King Arthur's legendary swordExcalibur is sometimes identified in popular culture as the sword which he alone was able to pull out of a stone — proving he was the rightful king of Britain (or England).
However this is not always the case in the medieval Arthurian literature, where Excalibur is sometimes a different sword Arthur received from the Lady of the Lake. This is the case in Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, which is the best-known and most influential medieval English rendition.
Modern authors have to usually pick one version and stick with it. Sometimes modern authors will distinguish the swords by giving each one a different version of the name "Excalibur", like calling one of them "Caliburn" instead.
The earliest phase of the Arthurian legends, which are part Celtic Mythology and part Dark Age Europe British history, didn't have an origin story for Arthur's sword, then called "Caledfwlch" or "Kaledvwlch" in Welsh.note Or at least it hasn't survived to the present day.
The later author Geoffrey of Monmouth mentions Arthur's sword in his History of the Kings of Britain, written in Latin, but the elements of the Sword in the Stone and the Lady of the Lake are absent. Arthur's sword is here called "Caliburnus", vernacularized to "Caliburn".
Geoffrey's work helped popularize the Arthurian legends in Europe, especially France, and they became source material for Chivalric Romance. Through the years, the name of Arthur's sword went through variations like "Caliborc" and "Escalibor" until finally it stuck at "Excalibur".
The story of the Sword in the Stone (and an anvil on top of the stone) first appears in Robert de Boron's Merlin, though it is left unnamed. This story was included in a series of French Arthurian romances called the Vulgate Cycle, where the sword is later identified as Excalibur.
However, the later series known as the Post-Vulgate Cycle, which retold and expanded upon the former, depicts the Sword in the Stone and Excalibur as separate swords. The Sword in the Stone (and anvil) is unnamed again and the story of Arthur receiving Excalibur from the Lady of the Lake is introduced.
This origin for Excalibur was used by Malory in Le Morte d'Arthur. Malory's version of the Arthurian stories, written when the Middle Ages were almost over, would become the best-known version to English-speaking readers. However, Malory once refers to Arthur's sword as Excalibur before the episode with the Lady of the Lake happens.
In the Alliterative Morte Arthure, an English poem predating Malory, Arthur has another named sword besides Excalibur, called Clarent. This was a ceremonial sword as opposed to the war sword Excalibur. Sometimes modern authors use Clarent (or another name) as the name of the sword in the stone, but this is not in the original.
Not to be confused with Excalibur in the Rust.
In The Muppets King Arthur, despite the cover being a varient of the classic "Arthur in a boat beholding the sword" scene, the actual story has the Lady (Janice) simply there to tell Arthur (Kermit) that "There's a totally awesome sword in a rock over that hill". It was also her, not Merlin, who placed the Sword in the Stone, apparently to make some point about commercialism at rock festivals.
Referenced in Fables when Ambrose pulls Excalibur from the Stone near the beginning of his journey as king. Later, when he no longer needs it, he tells 'Lance' to toss it into the largest lake he can find as he leaves -and not to be surprised if a green bejeweled hand catches it.
In a Dilbertstrip, a pencil stuck in a pencil sharpener called "Excalibert" qualifies.
In the film Excalibur. Excalibur is retrieved from the Lady of the Lake by Merlin and given to Uther Pendragon, Arthur's father. Uther thrusts the sword into the proverbial stone before he dies of his wounds. Arthur then draws the sword from the stone years later. Later, in a duel with Lancelot, Arthur in a fit of pride uses the sword's mystic powers to change the destined outcome of the duel (Lancelot should have won). Although Arthur succeeds, Excalibur breaks from being so used. In a fit of grief, Arthur hurls the broken sword into a nearby lake — where the Lady of the Lake restores the weapon and hands it back to Arthur from the waters, thus fulfilling both legends.
Excalibur (still stuck in its stone) makes a brief appearance in the film Inkheart, where it is just one of the items read out of books by Meggie. When Capricorn gets infuriated, he seizes the sword to attack, and it stays there. Cue Darius: "Only the K...K...King can do that."
