Hero Swords and Art Nouveau – Tolkien Artist John Howe and Metalsmith Peter Lyon: Confessions on the LOTR Movie Swords

by Aug 9, 2002Lord of the Rings (Movies)

Pardon me, mellyn, I have a very large, curved sword stuck in my throat.  I am a sword collector; I have swords adorning the walls in my home along with a few spears and a custom designed Elven helmet.  I even have the United Cutlery Sting and Glamdring hanging proudly in my Tolkien room.   I was very interested in the weaponry and armor of Middle Earth long before Peter Jackson brought his vision of Middle Earth to the big screen.   

Having said that, I’ve been both delighted and dismayed at the arms and armor of PJ’s theatrical masterpiece.   I WAS thrilled by the movie; I still get all giddy when the Last Alliance scenes are roaring across the screen:   Gil-galad staking the orc to the ground with Aeglos makes me tingle all over;  Elendil rushing at Sauron with Narsil causes my blood pressure to skyrocket rather dangerously.    And the vicious rumours are true:  Sauron splintering Narsil with his boot makes me bawl like a baby.  Everytime.  A sword, forged by Telchar himself, lying in pieces on the ground.  Tragedy.   Let’s all pause for a moment of silence.


I CAN and have accepted that some of the weaponry and armor choices are PJs vision, not mine.  But, hey, I didn’t make the movie and no one asked me.  I have been thrilled nonetheless, and I thank PJ and the Weta folks for bringing this epic to my living room. 

So, I read the interview with Peter Lyon and John Howe about the making of the movie swords with great interest.  I had never heard of Peter Lyon before this, (my apologies to Mr. Lyon), but certainly I had heard of Mr. Howe.  I found the interview to be interesting, but, sadly, I also found it to be….dismaying. 

For instance, the reporter, Björn Hellqvist, asks why the Elven blades are curved.   John Howe replies, “Why not? It fits well with their style of combat, and it’s very Art Nouveau. Did Professor Tolkien say they are all straight? Damn, I must have missed that bit!”

Art nouveau?  Is THAT why the Elven swords are curved in Peter Jackson’s movie version of the classic Lord of the Rings?   I have heard that “art nouveau” term used OVER and OVER to describe the Elven culture from PJ’s movie.  In fact, I’ve heard that term enough that I am now voting to have it REMOVED from the dictionary for gross misuse.   In my not so humble Tolkiensnobbishness opinion, “art nouveau” has no place ANYWHERE in Middle Earth. 

So, here goes, “art nouveau” is being officially and painfully torn out of my vocabulary.  RIPPPPPPP!

And, John, Peter….actually, there IS a cuved sword mentioned by the Professor.  Emphasis on the singular “a”.  Only one sword.  Only one.  And as for the Elven “style of combat”, I assume that they mean the movie style.  Or, did these fellows find the Straight Road to Middle Earth and personally witness an Elven battle?

Now, I WILL be buying Arwen/Elrond’s sword from United Cutlery.  Not because it’s that chic term that I just tossed out of my brain (you know, the art nouveau phrase); no, but simply because it’s a beautiful blade; AND there WAS a curved Gondolin sword that was mentioned by Tolkien himself.   In my great wisdom and Tolkiensnobbishness, I will simply pretend that I have the ONE curved Gondolin sword proudly displayed upon my wall.   I will, therefore, be fully justified in my purchase and ownership of this curved sword.    You find that to be strange?  You should hear the justification that I have for owning Excalibur

The interview is worth a read and before anyone accuses me of being a John Howe or Peter Lyon hater, let me say that I love Howe’s work.  I don’t know much about Mr. Lyon, but I’m a reasonable Tolkien snob.   For instance, when Lyon describes his first reaction to being signed to work on LOTR, he says, “To be honest, my first reaction was ‘Great! Steady work, and on a feature film too'”.  

The fact that he has no apparent thrill of being involved with Tolkien’s work is NOT a concern for me.  Not at all.  The fact that Mr. Lyon made most of the “hero weapons” is also not a concern.

It is NOT a concern because I know that his boss was Richard Taylor.  I TRUST Richard Taylor.  Furthermore, Mr. Lyon did not design the blades.  Did I hear a sigh of relief? 

Okay, I think that I’ve managed to swallow the curved blade at this point with minimal damage.  Head over to the Sword Forum International and form your own opinion.  Purists might find some of the replies to be a bit stinging, but the interview is interesting nonetheless.  



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