?Perhaps no weapon in human history has been as venerated as the sword. It is so simple in design, yet incredibly effective. It’s a rich source of symbolism. Swords are found in nearly every culture, and play a major part in countless myths, legends, and folklore.
Given the strong mythological roots of much fantasy fiction, it’s not surprising that there are many famous swords in nearly every make-believe world. They’re found in books, movies, comics, television shows and videogames.
For the purposes of this list we’re going to stick to swords from modern fantasy fiction (i.e., the last couple hundred years) and skip “real-world” legendary ones such as Excalibur and Kusanagi. We’re also skipping things without metal blades, so try not to freak out that lightsabers aren’t on the list (and we’ll see how many people failed to read yet another intro). That said, here are 14 of the most famous fantasy swords.
14) Sting, The Hobbit
While technically an Elvish long knife, to a hobbit like Bilbo it was a sword. He christened it “Sting” after using it to great effect on a group of spiders during his adventures, and later gifted it to his nephew Frodo. As an Elvish weapon, it glowed whenever orcs were near. Its most famous victim by far was Shelob, the giant spider who impaled herself upon the blade while trying to crush Samwise Gamgee in the most grotesque sexual metaphor imaginable. Sting’s “origin” will no doubt be depicted in Peter Jackson’s upcoming adaptation of The Hobbit.
13) Soul Edge/Soul Calibur
A thorough explanation of the convoluted history of Soul Edge and Soul Calibur, the twin blades of tNamco’s weapon-based fighting game franchise, would require a PowerPoint presentation complete with timelines and flow charts. Soul Edge is evil, and Soul Calibur is kind of good, and sometimes they’re bonded together to make a super-sword called Soul Embrace… look, suffice to say, they’re a major part of the storyline for the Soul Edge and Soulcalibur videogames and appear in most of the games’ iconography, though their design is often vastly different from game to game.
12) The Atlantean Sword, Conan the Barbarian
The “Atlantean Sword” (as it’s referred to on the film’s soundtrack) from Conan the Barbarian is one of the most iconic weapons in fantasy cinema (next to the sword-that-shoots-swords, of course). It was designed by Ron Cobb, who also contributed designs to Star Wars, Alien/Aliens, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Total Recall. The sword was not only Conan’s signature weapon in the first film and its forgettable sequel, Conan the Destroyer, but the Governator himself kept the prop sword — which was actually a usable weapon — in his office.
11) Buster Sword, Final Fantasy VII
Probably the most famous weapon of the Final Fantasy franchise, the Buster Sword was wielded by the main protagonist of Final Fantasy VII, Cloud Strife. Though it’s quickly superseded in the game by better swords, its use in all the cutscenes and marketing art, combined with its uniquely minimalist appearance — it’s basically a massive kitchen knife — made it memorable. Ridiculous? Yes. Iconic? Definitely. It generally appears whenever Cloud Strife does, including all his FF side story appearances and in Kingdom Hearts.
10) The Sword of Shannara
Whether you like Terry Brooks’s Sword of Shannara or believe it’s a word-for-word ripoff of Lord of the Rings, its titular talisman is still one of the most famous swords in modern fantasy. Though roughly analogous to the One Ring in the novel, the Sword is actually a tool of good, not evil, and its power is to force those it touches to confront the truth about their lives.
9) Frostmourne, World of Warcraft
While some might argue Frostmourne is a copy of the #1 sword on this list, it’s still the best-known weapon from World of Warcraft and plays a central role in the Warcraft storyline. It was carried by Prince Arthas Menethil, one of the central WoW characters, who used it to kill his own father before the dark spirit inside it transformed him into the Lich King.
8) The Sword of Truth
The Sword of Truth is the eponymous weapon of the popular fantasy series by author Terry Goodkind. Wielded by the series’ protagonist, a “Seeker” named Richard Cypher, the sword can cut through almost anything that is perceived by the Seeker as an enemy, and can deflect magical attacks.
