The Messy History of Messers, aka a Window into my Crippling Obsession with Swords and Other Such Things

You Call That a Knife? THIS Is a Knife!

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This is a Messer. It’s a sword…kind of. It’s a knife…sort of. Is it both? Neither? Some sort of weird Schrodinger’s Cat-esque aberration where it’s both neither and both at the same time? Much like the plot of Kingdom Hearts, no one can really tell for sure what it is.

So for now, we’ll just say, it’s a weapon and it’s cool.

The Messer rose to prominence in the late medieval era, created as a slashing-weapon similar, if not identical in function to the Falchion. In Germany, this was by and large the most common weapon used, as they were relatively cheap and happened to skirt a law that allowed only knives to be carried by commoners. Remember when I said this weapon was kind of a weird…knife/sword hybrid? Well, that’s because the Messer is technically classified as a longknife rather than a sword.

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If you take a look at the grip, you’ll note the three fasteners, indicating the blade is a full tang construct. It’s pretty odd-looking for a sword, and immediately stood out to me less of a sword handle…and more the handle of a really big-ass knife.

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Pictured above is a set of tableware knives used not for carving the skulls of your enemies…but for carving that juicy piece of roast boar your hunter friend Hans bagged on his last hunt. If you were to compare the Messer and this less violent instrument to each other side-by-side however, you’ll note they share many distinguishing features. Single edged blade? Check. Full tang fastened by metal bolts? Check. Created for cutting and slicing as opposed to stabbing, a la a Roman Gladius? Checkity-check! In fact, the only real points of difference are the presence of a pommel, a cross-guard, and a slightly more weapon…y look. One need only compare the above images of the kitchen knives and their Big Brother to an image of a true sword…

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…to see that it’s a far cry from the simplicity of the Messer. Note the lack of a fuller or rain-guard, the emphasis on cutting rather than stabbing, and the single edge. All characteristics commonly associated more with European knives than with swords.

So essentially, what you had was a weapon that functioned like a sword, but legally speaking, was every bit as much of a knife as the apple-peeler in your back pocket. So to skirt the draconian laws that kept peasants in their place, lower-class Germans would arm themselves with knives that were technically swords, but fit all the legal minutea of what a knife ought to be.

Except…it’s actually not true. Everything I said about law-skirting German peasants is, in actuality, all a lie. A commonly accepted lie, one even noted HEMA youtuber Lindybeige stated in his video on the subject. And in basically every source I looked up on the subject, the Messer’s status as a “longknife” was chalked up to the “Germans weren’t allowed to have swords” explanation. This is in fact, not true however. As it turns out, Germans in that period were required by law to own actual swords. As in, “Hippies without swords will get thrown in the goddamn dungeon because real men own swords” illegal. “We expect a standing militia, so stop listening to Bob Dylan and AMASS AN ARMORY TO DEFEND YOUR FAMILY AND COUNTRY” illegal.

Crazy, right? This is basically the exact opposite of everything I read! And yet, there’s actual academic proof for the latter. Proof covered by another fantastic HEMA youtuber, Shadiversity who explains why exactly the Messer has such a complicated status in the weapons world. Long story short, the most historically plausible belief happens to involve knifemakers wanting to produce swords, and skirting the laws of their own guilds to produce weapons that were technically knives, but functioned like swords, so as to get a leg up over those jerkwads in the Swordmakers’ Guild.

Below is Shad’s lengthy and quite informative five-part video series on Messers and Falchions from an academic standpoint. If like me, your lust for knowledge of all things sword-related cannot be contained, I suggest you give it a watch.

Also, consider subscribing to him! He’s a fantastic content creator, and utterly essential if you wish to implement historical realism in your fantasy narrative, be it a novel, D&D session or whatever else.

Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off 2018 is Here!

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So this Monday, Phase 1 of the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off 2018 kicked off!

This is an event I’m gonna be keeping an eye on for sure, as it’s the best way to learn about the hottest new titles. Last year we got Sufficiently Advanced Magic, Crimson Queen and Where Loyalties Lie. And this year, one of the big recurring keywords in the titles is Dragons. So chances are, 2018’s gonna be a good years if you like the big, scaly bois in your fantasy lit.

Why bother with Self-Pub or SPFBO, you ask? As it just so happens, I wrote a thing on that a while back, which you can check out here. If you want to check out self-published fiction that’s actually you know, good, SPFBO finalists really can’t be beat.

