Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Something About the Sword of Righteousness

A sharper crescent.

The month of Ramaḍān ended recently and it reminded me, whilst crunching through some pistachio baklava, of one of the stranger talismans John Bellairs created for his characters to wield. I’m talking about the Sword of Righteousness, the mysterious Muslim blade found in a Duston Heights pawn shop during the event of The Eyes of the Killer Robot (1986). I mean, it starts off innocent enough:
...an old-fashioned walking stick.... The body of the cane was made of some mottled light-brown wood, and it was capped at the bottom by a tarnished brass ferrule. For a handle the cane had a piece of ivory that was shaped like a long, skinny human hand, and the fingers of the hand clutched an ivory ball.
But then the pawnbroker gripped the ivory handle firmly:
He tugged, and out came a thin, springy sword blade. [...] Running the whole length of the blade, on both sides, were fancy engraved decorations—whorls and squiggles and loops—that looked like complicated Boy Scout knots. Fergie tested the edge of the blade with his finger: it was razor sharp.
It’s not until later Professor Childermass becomes embarrassed because, although admitting to knowing several languages, Arabic isn't one of them, and those “decorative marks” really say something
This is the Sword of Righteousness, dipped thrice in the waters of the River Jordan at midnight, during the moon's eclipse. Wield it against the servant of the Evil One and God will prevail.
So a few things.

First, does anyone think Arabic looks like complicated Boy Scout knots? I get the “squiggles and loops” connection, but I don’t necessarily see knots. And I believe Bellairs referred to Boy Scout knots on coins elsewhere in The House with a Clock in its Walls (1973).

Second, here’s the Internet’s translation of the engraving on the blade of the “Sword of Righteousness” (سيف البر). How accurate is this?

هذا هو سيف البر ، مغمسًا ثلاث مرات في مياه نهر الأردن عند منتصف الليل ، أثناء خسوف القمر استخدمها ضد خادم الشرير وسينتصر الله

Finally, I’m curious if there could have been any real sword with this name, as I’ve found a few other documented swords with similar names:
  • Saif al-Haqq ("Sword of Truth")
  • Saif al-Islam ("Sword of Islam")
  • Saif ul-Ali ("Sword of Ali"), referring to Zulfikar, arguably the most famous sword in Islamic history, belonging to both the Prophet and later, Ali.
I sense Bellairs just chose a, well, righteous-sounding name for his weapon. And it did the trick when it was needed, too.

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