In Real Life
, a metal is an element of the periodic table which belongs to one of certain groups/columns and has a specific type crystal lattice with free electrons. In fiction, especially fantasy, a metal is shiny stuff with wonderful properties like super strength, lightness, magic resistance and so on, often not resembling any of the metals found in the periodic table. Metals that are brittle, soft, flammable, react violently with water or air or are otherwise useless for smithing swords and shields from them never
appear in fantasy, despite there being a lot of these in Real Life
. This trope (a supertrope to Mithril
) describes the "shiny and wondrous" kind of metals.
Note that this is mostly a Fantasy
trope. Science-fiction examples are only good if they are from a work that is "science" in name only (such as four-color comics or space fantasy like Star Wars
or Warhammer 40,000
); harder-science materials actually explained as high-tech alloys with some verisimilitude aren't. In a nutshell, Wolverine
's adamantium and Boba Fett
's Mandalorian iron are examples of this trope, but a composite alloy of titanium and carbon nanotubes isn't.
examples are only allowed if they are in fact occult superstitions (like hard mercury) or well-known hoaxes (like red mercury).
The most often-encountered types of fantasy metal are:
- Mithril (variously spelled mithral, mythral or mythril): a lightweight, very strong, silvery metal, similar to the real-world metal titanium. The name is Sindarin for "silvery glitter". Appeared in J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings as an Infinity Plus One Metal, but in later examples it's a mid-level miracle metal only, above steel but below adamantium.
- Orichalcum (variously spelled orichalcon, orihalcon or orichalc): a metal first appeared in Plato's version of the Atlantis myth. The name means "mountain copper" in Greek, and it, indeed, often appears the color of copper or bronze. Orihalcum's properties vary heavily from source to source: sometimes its schtick is strength, sometimes it's high value, sometimes it's magic resistance, sometimes it's room-temperature superconductivity.
- Adamantium (variously spelled adamantine, adamantite or adamant): the name comes from Greek "adamas", diamond. And, indeed, this metal is diamond-hard and much more strong and resilient than diamond to boot.
- Meteoric iron (variously called sky iron, thunderbolt iron, star iron, and so on) is a real alloy, but its depiction in fantasy is very often a very different metal than it is in reality. The typical "miraculous" meteoric iron is a jet-black metal that is much stronger than regular iron and often has magical properties as well.
- Cold Iron (variously called cold steel, wrought iron, magnetic iron and so on) is the traditional bane of The Fair Folk. Precisely what constitutes cold iron varies from source to source, such as being forged without heat, forged by hand, being ferromagnetic, possessing trace amounts of iridium, literally being cold, and so on.
The list of fantasy metals is much more than that, but most examples are work-specific and shall be listed in the examples list.
A fantasy-specific subtrope of Unobtainium
. See also Parodic Table of the Elements
, Elemental Crafting
(which ranks these and other normal metals and materials by usefulness).
Anime and Manga
- In the Dragon Ball Z universe, there's katchin metal, which is super-strong, and served as a plot device when it broke an Infinity+1 Sword that was supposed to be unbreakable.
- Greek myth had "grey adamant", from which Kronos fashioned his sickle.
- Marvel Comics has two (aside from a few unique ones): their version of adamantium is a super-metal designed to present threats to invulnerable superheroes (the second X-Men movie states that it's synthesized in liquid form and a "hot chain" must be maintained to keep it usable). Vibranium is another, unusual in that it's not super-strong or super-light (though it's not bad at either) but absorbs kinetic energy (and others Depending on the Writer) far better than ordinary substances. If that sounds like a handy substance to put between yourself and a super-strong punch, well, that's the idea.
- In Star Trek IV, Scotty acquires material for the whales' tank by bartering the formula for transparent aluminum. (Surely you didn't think all those windows were made of glass?)
- J. R. R. Tolkien's Arda has, beyond mithril, a jet-black metal called galvorn. Galvorn, even stronger than mithril, is invented by Eöl the Dark Elf and the secret of its making was lost when he and his son Maeglin, who also had the know-how, died.
- The Book of Lost Tales, Tolkien's very early draft for The Silmarillion, also gives us tilkal, an Infinity Plus One Metal that can only be made by Aulë, the god of blacksmiths. Its name is an acronym of Quenya names for iron, copper, silver, gold, tin and lead, the six naturally occurring metals known to the Elves, used as its ingredients.
- Animorphs has a metal called Ramonite, one of several "living metals", which could among others be stretched thin as to be invisible, negating the need for built-it windows.
- A Song of Ice and Fire has Valyrian steel, and the unnamed white meteoritic metal of the late Arthur Dayne's sword Dawn.
