The grubby heirs of Excalibur: swords in the world of Eddie LaCrosse

My friend Teresa Frohock, author of Miserere: An Autumn Tale (my review is here), asked me how the idea for naming Eddie LaCrosse’s swords came about. I thought this might be interesting to others as well.

First came the idea of writing the initial novel, The Sword-Edged Blonde, as if it were a 40s detective novel. This was after years–well, actually decades–of trying to tell the story as a traditional epic fantasy, and having it just not work. So, once I’d committed to this new voice, I looked for other aspects of the story that could reflect this.

Swords in fantasy are crucial. They’re not just weapons, they’re symbols of divine right, of kingship, of power itself. Look at Excalibur, the most famous mythical sword: not only does it confer kingship on whoever draws it, but only the right person can retrieve it from the stone (I riffed on this in Eddie’s Arthurian adventure, Dark Jenny, where the analogous weapon is called Belacrux).

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Nigel Terry plundering the silverware in “Excalibur.”

 

There are plenty of others. Terry Brooks initiated his fantasy career with The Sword of Shannara. Bilbo Baggins (and later Frodo) wield a sword called Sting (originally part of a larger arsenal, but it went off on a solo career). And although none of the Jedi weapons have names, each one is an individual, crafted by its creator as a unique weapon specifically for them. (For even more examples, Wikipedia has a helpful list of fictional swords.)

The point is, swords stand large in fantasy, and I knew I had to acknowledge this. But if I was overlaying fantasy tropes with detective ones, I also knew I couldn’t treat my hero’s swords as legendary weapons. Philip Marlowe didn’t have a gun with a name; Lew Archer didn’t retrieve his pistol from a stone. Hell, even Sledge Hammer, whose love for his gun was far from platonic, didn’t call it by name.

Yet the obvious didn’t strike me until I found a clue in the most unlikely of places: a Leonardo DiCaprio film. Specifically, Baz Luhrman’s Romeo + Juliet.

In Act I, Scene 1 of Shakespeare’s play, to stop a brawl Benvolio says, “Put up your swords; you know not what you do.” In the film, as he says this, there’s a cut to a close-up of the weapons.

benvolio2

And there was my answer. Swords were analogous to guns in Eddie’s world, therefore Eddie would probably have more than one, of different makes and models, each suited for a particular situation.

(Sure, the obvious analogy would’ve been guns=crossbows, but if you’ve seen First Knight, you know how goofy that actually looks.)

So in The Sword-Edged Blonde, I wrote this:

I opened the sword cabinet and took out my old Fireblade Warrior three-footer, the one with the narrow dagger hidden in the hilt. I had bigger swords, but this one wouldn’t attract attention and, since I’d filed the distinctive Fireblade monogram off the blade, it looked a lot more fragile and decrepit than it really was.

And in the upcoming He Drank, and Saw the Spider, I wrote this:

Ajax shook his head, then indicated my sword. “Is that a real Cillian Skirmisher?”

“The hilt is,” I said, and slowly drew it. “The blade’s from a Kingkiller Mark IV.”

“Really? I’ve never seen one, only the Mark III. Even a king’s bodyguard can’t afford the Mark IV.”

I handed it to him across the fire, hilt first. “See what you think.”

Ajax took it and felt the balance. “Nice. But why’d you combine them? If I had a Mark IV, I’d be showing it off.”

“What’s the worst thing about a Skirmisher?”

“The way the blade snaps if it’s parried by anything heavier.” Then he grinned. “And when they see that hilt….”

“Makes people overconfident,” I said. “I like it when my opponents are that way.”

So that’s where the idea came from, and a couple of examples of how I use it. Hope you’ve enjoyed this little bit of insight, and if there’s anything else you’d like to know about this or the worlds of any of my other books, feel free to drop me a line or leave a comment here or elsewhere.

Posted on by Alex in Dark Jenny, Eddie LaCrosse, Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare, Sword-Edged Blonde, swordfight, writers, writing

4 Responses to The grubby heirs of Excalibur: swords in the world of Eddie LaCrosse

  1. Paul Weimer (@PrinceJvstin)

    Thanks, Alex.

    The other analogy that strikes me, in terms of the way you handle swords in your books is to lines of musical instruments and their makers.

    Hmmm. A Stradivarius Sword. Hmmm.

    • Mark

      “A Cillian? Oh naw. I’d never trust a new blade.” He slapped the hilt of his Stradivarius for emphasis.

      I sighed pointedly at him. “Strad made new blades.”

      (Yes, I’ve heard just that argument among fiddlers.)

  2. Anne Lyle

    This is very cool! I did a bit of research into rapier manufacture for my Elizabethan novels, and whilst the branding wasn’t as blatant as nowadays (or as in your noir-ish fantasy), there was definitely a bit of it going on even back then. Like inscribing your sword blade with “Me fecit Solingen” (Made in Solingen) even though it was made in Toledo – or vice versa, depending on which region was trendiest at the time! There were maker’s marks, too, which must have meant something to aficionados, even if the man in the street didn’t have a clue.

    Plus ça change :)

  3. William Bentrim

    I think this is why I enjoy the Eddie books so much as they combine two of my favorite genres. I also enjoy Eddie’s pragmatism. Keep them coming Alex. I hope your health is well!

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