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Swordsmith: This metal isn't like anything I've ever seen.
Meteoric metal carries inherent significance. Anything made out of it will be some combination of magical, good, evil, or just incredibly strong.
Crafting meteoric iron is Older Than Dirt: iron from meteorites has been used to make tools and weapons since the Ice Age, when it was the only iron available. The trope that it is special or magical isn't documented from that long ago, but some scholars believe that the Older Than Feudalism story of the forging of Zeus' thunderbolts refers to meteoric iron. Anyone with academic journal access can read more about this here.
This trope can also be Truth in Television. Real-life meteoric iron often contains traces of the rare, superdense metal iridium, which significantly strengthens the metal, and there's a reason why they're called iron-nickel meteorites now: they contain a lot of nickel, sometimes having a fine structure formed of interleaving alloys of nickel-iron and iron-nickel. And nickel strengthens a steel, so the old meteorite-hunt was justified. Before forging became advanced enough to make iron-alloys, this was one of only two ways to get them (the other being to dig them up and hope they're good enough), so this concept is linked with Cold Iron. Even when cold-wrought iron was outdated, at least it was a source of ready nickel.
But there was a trick: various alloys in meteorites have iron and nickel but aren't steel. Sometimes a lucky Inuit tribe (nickel alloys remain pliable at low temperatures while carbon steel becomes brittle and prone to breakage) got tons of metal they coldhammered into tools, but sometimes a smith faced an apparently very good, malleable, magnetic metal... which he could not temper like a normal iron, until someone said "screw that" and mixed it with a real steel, thus adding carbon -- and reducing the level of nickel.
Even if these samples had no nickel in them, they contained very few impurities, which was very difficult to find or manufacture in any large amount prior to the industrial revolution (specifically the patent of the Bessemer process in 1855.) As an alloy, steels can only have around two percent of their total weight as carbon; beyond that, they're classified as cast iron and display increasingly brittle behavior. Starting with low carbon steel from meteorites makes it much easier to add carbon back in to just the right amount, making a metal that is hard enough to hold an edge but ductile enough to not shatter under strain.
In the modern day, this trope appears most frequently in literary fantasy. In many works, from The Silmarillion to Avatar: The Last Airbender, meteoric iron is (incorrectly) depicted as a naturally black metal, causing overlap with Black Swords Are Better.
See also Applied Phlebotinum, which is the science fiction/man-made equivalent, and Unobtanium, which it often is, and Magic Meteor. May be interchangeable with Cold Iron or a separate kind of Depleted Phlebotinum Shells.
- In the Lupin III, one of several conflicting origins of Ishikawa Goemon XIII's powerful sword is that it was forged from the metal from a meteorite. The manga lampshades this by calling the blade Ryusei or Nagareboshi, which translates as "Shooting Star" or "Falling Star".
- In the Sakura Taisen TV series, when Shinguji Sakura's sword, Arataka, is damaged in her first fight against series Big Bad Aoi Satan, she returns home to Sendai to have it reforged ... and it's mentioned in passing that the sword is made of metal from a meteorite.
- Gundam series set in the Universal Century timeline, such as Zeta Gundam and Gundam 0079, have Lunar Titanium, which is a more durable substitute to normal titanium. Earth titanium comes in very large quantities but it is usually hard to mine because of high amounts of impurities, but in the Gundamverse titanium is found in a large quantity at a high quality by mining the moon and asteroid belt.
- Gundanium from Gundam Wing doesn't quite count; it's Unobtanium that can only be refined in space, but it does have incredible properties (super strong, super light, electrically neutral, radar-proof), so The Federation treats it this way. Ironically enough, the Gundams were sent to Earth as part of "Operation Meteor", so...
- Surprisingly, there's some actual hard science behind this; very low or zero gravity does cause noticeable differences in the crystalline structure of refined metal. Gundanium at least is plausible, presumably being an alloy of some sort that requires such an environment to harden into something useful.
