The Power of the Bow

There is a children’s movie just come out, Brave, with the heroine sporting a bow and arrow. Katnis, from the Hunger Games, was lethal with one. Legolas was extremely handsome even in the midst of a desperate fight for Helm’s Deep and never missed when he let fly.

It seems that a bow and arrow are integral ingredients in fantasy, even when the setting is modern enough for guns and technology. Bows were, of course, around before fantasy. Who can forget Robin Hood in the archery contest splitting his opponent’s arrow, which had pieced the center of the bull’s-eye? Classic.

And then there are the Samurai with their beautiful longbow, the Yumi. They didn’t just shoot it with their distinctive technique, but held a philosophical discipline, kyūjutsu, akin to Tai Chi and other spiritual martial arts.

Even after the bow became outdated as an effective weapon it remained a form of training for its warrior code value. The yumi was also fired from horseback because of its asymmetric shape and this practice evolved into a Shinto ceremony known as yabusame. At the risk of sounding trite, there is a beautiful scene in The Last Samurai, with the yumi being explained and fired.

In the West we have also been drawn to the spiritual values of the bow. Eugen Herrigel’s classic, Zen in the Art of Archery, is still a classic fifty years after he wrote it. My 13-year-old has become obsessed with archery. He made his own bow and learned how to shoot it from a teacher. He takes classes at camp and has spent over a year saving up to buy a ‘real’ bow. When I wrote two scenes in the third Wycaan Master book, he provided me with a lot of excellent and rich information. 

I’m still struggling with why the bow is so captivating. For some reason, I am not questioning the sword in the same way. Use of the sword is elegant, noble and also has numerous philosophies and katot (martial art form), but there is something that sets the bow apart and keeps us coming back for more.

 Any ideas? Please share in the comments below.


Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, and five other Wycaan Master books all released by Tourmaline Books. The link above takes you to the Kindle versions. For all other eReaders, please click here.

More at and on Twitter (@elfwriter).

22 comments on “The Power of the Bow

  1. lisafender says:

    I have the bow and also the sword in my fantasy novels. I agree that they are the most logical weapons of the past and would be used in most medieval books. My world is in another dimension from our modern world. But their world is still with horse and bow and sword. Fun writing it!

  2. rolandclarke says:

    Reblogged this on Writing Wings and commented:
    The Spartans thought the bow was the weapon of cowards but to me it’s the weapon of a hunter, a person who uses stealth and oneness with their environment to track & combat more powerful creatures and more heavily armed foes that might be using swords. Perhaps the bow symbolises someone at one with nature so in their own way special.

    • Elf Writer says:

      Great point. I didn’t know about the Spartans view of the bow. There is something beyond a weapon here and a connection to the earth. It is also an alternative, mind .v. brute strength.

      • JC says:

        That’s why we see it with a lot of women…and the more delicate Legolas

      • laineslite says:

        Actually I love shooting a bow and learned at 16. Good sport, lots of skill, training and necessity for food and hunting animals. Easy to learn but harder to master accurately.

  3. rgcalkins says:

    The bow is not only an extension of oneself, it’s aesthetically pleasing. It is an elegant weapon, where guns are not. It’s, for the most part silent, guns are not. There is a physical and spiritual strength needed to unleash its power. It is deadly art.

  4. The bow is romantic, sexy yet powerful, I prefer fantasy with swords and bows won’t read if guns! It is more mystical,skillful and helps build pictures of the characters using them. They are also good for ‘females’ and some how people find them acceptable for femaes to be proficient in their use.

  5. noraadrienne says:

    My sister in law was a member of her college bow club. When she died it went to my kids… my oldest son ended up owning it and going on to also getting a compound bow. He teaches it at summer camps.

    Then you have all the states that have Bow Hunting Season. There are literally hundreds of thousand of men women and children who bow hunt in season to put meat in the freezer or to donate to their local food banks.


    Life Member
    NYS Rifle & Pistol Assoc.
    Pink Pistols

  6. kcherbel says:

    To understand the power of the bow one only needs to look at what the Monguls did with it when that tiny, “backward” people conquered all the way to Rome! Also, the battle of Agincourt where thousands of well equiped and trained French knights (noblemen all) were felled by a bunch of peasant bowman armed with longbows. It was a battle they shouldn’t have been able to win, but the British easily won with a mere handful of casualties. The Bow rules.

