Symbolism and Weapons in YA/Children’s Stories

young adult fiction writing tips weapons

This guest post comes from Megan Robin, someone I first met at the 2016 Writer’s Digest Conference. I’m glad I did, because not only is she a terrifically talented writer, she pitches blog posts about weapons in children’s stories. What’s not to like about that? Enjoy!

~Ben


Swashbucklers, Notorious Archers, and Powerful Enchantments: What Children’s Fiction Can Teach You About Creating Memorable Fictional Weapons

Swords, bows, arrows in fiction

Megan Robin writes novels and books for kids. Her most recent book is titled, “Self-Made Lemonade: Let’s Start a Business!” (image provided by the author)

Some of the most memorable weapon-wielding characters in popular fiction appear in an unlikely place — children’s literature. Many characters in children’s stories are best known for their weapons of choice.

It is almost impossible to imagine Robin Hood or Katniss Everdeen without their bows and arrows. Who would Zorro or Inigo Montoya be without their swords?

Children’s books contain much more than just cute stories. Inside these timeless tales, you can find inspiration for how to create, and arm, your next character.

Archers: The Seekers of Justice

Characters that use the bow and arrow are usually principled and strong-willed. They have deep-seated beliefs regarding right and wrong, and they doggedly pursue justice.

Characters who use the bow and arrow are often well-known, and even notorious, for their ability to effectively use this weapon. Some of the most memorable archers include:

Robin Hood

While Robin Hood can hold his own in a swordfight, he is best known for his archery skills.

In most versions of the story, Robin Hood engages in archery contests where he is able to show off in front of his enemies and win the attention of his love interest, Maid Marian. Robin Hood is strong-willed and highly principled.

Katniss Everdeen

 

Katniss Everdeen, the main character in The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, is also a skilled archer.

Like Robin Hood, Katniss uses the bow and arrow to garner attention. She uses her archery skills to gain the attention of the sponsors of the Hunger Games. Katniss starts off as a reluctant hero, but when faced with a moral dilemma, she passionately pursues justice.

Green Arrow

Green Arrow Bow Comic CoverGreen Arrow, also known as Oliver “Ollie” Queen, is a DC Comics hero created by Mortimer Weisinger and designed by George Papp.

Green Arrow is known throughout his hometown, Star City, as a seeker of justice. His weapon of choice, the bow and arrow, makes him notorious. When a green arrow is found in Star City, the authorities know Green Arrow was there.

To Get to the Point…

In today’s world, the bow and arrow is considered by many as an antiquated weapon. Therefore, it seems fitting that when this weapon is used in fiction, it is found in the hands of characters who are defending age-old principles, such as protecting one’s family, friends, or hometown.

Fictional archers are often notorious symbols of justice. Therefore, the bow and arrow is a great weapon for strong-willed characters who are fighting a clear-cut battle of good versus evil.

Sword Fighters: The Symbolic and Literal Clash of Good and Evil

Both villains and heroes are represented as skilled sword fighters in children’s literature.

Raw knowledge of how to wield a sword is not enough. A sword fighter must also know his or her opponent and try to anticipate their next move.

Fighting with a sword is much more personal than attacking someone from afar with a long-distance weapon, such as a bow and arrow or a gun. Therefore, the conflict that leads to a sword fight is often deeply personal.

The Princess Bride

William Goldman’s book, The Princess Bride, contains many sword fights.

One of the many memorable characters in this book is Inigo Montoya, who is known for his famous line, “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

 

The conflict between Montoya and his father’s murderer is much more intimate and visceral than the general “good versus evil” plot lines that are common in the bow and arrow stories described above.

Additionally, Montoya starts out as a “bad guy” in the story and then he turns into a “good guy” later on as the plot progresses.

Sword fighting is a dangerous, bloody, and messy way to fight. Therefore, it is fitting that the line between good and evil is also blurred and messy in this tale.

Peter Pan

 

In both the book and film adaptations of Peter Pan, the villain, Captain Hook, wants to kill Peter Pan and take over Neverland.

Once again, the story does not center around abstract principles of good versus evil. Instead, Captain Hook’s animosity is directed at Peter Pan personally because Captain Hook sees Peter Pan as the one person keeping him from ruling Neverland.

Therefore, once again, sword fights are portrayed as very personal.

The reader can’t help but to like and root for Peter Pan, but Peter Pan is not a hero, like many famous fictional archers. He is a stubborn, daring, and adventurous character with many flaws.

Zorro

sword fight symbolismZorro’s story provides an interesting twist to this discussion of famous fictional sword fighters.

By wearing a mask and zealously protecting his identity, Zorro removes the intimacy and personal nature of sword fighting.

In many ways he is like Robin Hood, fighting for the weak and the poor and acting as a symbol of hope and justice.

Other Famous Swords

Other famous swords include the sword in The Sword in the Stone by T.H. White, and “Sting,” which is actually a dagger but is used as a sword by Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien.

To Cut to the Chase…

Skilled sword fighters come in many forms. They can be complicated heroes, villains, or supporting characters that move the plot forward.

The intimate and messy nature of sword fighting allows for complex and engaging scenes.

Enchanted Weapons

Enchanted weapons in children’s fiction range widely both in form and function.

Thor’s Hammer

Thor's hammer symbolismThe story of Thor began in Norse mythology, but was popularized by Marvel comics.

Thor wields a large hammer that is incredibly powerful and can only be held by one who is “worthy.”

The Lightning Bolt of Zeus

In Percy Jackson & the Olympians by Rick Riordan, the hero Percy must recover the stolen lightning bolt of Zeus. In this story, the lightning bolt is the most powerful weapon in the world.

Harry Potter’s Magic Wand

Harry Potter wandIn the books by J.K. Rowling, the young wizard Harry Potter possesses a magic wand that enables him to cast spells which enables him to fight his enemies and protect himself.

To Avoid Being Cursory… (this is the last pun, I promise)

Enchanted weapons range widely because the type of weapon and the enchantment on each weapon is specific to the story setting, the era, and the rules of magic in each world.

Enchanted weapons often play a large role in the story’s plot line and are very character specific. In some cases, only the hero can effectively control and wield the weapon.

Takeaways for Writers

children's books about business

“Self-Made Lemonade: Let’s Start a Business!” is the perfect book for the budding entrepreneur in your life.

In children’s fiction, a weapon is much more than a tool. It is an extension of the character’s personality. It defines how the character interacts with the world and highlights his or her strengths and weaknesses.

A character’s weapon of choice can drive the plot by dictating whether encounters with adversaries are up close and personal, or if an adversary is attacked from afar.

Children’s fiction is a great, and often overlooked, place to look for inspiration when creating new characters, arming your characters, and engaging them in new plots.

About Megan Robin

Smart Books for Smart Girls

Megan Robin is an author, illustrator, and attorney. You won’t find any damsels in distress in her books.

Megan writes children’s picture books that inspire young girls to be confident, entrepreneurial, and to believe in themselves. She also writes young adult novels that feature strong female protagonists.

Learn more at www.MeganRobin.com, or visit her Amazon page.

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