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Cursed blades and dark swords in myth and fantasy

Cursed blades and dark swords in myth and fantasy

Lecture by Lillian Cespedes Gonzalez

Held online by the Royal Armouries in Leeds on August 20, 2021

Abstract: Dark and cursed blades are found throughout popular culture and fantasy; join Dr Lillian Cespedes to explore their roots in history, mythology and why they have become so popular.

This talk explores the phenomenon of dark blades and cursed swords in myth, legend, and fiction. Modern blockbuster fantasy franchises such as Warhammer and The Elder Scrolls feature many ‘dark weapons’, inspired by fictional narratives by authors such as J.R.R Tolkien and Michael Moorcock which revolve around mighty warriors and cursed items that ultimately condemn their owner to certain doom or death. However, these weapons find their roots in more traditional tales from across the world – weapons such as the Norse blade Tyrfing, the cursed Muramasa blades from Japan, or the sword given to Kullervo that brings misery to his entire village in the Finnish Kalevala.

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Exploring the origins of these weapons and their symbolism in history, myth and fantasy, Dr Gonzalez will also analyse the different reasons and aspects that make these items cursed, dangerous and powerful – whether a magic sword is the same as a cursed sword, a sword that is inhabited by a spirit, or one that is sentient, and whether there are specific connotations attached to each type of dark blade. In addition, we will look at the impact these weapons have on their owners and the subliminal messages contained in these narratives. Finally, the talk considers why such swords have become a staple of the fantasy genre, and if their most recent permutations still share the same values as their historical and legendary blueprints.

Lillian Céspedes González did her PhD at the University of Winchester. Click here to view Lillian’s Academia.edu page.

Top Image: A Tale of Sano Jirōzaemon, Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, 1886. People rumored that Jirōzaemon murdered his lover with a cursed sword. The kabuki drama Kago-tsurube Sato-no-Eizame (1888) claimed that his sword was forged by Muramasa.

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