Mythical Metals

Today, we’re going to look at three metals from the world of fantasy and legend. And since Wednesday is Video Game Day here in VoVatia, I’ll be sure to mention their relevance to the game world.

Adamant – Although the word is typically used today in a figurative sense to mean remaining firm on something, it traditionally refers to any very hard substance. The Wikipedia article describes how, at various times, it came to refer to diamond and to magnetic substances. The name comes from the Greek “adamas,” meaning “untameable.” The use of the term to actually refer to diamond has fallen into disuse, and now when the word is used to refer to something physical, it’s a metal that’s just as hard as diamond. Obviously this doesn’t really exist, so it’s become the stuff of fantasy. Kronos is said to have castrated his father Ouranos with an adamant sickle, but it’s not known whether this was supposed to be a reference to an actual metal or a legendary one.

The angels in Paradise Lost wear adamantine armor, and the legendary gates supposedly built by Alexander the Great in the Caucasus are also said to have been made of the material.

In Marvel Comics, the name of the substance has been changed to adamantium, presumably to make it sound more scientific. It’s said to be an alloy, and Wolverine’s artificial skeleton and claws are made of adamantium.

Adamant appears in several of the Final Fantasy games, beginning with the very first one, in which a dwarven blacksmith can use the metal to make Excalibur.

This is presumably a combination of legends, since I don’t know of any indication that King Arthur’s sword was made from this metal.

It was said to have been able to cut through iron, though, so I guess that makes a certain amount of sense. The same basic idea can be found in FF4, in which you can trade a tail to a tiny miner in exchange for some adamant, then bring it to the blacksmith Kokkol so he can upgrade Cecil’s sword.

It’s also possible to get adamant armor, but this is very difficult, as it involves locating the elusive Pink Puffs.

Mithril – Unlike the ancient adamant, this substance comes from one relatively recent source, the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. It’s quite rare, and is stronger than steel while also being much lighter. Mithril is also quite malleable, and does not tarnish. Bilbo and Frodo Baggins wear a coat of mithril mail during their adventures.

Mithril has appeared in many fantasy universes since then, including the Final Fantasy one, although the games usually spell it “mythril.” There are mythril items in pretty much all of the games, and a few let you visit mythril mines. In the FF world, however, mythril items are typically only middle-grade, even though they were incredibly powerful and valuable in Middle-Earth.

Orichalcum – In Dragon Warrior III, it’s revealed that the Sword of Kings (later to be known as the Sword of Erdrick/Loto) is made of a metal called oricon.

Since the Master Archfiend Zoma shattered the sword, it’s necessary to find the pieces and bring them to a master swordsmith to have the legendary weapon rebuilt.

So is this name a reference to anything? Well, there’s a Japanese music statistics company called Oricon, which is a shortened version of its earlier name, Original Confidence. That doesn’t have anything to do with metal, though. Perhaps the more accurate source is a substance called orichalcum, which Plato claimed was mined in Atlantis.

The word actually means “mountain copper,” and the metal is said to have been second in value only to gold. The exact nature of orichalcum had supposedly been forgotten entirely by Plato’s time, however. There has been some speculation as to what it might have been, but I have to suspect it was just made up.

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7 Responses to Mythical Metals

  1. vilajunkie says:

    I think Tolkien borrowed and “modernized” the word mithril from an Anglo-Saxon or some other Northern European word. Everything else he’s come up with is based on a previous word or idea. I’ve also seen it spelled as “mithrail” in some places (probably LotR or D&D based fiction).

    Orichalcum is in a lot of the later FF games, but it’s pretty prominent in the Kingdom Hearts games as well. In fact, there’s even Orichalcum+ in KH, which comes in limited supply and is used for creating the Ultimate Weapon, obviously the best weapon in the game with the highest Strength and Magic bonuses (and an augment/skill enhancement of subjective quality; its usefulness depends on how much you rely on MP versus physical attacks).

    • Nathan says:

      I’ve never played D&D, but I know it was heavily influenced by Tolkien, so I’m sure mithril was in there somewhere.

      The orichalcum in Kingdom Hearts isn’t linked to the Disney movie Atlantis, is it?

      • vilajunkie says:

        No, I think orichalcum in the KH games is simply a reference to its use in the FF games. The other items you use to “synthesize” weapons, armor, and accessories are unique to the KH series, except for mithril (of course).

  2. lukifer says:

    Mithril – Totally made up by Tolkien. However the Idea or thought behind it was that magical weapons of the Norse saga’s may have been made with this special metal by the dwarves in Norse legends.

    Orichalcum – Fabled metal of ancient earth. Plato recorded this from information available to him from Egypt and beyond. Since Atlantis lied beyond the Pillars of Hercules (Straight of Gibraltar), no one knows exactly. King Midas was also rumored to be a king of ancient Atlantis and could transmute metals, ie The Midas Touch. All of this knowledge has been lost however when Atlantis sunk. It is believed to be copper by some since it coated buildings tops, roofs, steeples etc, but I believe this isn’t true. Because copper turns green and Plato mentions no green tipped buildings on brightly colored. Some say its bronze or brass, but its possible this metal was lost in the annals of history during the flood.

    Adamant – Actually the First reference to this is in the Bible. The Foundations of the World are made of Adamant. Considering this for a moment we have a lot of heavy metals and science is creating artificial ones these days with high periodic numbers. It is possible that this metal could be real but we haven’t verified it’s atomic number or the metal in a true form as of yet. It may in fact be magnetic like iron and could be the true core of the earth. Theories can abound on this. The Flame Tongues of the Angels are made from this for the Garden of Eden. Most all knowledge of the ancient world has been destroyed prior to the flood accept what Noah-Moses recorded and what Plato scribbled down.

    • Nathan says:

      I think Plato said in his Republic that Solon learned about Atlantis in Egypt, but it’s not clear whether there’s any truth to this. There could be, but the story apparently featured Athens long before the city actually existed.

      Considering this for a moment we have a lot of heavy metals and science is creating artificial ones these days with high periodic numbers. It is possible that this metal could be real but we haven’t verified it’s atomic number or the metal in a true form as of yet.

      Most of the man-made elements are highly unstable, though, so I think the chances of coming up with a stable metal that can be used for defense and such are pretty low.

  3. Wallace says:

    In Marvel Comics Adamantium is an alloy that was named after the mythical metal of Adamant. However, Hercules actually has a mace made of actual Adamant. Thor’s hammer and serveral other Asgardian artifacts are made of the very durable metal Uru. Uru’s extact natural durability is unknown as it increases to supernatural levels once it is enchanted.

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