An Interview With Daniel Greene

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A while back, I came across a Youtube channel discussing a book series I was looking to get into. That book series was the Wheel of Time, and the youtuber is Daniel Greene. A rising voice in SFF, Daniel Greene discusses his favorite fantasy book series, ranging from Brandon Sanderson’s epics, to grimdark fiction like the Witcher series. As a fellow fan, and a writer myself, I reached out to Daniel to get his opinion on all things SFF, Youtube, and more!

MARTIN: So Daniel, can you tell us a bit about yourself and your channel?

DANIEL: When I was a very little kid, I was diagnosed with fairly severe dyslexia. It was so bad I had to get special tutoring for many years. I was fairly embarrassed by having this error in my brain’s processing so I began to overcompensate by reading non-stop. I would go to Barns and Noble, or Borders (remember that glorious store?) and pick up book after book to work on. I guess over the years it slowly transformed from work to a passion. I still remember the first fantasy book I picked up on my own. “The Eye of the World” the first book in The Wheel of Time series. That book changed my life. Reading that series honestly influenced parts of my life I cannot even begin to put into words. I believe I reread the series about eight times by the time the last book came out and three more times since then. In my channel, I will set my biases aside and recognize how other fantasy books can be better than The Wheel of Time in some ways, but in my heart, nothing else will ever come close to the experience I had watching the Dragon be reborn.

I was born and Raised in Virginia but moved around a lot in the last few years. If I stay in one place too long I get this feeling of being trapped, so I don’t plan on putting down too many roots anytime soon. I think that is part of the reason I like the fantasy genre so much. Helps me scratch the traveling itch in a roundabout way.

I also have a bit of an obsession with rhetoric and public speaking in general. Something about it fascinates me. The ability to captivate people by the words you choose and their delivery (cadence, tone, etc,.) seems like a glitch in the human brain. The information is the same, but the packaging transforms how you receive it entirely. This has resulted in me studying everything from Aristotle to stand-up comedy to try and best understand what makes rhetoric so damn important to people without them even realizing it.

Those three things seemed to have come together to be the basis of my channel. 

MARTIN: There’s lots of “lore videos” about games and movies (Vaatividya, Arch Warhammer, etc), but not as many about fantasy novels. Where there any notable Youtubers that inspired you? Or was it something you just personally wanted to do?

DANIEL: I had never even heard of “BookTube” before I started. That community is awesome though and so many people deserve so much more recognition for their awesome content. It annoys me seeing people doing such creative things talking about books and only having 5,000 subs, while other YouTubers will millions of subs…. do what we see in the headlines.

I have been watching Philip Defranco for about 8 years and love that man’s channel. Don’t agree with him on everything (most things), but he always gives a trustworthy perspective I respect. So I would say he is the most influential YouTuber to me in terms what I respect most.

Other channels inspire me to raise the quality of my content. Filmjoy, for example, does stunning work on his movie breakdowns.

KittyG gave me my first sub boost and I will forever love her for that. I was about to quit, then she got me to 1,000 subs, a community was born, and now I have followers I engage with on the regular and encourage me to keep going.

The internet is amazing.

MARTIN: You cover a lot of books on your channel, but one series stands out in particular. Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time. I recall coming across your channel when I first started reading The Eye of the World, and really enjoyed your summaries and character analyses. But why The Wheel of Time in particular? As someone who’s read a lot of fantasy, what do you feel that series nailed that other books (both vintage and modern) struggle with?

DANIEL: The series was responsible for my baptism into fantasy. I have read it so many times The Wheel of Time is now brain candy for me. When I have gone through hard times, it turns into my comfort food. The detail Robert Jordan put into that world goes above and beyond what I believe any other fantasy author has achieved. Just like Harry Potter holds a special place for so many people my age, The Wheel of Time holds that spot for me.

On a side note, Harry Potter is still great. The recent trend of hating on it is just a part of any fantasy series life cycle. Calling it now, in five years it’s going to be cool to hate on Game of Thrones.

MARTIN: It’s kind of funny you mention that because I’m kind of one of those people that’s not as stoked on Harry Potter. I think it’s really good as a kid’s book and later on as YA, but pales in comparison to adult-oriented series like Stormlight or The Witcher, which it often gets lumped in with. And well that’s like, my opinion, man. Everyone’s got one, and sometimes even beloved series (like say, a certain story about a red-headed music kid) might not click with you. for whatever reason.

