New guy, first post... What do you look for in a Ranger sword?

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Adrahil
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New guy, first post... What do you look for in a Ranger sword?

Postby Adrahil » Mon Sep 10, 2018 5:40 pm

So, I've been dreaming of Middle-earth since the 70's, when I first read the books and my best friend and I explored the woods with his older brother. We were Frodo and Sam, and he was Strider. Back then, we had simple "swords" made of wood, and Ben (the older brother) carried a machete as his sword.

Since then, like many of you, I am sure, I have been intrigues by swords, and thought a lot about what the swords of Middle-earth might be like.

So, I am curious.... what comes to YOUR mind as the swords of Middle-earth?

I think a lot of our images today are formed by Jackson's films. And John Howe's practical experience with swords certainly informed the swords as he imagined them, and of course, Peter Lyon's own practical experience with making functional swords.

The only vision that bothers me is the use of curved swords for the elves, since Tolkien seemed to say that elven swords were straight-bladed. But other than that? Pretty spot on.

The swords of the Rohirrim, of course, are heavily inspired by Migration Era swords. Pretty clear-cut there. And while I think Tolkien imagine a somewhat earlier look for Gondor, I like the 14th-15th century look of the swords from the culture of the Dunedain.

So, I am currently looking at getting a sword I think plausible for a Dunedain ranger with an eye towards consistency (more or less) with Jackson's vision. My general "requirements"

14th-15th-style longsword. UNless I am carrying a buckler, I think a longsword is better than an arming sword. Something like an Oakeshott-style Type XVIa for the blade (most of the "hero" swords seem to be fullered).

Pommel of some kind of scent-stopper design. We see a hint of wheel pommels in the "issue" swords of Gondor. And Faramir's sword almost resembles a lobed viking style. But Aragorn's sword, Boromir's, even Gandalf's Glamdring have some variation of a scent-stopper. Anduril and Isildur's swords as well, if we squint a little.

Seems like the cross guard could be of almost any style. Slightly turned towards the blade seems popular, but of course, Anduril is straight, as is Isildur's sword.

What do you folks look for in Ranger sword?
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Re: New guy, first post... What do you look for in a Ranger sword?

Postby TaylorSteiner » Mon Sep 10, 2018 6:40 pm

Good question. I really like Darksword Armory stuff. They make a good Ranger sword as well as a good Anduril. I've had both and they are great swords for the money. If you have the money, Albion makes amazing razor sharp stuff. And they have many different styles. I have the baron longsword and it's REALLY nice.
I agree that the Elven blades should have straight in the movies. And I also liked the Rohan swords. Again Darksword Armory has some Viking style stuff.

Anyhow hope this helps.

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Re: New guy, first post... What do you look for in a Ranger sword?

Postby Iodo » Mon Sep 10, 2018 7:26 pm

Welcome to the forum :P

Adrahil wrote:So, I am curious.... what comes to YOUR mind as the swords of Middle-earth?

I don't follow a ranger persona but when I started I was seriously considering it, this is the sword I was very close to getting:

https://www.medievalcollectibles.com/p- ... sword.aspx

It probably isn't the best thing but in terms of looks I don't think it's far off (no fuller though). A lot of the swords you mention are quite important blades, my personal opinion is that a more ordinary ranger would have a more basic blade but it should still have a bit of something special about it. If I had got that sword with the idea of creating a dunedain impression the first thing I'd planned to do was change the grip for a dark brown leather and get a sheath a similar color with some form of decoration.
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Re: New guy, first post... What do you look for in a Ranger sword?

Postby TaylorSteiner » Mon Sep 10, 2018 7:40 pm

Careful about that cold steel sword, Rangers...it looks nice but i had one and it came apart on me after some very limited use.
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Re: New guy, first post... What do you look for in a Ranger sword?

Postby Iodo » Mon Sep 10, 2018 7:44 pm

TaylorSteiner wrote:Careful about that cold steel sword, Rangers...it looks nice but i had one and it came apart on me after some very limited use.

