Thursday, December 6th, 2018
A while back, fellow QM editor Ray posted an editorial arguing against the thrown knife in literature.Check it out here:
He’s not exactly wrong, per se. But while he made some good points, I feel I have to stand up for this time honored trope.
Right out of the gate, I’m going to admit that thrown knives are either an improvised weapon, using a fighting knife in a way for which it was neither designed or intended, or the character is using a purpose made throwing knife, which is bad for melee fighting, and a less effective missile than many other weapons. And throwing a knife well takes a lot of practice compared to other weapons, so you’re working harder to be less effective than if you had a gun or a bow or a crossbow or whatever.
So, yeah. Lots of arguments against thrown knives.
Here are a few in favor.
Style. The thrown dagger is a staple of pulp fantasy. Without thrown knives, Lankhmar would be like Cleveland on a rainy Tuesday. How’s Vlad Taltos going to defeat the sorceresses of the Left Hand without chucking a few knives? Maybe this falls into the category of swashbuckling heroes swinging from chandeliers or pirates swinging across to the enemy ship in the rigging with a dagger in their teeth, but I give a established tropes a pass when used as Leiber intended. Now, I wouldn’t let my Space Marines throw daggers at enemy snipers, but my fantasy rogues are going to do it. It’s all a case of respecting the conventions of the genre. There’s a time and a place where they’re expected. If Oswald is carrying a case of throwing knives into the book depository, you’re probably doing something very wrong.
A throwing knife is easy to conceal. Assuming we’re in a medieval fantasy world, where your character can’t carry a Walther PPK, the throwing knife slipped into a boot or up a sleeve gives them just about the only feasible discreet weapon. Hard to conceal a bow or spear or wheel-lock pistol or trebuchet about your person. And they aren’t bulky or awkward to carry. For a cunning rogue a few throwing knives make a lot more sense than other options. It’s tough to wind a crossbow while hanging from a ledge, and climbing through a window with a longbow on your back is like trying to move a panel of sheetrock through a revolving door.
And lastly, while throwing your knife is less effective in general than just holding onto it and shanking your enemy, it’s not always a bad option because with a thrown weapon, all the bad stuff happens way over there. An agile, lightly armored cat burglar or street rat might not want to get within stabbing range of the hulking barbarian with the broadsword.
So for all these reasons, I’m fine with the odd thrown dagger. Just set the stage. Make sure there is a reason your character chose that option. Maybe he doesn’t want to be seen hauling a siege crossbow into the opera. It’s tricky to do well so make the reader believe your character has practiced with thrown knives. Maybe have one strike hilt first or flat once in a while to show that it’s not an easy weapon to use. Since the character is throwing his weapon away, maybe make it a point that a character who specializes in thrown knives carries a number of them.
In short, thrown daggers are like most things in fiction. To make them believable, you have to do your homework and paint the reader a picture.