Watching the Deadliest Warrior marathon on Spike TV is making me wax sentimental on my favorite swordfights in books. Fight scenes are really hard to write! If you give a blow by blow of the description of the action, they just drag. In a movie, it’s easy to capture the flash of the technique, but in written form the scene has to balance conflict and tension and emotion with tight descriptions of action. I’m going to walk down memory lane and list my top five swordfights.
(By the way, I love Deadliest Warrior! The swagger of the opposing experts is priceless. And I enjoy their approach of testing and using computer simulations to determine the victor. It’s a great show for someone who writes historical adventures.)
1. The Princess Bride by William Goldman – The movie version is awesome and the book version is even better! It’s a great scene in it’s own right. The scene is done completely from Inigo’s perspective. The dialogue is all cheeky banter about different techniques. Plus it’s a real scene with build up and turning points. “I know something you don’t know. I am not left handed either!”
2. Sword Dancer by Jennifer Roberson – I haven’t re-read this in a while, but the pacing of the sword dance is exquisite. And the tension between Tiger and Del is smokin’. I love the ritual that Roberson sets up. They draw a circle in the sand, take opposite sides, Del sings softly — and then it’s on. I have to admit that this was the greatest influence for my first fight scene in Butterfly Swords. I bow down to you Ms. Roberson.
3. The Two Towers by J.R.R Tolkien – The Battle of Helm’s Deep. Okay, this is not quite a sword fight because it’s a whole battle. Alright, it’s not a sword fight at all, but I had to put this in. Tolkien focuses on the contest between Gimli and Legolas to give us a human…uh, elven & dwarvish face to this battle. He could have described a bunch of arrows and swords flashing, but the memorable part is that throughout this neverending battle, Gimli and Legolas keep count of their kills and wherever they happen to be, they always ask about the other person. It’s actually a very touching scene — in a kick butt sort of way.
4. Brilliance of the Moon by Lian Hearn – The final showdown between Takeo and Kotaro and Kenji. This scene had me breathless. It captured that adrenaline rush of a battle that in reality would probably play out in three minutes. And of course the wonderful build up throughout the whole series to this moment was incredible. And as a special treat, Hearn pulls out all the stops and you see the three Tribe members use all their tricks on each other. I’ve read wuxia battles in print that just seemed clunky – people flying, awkward descriptions of special techniques. This fight has the larger than life wuxia feel.
5. Crossing Swords by Kirsten Saell – My newest discovery. The fight scene happens within the first 30 pages of the book and the setup leading up to it is flawless. Whereas Hearn and Tolkien took their time building the drama, Saell does it in a heartbeat and you’re totally invested in Gil and Lianon by the time they cross swords. The push and pull of power in this scene is wonderfully done.
Did I miss any? Do you remember any great action scenes from books? What made them great?