Yep, good warning, I totally forgot reading about that on reviews, if my memory serves me well (researched this over a year ago) it's just the peen that comes loose and is an easy fix.
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Re: New guy, first post... What do you look for in a Ranger sword?

Postby Elleth » Mon Sep 10, 2018 8:07 pm

Welcome!

If it's fidelity to the film version you're after, short of going custom I don't think you could do better than the Christian Fletcher Borderwatch:

http://www.christianfletcher.com/swords ... rderwatch/

Most of the same visual tells as Lyon/WETA/Peter et al went with, but mounted to a real blade.
Not cheap though. eek!

I certainly agree with you WETA missed the boat on the elven swords.

Likewise, I think in the case of the case of the "Strider sword" they did quite well. While I've quite a few quibbles with WETA's visual treatment of Third Age Men of the West in general, Aragorn's Strider sword is - ignoring that it's not broken Narsil and it's not one-handed - quite well executed.

All that said, I think one is closer to the Middle-earth of Tolkien's books with spear or bow and a one-handed sword on the belt. The exact aesthetics of those blades is very much open to interpretation, but I think Greg's inclination for a shorter sword makes very good practical sense.


edited for clarity
Last edited by Elleth on Wed Sep 12, 2018 2:38 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: New guy, first post... What do you look for in a Ranger sword?

Postby Greg » Mon Sep 10, 2018 10:22 pm

If you want something that resembles the film aesthetic and fits strider, get a Borderwatch.

If you want something that resembles the film aesthetic but is practical and won’t become an irritant (seeing as how it’s a useless piece if kit to lug around), buy a Valiant Armoury ‘Bristol’.
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Re: New guy, first post... What do you look for in a Ranger sword?

Postby Ursus » Mon Sep 10, 2018 11:28 pm

Always a fun question.

One swordsmans opinion but to me you carry what you prefer to fight with and are skilled in the use of. As to source material Tolkien specifically says numerous times in all of his works phrases like "long sword" and "great hilt" so the reference is plainly obvious and at that point purely open to interpretation.


Looking from a more martial view I would first ask what your level of training is? Longswords are what I favor and yet I would support a shorter blade if you
aren't well trained in the use of a longsword. Not to say that shorter blades dont require skill but there do tend to be far less mechanics involved, especially hand work. It is also my point of
view that a single hander or short sword is only at 50% its true potential without a shield or buckler. While devestating weapons, longswords also require some serious
commitment to training to use to the full potential that I imagine a ranger would require. In the end would Dunedain have them and carry them, for sure. I do think it would be
isolated to rangers that had the time and access to the education of its use.

If you are intent on a longsword either way I would say this. Number one: Visually I think blades in and around the type XIII family best suit Tolkiens world. I say this because maille armour dominates as the chosen protective wear of the "period". Parallel to our own world blades of this style developed and were the primary use well into the late middle ages and beyond due to their ability to combat maille. Number two: Get a blade that is sized to you. For this I always recommend taking a measurment that reaches from the floor to your navel as being a good managable length for longswords. When sized right a well conditioned swordsman can even use them one handed with a shield as many early
XIII's style longswords were used. As for comfort of wear in the woods Ive never had any complaints but then again I've only ever carried longswords the 15 or so years
that Ive been ranging so my advice here is to just wear your blade out and about as much as possible. In any event, welcome to the forum! You'll find good company and
a wealth of fine knowledge here as well as an amazing community.
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Re: New guy, first post... What do you look for in a Ranger sword?

Postby Taurinor » Tue Sep 11, 2018 12:31 am

Welcome!

You've asked a common question with your first post, so I'd say you're in good company here! One of the latest discussions on the topic, Some musings on longswords and rangering got into some interesting tactical considerations, similar to the ones you've brought up here.

If you're looking for a PJ-inspired weapon, I'll repeat Elleth and Greg and say Borderwatch, or you could look into Darksword Armory's offerings for something at a lower price point.

Most of the more active folks on the forum try to go with impressions that are more faithful to the text, rather than the movies, which is probably why this discussion keeps coming up - the Professor is a bit vague on the subject, but at least he admits as much in Letter 211!

