Friday, April 8, 2011

G is for Gandiva and Glamdring

Balinese Statue of Arjuna with Gandiva in hand.  Photograph by Ilussion.
I believe this is one of John Howe's earlier attempts at The Bridge of Khazad-dûm.

Heroes do not get their weapons at Walmart.  Their weapons are not mass-produced in some Chinese factory.  As unique as heroes are, so unique are their weapons.  In mythopoesis, in sub-creating, nothing should be wasted.  The hero's weapon should be a part of world-building, a contributor to characterization, and an element of the plot.  Today's blog is dedicated to famous, named weapons.

We all know that Penelope's suitors do not stack up as men, because none of them can string Odysseus' bow.  And it is this failure that is one of the elements that will allow Odysseus to both reveal himself and slaughter them all.  Elric of Melniboné's evil sword Stormbringer allows him to overcome his genetic weakness and become a great swordsmen, while also dooming his soul and the souls of his loved ones.  Arthur's Excalibur symbolizes his kingship and his otherworldly patronage.  When Gandalf draws Foe-hammer against the Balrog at the Bridge of Khazad-dûm, we remember its discovery in the troll hoard, and the fear it inspires among goblins (orcs), but the real Middle Earth fanatic will tell you this sword of Gondolin was wielded by Turgon, the only elf to be King of Gondolin, in his wars against the orcs.  It is ancient, it is powerful, and it confirms Gandalf's -- or Mithrandir's -- connections with the elves as well as his own nature as an ancient power.  It is notable in this case that it is not given to him, but found as an apparent accident.  Where other writers make a point of handing such weapons over to their heroes in a weighty scene, Gandalf bumbles into Glamdring.  (Try counting up the accidents that make all the difference in The Lord of the Rings sometime.)  And finally, Gandiva: the bow of gods and heroes, against whom no foe can stand, whose release resounds with thunder.  When it slips from Prince Arjuna's hand as he stands across the field from the Dhritarashtran forces in the Bhagavad Gita, we know that the power to make war has slipped from the mighty warrior's hands, until it can be restored to his limbs by a god, just as the bow itself came to him by the hands of a god.

These weapons, have names like important characters do, and they have a history of their own that makes them a feature of their worlds-of-origin.  They compliment the characters they are paired with: interacting with their strengths and weaknesses, fulfilling our desire to wield part of the enchantment of Faerie in our hands through our identification with the character, providing the character with motivations.

Anybody looking forward to Marvel's film version of Thor?  I recently saw that the toys are already out in anticipation of its release.  Guess what I saw at Walmart?  Yeap.  Two different versions of Mjölnir.  I mean, what wouldn't I do if I had Thor's hammer...