Tor.com content by

Ryan Van Loan

Beyond Excalibur: Swords as the Great Leveler in The Wheel of Time

Swords in fantasy are as old as time itself. From Gilgamesh and Enkidu slaying the demi-god Humbaba and the Bull of Heaven (spoiler: doesn’t end great for Enkidu as it turns out) to Susanno, a kami (a spirit possessing holy powers) who slays Yamata no Orochi, an 8-headed serpent (hiding a few swords within its coils) to Beowulf, swords have been there from the beginning. While some of those swords were named, in the Arthurian mythos we begin to see swords choosing their owners, and in that choice, granting “Chosen One” status upon them.

Tolkien really ate that up in his own works, with Narsil not content to be just the Sauron-killer, but waiting for Isildur’s heir to reforge it (bigger and brighter) as Anduril so Aragorn could be recognized as the King of Gondor. Tolkien, being the sometime (but not the ALL) father of fantasy, heralded in a golden era of magic swords. They often function as the blazing “Chosen One” symbol, from Gonturan choosing Harry in The Blue Sword to By the Sword by Mercedes Lackey and beyond.

The Wheel of Time has its own Chosen One (several, in fact) plucked from another fantasy favorite: prophecy. But swords serve a different function in the world Robert Jordan created: they are the Great Leveler. They don’t choose their owner (despite what Callandor would have you believe, that was about a sa’angreal not a sword), they don’t convey special powers, and they don’t make someone a badass the instant they touch the hilt of one of Jordan’s characteristic, long-hilted, single-edged, katana-like blades.

[Don’t believe me? Look no further than Mr. Dragon Reborn himself.]

The Magic of Travel and Exploring Fantasy Cultures

The first thing my parents taught me, more by accident than intention, was that travel gets into your blood. It’s a drug. It’s magic. I was born on the northern edge of Montana where on cold, clear nights you could glimpse the auroras stretching through the night sky, like psychedelic fingers clutching at the fabric of the universe. By the time I was four we’d already lived in a dozen places crossing multiple states and geographic regions. My earliest memories are divided between the American West and the azure beauty of the Caribbean, spending a year of my life on a small island off the coast of Puerto Rico, running along sunny, sandy beaches with my dog Chewie (short for Chewbacca of course), both of us pups still.

A few decades, over a dozen countries, and several continents into this journey, worshiping at the Church of Bourdain (who made me and many, many others believe that traveling across this beautiful planet was not only possible, but required), and I’m still chasing that feeling of sitting in a bar overlooking a never-before-seen view, the smells of the kitchen wafting over me along with the soft buzz of languages I don’t understand. It’s that shot of simultaneous contentment and exhilaration that comes from new soil beneath my feet, fascinating unexplored architecture, the ebb and flow of conversation in the local dialect. In the air and in a word: culture.

The second lesson my parents taught me, again more by accident than anything else, was that books are constructed of the same magic that travel is imbued with.

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Explore the Maps of Ryan Van Loan’s The Sin in the Steel!

Science fiction and fantasy and maps go together like peanut butter and jelly (or peanut butter and bananas which I much prefer). I fell in love with maps in science fiction and fantasy books from page one and while I can’t remember which was my first, it was probably through C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia or Brian Jacques’ Martin the Warrior? I know maps aren’t for everyone, while for others too much is never enough—but I’ve always enjoyed opening a book to the maps page, seeing this new, foreign (to me) world that I was about to explore and then, later, going back and seeing where our intrepid cast had gone.

[As a writer, maps perform another function…]

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