As Ursus points out, the Professor mentions "long swords" quite frequently, but I'm not sure that "long sword" always means a longsword. For example, Denethor was "was clad in mail beneath, and girt with a long sword, great-hilted in a sheath of black and silver" (Return of the King, Book V, Chapter 2: The Siege of Gondor). That combination of descriptions suggests, to me at least, a weapon that we would call a longsword. However, Theoden is presented with "a long sword in a scabbard clasped with gold and set with green gems" (The Two Towers, Book III, Chapter 6: The King of the Golden Hall), but, as you said, a Migration Era sword seems to fit Rohan better than a later period longsword.

As for descriptions of ranger swords specifically, we primarily have Anduril, which can hardly be described as the average ranger's sword, but I suppose beggars can't be choosers. We know that Anduril's "blade was traced a device of seven stars set between the crescent Moon and the rayed Sun, and about them was written many runes" and that "Aragorn had Andúril but no other weapon, and he went forth clad only in rusty green and brown. as a Ranger of the wilderness. Boromir had a long sword, in fashion like Andúril but of less lineage and he bore also a shield" (Fellowship of the Ring, Book II, Chapter 3: The Ring Goes South). That makes Anduril a "long sword" of a sort that could be used with a shield - Aragorn even takes a "round shield" to use at Helm's Deep (The Two Towers, Book III, Chapter 6: The King of the Golden Hall). So, does that make Anduril a longsword that Aragorn is able to use one-handed with a shield, the way Ursus mentions, or is it an arming sword meant to be used with a shield? I don't know that we can tell from the text.

We don't get a description of the swords members of the Grey Company carry, only that they are "armed with spear and bow and sword" (The Return of the King, Book V, Chapter 2: The Passing of the Grey Company). The Rangers of Ithilien seem to be similarly armed - " Two had spears in their hands with broad bright heads. Two had great bows, almost of their own height, and great quivers of long green-feathered arrows. All had swords at their sides" (The Two Towers, Book IV, Chapter 4: Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit). Unlike Aragorn, who carried only Anduril, both the Grey Company and the Rangers of Ithilien carry bows and spears, so it may be that their swords are secondary weapons, which may suggest arming swords, rather than longswords. You'll notice that there was a lot of "may"s in that sentence, though!

In summary, it seems there's a lot of room for interpretation, given the vagueness of the Professor's descriptions. I personally think it would be hard to call any blade fitting somewhere into Oakshott's typology "wrong", but some seem to fit certain cultures better than others, and some forum members have different preferences from others.
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Re: New guy, first post... What do you look for in a Ranger sword?

Postby Ursus » Tue Sep 11, 2018 5:38 pm

Those are solid points Taurinor and despite my preference I do support arming swords as being the best visual for the common man in terms of swords in Middle Earth. But to keep myself getting burned out at times I always have to remind myself that the Dunedain, while common and drab at first glance, are anything but common.

Again this is only one persons interpretation of the text so take it as you will. For starters I've always viewed Anduril as some form of longsword, even before the films were made. In reading the comparisons between Boromir's sword and Anduril I’ve always interpreted the passage “Boromir had a long sword in fashion like Anduril but of less lineage” as Boromir’s sword being in a similar style of blade shape and hilt but the “less lineage” being that Boromirs blade is a generally shorter piece that is made to a lesser quality than Anduril. Much in the way Oakshotts typology will have swords in the same family but of different lengths.
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Re: New guy, first post... What do you look for in a Ranger sword?

Postby Taurinor » Tue Sep 11, 2018 7:04 pm

I've taken "in fashion like Anduril but of less lineage" to mean that Boromir's sword was similar in form and structure to Anduril, but it was a younger blade with a less storied past. We can't all bear the reforged blades of ancient kings, after all! It's a single sentence, though, so there are bound to be different interpretations.
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Re: New guy, first post... What do you look for in a Ranger sword?

