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<   No. 1786   2007-12-17   >

Comic #1786

1 Mordekai: Well at least we're all together again. And we have light.
1 Lambert: Yes. It's good having a wizard in the party.
2 Kyros: That's not me. It's your sword, Lambert.
3 Sting: {singing} If you need somebody, call my name. If you want someone, you can do the same.
4 Alvissa: There must be orcs nearby!
4 Mordekai: I guess we're singing a different tune now...

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If you love somebody, set them free.

2018-08-03 Rerun commentary: Who ever came up with the idea of magical swords emitting light? Yes, I know Bilbo's sword Sting in The Hobbit did it, but I'm guessing Tolkien based that on some pre-existing myth or story.

Okay, fine, I can use Google as well as the next person. A few minutes of research reveals that there is a sword called Claíomh Solais in Gaelic mythology, literally the "Sword of Light", which appears in many Irish and Scottish folk tales and glows with light. It may share some mythological history with King Arthur's Excalibur, which is said by Thomas Malory to have been so bright that it blinded his enemies when he first drew it, although its properties as an extended light source suitable for exploring dungeons is not attested in the myth. Then there's Dyrnwyn, the sword of Rhydderch Hael from Welsh myth, which blazed with fire when drawn by a worthy man.

So there's certainly some precedent in the worlds of time-worn myth. Which means it's probably impossible to give an exact literal answer to my question, but the figurative question remains. In particular, who thought it was a good idea to have a sword used for fighting creatures with keen eyesight in the dark glow in the dark? And to be set aglow when in the presence of said creatures? Surely it would be more useful if the sword made you more difficult to see and run a sword through or fire arrows at, as opposed to painting a huge bullseye on you and screaming, "Here I am! I'm your enemy!"

I don't know if Gaelic myth had any legends of people using those glowing swords passing through dark subterranean passages and trying to avoid being killed by orcs. Maybe we can lay this one at Tolkien's feet, then?

Reader V-M. P. writes:

It actually might make sense to have the weapons glowing, since you need to have at least some source of light underground. Also, the (common) orc eyes are very sensitive to light: Glamdring and Orcrist were almost blinding to them at close range when Gandalf and Thorin turned upon their pursuers in The Hobbit (the book, not the movie). Furthermore, one generally doesn't need to be all that concerned about archery underground, since most of the sightlines are short, which also helps to hide the light.

In the end, though, I think it was Rule of Cool that inspired Tolkien. :)

Narsil/Anduril (originally Dwarven make, then reforged by the Elves of Rivendell, and it doesn't shine in the presence of orcs) seems to share the property of Dyrnwyn:

Aragorn threw back his cloak. The elven-sheath glittered as he grasped it, and the bright blade of Andúril shone like a sudden flame as he swept it out. 'Elendil!' he cried. 'I am Aragorn son of Arathorn and am called Elessar, the Elfstone, Dúnadan, the heir of Isildur Elendil's son of Gondor. Here is the Sword that was Broken and is forged again! Will you aid me or thwart me? Choose swiftly!' [The Two Towers, Chapter 2: The Riders of Rohan]

However, that is probably just poetic license, as when Anduril was reforged, it was described that it shone red in the sunlight. So this is just a continuation of that reflected sunlight than actual flames. Although there is this one from Moria:

But even as the orc flung down the truncheon and swept out his scimitar, Andúril came down upon his helm. There was a flash like flame and the helm burst asunder.

Anyway, I thought those were interesting points.

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