Tyrfing is a legendary cursed sword crafted by the dwarves Dulin and Dvalin.

Appearance[edit | edit source]

Tyrfing is a fine sword made with a golden hilt and handle.[1]

Abilities[edit | edit source]

Tyrfing is a powerful magical sword. It cuts through iron and steel as if it were cloth, although this power does not apply to other materials such as wood or bronze. It is invulnerable to rust.[1]

Tyrfing acts as a sword of sharpness, able to cleanly sever an opponent's head or other body parts. It is said to bring victory.

Drawbacks[edit | edit source]

Tyrfing's creators resented being forced to create this weapon, and placed three curses upon it.[1]

First, the sword must take a life each time it is unsheathed.

Second, three infamous deeds will be performed with the sword. The first such deed, to kill one's own brother, occurred when Heidrek used the sword to kill Angantyr.

Third, there is a chance that the sword will turn against its owner. If so, it will find itself unable to hit, and may fall from the owner's hand.

History[edit | edit source]

Svafrlami, grandson of Odin, forced the legendary dwarven smiths Dulin and Dvalin to craft him a legendary sword, under threat of death. The dwarves crafted Tyrfing, the finest blade with a golden hilt, but cursed it such that the it would bring doom to whoever owned it.[1]

The sword first turned against Svafrlami in a fight with the berserker Arngrim. Tyrfing fell from Svafrlami's grip, and Arngrim picked it up and slew him with it, slicing him from head to foot. Arngrim carried off Svafrlami's daughter Eyfura as his wife.

The sword passed to Arngrim's eldest son Angantyr, who challenged Hjalmar the Fearless to a duel over the right to marry Ingeborg, daughter of King Yngvi of Uppsala. Angantyr brought his eleven berserker brothers, who were all slain in the fight. Angantyr and Hjalmar both slew each other, and the sword was buried in a great burial mound with Angantyr and his brothers.

Angantyr's wife Svava soon gave birth to a daughter, Hervor, who grew up and became a viking. Stumbling upon her father's burial mound, she raised her father and uncles with magic and demanded the sword Tyrfing from them.

The sword later passed to Hervor's son Heidrek, who slew his own brother, also named Angantyr.

Creative origins[edit | edit source]

The sword Tyrfing appears in Hervarar saga ok Heiðreks (The Saga of Hervör and Heidrek), a 13th century Icelandic saga. It was translated into English in 1960 by Christopher Tolkien, son of J.R.R Tolkien.[2]

Tyrfing is described in the opening to that saga:

"This king had obtained from dwarfs the sword called Tyrfing, the keenest of all blades; every time it was drawn a light shone from it like a ray of the sun. It could never be held unsheathed without being the death of a man, and it always had to be sheathed with blood still warm upon it. There was no living thing, neither man nor beast, that could live to see another day if it were wounded by Tyrfing, whether the wound was big or little; never had it failed in a stroke or been stayed before it plunged into the earth, and the man who bore it in battle would always be victorious, if blows were struck with it."

Tyrfing bears a threefold curse: It will be the death of a man each time it is drawn, three hateful things (níðingsverk) will be done with it, and it shall be the death of its owner. "Níðingsverk" refers to especially shameful or forbidden crimes in Norse society, such as the murder of one's own brother. It is the same etymology as the dragon Nidhogg (Níðhog), who gnaws the corpses of such criminals in the afterlife.

It is specifically Dvalin who places the curse upon the sword.

In one translation of Hervor's sga, it is King Sigrlami who obtains Tyrfing from the dwarves, and no mention is made of its curse until Hervor takes it from her father Angantyr's burial mound. In another telling, it is King Svafrlami, son of Sigrlami and grandson to Odin, who forces the dwarves to make him the sword, and they curse it as a result.

Reception and influence[edit | edit source]

Tyrfing is one of the earliest known cursed magical swords in mythology. It is thought to have inspired the sword Stormbringer, a cursed blade appearing in the fantasy novels of Michael Moorcock, which are in turn cited in Appendix N as one of the inspirations of Dungeons & Dragons. Like Tyrfing, Stormbringer brings ruin everything its wielder holds dear and ultimately causes his destruction.[3]

Several D&D artifacts are similarly fated to fail their wielder at a critical moment. The sword of Kas is stated in some sources to fail in battle against Vecna or the wielder of the Hand and Eye of Vecna, while the hand of Vecna is said to fail its wielder at the moment of its doom.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Giants in the Earth, Dragon #42 (Oct 1980), p.35.
  2. The Saga of King Heidrek the Wise (1960), Christopher Tolkien.
  3. Heroes of Horror (2005), p.81.
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