Postby Peter Remling » Tue Sep 11, 2018 7:26 pm

Taurinor wrote: We can't all bear the reforged blades of ancient kings, after all!



That guy at the Renfair wouldn't lie in the late afternoon of the last day of the Faire, would he ? :P
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Re: New guy, first post... What do you look for in a Ranger sword?

Postby Elleth » Wed Sep 12, 2018 12:53 am

To expand a bit…

Since then, like many of you, I am sure, I have been intrigued by swords, and thought a lot about what the swords of Middle-earth might be like.

So, I am curious.... what comes to YOUR mind as the swords of Middle-earth?


Ever since you asked, I've been pondering this question quite a bit - on my first readthrough - years before the films - I don't think I was paying attention to the swords at all, and didn't have a meaningful mental image.

The exception was Sting - I always envisioned it pretty much exactly the size and shape WETA designed, so I imagine either it was described in better detail than I remember in the text, or someone did an iconic piece of art fairly early on (I don’t think it was Rankin-Bass, but maybe? … ).

I didn't imagine the inscription or inlaid design on the hilt or the funny pommel, but the shape of blade, guard, and grip were exceedingly close to what I might have drawn if forced to put my vague notions to paper back then.

My last re-read however I was paying closer attention to material culture and intentionally trying to recreate a mental image from scratch without relying on the films.

And so...

Rohirrim
WETA was essentially perfect. I'd not change hardly a thing. Any quibbles I might have are well inside the variance one would expect in a culture making everything by hand. The only change I might make is using a more standard Type X blade on the sword Aragorn examines from “Haleth” before Helm’s Deep.

Orcs
As I recall the professor several times refers to orc swords as scimitars: I imagined a mix of blade shapes, both straight and curved. Maybe somewhat tribal-African in construction quality now that I think on it - rough polish, imperfect fit, but absolutely functional.

Not African or Middle-eastern in aesthetic though. The “dark tribal” aesthetic I want to ascribe to orcs is I think a generic fantasy genre accretion, so I’d probably just stay very plain in a vaguely European tradition - maybe with iron-and-wood hilts somewhere in the xiphos space. Also fairly uniform: book orcs seem to have a strikingly modern reporting infrastructure, which I imagine spills over into their logistics as well.

Dwarves
Absolutely not the boxy look WETA came up with, at least taken to the extremes of the Hobbit films.

Somewhat Norse in feeling, but as a rule broader and flatter: Cedarlore’s “Troll Cleaver” is pretty close to how I imagine the quintessential Dwarven sword: perhaps not quite so spatulate, probably with a single (possibly etched?) fuller - but of very similar proportions nonetheless.

merf-middle-earth-swords-dwarven-via-cedarlore.jpg
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Elves
My mental picture of elven arms is heavily inspired by early Celtic forms: leaf bladed swords and those bronze age selborne-style spearheads with the lobate bases. All slimmer, leaner, and lighter than their real world counterparts, and from perfectly polished steel.

I have no metal image for hilt furniture I trust - other than I think it would be far more restrained, subtle, and elegant than most fantasy renditions - WETA included. Forced to imagine it, I’d say vaguely western/cruciform in profile but with texture and ornament style not unlike the most restrained, zen-like naturalistic tsubas of Japan (but western rather than oriental rendering conventions of course).

merf-middle-earth-swords-elven-influences.jpg
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Imagine a guard in form not unlike the one on WETA’s glamdring, but with a dull dark pewter color, and surface hammered to an extremely subtle organic-and-yet-abstract almost-bark finish. Tiny vines - possibly gilded but more likely a dull ruddy copper creep along the arms of the guard in organic and yet perfectly balanced paths. From arms-reach distance you might not even see the surface texture - on close examination the level of detail is clearly the painstaking work of decades on a sharp-eyed jeweler’s bench.

The biggest failure in fandom’s reconstruction of elvish artifacts to my mind is mimicking natural forms in a way that’s too obvious and gauche: a cape of thick leather leaf-scales, a sword guard of stacked WETA-mallorn leaves, and so forth.