- The Darkangel Trilogy features a blade made of Adamant.
- Inheritance Cycle has Brightsteel.
- Many artifacts of the Mi-Go, Yith, and other Starfish Aliens from H.P. Lovecraft's works were crafted from metals unknown to human metallurgy.
- Although useless for making anything out of (it's chemically fragile and has about the same consistency as lead), atium from Mistborn: The Original Trilogy has extremely powerful magic properties. There is also lerasium, which has the same thing going for it, but is also extremely rare.
- Discworld has the magical metal octiron, and more recently the heat-absorbing black metal stygium (popular for Assassin jewellery, since it says "I'm rich, I wear black, and I don't expect to be out in the daylight much") and the impact-reflecting alloy sorortanium, used in the manufacture of micromail.
- Star Trek has dear old Dilithium, usually found in crystalline form....
- Don't forget about Duranium and Tritanium, which are used in building ultra-strong ship hulls.
- Mortdred's Magical Metals includes: Orichalcum, Mithril, Kyrrad, Yaddrakk, Blachalcum (Black Orichalcum), Stellaine, Rosantium, Sarabandium, Vartium, True (-copper, -silver, -lead), Steel (Silvered, Volcano-, Soul, Demon-, Glowie-, Emerald-, Ruby-, Sapphire-, Green-), Pitch Metal, Blood Metal, Gods Copper, Irbynite, Peraltoid, Javednite, Wetznite, Sevenril, Eonmite, Mabril, Raysorite, Bolusture, Antine, Magmir, Iclling, Siderite, Irridesium, True (Iron, Copper, Gold), Mithral, Absolute (Iron, Copper, Silver, Gold), Solarite, Exotic Adamantium, Hard Water, Orchallium, Tarnrill, Tsargo, Earth's Blood, Dwarven (Copper, Electrum, Lead), Greater Gold, Solid Quicksilver, Miner's Tin, Star of (Iron, Copper, Silver, Gold, Platinum) and Fixed Mercury.
- Another list of magical metals includes Steel (Dark, Abyssimal Red, Baatorian Green and Forest}, Mithril (Black, White, Silver and Githank), Adamantium, Celestium, Dwarven Blackrock, Illithium, Mechanium, Neutralite and Temporal Silver.
- The core rulebooks of Dungeons & Dragons have adamantine, mithral, cold iron (effective against fey), and alchemical silver (silver alchemically bonded to steel for use against lycanthropes). Secondary materials include many others:
- The Eberron campaign setting introduces byeshk (heavy purple metal useful against abominations), flametouched iron (good-aligned), and Riedran crysteel (psionically charged crystal bonded to iron).
- The supplement Volo's Guide to All Things Magical had a list of magical metals found in that setting: Adamant, Arandur, Darksteel, Dlarun, Hizaagkuur, Mithral, Telstang and Zardazil.
- Ed Greenwood's article "Nine Hells Revisited" in Dragon magazine #91 had two metals that were found in the Nine Hells: arjale and tantulhor.
- The Red Steel setting had Cinnabryl and Red Steel.
- D&D drow (until 4th edition) had their own alloy of adamantine (or mithral, depending on the writer) that gave bonuses to arms and armor, but was instantly rendered brittle and useless by exposure to sunlight.
- Various third edition splatbooks offered some others, such as the naturally toxic morghuth-iron or the critical-hit-averting Ysgardian heartwire.
- Call of Cthulhu's Masks of Nyarlathotep had "The Copper From Above" (an alien metal used to make an object which was used for a spell) and alien metals with Fictional Colors used to create a rocket.
- Iron Crown Enterprises' Shadow World setting had Braizium, Enclatine, Quevite, Tayn, Keron, Eog (regular, Black, Grey, White), Arinyark, Electrium, Ithloss, Kregora, Rularon, Star Iron, Taurith, Trystrium, Vaanum and Xenium.
- The World of Synnibarr had Black Titanium, Forgotten Steel, Gravanium, Hadrathium, Hell Iron, Pelleum, Power Iron, Shadarkeem Metal and Titanite.
- Arduin Grimouire: Silbony, Aurebony, Ethril (Black Mithril), Adamony (Black Adamantium), Black Gold, Black Silver, Cadrium, Brozahrium
- Warhammer 40K has adamantium, plasteel and ceramite. There's also the unexplained living metal that Necrons (a race of Omnicidal Maniacs with their souls bound to regenerating metal bodies) and their technology are made from, called necrodermis. In a slightly less "metal" way, but still fantasy building material, we have wraithbone for the Eldar, which is essentially crystallized psychic energy that is used by "bonesingers" to make equipment.