In the Jack Whyte novel series, Publius Varrus forges a fantastic sword from "skystone metal" (meteoric iron). The forging technique he used involved a mould, known in Africa as a qalibr. Therefore, since it came out of a mould, he called it "Ex-qalibr", or Excalibur. Much later on, his grand-nephew Merlyn (yes, thatMerlin) placed the sword in a stone altar for Arthur (again: yes, thatArthur) (Varrus's own great-grandson) to withdraw in a partly-religious ceremony to crown him High King of Britain.
In The Dresden Files, Harry does some research on Michael Carpenter and his sword and discovers that Michael is a descendant of Charlemagne. When he's explaining this to another character, he makes a mention that Michael's sword is Excalibur, which King Arthur pulled from a stone. Most likely this is either an intentional reference or a confusion of the swords Excalibur and Joyeuse, which where the swords of Arthur of England and Charlemange of Gaul respectively, and were sister swords that shared a third sister in Roland's sword Durendal.
In Valerio Massimo Manfredi's historical fantasy, The Last Legion, in which "Excalibur" is actually the unnamed sword of Julius Caesar. Following the battle at the novel's climax, the child-Emperor Romulus Augustus throws the sword so that it embeds itself in a stone in the middle of a lake. Later, the name Excalibur is derived from a partially obscured inscription, "E*** S*** Calibur***"
The 1998 mini-series Merlin (the one starring Sam Neill) draws some ideas from the 1981 Excalibur film, though it's not exactly the same. In shifting the role of the main character to Merlin, it makes sense that most of the high points of the legend revolve around him instead. In this case Excalibur is first given to Merlin by the Lady of the Lake; he even uses it to kill the tyrant King whom Uther Pendragon, Arthur's father, will replace. Merlin later on gives Excalibur to Uther. When it becomes obvious that Uther will not be the just King they all thought he would be (because he becomes obsessed with having Igraine), Merlin takes Excalibur from him and places it on a rocky mountain, a sapient being called the Rock of Ages. Merlin makes the mountain promise to only release the sword to a true king, a man with a good heart. Years later, Arthur, who has been tutored in ethics and morals by Merlin, takes Excalibur out of the stone, and uses it to prove he is the rightful heir to the throne. He wields it for the entirety of his Kingship. Later on, when Arthur is fatally wounded by Mordred, he asks Merlin to take the sword back to where it came from. Merlin gives Excalibur back to the Lady of the Lake.
The series Merlin, as of "The Coming of Arthur: Part 2". The (technically still unnamed) sword that Merlin cast into the Lake of Avalon in the Season 1 episode "Excalibur" because it was too dangerous to use is retrieved by Freya (from the Season 2 episode "The Lady of the Lake") to defeat the undead army. And afterwards, since it's still too dangerous and it's been shown to be retrievable from the lake, Merlin takes it into the depths of the forest and drives it into a stone so it definitely can't be used again. Well, for now at least; the series 4 finale, "The Sword in the Stone", sees Arthur free it to prove his ability to reign.
The Charmed episode "The Sword In The City" has Excalibur stuck in the stone, though they have the Lady of the Lake in the episode as well. She is the protector of the sword and it turns out Wyatt is meant to wield it one day. It's apparently up in the attic for the next two seasons.
In the French series Kaamelott, Excalibur not only was coming from the stone, but Arthur can put it back there anytime he chooses. He did so when a young kid, before claiming the throne of Britain for good once adult. He puts the sword back in the stone in Livre V once he renounces the throne, and many pretenders try to claim it for themselves, but the sword only responds to someone with an exceptional destiny. Only Arthur qualifies so far; the only other one who might have had a chance, Perceval, refuses to even try pulling the sword from the stone out of respect for Arthur.
Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow has a sword called Excalibur which is still in the stone. So you go around swinging a sword with a giant rock at the end of it. The logic for this being: The player character is not actually Arthur, so he is obviously not allowed to draw the sword from the stone. But he's also very strong...
King Arthur The Role Playing Wargame splits the difference, declaring that the Sword in the Stone is Excalibur but that its full power cannot be unlocked until Arthur's meeting with the Lady of the Lake.