- Gundam SEED Astray follows this trope more closely, with a metallic meteor landing in the ocean and being fought over by The Federation and ZAFT. It ends up in the hands of protagonist Lowe Guele, who crafts it into a -long katana.
- The iconic weapons of the Claymores from Claymore are indestructible due to being forged with meteoric iron. The fact that this sort of forging is impossible to find in the setting is a hint to the truth behind the Organization's purpose.
- The Ebony Blade wielded by the Marvel Universe's Black Knight is carved from meteoric metal, and is layered with many and potent enchantments by Merlin the magician, including a "blood curse".
- The Yashida Clan's "honor sword" is also made from meteorite iron, and forged by a demon. Both factors become pivotal when Wolverine is fighting a mystical assassin, the "Iron Monk", who boasts of being impervious to mortal and Earthly weapons. The Iron Monk repeats his boast (which was backed up repeatedly throughout the issue) when Wolverine draws the sword, only to have a brief Oh Crap moment when its origins are explained to him. Brief because Wolverine isn't generally known for showing mercy to villains. Especially in his solo adventures.
- Bloodscream is another notable victim of the blade, although he survived. Bloodscream was turned into a vampire by a voodoo priest. His curse has a condition that only a blade that is not made by a mortal can kill him.
- The Golden Age Green Lantern had an actual lantern, forged originally in ancient China from a glowing meteorite. A piece of the lantern was made into a ring by Alan Scott, who needed to recharge it every 24 hours by touching it to the lantern. This was retconned in later stories as the magical energy of Earth-1 (home of the Silver Age DCU), thrust into Earth-2 (home of the Golden Age DCU) by Guardian fiat.
- Skywise's "magic" lodestone compass in Elf Quest.
- A variation of this occurred in a Superman/Batman story that had the two of them hopping around unstable timelines, when they landed in a Wild-West themed one, coming across Jonah Hex and a ton of cowboys shooting at them. When Hex heard Superman was an alien, he figured he should maybe load his gun with bullets made from meteorites. Which, of course, are kryptonite. Bonus for him not even knowing it was Superman's weakness.
- Though meteoric iron is not specified, the Green Destiny in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is "no ordinary metal -- made from a technique that was already lost before the Han Dynasty." In keeping with the trope, it appears to be Diamond Hard.
- The time-bending artefact in the first Tomb Raider movie was forged from the metal found in a meteorite crater.
- In X Men Origins Wolverine, a key component of the miraculous alloy adamantium is a rare mineral ore only found in meteorites that Stryker and his team decimate an African village to obtain more of. it's implied to be Vibranium.
- The Silmarillion has the two black swords Anglachel and Anguirel, which are made of meteoric iron and can cut through any other weapon. Anglachel is especially significant; it ends up belonging to Tragic Hero Túrin Turambar, and gives him his pseudonym (Mormegil, which means "black sword" in Sindarin Elvish).
- Anglachel also fulfills the 'evil' or at least dark requirement; it is quite happy to take Túrin's life when the hero commits suicide, out of a combination of native darkness and bitterness for Túrin accidentally murdering its previous wielder.
- It is prophesied that Turin will use it to kill Morgoth in the final battle for Arda, though.
- Like many elements of Túrin's story, this comes from the old Finnish myth of Kullervo. Kullervo received a magical broadsword from Ukko, the god of the sky (parallel to Anglachel being forged from meteoric iron.) Kullervo, after defeating his enemies with his magic sword, returns home and finds that all his family has died while he was obsessed with his own quest for vengeance. Finally he kills himself after interrogating and cursing his sword, which, being magical, answers him and tells him gleefully that it partook in all his other villainy and will just as gladly destroy him as well.
- Anglachel also fulfills the 'evil' or at least dark requirement; it is quite happy to take Túrin's life when the hero commits suicide, out of a combination of native darkness and bitterness for Túrin accidentally murdering its previous wielder.
