What is it about historical weaponry that draws the minds and captures the imaginations of readers and writers alike?
Historical weapons are a stable of urban fantasy and the superhero genre, as well as historical fiction and fantasy, where they find a more predictable home. Over the years, swords, bows, maces, and battleaxes have been–understandably–superseded by firearms. So why the lingering attraction, when firearms have superior rate of fire, force, and accuracy? Is it the elegance of the weapons (now lost in an era of mass manufacture) which were once lovingly handcrafted, delicately inlaid or inscribed, and bound by hand? Or is it the appeal of an era when war held more honor and less horror, when, to kill a man, you first had to look him in the face? Is it the superiority of the skill required?
This series of articles will examine historical weapons of mass destruction, legendary sword-making techniques of both the East and the West, and address common misconceptions about modern weaponry. As the sword is, without rival, the weapon of choice in fantasy, I will publish the article on historical sword-making first.
Katana. Damascus steel blades. Legendary names for weapons created using strikingly similar techniques, creating a similar product–a high-carbon steel edge over a softer iron core.
The techniques used to create Damascus steel were once thought lost to time. Only recently have they been recreated, following the discovery of carbon nanotubes hiding underneath the iridescent sheen and wood-grained appearance of the surface.
The steel in Damascus blades and katana–called “Damascus steel” in the West and “tamahagane” in Japan–is smelted in a remarkably similar way. Broken iron ore (or iron sand, called “satetsu” in Japan) is heated with plant material–wood or bamboo for Damascus steel, charcoal in Japan–which then infuses the metal with carbon. In Damascus steel, this has the added benefit of transferring carbon nanotubes from the plant matter into the steel itself, rendering the steel remarkably hard.
However, high-carbon steel is brittle, easily broken, and this process leaves a steel-iron amalgam that is high in both metallic and organic impurities.
This is where the second major technique involved in making these legendary blades comes in. It’s called pattern welding. Steel is heated, folded on itself, beaten until the layers merge, shedding impurities and excess carbon in the process. This creates a more homogeneous steel, varying layers of harder and more brittle steel with softer layers of less brittle iron, creating a tough final product. The metallic trace impurities merge with the blade, creating a better end product than pure steel alone. However, the process must be carefully monitored, as higher temperatures can cause the iron to separate from the carbon, and, if folded too many times, the steel loses the advantage of strength and flexibility as the layers merge entirely. The folding pattern is dependent on the part of the blade the steel will form.
In Japan, the art of sword-making was historically considered a sacred ritual, and may take weeks to complete. In Japanese sword-making, a low-carbon steel/iron amalgam is used to create the core of the blade, a slightly-harder but still resilient steel to form the skin, and the high-carbon tamahagane for the edge. This results in a hard-edged blade which holds an edge well while still being springy and flexible enough to resist breakage. The steel must also be protected between foldings by a layer of wet clay and straw ash, to prevent the iron from oxidizing and help remove impurities. Due to the loss of impurities, the iron may be reduced to as little as 1/10 of its initial weight.
Finally, katanas and other Japanese swords are heat-treated, rather than quenched like European-made blades are. Before the swords are heated, a thin layer of clay is added around the edge so that it cools more quickly than the thickly-coated back edge. This results in a harder edge and a springier spine, as well as bending the sword into its signature curve.
And a word about the so-called “blood channel” or fuller: the purpose of the fuller is not to allow blood to flow more freely and allow the sword to be more easily withdrawn from the wound, but to make the blade lighter without sacrificing its structural integrity.
The blade is then polished, which takes easily as much skill to complete, since a bad polishing job can damage a sword, while a good one can render it mirror-like and perfectly smooth.
In my next article, I will talk about crossbows–a weapon so deadly that their use was banned in warfare by the Pope.
Recently, WriteFury and I were talking about Type Four in the Character Profiles series which she is currently working on. Basically, Type Four is the fun guys who are always smiling, really fun to be around.
But, while we were talking, I identified a Type Five.
And since she wasn’t familiar with most of the characters I classed as part of the type, she asked me to write this post. So here goes!
These characters are defined mainly by their sheer complexity. They appear to share traits with both Type One and Type Two, and are almost always extremely intelligent.
They tend to also be perceived as quirky or eccentric, and can be much more emotional than Type Ones, or borderline-sociopathic. Their senses of humor vary between sarcastic, wry, witty, or they may not have an apparent sense of humor. Another trait that they share with Type Ones is situational humor–they may make a wry quip about the mess they’re in.
This may be due to the fact that they’ve had bad things happen to them in the past, and it’s their coping mechanism.
