause. Of course the bad guys have swords too, but a character with a legendary sword is generally heroic. You expect them to have right on their side and maybe a god or two as they reclaim their birthright, save the day and take down the bad guys.

Where do you stand on Girl With Sword?

Even if fantasy isn’t your thing, what do these book covers suggest to you?

7 thoughts on “Jilly: Girl With Sword

  1. Love this!

    Swords have traditionally been very masculine, as well, and when a girl takes up a sword (like Jeanne D’Arc), people sit up and take notice. And sometimes burn her at the stake, but then sanctify her later. A girl with a sword provokes very strong reactions.

    On top of that, a well-made sword often gets passed down from hero to hero — or to the heroine, in fiction. It’s got a history and a legacy.

    There’s something very straightforward about a sword. When a heroine has one, she’s ready to wield it; you never see high fantasy where she chops radishes with it or uses it to cut the end of threads off. It’s wielded in righteousness by the heroes and heroines, and holds the power of life and death.

    And then there’s the whole thing where a sword grants legitimacy. It is only found by the worthy; it is tapped on the knight’s shoulder to convey nobility; only the right person can pull it from the stone or pick it up from the ground. It suggests a higher power that works through the sword.

    Such a powerful symbol, and then when you pair it with a young girl, the traditional symbol of innocence . . . I flash back to unicorns, and daisy chains and people who do the right thing to protect the children.

    • Yes, swords are archetypically masculine, which adds to the frisson of a heroine with swash and buckle. I read a very fun blog post this weekend on a blog called nerdsonearth (gamers, I think), about how much a medieval sword actually weighed and why it was mostly a boys’ toy. Training and opportunity, it would seem. Quote: “a sword weighed as much as a 64 ounce squeeze bottle of ketchup, and I’ve never seen a girl who had trouble slinging one of those around.” Ha!

      As for sword + young girl, my first thoughts were about being chosen, about destiny. Did she find the sword, or did the sword find her? I had visions of said sword being sentient, a kind of snarky sidekick or trusted advisor as Our Girl grows up and comes into her powers, but I think your idea (and Kay’s) of her wielding it RIGHT NOW is way better.

      • I think that was part of the magic of some swords — to the “right” person, it weighed next-to-nothing, but to the “wrong” person, it was heavier than an anvil. (-: Four pounds (less than 2 kg) isn’t that much, that’s for sure! What a great blog post. I love that the House of Dudley commemorated the matriarchy on their coat of arms!
        I was also thinking last night that for previous generations, the blade was an everyday sort of magic. Boys, for sure, had their pen knives, while girls had scissors or their carving knives (and I’m sure there was crossover both ways!). Now, pen knives are forbidden in schools, and of course, nobody is allowed to take a butcher’s knife into class. Scissors are blunted and dulled shadows of what they could be (take a look at sewing scissors sometime — those things are WICKED!). There’s something about a sword that wins out over something like a Morningstar — maybe the way it can be wielded with grace AND deadly intent by any reasonably strong adult.

        Of course, I’m quite fond of a magical harp, but one must admit, it’s not really a weapon of death and destruction. And nobody seems to be finding those in lakes . . . .

  2. Everything Michaeline said. I love the Girl with the Sword story. I was especially taken with this because the headline I saw read something like “girl finds sword to rule the world,” or something like that. In my fantasy, that eight-year-old girl really would rule the world, and over here in the States, we’d all be a lot better off. Think of it: We’d have rugs on the floor for naptime. Crackers and milk for snacks. Unicorns and fairy wings for dress-up. It would be great. I vote yes!

    • Michaeline found two stories–the seven year-old in Cornwall, and the eight year-old in Sweden. Maybe there are more of them out there, and they could team up to sort us all out. Imagine a meeting of world leaders, with pink and sparkles and plenty of playtime. I vote yes too!

  3. Ren’s lightsaber in The Force Awakens is essentially a sword, too.

    Girl with Sword is an excellent trope! (And I wouldn’t mind seeing her lop off some appendages right about now.)

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