A few days ago, I came across a blog post (“The Power of the Bow” written by blogger and author Alon Shalev) that asked why archery was so fascinating that it was commonplace in fantasy novels.
As you are probably aware, swordfighting and archery are both found in fantasy settings. For the sword, I think it’s easy to explain why readers love seeing this over and over again. Despite what movies and TV shows would have you believe, in a real battle the fight is quick and messy, because the longer you spend fighting one opponent, the more likely it is that 1) s/he’ll kill you first and 2) if you do survive this particular fight, the next one probably won’t end well for you because you’re exhausted.
Still, learning how to use the sword does require discipline and a certain amount of finesse. There is a reason it has been frequently compared to dancing. (Mild spoilers ahead.) Just look at Arya Stark from the TV show Game of Thrones. Syrio Forel, her teacher, called his fighting style the water dance. In various episodes, you can see Arya practicing her swordfighting, and it definitely looks similar to a dance. And yet, when required to take a life, it is messy and over very quickly.
More importantly, while a sword may have several sharp edges, it can be difficult to kill someone with the weapon if you have no practice or training.
So what about the bow? In all honesty, there is little finesse to the practice. To overly simplify the practice, all that you really need to do to kill with a bow is nock, draw, loose. It is relatively similar to a gun, in all but two ways. First, truly anyone can shoot a gun, from a full-grown man to a young child. With a bow, that’s not the case. It takes a lot of strength to pull the string back, especially if you don’t have a modern compound bow.
The second difference is that it does not take long to learn how to shoot a gun effectively enough to kill people. You certainly won’t become the world’s greatest sniper with just a few days of training under your belt, but it’s far easier to hit an opponent where you want to with a bullet than it is with an arrow. Why? Because an arrow, though it moves quickly, is still slow enough to be affected by the wind. (I believe that wind can affect bullets as well, but they’re a lot less fickle than an arrow.)
My point is that, despite appearances, the bow is not something that is learned quickly. I believe I once read that a professional longbowman would take at least a decade to learn how to use his weapon. That means there’s dedication in learning the craft.
Not to mention, aesthetically, seeing an arrow flying through the air (theoretically; arrows do move fairly quickly, here one minute and gone the next) is rather beautiful. Just remember that scene in Brave where Merida shot her bow, and they showed it hurtling through the air in slow motion, the shaft wobbling, the fletching trembling at the wind. Remember how it slowly cut the previous arrow in half before pushing past the back of the target. There is a certain finesse to that.
For others who find the bow fascinating, feel free to explain what’s so entrancing about it in the comments below.
Once again I find myself posting before I’ve had a chance to write for Camp NaNo, but I’ll keep you updated nonetheless. Last night I got up to 5,922 words out of 17,500.