Green Arrow: The sword in the stone! Batman: Excalibur!
Played straight in Gargoyles: the one Excalibur featured there was both pulled from the stone and created by The Lady of The Lake, as indicated in the episode "Pendragon".
In The Legend of Prince Valiant, Merlin has excalibur and puts it in stone himself. But at the end of the episode, he reveals that there is no magic involved: The sword can be pulled out when the sun shines on the stone, because of dilatation.
There is a theory that the iconography of the Sword in The Stone comes from Bronze Casting, an older technique for making metal tools or weapons. Molten bronze is poured into a mold, usually made of something like clay or marble, and then extracted once the form has solidified. To a casual observer, this would look very much like someone pulling a fully-formed sword out of a stone.
Subversions and Aversions
Anime and Manga
UQ Holder has a cursed sword in the stone, said to belong to any who could pull it out. Turns out its actually quite easy to retrieve, it has a weight-modifying dial that had been set to several tons. Turn it back down, and it slides right out.
Averted in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. When asked what gives him the right to rule, Arthur doesn't even mention the sword in the stone, and instead relates the tale of how the Lady of the Lake gave him the sword Excalibur, thus proving he is the destined ruler of Britain. Which the peasant he's talking to sums up as "some watery tart threw a sword at you."
Dennis: I mean, if I went around sayin' I was an emperor just because some moistened bint had lobbed a scimitar at me, they'd put me away!
The GrailQuest series spends a lengthy paragraph in the fourth book making the differences between the two swords clear.
Mary Stewart's The Merlin Trilogy has Merlin finding the long-lost sword of the Roman Emperor Maximus (formerly a general with close ties to Britain) hidden in a stone temple of Mithras ("under the stone"), then arranges for Arthur to find it at an island in the middle of an underground lake, then Arthur claims it again at his moment of crowning from a stone altar. Arthur calls the sword Caliburn.
In Hawk of May by Gillian Bradshaw, Caledfwlch is given to Gwalchmai (Gawain), not Arthur, by the Celtic god Lugh.
In Stephen Lawhead's Arthur, Arthur pulls the sword of Maximus from the stone, but later replaces it with Excalibur.
In Rosemary Sutcliff's Sword at Sunset Arthur's sword is simply the sword of the previous king Ambrosius.
In The Kingmaking by Helen Hollick, Arthur's sword, which he calls Caliburn, is a trophy taken from a defeated Saxon warrior, but rumoured to be handed down by the Norse goddess Freya who appeared at a lake. Some Latin words for "stone", saxum or saxo, are similar to the word for Saxons, Saxones, and the author suggests this is how the legend may have started.
In The Great Captains by Henry Treece, Arthur challenges the aging king Ambrosius by driving his sword deep into a tree and daring him to show he still has the strength to pull it out. When he can't, Arthur becomes king.
In Dragon's Child, the first book in a King Arthur trilogy by M. K. Hume, whoever finds Excalibur first will be king, and Arthur finds it wedged between the stones of a church tower.
The Discworld has its own take on this. The Sword in the Stone is explained by a cynical character as a con-trick involving a large hollow stone with a dwarf inside, holding onto the sword with grim embuggered determination and a large pair of pliers. Until signalled, by the person masterminding the con, that "the right candidate for kingship" has come along.
In Men at Arms, a recurring theme is Vimes' and others' speculation that pulling the sword out of the stone is easy. The real king is the man who can thrust a sword into the stone in the first place. And at the climax of the story, Vimes witnesses Captain Carrot Ironfoundersson (who is repeatedly hinted, with all the subtlety of a chainsaw, to be the rightful king of Ankh-Morpork) do exactly that (his sword went through the guy he was stabbing and into the stone pillar behind).
In The Magic Tree House book Summer of the Serpent, the two kids retrieve a sword for Merlin defended by an enormous sea serpent. The kids ask if he's going to put it in a stone for Arthur to pull out, but Merlin answers that this sword is actually Excalibur and thus will be delivered to the Lady of the Lake.