So as someone who expresses these opinions sometimes, do you get blowback for them? Has criticizing a really popular book ever felt like stepping into a minefield?

DANIEL: Well, I get loads of constructive criticism for my opinions and I really enjoy the dialog that creates. In the comments, I have the opportunity to get down and nerdy with my community and they often have been able to change how I view certain aspects of various series. I rarely get negative blowback for criticizing a fantasy series, in the sense that people seem genuinely upset.

Even the scathing review I did of ‘The Name of the Wind”, was generally well received, even by the fans. People just like talking books and disagreement just leads to more interesting discussion. Of course, there have been a few people who seemed actually offended by my opinions, but they are usually kids so it’s understandable. The adults who seem upset… they have their own problems they need to work on. I will never understand a grown man or woman getting angry about a work of fiction.

All of that being said, just yesterday I got a comment on my Wheel of Time Vs. Game of Thrones video calling me, “idiot scum.’ So that was nice.

MARTIN: Overall though, it seems the community is really receptive to these videos, particularly the ones where you compare different characters. As someone who’s read a few of these books, it’s nice to see familiar faces compared to protagonists and secondary characters I’ve yet to read about. Even if it borders into spoiler territory, I personally find it motivates me to check these books out all the more.

…Speaking of your “versus” videos, which character match-up was your favorite to make?

DANIEL: One that has yet to be released and would spoil a lot of outcomes for me to say. It will be in the final four of the bracket and deciding between these two literally made me lose sleep. I can’t really say to much more, but I will make a note at the beginning of video when it comes out letting you know it is that comparison.

MARTINAs someone who’s covered a lot of different traditionally-published fantasy series, do you think you’d ever consider featuring books from indie, or even self-published authors? Certain books like Master Assassins have garnered quite a bit of praise recently, as have self-published works like Rob J. Hayes’ Best Laid Plans series. Is that a space you might look into some day?

DANIEL: Unfortunately, I had a few very bad experiences with ‘indie’ authors who had asked me to review their books. Basically, because I did not give their writing a 9/10 or above, one particular author demanded I removed the video and emailed me about every 30 minutes until I did. After I took it down they proceeded to write me a long letter basically calling me an idiot for not thinking they were the next Tolkien. It was about a fifty-fifty chance that the author would act in a way similar to this. I had an author complain I was not reading his book fast enough after having it for less than two weeks, and another claim I needed to read the 600+ page book he gave me three times minimum before I reviewed it.

Those experiences resulted in me just having a default, ‘Thank you, I am flattered, but no.’ response to authors reaching out to me.

MARTIN:  Despite putting in a positive word for indie authors, I guess stuff like this just proves how it’s kind of a mixed bag still. I mean, I personally think it’s gotten a LOT better in recent years, and I still swear by authors like Dyrk Ashton and Rob Hayes. There’s some utterly fantastic stuff to be found in indies. But sometimes you still get those authors who just need an editor and a reality check in a MAJOR way.

Speaking of authors, what advice would you have for anyone wanting to write a fantasy novel (indie or otherwise) of their own? What stories have you as a fantasy reader been itching to read, but never had the chance to?

DANIEL: Just this… do not care what I, or your audience wants to read. Write what you want to write. The greatest reads are the ones that were written with passion. If it feels like you are shaping your writing to what others want to hear, you will not stand out from the massive crowed. You may get some credit for mass appeal, but the books that have shaken up a genre, did not do so by reaching a common denominator. The authors wrote from a place of pure creativity that reflected themselves. This sounds corny, but it is so true. Many authors do want to write something that has mass appeal as, which is also completely fine. That is how something like Harry Potter comes around you make a billion dollars if you do manage to get momentum. But that is much more all or nothing in terms of success in my experience.

I really want to sit down and read the Sword of Truth series, because my subscribers have been so split on it, but I just have not had the time to. It will be fun to see what the comment section terns into. Hopefully well reasoned discussion. The internet is known for that right?

MARTIN: That’s great advice, and something I think a lot of new readers will want to hear. Obviously not every series is gonna be huge, but that’s really for the readers to decide. If no one takes any risks, what’s the point of spec fic?

Also…Sword of Truth. Jeez, I can already picture the flame wars. 

