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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
The symbolism of Broken swords, and other damaged equipment - and its limits!

Grey Havens

Jul 20 2013, 7:51am

Views: 90
The symbolism of Broken swords, and other damaged equipment - and its limits! [In reply to] Can't Post

 Let's get the obvious symplistic Freudian connotations out of the way first (the broken sword symbolizing the failure of the potency of the virile warrior: I already did my sniggering about thiis on the Turin threads,so will try to behave now) .
Because the sword is the symbol par excellence of a warrior, the broken sword also of course works as a good non-Freudian symbol of the warrior's defeat. I imagine warriors having a close attachment to their particular blade. It was something they spent a lot of time with, training and maintaining it. You'd probably end up feeling the affection a musician does about their instrument. or a biker for their Harley. More than that, your sword was with you at key moments of crisis - so modern similarities with the tennis player's lucky racquet or golfer's lucky putter come up. Breaking the sword is therefore all the more like breaking the warrior
Other items could be argued to have a similar significance. After their confrontation in the ruined Orthanc, Gandalf breaks Saruman's staff: his badge of office as a wizard, as well as his wizardly weapon.
It's Boromir's cloven horn which is retrieved after his fall, rather than his broken sword. Still a pointy thing to keep the Freudians happy, but also, it's had more billing than his sword - its an heirloom of his house, and he's twice sounded it to symbolize his defiance (on setting out from Rivendell, and in Moria), as well as blowing it to try to rally the Fellowship when the orcs attack them at Parth Galen. There's also a practical point here - it's more credible that the horn rather than the sword would be washed ashore after Boromir's river burial.
A further factor, I think is the idea of a possession giving its all and breaking under the strain of what its heroic owner has asked it to do. So Gandalf's staff "bursts asunder" on the bridge, fighting the balrog. And Theoden, signalling the charge of the Rohirrm at the Pelenor Fields:

"With that he seized a great horn from Guthlaf his banner-bearer and he blew such a blast upon it that it burst asunder."

Perhaps it is a bit like Beetohoven (or, more so) Liszt, breaking pianos during performances of their tempestuous romantic music - rigged piano possibly, but worked because of the idea that a mere machine couldn't channel the firey soul of this artistic genius. Very in keeping with the Romantic era's ideas.

We don't hear much about breakage of the bad guys' weapons, perhaps because we don't need to have that kind of sympathy for them. We're more likely to hear of smashed up baddie items as an indicator of our heroes great power. So for example, in one of his flashes of revealed kingliness, Aragorn routs an orc attack in Moria:

"But even as the orc flung down the truncheon and swept out his scimitar, Anduril came down upon his helm. There was a flash like flame and the helm burst asunder. The orc fell with a cloven head. His followers fled howling..."

The sword-that-was-broken takes things further - rather than being a symbol of ruin, the shards of Narsil are turned into a symbol of hope, and its reforging symbolized Aragorn taking up the old battle.

So I think it works on many levels. But also, when thinking symbollusm, i I think we should not be content with mere symbolism. I think Toliken tended to be sniffy about people who wanted to reduce stories (or words) to mere symbols. "Ah yes, a = b and x = y. I have decoded this now; new story please" is a rather impoverished reaction to a rich story. A dragon is no mere fancy - or need not be while one is "inside" a fantasy story. Let it be a real dragon which you might encounter venturing out in Middle-earth, as well as the layers of meaning that build up around dragons, and can be comfortably unraveled in your armchair at home.
That's what I try to remind myself, anyway…

What do you think?

Disclaimers: The words of noWizardme may stand on their heads! I'm often wrong about things, and its fun to be taught more....

"nowimë I am in the West, Furincurunir to the Dwarves (or at least, to their best friend) and by other names in other lands. Mostly they just say 'Oh no it's him - look busy!' "
Or "Hold off! unhand me, grey-beard loon!"

Subject User Time
Broken Sword Barrow-Wight Send a private message to Barrow-Wight Jul 14 2013, 3:16am
    I don't have an answer but this is something I've often wondered about too // dubulous Send a private message to dubulous Jul 14 2013, 10:01am
    Likely just symbolism... FrogmortonJustice65 Send a private message to FrogmortonJustice65 Jul 14 2013, 12:44pm
        It happens to... Lothwen Send a private message to Lothwen Jul 14 2013, 2:12pm
            Just Elendil and Boromir, I think. Elizabeth Send a private message to Elizabeth Jul 14 2013, 6:07pm
                Ah, of course, Lothwen Send a private message to Lothwen Jul 14 2013, 6:32pm
                    Witch-KIng Barrow-Wight Send a private message to Barrow-Wight Jul 14 2013, 9:55pm
                        His mace? CuriousG Send a private message to CuriousG Jul 16 2013, 10:34am
    Old world symbolism Brethil Send a private message to Brethil Jul 14 2013, 2:49pm
    The symbolism of Broken swords, and other damaged equipment - and its limits! noWizardme Send a private message to noWizardme Jul 20 2013, 7:51am
    broken weapon Dirhaval Send a private message to Dirhaval Jul 21 2013, 4:49am


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