Here at Arms and Armor it is Renaissance festival season. This is a fun time of year for us, but also busy and occasionally rather trying. Last weekend I was showing a customer our Durer Bastard Sword, a nimble and elegant weapon in the style of the late 15th to early 16th century. He picked it up, smirked a little, and said something to the effect of "what a wall hanger, the sword I train with weighs ten pounds". He then proceeded to explain to me that "real" swords weren't flexible like modern "spring steel" swords, but were stiff and heavy. I told him that our sword, at a touch over three pounds, was right in the historical average, and that it was an accurate replica, but to little avail. He had his ideas and historical facts weren't going to get in the way of his idea of how swords ought to be. He was an aficionado of what we call "Sword Like Objects" or SLOs.
SLOs are the products of a fantasy world in which the warriors of the past were super-men, wielding ten, twenty, or even fifty pound bars of steel. They would wander the countryside, crushing their enemies, driving them fleeing before them...well, you get the idea. Renaissance fairs, popular media, video games, and culture are full of this kind of idea, which is, in the end, entertaining but deeply misleading. We have had experience over the last 40 years translating between the two world views. Check out this video in which we were commissioned to create a piece featured in a video game.
While this isn't the type of work we do very often, it's sometimes instructive to make a fantasy weapon because it really highlights what separates SLOs from authentic replicas. There are plenty of really skilled makers who just make fantasy pieces, and all in all that's totally fine. This does, however, spur us to think about what makes our swords different and how our design philosophy and aesthetic preferences guide which swords we decide to reproduce.
Stay tuned for part two of this blog where we lay out how and why we do what we do.