Anyway, last question! And this isn’t a serious one by any mean, but just for the fun of it. If your current top 3 fantasy series were flavors of ice cream…what flavors would those be?

DANIEL: Sword of Truth should be coming sooner rather than later, so we shall see.

To be honest not entirely sure how to answer that one. If pressed, I would have to say, The Wheel of Time is rocky road, Lord of the Rings is classic vanilla, and The Witcher is chocolate chip cookie dough. It has elements of past and presents blended perfectly.

And that’s a wrap! For more of Daniel Greene’s thoughts on the Fantasy genre and books, subscribe to his channel on Youtube. I personally recommend checking out his Wheel of Time retrospective if you’re curious about that series and not averse to spoilers. His VS videos and series reviews are also excellent, and a must-watch for any fan of the genre.

For more author and creator interviews, please follow the Tavern and reblog/share if you enjoyed this interview! There’ll be plenty more in the near future.

Assorted Thoughts on The High Fantasy Genre

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So I’m working on a thing.

Like most things I work on, I really can’t go into too much detail about this one. It’s a very personal project, and one that will likely take a bit of time to complete. There may be a dearth of content here for a while as a result, save for the odd interview. But in the mean time, my thing has given me a lot to think about in regards to High Fantasy settings. There’s a lot of real fun to be had in these, but also many pet peeves that tend to get under my skin.

So here’s a collection of musings regarding High Fantasy as I visit and re-visit some books in the genre:

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Author Interviews are Coming Soon!

Been a while since I’ve posted here. Had some personal/family stuff going on that’s kept me busy, but I wanted to make an important announcements!

So about a month ago, I wrote an article on self-published fantasy, and how it’s a vastly underrated segment of genre fiction. Long story short, it blew up a bit and ended up on the front page of r/Fantasy for a few days. Some authors sent me messages, or shared my post, which helped me get almost a thousand hits on this fairly obscure and new blog.

All I can say on that count is…wow. Thanks a lot, everyone!

Because of the positive reception that got, I’ve decided to start interviewing some authors and creators in the SFF community, particularly in small press and self-pub. I always love hearing all the different stories these writers have to offer, and nothing would make me happier than helping them sell a copy or two.

On that note, I’d like to announce my first interview! Michael R. Baker, author of The Thousand Scars, will be sharing some thoughts on his writing journey, as well as a bit about his books.

I’m working on a big project of my own as well, so stay tuned for news of that as well!

A Beginner’s Guide to Self-Published Fantasy Novels

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“Self-published novels are complete and utter trash!”

Even with high-profile SFF like The Martian and Eragon in the public spotlight, the stigma persists.The idea that self-published novels are slush-pile rejects at best, and groady monster/dinosaur porn at worst. And up until very recently, I had similar misgivings about the self-pub Amazon space. After purchasing a print copy of JP Ashman’s Black Cross however, it completely changed my perception of what self-published books could be.

Soon I found myself checking out more and more titles from the self-published space. Paternus, Where Loyalties Lie, Bloodrush and more. And again, they turned out to be really freakin’ good. Like, “holy cow, I’ve really been missing out” kind of good. And So I started to take the self-published space a lot more seriously. Are there bad books? Sure, but it’s increasingly easy to separate the good from the bad. Much more so than it was in say, 2010.

Still, there’s a definitely a curation problem on the Amazon platform. With traditional publishing at least, you can get a feel for what different imprints (TOR, Orbit, Baen, etc) tend to put out. Amazon’s a bit more like the Wild West, with all sorts of different books crammed into one store. Sometimes it can be hard finding just the right book, which is why I put together this guide for newbies such as me.

But first things first…

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A Tribute to Mary Shelley

maryshelleynewFor International Women’s Day, I can’t think of a better person to spotlight than the great-godmother of all Sci-Fi, Horror and Fantasy, Mary Shelley.

 
If you haven’t read the original Frankenstein, it might be easy to take for granted just how important that book is. While the Universal Monsters movie is great and iconic in its own right, it’s the novel that truly shines as a bedrock of genre literature, and one of the founding pillars of what would eventually become SFF as a whole.
 
That alone would be impressive in its on right. But when you add the fact that she was only TWENTY YEARS OLD, it becomes doubly so.

And if you haven’t read (not watched!)Frankenstein, I’d highly reccomend doing so. It’s an immensely good read, even 200 years after the fact.