Elven aesthetics to my mind have an ethereal sublimity, and I do not trust my merely human sense to do more than suggest them.


Dunedain
… this part’s fun. :)

Based mostly on the “heroic” feel of the text and other material culture cues, I get a c. AD 1000’s - AD 1250’s vibe from Eriador. That more than anything else shapes my mental picture of the essential nature of the swords.

Forced to imagine in detail, I’d imagine the northern Dunedain with swords somewhat like these, with deeply incised artwork done in similar manner as Cedarlore / David DelaGardelle does:

merf-middle-earth-swords-eriador-cedarlore-albion.jpg
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As much as I love Mr. DelaGardelle’s carving style however, I think with its heavily mystic-Celtic feel it’s generally a better match for the Dunlenders (who come off very poorly in the films - I don’t see the men of Dunlend as anything like the raggedy 80’s metal album cover / generic fantasy barbarians PJ shows ).

The northern Dunedain aesthetic I see as more Norman or perhaps Carolingian in mood, but based on the known Numenorean foundation rather than the real world Mediterranean one. I’m not entirely certain how that would translate into a pommel carving, but now I want to think on it some. :)

Their southern cousins in Gondor I see as similar, but with a different more refined regional styling. Maybe with swords something like the Albion Gotland, but with a (cast? forged/sculpted? ) seagull wing motif rather than lobes on the pommel?

merf-middle-earth-swords-gondor-albion.jpg
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That said, Minas Tirith feels more high-medieval/ c. AD 1300’s-early AD 1400’s though, so I wouldn’t be deeply offput by simple round pommels (G,H,maybe I) either. I do quite like the visual aesthetic of the WETA Anduril / Valiant Bristol “White Tree”/fishtail pommel, but were I reading the novels without having ever seen the films, I don’t think I’d have imagined them that way.

In my reading, I didn’t see many two-handed swords, with the possible exception of Denethor’s “great hilted” blade. Also, had I never met you guys I don’t think I’d have envisioned shorter “Bristol/Type XIV” swords for Rangers.

Those are reads based entirely on cultural connotations though, not thoughts based on practical experience. Given the real-world input of Ursus and Greg I’m sure I have to update my “literary mental model,” but I truly don’t know how exactly that shakes out at this point.

… and I haven’t a clue what Narsil / Anduril looks like.

It’s thousands of years old, but of a form recognizable and seemingly more or less contemporary to those around Aragorn. What stands out is that it’s broken - not that it looks like an ancient bronze xiphos or something.

… so not a clue. I don’t get the feeling it’s the giant two-hander of the movies though.
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Re: New guy, first post... What do you look for in a Ranger sword?

Postby Iodo » Wed Sep 12, 2018 5:50 am

Brilliant research Elleth :P
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Re: New guy, first post... What do you look for in a Ranger sword?

Postby Elleth » Wed Sep 12, 2018 3:16 pm

Thank you Iodo. Less research than somewhat-historically-informed bloviating, but now my brain's buzzing on the topic and I want to do some sketchbook thinking. :)

I've taken "in fashion like Anduril but of less lineage" to mean that Boromir's sword was similar in form and structure to Anduril, but it was a younger blade with a less storied past. We can't all bear the reforged blades of ancient kings, after all! It's a single sentence, though, so there are bound to be different interpretations.


I've always read this quote exactly the same way.

... which creates a whole other kettle of fish.

Narsil is ooooooollllllddddd.

And Denethor seeing Merry's Barrow blade recognizes it as something ancient:

‘Whence came this?’ said Denethor. ‘Many, many years lie on it. Surely this is a blade wrought by our own kindred in the North in the deep past?’
ROTK Bk V Ch 1: Minas Tirith


Udwin has a fairly compelling source implying Merry's blade is bronze rather than steel it's so old.
... but it's far younger than Narsil.

And now Boromir's contemporary blade is "in fashion like" one forged back in the first age.

There's a couple ways to reconcile all those, but none of them are very satisfying, to be honest.
Truly a topic worthy of a Martinez column. :)
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