  7. […] and each other. This year there were two highlights. We all followed my eldest’s passion for archery and it has hopefully become a family […]

  8. […] and each other. This year there were two highlights. We all followed my eldest’s passion for archery and it has hopefully become a family […]

  9. […] are tall, thin, have pointed ears, and excellent hearing. They look good in green, and shoot bow and arrows with exceptional accuracy.  Dwarves are short, rotund, live underground, mine and play around with […]

  10. c.d. pritchard says:

    Great to hear of your son’s interest in archery! You should be very proud of him for making his own bow and for wanting a recurve bow rather than a compound bow.

    I think archery- especially primitive archery (no modern materials like fiberglass used in bows) and traditional archery (no compound bows)- is so captivating to archers because of the challenge in shooting well. There’s a certain buzz one gets from executing the perfect shot.

    For others, the captivation is likely an appreciation of the skill of the archer as depicted in the popular culture- especially movies such as the ones you cite. Since archery is, alas, a male dominated endeavor in the USA, I suspect there is is something freudian of the phallic bent involved ;-).

  11. Timothy Gwyn says:

    I once went to a fascinating demonstration of the longbow at Warwick Castle. The bowman there had a pet peeve or two from movies and books: he loathed it when an archer drew his bow and held the tension before releasing. The whole point of drawing a longbow is that it requires almost all of your strength, so if you have the right bow, you are not strong enough to do this. Worse, this treatment damages and weakens a simple wooden bow. For the same reason, he objected to archers who kept their bow strung for too long. Yew bows and the like should be strung just before shooting commences, then rapidly drawn and fired, he said. FWIW.

  12. laineslite says:

    Women were some of the best archers too especially since they were banned from guns & swords in the 17th & 18th centuries in Europe specifically. Archery was acceptable for women to take up as a sport for a long time. Better than men who would use a sword in fighting with their women as backup archer style in a safer spot but able to defend themselves nominally. They did carry knives, eating knives in the belts, maybe a sgain dubh tied under their clothes too as a last defense. Wonders how many women saved the dayand their, castle, men & more because men barely acknowledged a women with her prowess with a bow, a knife or mayb even a sword. The men were gone a lot so women , children & elderly held tthe fort, land, castle, etc.
    I myself am an archer and learned at 15-16 with a neighbor, shooting in a haybale target then in high school that year we had it in phys ed, where of course I excelled, had fun and got more bullseyes than most. I learned on my older brother’s bow, a recurve about 40-45 lbs. So again I had a big a had advantage in school both high school & college with higher strength bows, they go further too and more accurate. I then had a boyfriend into archery when I was 40 so went gungho, bought a 50-55 lb comound bow. Went shooting for 3D targets most weekends. Sold that after my 1st neck surgery and replaced it with a 45 lb breakaway recurve which I still have but kept it at friends with my target we shared. So will want to shoot again soon even if I did have a stroke 3 yrs in August I am now recovered enough to get back into it. Archery rules, fun sport that can be used for hunting before guns are allowed. So an archer can hunt with a bow first then use a gun at a later date when permits are available. Currently a 59 yr old female stroke survivor and soon to be archer again this year I am betting. Good exercise too,uses fingers on recurves but releases on compounds since higher # bow strengths. No nanby oamby using a 20-30# bow like many women, nope 40#+ at least still. Not bad.

    • Elfwriter says:

      Dear Friend,

      I am so touched that you took the time to write this note. First, thank you for the historical context. I am currently writing a medieval fantasy / magical realism novel – and have a protagonist who is a woman and primarily uses a bow. I will make some corrections that reflect your comments.

      Second, I wish you well in your rehabilitation and getting back to archery. I hope that it helps you get stronger, both physically and mentally. My sons returned from summer camp having learned there and I immediately bought a recurve bow (and then a second with a stronger #lb as they have grown. We all still enjoy shooting together.

      Good luck,

  13. […] 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 […]

  14. Mark loughridge says:

    To add, the bow can be given all the magical qualities and more of a sword. A bow takes more than just strength and powers, and there’s something about a long, accurate shot that is so intriguing!

  15. bull4499 says:

    John Flanagan in his ranger’s apprentice series does some interesting things with a bow. In one scene the main character adjusts slightly a shot on instinct. a sword wielder can do this too, but their opponent is right there, where a bowman’s target is off. its almost like extending ones will into the world.

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