- The Discworld is the Trope Namer. Discworld's Thunderbolt Iron is strongly magnetized, and even more useful than normal iron for keeping away elves; people put chunks of it in circles around places where the Faerie realm gets too close.
- Also referenced in Wyrd Sisters, where Magrat suggests they forge for the prince a sword made from Thunderbolt Iron. "I have a spell for that," she explains, "You take some Thunderbolt iron...and make a sword out of it."
- Pratchett here is most likely referencing Lord Dunsany's "The King of Elfland's Daughter", where a witch forges a sword of thunderbolt iron to be used as a weapon by the prince to invade Elfland.
- When Tiffany Aching invades Elfland in one of the young Discworld books, one of her companions mentions that such swords are now considered traditional. It turns out a frying pan and a horde of Pictsies (sic) works pretty well too.
- Thorn, one of the three titular swords that serve as MacGuffins in Tad Williams' trilogy Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn is made of meteoric iron.
- In The Belgariad and The Malloreon by David Eddings, the main character's BFS is made of meteoric iron. Granted, having the single most powerful magical artifact in all of existence stuck onto its hilt would have made that sword inconceivably dangerous even if it had been made of a wire frame wrapped in aluminum foil, but a sword made of any other material would have shattered when the orb was placed in the pommel. Also, It Was Meant To Be. (The only reason Garion can wield or even lift it is because said artifact is magically removing most of its weight. At one point, when required to remove the Orb from the pommel, the suddenly-returned real weight of the sword almost breaks his wrist before crashing to the floor.)
- The Redwall books have the (reforged) Sword of Martin the Warrior, forged from a meteorite; just for extra kick, its blacksmith spoke the name of every hero he could think of as he beat it into shape, naming Martin himself with the final hammer strike.
- In A Song of Ice and Fire, the greatsword Dawn is thought to be forged from a fallen star. The blade is handed down to members of the noble House Dayne, and a wielder of the blade is always called the Sword of the Morning. The world of the series also features particularly sharp and strong blades believed to be forged by magic, but Dawn seems to be held in even greater respect. A previous Sword of the Morning once dueled a notorious bandit knight and hacked three of his swords to bits, showing that Dawn is indeed something special.
- The steel swords that Witchers carry (in the books and video game of the same name) are crafted of meteorite steel.
- The panserbjørne (armored bears) from His Dark Materials are a Proud Warrior Race that focus their whole culture around "sky-iron". Specifically, they beat massive suits of plate armor out of the metal without heating. The armor then becomes a sort of iconic possession/"external soul" similar to the traditions around Samurais' weaponry.
- Non-weapon example: Kerrick, the protagonist of Harry Harrison's West of Eden has an arrowhead of meteoric iron as a talisman of sorts.
- In Fred Saberhagen's Swords series, the Twelve Swords were all forged from meteoric metal by Vulcan.
- While none of them are inherently evil, all have world-changing powers, and are sought after people who would do evil with them. Even Woundhealer, the sword that heals anything it would normally cut, is used once by a bandit to get away from capture by running it through his own chest and jumping off a cliff.
- The Inheritance Cycle, of course. This is one of the factors that make the Dragon Riders' swords so special.
- Also the magic used, the process of making one (which happens to be very close to the one used for katanas) and the amount of skill and time required to make one.
- In Javier Negrete's La Espada de Fuego Derguin's Ancestral Sword was forged from a meteor.
- In The God Engines by John Scalzi, weapons tipped with "single-made" iron (meteoroidic iron collected from deep space) are capable of killing the lesser gods used by the humans to power their starships. Second-made iron (single-made iron reforged by a smithy, or meteoric iron found on the ground) wounds them, while third-made iron items (meteoric iron reshaped in a forge) can only restrain them. One of the protagonist's crewmen finds out in a most unpleasant manner that the quartermaster who provided the pikes used to discipline the ship's power source skimped on the second-made. After he is taken away to the healers, the captain brings out a whip studded with single-made iron and proceeds to lay down the law.