7) The Sword of Omens, ThunderCats
The Sword of Omens, the signature weapon of ThunderCats leader Lion-O, was more than just a weapon. For example, it could: shrink to dagger-size when not in use; fly straight to its wielder’s hand when called; protect its wielder with a force field; fire blasts of energy; project a Batsignal-like flare to call the other ThunderCats; and of course, via the Eye of Thundara it could be used to gain “sight beyond sight,” i.e., let Lion-O see what was going on at that moment somewhere else on Thundara. As the cartoon went on, the amount of crazy shit the Sword could do only increased — once it even made a ramp for a shuttle! Let’s face it — against a weapon that could do all that, Mumm-Ra never had a chance.
6) Godric Gryffindor’s Sword, Harry Potter
Said to appear whenever a true Gryffindor needed it, the sword of Godric Gryffindor plays a key role in the Harry Potter saga. Forged by goblins and enhanced by the blood of a basilisk, the sword was one of the only things that could destroy a Horcrux. It also had a tendency to pop out of the Sorting Hat, and does so for both Harry and Neville Longbottom in their hour of greatest need.
5) The Vorpal Sword, Through the Looking Glass
This weapon originally hails from the nonsense poem “Jabberwocky,” which was featured in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass. Making its trademark sound of “snicker-snack,” the vorpal blade was used by a young boy to slay the titular beast. Carroll invented the word “vorpal,” and never explained what it meant, but that hasn’t stopped the sword from appearing in dozens of other fictional works, from the Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook to the comic book Fables to Tim Burton’s turgid cinematic take on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland last year.
4) The Power Sword, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe
For most anyone who was a kid in the early 1980s, the most memorable fantasy sword of all was He-Man’s Power Sword. Many still get a rush when they hear the sound of the sword leaving its scabbard and the music swelling as Prince Adam intones, “By the Power of Grayskull!” to begin his transformation into He-Man. While most fans are most familiar with the cartoon version of the sword, in the original conception in the toy line the sword was split into two halves. In the earliest comics that came packaged with the toys, Skeletor tried to unite the two halves of the Power Sword in order to gain untold power and whatnot.
3) The Master Sword, Legend of Zelda
First appearing in the third Zelda game, A Link to the Past, the Master Sword has become a trademark of the Zelda franchise. Its role is reinvented with every new game (along with Link’), and it inevitably requires a quest, and sometimes multiple quests, to obtain. Once Link has it, though, his badassness goes up about 300% — quite an achievement for a guy wearing a Peter Pan outfit.
2) And?ril, Lord of the Rings
While not possessing any magical powers, And?ril, “The Flame of the West,” is nonetheless one of the most famous swords in fantasy fiction–if only because it was the sword of Aragorn. Orginally wielded by Aragorn’s ancestor Elendil, Narsil was broken when Elendil first defeated Sauron. Elendil’s son used the shards of the sword to cut the One Ring from Sauron’s hand. Thousands of years later, it was reforged by the Elves into And?ril and given to Aragorn, who used it throughout the War of the Ring. In the films, Elrond gives the sword to Aragorn much later, in Return of the King.
1) Stormbringer, Elric
All of the other swords on this list are wielded by heroes in service of the forces of good. Stormbringer, not so much.
Elric of Melnibon?, the protagonist (not “hero”) of a series of fantasy stories and novels by Michael Moorcock, is brooding, miserable, and is given to using dark sorcery while serving as a reluctant thrall of the demon-lord Arioch. But his true curse is his black sword, Stormbringer. As an albino, Elric’s health is weak; Stormbringer gives him all the energy he needs and more, but the reason it can do this is because the sword consumes the soul of anyone it kills. That alone is pretty awful, even if it only kills bad guys. But Stormbringer often betrays Elric and causes him to kill his friends. The fact that Elric doesn’t get rid of the sword, despite all the friend-murdering, is what makes him an anti-hero — or, in layman’s terms, a dick.
On a side note, Stormbringer may be the only weapon on this list with its own rock anthem: “Black Blade” by Blue ?yster Cult.