They may be quiet or talk a lot, but you will never get more information out of them than they intend to give you.
They’re very clever, and often pretend to be stupid or use their eccentricity to hide just how dangerous they truly are from their enemies, and sometimes their friends. They’re many-layered, using different “facets” of their personalities as a smoke screen, and often extremely private.
And last but not least, they tend to be extremely dedicated to one or more of the other characters, to the point that they would die for them–but not on the other character’s terms or on their enemies’ terms. Only on their own terms. They will risk everything they hold dear for that one special person. They are also the most likely to do things for the good of other characters without their consent or even knowledge, which makes them more than a little frightening.
This type, along with Type One, is the most likely to punish themselves over things that may or may not have been their fault, in ways that are subtle and not easy for others to notice, whereas Type Two may do dramatic or drastic things (such as attempting suicide, in extreme cases) and Type Four falls into a deep depression.
These are also the hardest characters (along with Type One) to kill. They simply can’t give up, and refuse to die. (Sometimes literally. *gives the Doctor a meaningful look*)
Type Five characters have a strong moral code, often in lieu of following their emotions, because they (sometimes) fear that emotions will lead them in the wrong direction. They tend to be logical, but will sometimes choose non-logical options, especially as they tend to be extremely loyal to their friends–and sometimes not merely their friends, but to their cause.
When a Type Five is a villain, they may still have this strong moral code, but in a corrupted form (I present Count Dooku for your inspection.)
Also, sometimes the line between a Type One and a Type Five may be so blurred that it’s difficult to tell where they should be classed–but if there’s any doubt, your character is probably complex enough to be a Type Five. (Case in point: Horatio Hornblower, who shares most of the traits on the list, only he doesn’t use different layers of his personality to maintain his privacy in quite the same way as most Type Fives.)
Here’s the list of common traits:
Strong-willed or stubborn
Does not trust him/herself to do the right thing much of the time
Planning ahead and/or last minute planning/split-second decisions
Dubious or dangerous history (VERY common!)
Extreme empathy bouncing to near-sociopathy (or one or the other)
Sarcasm/finds things that no one else gets ironic or funny
Self-hate (to an extent)/possible masochism (what? It’s true.)
Uses appearances to make others underestimate them
May make subtle into an art form (see above)
Can be unscrupulous or ruthless
Rigid moral code (especially the ones who don’t trust “feelings”)
Now for some examples!
Baker Street’s resident not-a-psychopath,-Anderson, Sherlock Holmes is most definitely a Type Five, wherever he is portrayed. Brilliant and often unfeeling, and holding a soft spot for Watson, Lestrade, Molly Hooper (in the BBC series) and Mrs. Hudson, Sherlock is among the most complex of literary characters. A rare hero, in that he doesn’t hesitate to pull a gun on the bad guys, Sherlock may be “on the side of the angels,” but if you mistake him for one of them, that will be the last mistake you ever make. Sherlock holds himself unflinchingly to his own code, knowing that if he ever steps over the line, that will make him no different from his worst enemies, and he is willing to sacrifice himself for both John (The Reichenbach Fall) and Mary (His Last Vow)–in one case, a physical death (though, again with the planning ahead, that didn’t actually happen) and in the other the death of his good name.
Rigid moral code? Absolutely. Obi-Wan’s code is probably the one thing that defines him most as a character. Take the loyalty and boost it by five hundred percent. Situational humor? Definitely.
While Obi-Wan is less extreme than most of the others on the list, he is absolutely entirely in the details. Subtlety is his other defining trait; sometimes he’s even so subtle that it meshes right into the other related item, using his appearance to fool others into underestimating him.
Obi-Wan is not above using Anakin’s attachment to him to manipulate Anakin for the sake of the greater good (Deception et al.) It would be safe to say that he’d do the same for and to Anakin for Anakin’s sake.
Obi-Wan’s least-Type-Five/most-Type-One characteristic is his extreme selflessness, but again, he’s certainly complex enough to warrant a spot on this list. Extremely empathetic and deeply passionate, Obi-Wan still does not trust his own emotions to guide him, relying on logic and intuition instead. He holds himself to a much higher standard than he does others and is somewhat disillusioned, but his honesty and kindness are strongly endearing. (The reason there are Obi-Wan haters in the world, in my opinion, is because Obi-Wan is so subtle at times that he even fools his fans!)
Another BBC favorite!