- In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian story "The Devil in Iron", enabling the Slave Revolt:
Then their priest, a strange, gaunt man of unknown race, plunged into the wilderness, and when he returned he bore a knife that was of no earthly substance. It was forged of a meteor, which flashed through the sky like a flaming arrow and fell in a far valley. The slaves rose. Their saw-edged crescents cut down the men of Dagon like sheep, and against that unearthly knife the magic of Khosatral was impotent.
- The adventure novel Riptide is based around the search for a treasure trove that includes the legendary sword of St. Michael, said to have been forged of meteoric metal and to have killed everyone who possessed it. This turns out to be true - the meteoric metal is heavily irradiated.
- Poked fun at with the ending of Matthew Stover's Jericho Moon, when Barra the Pict claims the stones Yahweh rained down upon Jebusi as payment for her services. The joke is that, while these meteorites originated through the literal Wrath Of God Almighty, she only wants them because they're made of perfectly-ordinary iron ... which is the next big thing in technology and will soon be worth a fortune.
- The town of Terra Nova is heavily dependent on meteoric iron, and rebel forces control the quarry.
Mythology and Religion
- The Public Domain Artifact Excalibur/Caliburn/Caledfwlch is often portrayed as being made of Thunderbolt Iron, although there doesn't seem to be much justification for this in older sources. Presumably, its been conflated with Clarent, directly below. Works where this is the case include:
- The film The Last Legion.
- Jack Whyte's Camulod series.
- Blood and Iron by Elizabeth Bear.
- The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley.
- Excalibur's brother sword, Clarent, which was the Sword in the Stone in The Alliterative Morte Arthure, is another example in some sources. A meteor, in the shape of a red dragon's head - a red dragon being the symbol of Briton, and especially Wales - fell to earth, landing just as Uther, father of Arthur, was given command of an army after its commander had fallen. Merlin took this as a sign that Uther was destined to be King of All the Britons, had the meteor's metal forged into the magic sword, Clarent, and gave Uther the surname, Pendragon (Welsh for dragon head).
- There was an Inuit tribe whose entire culture was based around two large meteorites, the only source of metal in the area. Which didn't stop polar explorer Robert Peary from hauling them off to a museum under the justification that they could now buy their iron from white traders.
- The Ka'abah, the holiest site of Muslim pilgrimage, contains what most experts agree is probably a meteorite. Interestingly enough, the Ka'abah and the stone predate the founding of Islam by quite a bit and were both previously revered by Arabic tribal/animistic cultures. (In Islam, the Ka'abah is the house of Adam.)
- It's also empty. This has strong symbolic significance in a religion that is very cross about graven images.
- Aptly-named "Star Iron" in the Steampunk fantasy role-playing game Castle Falkenstein is special because it is devoid of magical energy, unlike most iron on Earth, which is saturated with it from all the magical things going on. This means it can break nearly any spell with a touch.
- Exalted has starmetal, one of the five magical materials. The Sidereal Exalted get the most use out of starmetal, but that's because they serve Heaven; the "star" in question is the star that represents a god's station, which falls from the heavens when they die. Seeing as the metal can only be obtained by killing a god, what little there is is used sparingly. It's rather surprising there is not more evil to it, as there is a tendency towards the gods being executed sometimes unjustly for the purpose of getting the metal.
- More recently, a somewhat rarer variation of Starmetal has been published. This version (prompted by a fan saying he'd like his Daiklave to be forged from the discarded fate of Creation's next Alexander the Great) is a hero's destiny, removed from the Loom before its passage (thus leaving the hero with either an early death, or a mundane life) and crystallized. Falling from the sky is therefore optional, but in a more metaphorical sense it is made of stars and sky.
- In Warhammer Fantasy:
- The mutating ore formed from congealed dark magic is called warpstone. Used for a variety of nasty rituals and weapons, it originally fell (and is still falling) from the sky.
- Gromril, from the same setting, is a more traditional version of this, although it only fell from the sky depending on what edition you're on.