The series Arthur of the Britons has Arthur call all the other Briton chiefs together and show them a sword wedged under a stone. Whoever pulls the sword from under the stone shall lead them. All the other chiefs get to pushing and lifting the stone, and Arthur quickly grabs it before anyone else does.
The two-part Stargate SG-1 episode "Avalon", where Colonel Mitchell calls the sword in the stone Excalibur, and Daniel Jackson corrects him, stating that believing Excalibur to be the sword in the stone is "a common misconception."
The series Camelot keeps the sword in the stone and Excalibur separate. The former is called "the sword of Mars", and Merlin has the latter specially forged for Arthur.
Subverted in Once Upon a Time. Prince Charming takes Snow White to the sword in the stone and calls it Excalibur. She manages to draw it, but Rumplestiltskin later comments Excalibur is of course in Camelot and this is nothing more than a shoddy knockoff, placed there by Charming.
The GURPS Camelot sourcebook separates the two swords, calling the one in the stone (or the Anvil) Galatine, probably having more to do with gallantry than head cheese. Galatine is noted as a powerful magical sword in its own right. Note that the GURPS sourcebook is one of the rare compendia of Arthurian lore that also features the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch, which may speak to its comprehensiveness or its frivolity.
Yu-Gi-Oh! manages to avert this. There's a whole Archetype of cards based on Arthurian lore, and there are two distinct swords: Caliburn is clearly the sword in the stone while Excalibur is the one given by the Lady in the Lake.
Lara makes this identification repeatedly in Tomb Raider Legend, despite Alister's repeated and passionate reminders that they were "two different bloody swords!" It turns out in the end Lara was right and in his excitement over seeing what the completed sword can do even Alister forgets his previous comments. Still a subversion in that the finished "Excalibur" was pieced together from several similar swords.
In Might and Magic VI, the sword Excalibur can be found (and removed, despite your characters not having any prophetic importance) in a stone on a small island in eel-infested waters. The subversion is that at no point does it make claim to be King Arthur's Excalibur — in fact, the in-game description gives a backstory entirely unconnected to the Arthurian mythos. The sword just happens to be an artifact sword in a stone in a game whose artifacts are named for things from the Arthurian legend for no apparent in-game reason.
In the Infocom game Arthur: The Quest For Excalibur, an usurper sinks the sword in the stone in a lake and swaps it with a fake that he can pull out to demonstrate that he's the true king. When the player wins the game, the Lady in the Lake parts the waters to reveal the real stone, sword included, and THEN Arthur pulls the sword out. Which sort of fulfills both legends, but not in the way most people picture it.
Sonic and the Black Knight. King Arthur has Excalibur. Sonic receives Caliburn from the Lady of the Lake. However, Caliburn transforms into Excalibur just before the final battle. Which is actually a plot point — Arthur doesn't have Excalibur, but he'd very much like to. What he has is Excalibur's scabbard, which has its own magical properties quite independent of the sword. The reason Arthur doesn't have Excalibur, and Caliburn is able to transform into Excalibur at the end of the game, is because for some reason or another that doesn't make a whole lot of sense, Caliburn is Excalibur, minus the swords carried by Gawain, Percival, and Lancelot.
The pair are different weapons in Fate/stay night. Excalibur functions more like a Wave Motion Gun, whereas Caliburn simply appears to be a really powerful sword, to the point where a projection of it, if wielded by Saber, can kill Beserker seven times in a single strike. That is only if it is wielded by Saber though. And that's just a replica.
In Fate Nuovo Guerra, King Uther uses a version of Caliburn that can simply be defined as "Caliburn before being put into the stone".
In Arthur, King of Time and Space, even Arthur thinks the sword in the stone was Excalibur, but he's wrong. It turns out Excalibur was legendary even in Uther's day, and he allowed people to believe he wielded it, even though he didn't. And Uther's fake Excalibur, being the sword of the King, was the one that Merlin put in the stone.
Averted in Homestuck, where the sword in the stone is specifically identified as Caledfwych, not Excalibur. Dave retrieves it by breaking it and using his time powers to wield it intact, and it serves not only as his main weapon but also as a recurring symbol for his Character Development.