- Magic: the Gathering has Darksteel, which is indestructible.
- The Elder Scrolls series has quite a lot of fantasy metals.
- Mithril is a lightweight, mid-level metal used to make armor. It's otherwise typical and fairly unremarkable.
- Ebony is a dark gray or brownish-gray metal (volcanic glass in Morrowind, for all the sense that makes), sometimes with brown or yellowish veinlets, that is very heavy and very strong, used to make superb weapons and armor.
- Daedric metal is a special kind of Ebony which is infused with demonic souls. It's dark gray with red veinlets, and, basically, Ebony But More So. It's always the high-end, top of the line metal in the games. In Oblivion, it's the only substance besides silver that can harm ghosts without being enchanted.
- Elven Steel is a kind of superb steel with greenish or golden hue. In Skyrim, its recipe was revealed: it's made by treating iron with a mineral called moonstone; the weapons variant of the steel has also some quicksilver (mercury?) added.
- Orcish Steel was always assumed to be just high-quality steel, but in Skyrim it was revealed (or retconned?) that it's an alloy of iron and orichalcum.
- Dwarven Metal is a Lost Technology alloy that looks like copper or bronze, but its exact composition (and even its proper Dwemer name) is forgotten.
- Adamantium is a rare metal in this 'verse, not appearing in all games; in Morrowind it's a high grade, silvery metal for weapons and armor, almost on par with ebony. It's the best metal for making medium armor; technically, Indoril armor is better, but it's bonemold rather than metallic and it's impractical to wear it because it angers Ordinators.
- "Glass", like Ebony, is treated here as metal-like. It's supposedly some kind of super strong, lightweight and resilient volcanic glass that is green. In Morrowind, natural glass was mined; in Skyrim, Morrowind's mines were out of order because of a slight local apocalypse, so glass was smelted artificially by melting moonstone and malachite together.
- "Stalhrim" in "Skyrim: Dragonborn" is only found in Solsteim and is also known as "enchanted ice".
- Gemstone III: Lysaughton, Mcgrail, Platnite, Catoetine, Elrodnite, Inniculmoid, Boernerine, Neurolite, Fabrinine
- Warcraft III has Thorium and Arcanite-forged weapons as Orc weapon upgrades. Thorium is a real metal (element 90), although it may have been ascribed unrealistic properties.
- Dragon Age has (in order of quality) Grey Iron, Veridium, Red Steel, Silverlite and Starmetal.
- The Awakening expansion also adds White Steel and Volcanic Aurum.
- The Ultima games had Blackrock, which could block magic and which became permeable when electricity was passed through it. Also useful for creating portals between worlds.
- Terraria has several made-up metals, such as "Meteorite", "Demonite" and "Hellstone", all of which can be melted into strong armor and weapons.
- In 1.1, Cobalt, Mithril and Adamantite were introduced, as well as a boss-dropped metal, Hallowed. In 1.2, we were gifted with slightly stronger alternatives to each: Palladium, Orichalcum, and, strangely, Titanium. Also added was Chlorophyte, a new jungle-based ore stronger than even Hallowed, and Crimtane, an alternative ore to Demonite, found in worlds with the Crimson instead of The Corruption.
Other / Multiple Media
- In New Vindicators, there was once a meteor that when it hit the Earth, created a strange kind of tektite called mithral. While really much stronger or better than most metals, mithral is shown to be Kryptonite to Nephilim-half angels, half humans, inflicting great pain on them through touch and in some cases weakening their powers.
- The Star Wars universe contains some:
- Cortosis, which is a metal hostile to the Force and also with an ability to short out lightsabers. Another famous ability of cortosis is that its ores are constantly electrified and capable of electrocuting anyone who handles them carelessly.
- Phrik is similar to cortosis, but more tame. It doesn't short out lightsabers, but is immune to them as well.
- Beskar (Mandalorian iron) is similar to phrik, only much stronger; it's more or less the local version of adamantium. Mandalorian armors are typically made of beskar.
- Glasteel is a transparent metal.
- In real-world occult alchemy, there was believed that a method exists to make mercury hard at room temperature. At least one medieval Hermetic recipe exists to make a ring of invisibility from hard mercury.
- Red mercury was a hoax perpetrated by Soviet KGB. It was ascribed some miraculous properties like making simple and compact nukes; the purpose of the hoax was sting operations to catch terrorists and rogue state agents seeking easy ways to obtain nukes. They forgot to warn the Soviet populace that it's a hoax, and after the fall of the Soviet Union, a red mercury craze started on its ruins.
- Oricalcum's believed real life counterpart is an alloy of gold and copper, theoretically really good for circuitry.