- Currently Gromril is a more mundane style of metal - the new Thunderbolt Iron is Glimril, which is so rare that only one scale of it has been found to date, in the mouth of a Chaos Lord. Grombrindal wears armour made out of the stuff.
- There's also the Armour of Meteoric Iron, one of the cheaper magic armours. It's basically just really tough, with no real special abilities.
- In Changeling: The Lost, the best way to tear large chunks out of the True Fae is to use hand-forged (that is, not machine-processed) "cold iron." The "Rites of Spring" splatbook defines cold iron specifically as iron which has never been heated to the point of malleability by any human agency, but has instead been beaten into shape by pure brute force. Overlooking the general improbability of making anything more refined than a club or a rough mace by this method, the book outright states that your best hope of ever obtaining cold iron is to get your hands on meteoric iron, since melting down normal iron ore is pretty much the only way to get iron out of it in the first place.
- The 3rd edition of Dungeons and Dragons has two examples: Adamantine and starmetal. Both have extraordinary hit points and hardness. They also ignore hardness under a certain number so they are good for sundering other objects.
In addition, starmetal is a version of adamantine that has the bonus property of causing extra harm to Outsiders (as opposed to the OotS version, which also harms Undead) thanks to its "affinity for the Material Plane". The book that introduces starmetal, Complete Arcane, mainly focuses on a prestige class where you eat starmetal until you turn into an indestructible person made of starmetal.
- The Arms & Equipment Guide introduced Obdurium, which is harder than Adamantine. They don't go into much, but most agree that Obdurium has 10 more Hardness than Adamantine, more HP, and can cut through even non-magical Adamantine like butter.
- Kheferu, found in Sandstorm, the truest form of Thunderbolt Iron in D&D, is literally made of tempered meteorites. It automatically overcomes the Damage Reduction of all Earth-based creatures, regardless of any other requirements the creature's DR has.
- Adamantine also happens to be the go-to metal for fighting Golems.
- GURPS mentions that this is one of the guesses about what "cold iron" was supposed to be and lets you use it if you want... but it defaults to the handling that it's just a descriptive term for regular iron, like one might say "cold steel."
- In Chrono Trigger, one of the three Great Sages crafts a weapon out of the "Red Rock" Crono and his friends find in the past; the prehistoric people talk of the strange rocks having magical properties, with the game implying that the "meteorites" are also actual bits of the Lovecraftian parasite Lavos.
- They called it Dreamstone, by the way, and quite a few of the MacGuffins in the game turn out to be made from it.
- Boktai 2 lets Django find a small meteorite which can be forged into a unique Star melee weapon, which gains power as you do and uses solar energy directly from the Solar Station reserves rather than Django's much smaller energy bar.
- Earthbound had the Material Zexonyte which was forged from meteoric metal.
- Meteorite is the strongest metal available for crafting weapons in Evil Islands
- Golden Sun has Star Dust, described as "Rare metal from space", which can be forged into such niceties as the Mercury-aligned Comet Mace or the PP(Mana)-increasing Astral Circlet.
- Castle of the Winds features Meteoric gear as its top line before enchantments--better protection and damage, as well as less weight.
- In many of the Final Fantasy games where crafting is possible, meteorites are usable as raw material for that crafting.
- In Dragon Age Origins, you can stumble upon a meteor (on whose crater a child was previously found by a woman named Martha and her husband) and have Levi Dryden's brother make a sword from it after the events at Warden's Peak.
- Among the many metals added in the popular Dwarf Fortress mod "Dig Deeper" is "star iron", which is both valuable and extremely rare.
- In Kingdom of Loathing, there is Grimacite armor and weapons that are forged from Moon Rocks (one of the game world's two moons is called "Grimace" and had a huge chunk fall to earth after getting smacked off by a giant meteorite). The grimacite itself is under the protection of the Penguin Mafia, and the goodies made from it are 1)fantastically expensive (several hundred million Meat) 2)usually only available from winning the lottery.