Merlin, also known as Emrys (which is, in case you were wondering, the Welsh equivalent of “Ambrose” and means “immortal”), is the protagonist of the BBC show of the same name (rather than having Arthur take the reins, as usual.) Merlin is, like many BBC characters, a very complex character, and might almost have been classed as Type Two or Type Three, except for his darker side. He is friendly, charming, a bit of a dork, and just generally the type of guy you want to have backing you up, but on the flip side he has an inner darkness that, fed by his magic tutor, the dragon Kilgarrah, SPOILERS eventually indirectly leads to the fall of Camelot. END SPOILERS However, under the guidance of mentor Gaius, he builds strong, lasting friendships with Arthur, Gwen, the knights, and fellow servants.
Merlin is brilliant with magic, but he doesn’t act like it. He’s sometimes clumsy but at other times he can be graceful. It’s mainly his ability to fool everyone (including Arthur–again, for Arthur’s own good and at the cost of wanting to tell him desperately about his secret) around him into underestimating him that has him here on this list.
Shut up, you’re adorable.
That is the Tenth Doctor, just to avoid confusion among non-Whovians. 😛
Anyway, the Doctor is the very definition of complex. With thirteen different incarnations, all played by different actors and each with different personalities, he sort of has to be. While all the different personalities tend to revolve around a theme and all involve some version of a few basic traits, each version of the Doctor is still entirely unique. And he tends to use his apparent clumsiness (recurring theme here) into fooling people that he’s stupid or doesn’t know what he’s doing. He’s got some pretty toxic guilt over something that I gather is still a spoiler (?!), and definitely does not trust himself.
While he is in an age group comparable to Yoda, it just feels as if he’s been much farther than Yoda has ever traveled and seen more messed-up stuff. While Yoda does the funny-old-guy routine, the Doctor takes a route that is a bit more logical, in my mind; that long lifespan has only gone to make him much more complex, and he’s probably the most experienced person in any field that you’re ever going to find.
He also tends to find jokes in things no one else gets, is brilliant to the extent that it’s possible that he’s the most intelligent of any person on this list, is on par with Steve Rogers at thinking on his feet, has phenomenal situational awareness (um, that has nothing to do with the list, more to do with him being good at split-second tactics), and is both extremely compassionate and utterly unfeeling at times.
And I can’t even begin to list how many times he’s done things for his companions that they would never have allowed him to do, if they knew what he was planning.
Gandalf the Gray, Frodo Baggins, Aragorn, Faramir
Boromir is a Type Two and Merry and Pippin are Type Four. What about the others?
Well, Sam Gamgee might be a type one, but Frodo is a Type Five. Almost everyone underestimates him, and rather than a hidden darkness, he has a hidden majesty–as does Aragorn. Faramir is conflicted (though not in quite the same way as he is in the movies). And Gandalf… well, when you’ve been around for about three thousand years, you’d expect a character to be a bit complex!
Now for my own characters!
Winter and Tairya
Winter has a personality somewhat similar to Merlin’s or the Doctor’s, except without the clumsiness, he is a bit more grim, and people underestimate him more because they don’t know him. However, he also has a sense of humor, is very loyal, especially to his mentor and friends among the Rangers, and has a kinder side that is rarely seen, except by his apprentice Elian. He is the bodyguard of the Princess and sworn to protect her.
Tairya, the woman Winter is sworn to guard, is probably the only villain on this list. Less blatant than most villains and completely without remorse, mercy, or compassion, Tairya is a Type Four gone horribly wrong. She is the archetype of everything any Type Four could slip into becoming. However, she does have a slightly lighter side; a soft spot for her husband and child–but this turns her even more sour when Winter, in an attempt to fulfill his oath in some way despite his failure to save her, kidnaps (or rescues) her son.
Winter and Tairya both appear in my unfinished novelLoyalties and are among my most complex characters ever.
More in the vein of Master Kenobi than any other character on this list, Connor’s personality is somewhat similar to that of a type two. He’s mild, clever, funny, and a good friend. However, under his mild, kind exterior, hidden so deep that even Connor himself is not aware of it, he has a secret:
Connor is a trained assassin, part of a failed conditioning experiment by a ruthless businessman, and his perceived colorblindness is psychosomatic–in rebelling against the conditioning, he effectively “made himself” colorblind. While he appears to fold to any situation, when he takes a stand it’s quite clear that he’s got some steel in his backbone, probably inherited from ancestors who fought in the American War for Independence. Connor stars in my unfinished novel Colorblind.
Wait… mild-mannered reporter living in a superhero world… Never mind. Connor’s only real “superpower” is the ability to see in the ultraviolet spectrum… which is pretty useless in a fight.
Nothing to see here, DC Comics.
If there’s another character who I missed who you think should be on this list, please tell me about them! I’d love to meet them. 🙂
1. You’re on a deserted island, and you find a cave. What would you expect to find in it? Probably something dangerous. Like a mountain lion. Or a mutated pygmy. Or evil shrimp.
