The sword in the stone and the lady of the lake are blacksmithery, or nanotech
16.30, Tuesday 31 Jan 2023 Link to this post
The legend goes that a sword appears embedded in a stone, or in an anvil standing atop a stone, and there is a label: whoever pulls this sword from the stone is the true king of England. And Arthur finds it, and does so, and becomes such.
I wonder if this is a description of Arthur forging his own sword?
Like: if you were to explain ore, and the process of smelting the rock to produce iron, and forging the iron to make a sword, and you wanted to really drum home the miracle of this technology, today rendered invisible by a supply chain too diffuse to see, wouldn’t you say that he had drawn the sword from the stone?
I guess I’m thinking of ways for the story to be non-fantastical.
Iron may have been transgressive and egalitarian, once upon a time:
iron undermines bronze-based power structures.
You could also say that raising a popular army is like pulling a sword from a stone, if your metaphors were such that stone = land. So there’s that too.
You might want to bring attention to ore being the source. Because it turns out that in northern Europe, in Arthurian times (400AD-ish), smelting iron from stone was unusual.
Iron came from bogs:
In northern Europe in the Iron Age all the way through to the early Medieval period, most iron came from bog iron. It was hard to smelt, because it was a rather low grade ore, but you didn’t have to mine it and it was a renewable resource (in about twenty years you could just come back and get more, because it formed constantly).
(That link quoting a thread by author Jennifer R. Povey.)
So maybe the other origin story of King Arthur, in which the Lady of the Lake rises out of the water and hands him Excalibur, is also about iron and sword making?
…and, perhaps, was this the original legend? And later, when bog iron was replaced by iron ore, was the myth rewritten so that the sword is produced from a stone not a lake, so that although the story differs, the underlying meaning in metaphor-space is the same?
Excalibur is returned to the lake after Arthur’s death, which was traditional. But this practice pre-dates iron which, to my mind, is a point against the idea of a reciprocal relationship between blacksmithing and bogs.
SEE: The History of Magic (Chris Golden). After death, weapons were placed in water. In the Bronze Age:
streams, marshes and bogs received spearheads, axes and sickles; major rivers were given swords, sickles, spears, axes and personal ornaments from outside the region.
And this continued with iron in the Iron Age (800BCE–43BCE):
in southern Britain swords were regularly thrown into rivers.
It’s not a misinterpretation of accidental loss:
Broadly speaking, when more things are placed in graves, fewer items are thrown into rivers and bogs.
It’s wonderfully alchemical, the idea of transmuting water into weapons.
Maybe Merlin came from the future and equipped the once and future king (that’s why Arthur is the future king too, because he returned with Merlin).
I’m imagining a nanotech smithery that you drop into a bog, like a long strip of something that feels like rough leather, and as water flows over engineered cilia fixers, it slowly reefs an iron-coral sword.
Or a glowing hoop that you place on a hunk of iron ore, and it atomically teases out the metal and weaves it and extrudes a hilt, which you grasp and heave and the blade prints as you draw it from the red hot aperture of the Drexler assembler.
I guess current technology is that magical, really, except that the process of transformation from raw material to end artefact takes thousands of miles and so much time that it’s not really your agency that makes it happen. So maybe, to invent something magical, one algorithm is to look for lengthy industrial processes and imagine them as on-demand, pocket-sized.
It’s like bubble wrap isn’t it. I squash down the fantasy in one place, and it finds a way to pop up somewhere else.