- Terraria has Meteorite Ore, which can be forged into bars and used in the construction of various high-tier items. Most notably, Phaseblades.
- In The Witcher, you start with an ordinary though well forged iron sword, but can collect meteors and hire a sufficiently skilled blacksmith to make you one of several varieties of pseudo-magical meteor swords. In the novels the game was based on, every witcher carried a sword made of meteoric iron.
- In Age of Mythology, a player who worships Thor has access to the Dwarven Armory, which provides upgrades made of meteoric materials.
- In Super Robot Wars Original Generation, a lot of the latest mech technology uses a material known as Tronium, which was recovered from a crashed meteor.
- The protagonist in Order of the Stick has a sword that's supposedly made out of "starmetal", though this is apparently not actually true as of the beginning of the strip. He later reforges his sword to include some starmetal he's found (and we discover that "starmetal" isn't actually meteoric iron, as would be expected, but some entirely different and extraordinarily dense and rare metal--possibly iridium--that's alloyed with regular iron to make Infinity+1 Sword metal). Starmetal is obtained in rather depressingly tiny crystal-shaped pebbles, and it is mentioned that a broadsword made completely from this metal would require all the starmetal ever found and be too heavy to lift. But that turns out to be a good thing, because it means only a tiny chip of the stuff is more than enough to forge a starmetal sword with amazing properties.
- In Tales of the Questor, the classical Cold Iron used to fight the Fair Folk is a mistranslation; Quentyn says that it meant Polar Iron, as in magnets.
- Parodied in Eight Bit Theater when Red Mage suggests getting "starmetal" out of a Meteor spell Black Mage dropped on someone. Black Mage points out that the Meteor isn't even metallic, but when he turns away for a second and turns back, RM is holding a piece of metal, completely confounding BM.
Black Mage: I believe in magic and I still don't know how you did that.
- The Starham in Triangle and Robert. Meat falls from space all the time in their world; what makes the Starham special is that it's properly cured. It's powerful enough to cause some pretty major havoc. (This is not a joke.)
- The Orrery from Uncreation is a device designed specifically to summon meteors from space for mining.
- The protagonists of the Conan the Adventurer animated series all wielded weapons made of "star metal", which would reveal the true form of shapeshifted serpent folk when close enough and banish them to the dimension their god was imprisoned in if actually struck. The metal also amplified magic channeled through it, as seen most prominently with Greywolf's staff and the giant ring-gates which would allow Wrath-Amon to bring Set to Earth.
- In Avatar: The Last Airbender episode "Sokka's Master", Sokka makes himself a sword from a meteorite that fell in the beginning of the episode. It can quite easily slice through metal, even when thrown. He affectionately calls it his "space sword." The absurd sharpness of the blade eventually works against Sokka; when he tries to use it to prevent himself and Toph from falling off an airship, the space sword slices right through the airship's side.
- In Ultimate Avengers, Captain America's shield and many of Black Widow's weapons include Vibranium, a metal from Skrull origin. In the sequel, we see the Wakandans have a huge Vibranium meteor with which they craft their weapons (Vibranium is also a huge part of Wakanda's crafting in the original Avengers comics, though it's usually not alien).
- There is a metal, generally only found in meteorites, and under the earth's crust, called Iridium. Often, unusually high levels of this metal found in a layer of rock is a major clue to either a meteor-strike or a volcanic eruption at the time represented by said layer.
- Genre Savvy author Terry Pratchett had one forged for himself in order to celebrate having been knighted.
- Attila the Hun was believed to have wielded a sword made from meteorite, which the Romans nicknamed the "Sword of Mars".
- James Bowie's iconic knife was supposedly forged from a piece of meteorite iron.
- Invoked with Stellite, a superalloy produced by Deloro Stellite Company. It's hard and can take a lot of heat without weakening. Some applications include saw teeth, racing engine valves, machine gun barrels, and drill bits for metal cutting machines.