2. If you could have one superpower, which would you pick? Electromagnetism. There are so many ways it could be used… if you can create really super-strong magnetic fields you can levitate people, besides the obvious throwing lightning around. It’s awesome.
3. What one song would you choose for the theme music for a movie about your life?
4. You can only wear one color for the rest of your life. What color would you pick? Probably green.
5. What’s one thing you want to do that’s wild, crazy, or unusual? Randomly prank all the customers at my current job. But of course I can’t do that. I’m on good behavior for the next two weeks until I am DONE WITH IT FOR GOOD. I found another job, yay! And it pays better. I just hope it turns out well…
6. If you had to give a speech to the whole world for five minutes, what topic would it be about? Just one? Man, it would be hard to stick to one topic…
I’d probably talk about how we should keep working towards good things despite our mistakes.
7. You get to have lunch with any three famous people, present or past! Who would you pick? I’d like to meet Sophie Scholl, an obscure South American president (Garcia) whose whole name I can’t remember but who was an INCREDIBLE leader, and also Josephine (Napoleon’s wife) so we could hear all about Napoleon’s most embarrassing mannerisms. 😛 AWESOME blackmail and/or trivia material.
8. What is your favorite smell, and why? Petrichor! Or baking bread. Funny how they both involve ozone…
9. Share one of your favorite quotes. “Make all of space and time your backyard and what have you got? A back yard.” (That’s probably the one quote that really explained how different Ten and Eleven were. Ten’s sense of wonder was VERY different. It’s hard to explain. They went about it different ways? That’s the closest I can get.)
10. Give us two true statements about yourself and one false statement, and see if your followers can guess which one is false. Oooh, I love this game!
I have never eaten cotton candy.
I have scars on the heel of my hand and in between my pointer and middle fingers on my right hand, both from broken glass.
I hate impatiens.
Now, because I don’t know who gave me this tag, I’m going to just tag random people.
Well, since I’m stuck with everything else I was doing, I thought you all might like to see this. It started out as a drabble, and now it’s about 300 words… I tried to make it canon-compliant, but I may not have succeeded… anyway, enjoy, and please tell me what you think! 🙂
Transcription: June 30, 2012
TOP SECRET. These files are the property of S.H.I.E.L.D. Unauthorized users will be prosecuted.
*Scratches and white noise* (NOTE TO AGENT HILL: Recording equipment unreliable. Request replacement.)
(AGENT LONSLEY) Describe the crash.
(CAPT. ROGERS) All I remember is a lot of white being thrown up. Looking back on it, I’m surprised the plane didn’t shake itself to pieces…
(AGENT LONSLEY) No, I didn’t mean that… How did you feel? What did you think?
(CAPT. ROGERS) Oh. *rustling and creak* It was very quick. I don’t even really remember the impact at all. I wasn’t afraid, if that’s what you meant. After all, dying doesn’t hurt. *slow inhalation* I hadn’t thought about it.
(AGENT LONSLEY) Well, this is supposed to be a therapy session.
(CAPT. ROGERS) Therapy. Is that one of your new inventions? *Agent Lonsley laughing* Actually, I think I’ve thought more about why people make the choices they do. And maybe they’re influenced by what’s in their past, but they’re influenced more strongly by what’s inside them. For instance, I don’t think Johann Schmidt ever really understood why he was doing what he chose to do. He never knew who he was. Perhaps he thought he did, but he didn’t choose to be the person he could have been. He saw what he was doing as inevitable, as something… predestined. And I don’t claim to understand him, much less pardon him, but he… well, he never made that choice.
(AGENT LONSLEY) So you don’t… feel any hatred toward him?
(CAPT. ROGERS) No. Hate is too wasteful. It eats up time and energy that could be devoted to something more useful. Hate is for people who don’t understand what they’re fighting for.
(AGENT LONSLEY) What else? Is there anything you’d like to talk about? Anyone you miss in particular.
(CAPT. ROGERS) No. Not *clearing throat* Not in particular. It hasn’t all sunk in yet. It’ll probably hurt like the dickens later on. Right now, I’m fine, and I’ll worry about the bridges when I come to them.
(AGENT LONSLEY) Well, I guess we’ll wait for the bridges to come up, then. *squeaking and grating* It was great to talk to you, Captain.
The above has been recorded as an addition to the psychological section of the medical file of Captain Steven Rogers (code named ‘Captain America’). As such it is purely confidential. DO NOT COPY THIS MATERIAL. Violators will be prosecuted.