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Excalibur in the Stone

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"Behold: EXCALIBUR! I couldn't get this rock off of it, but it's still pretty cool, right?"
"Big" Jack Horner, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish

King Arthur's legendary sword Excalibur 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 the Britons.

However, this is not always the case in medieval Arthurian literature, where Excalibur is sometimes a different sword Arthur received from The Lady of the Lake when he was already king. 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 Arthurian Legend, 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 

The later author Geoffrey of Monmouth mentions Arthur's sword in his Historia Regum Britanniae, 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 Arthurian legend 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, as Arthur's current sword (which may or may not be the one from the stone) is broken and Excalibur replaces it.

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. (Book 1, chapter IX, where Merlin calls it "the sword that ye had by miracle", which could mean drawing it from the stone or could mean that Malory forgot the Lady of the Lake scene hadn't happened yet.)

In the Alliterative Morte Arthure, an English poem predating Malory, Arthur has another named sword besides Excalibur, called Clarent, which is stolen by Mordred. This was a ceremonial sword as opposed to the war sword Excalibur. Sometimes modern authors use Clarent (or another name, like Caliburn as above) 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.


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Straight examples

    Anime and Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • In The Muppets King Arthur, despite the cover being a variant 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 "Once and Future Duck" by Don Rosa, the sword that is pulled from the stone (though not by Arthur, in this story that's a later fabrication) is Arthur's sword Calibur. There's no other Excalibur around, and it's not the only name that appears in a different form than in the stories as we know them now.
  • In Unholy Grail Excalibur was given to Arthur by the Lady of the Lake in return for all the swords of kings he went to war against. Meanwhile the sword in the stone was once Uther's sword that Merlin used to kill a man who refused to accept than the then baby Arthur would be king, and Merlin then used his magic to transform the corpse into the stone.

    Comic Strips 
  • In a Dilbert strip, a pencil stuck in a pencil sharpener called "Excalibert" qualifies.

    Fan Works 
  • In The Last Son, Excalibur pretty much follows the traditional tale, down to having been used by King Arthur in the past. In the present time, Merlin himself has chosen Brian Braddock/Captain Britain to be his new champion, and he pulls the sword out of the stone to inflict a wound on Apocalypse with it.

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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."
  • The movie version of The Last Legion.
  • In Siege of the Saxons, the two swords being the same is made into a plot point where the same magic that kept the sword in the stone prevents anyone but the rightful ruler from drawing it from its scabbard.
  • In King Arthur (2004), Excalibur originally belonged to Arthur's father, and was used as his headstone after he died. The sword remained in place until young Arthur pulled it out and used it to fight during a Woad surprise attack.
  • King Arthur: Legend of the Sword has a unique take on this: Excalibur is the sword Arthur pulls from the stone, and the stone is actually the body of Arthur's father Uther, who threw Excalibur into the air and used its magic to petrify himself after letting the sword land in his back, before plunging into the lake to make sure his evil brother Vortigern couldn't get it. Later on in the film, Arthur throws Excalibur away into a body of water after a failed attack on Vortigern's castle, but he then meets the Lady of the Lake who pulls him into a smaller body of water to show him a vision of what will happen if he doesn't defeat Vortigern, and he accepts Excalibur back before resurfacing.

  • 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, that Merlin) placed the sword in a stone altar for Arthur (again: yes, that Arthur) (Varrus's own great-grandson) to withdraw in a partly-religious ceremony to crown him High King of Britain.
  • The Dresden Files:
    • Harry does some research on Michael Carpenter, Knight of the Cross, and his sword Amoracchius, 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—which in the modern day is also known as Esperacchius, another Sword of the Cross belonging to Sanya. It's possible Amoracchius was both Excalibur and Joyeuse. The third Sword, Fidelacchius, has history in the Far East, and was known as Kusanagi.
    • Told that he needs to find a worthy wielder for Amoracchius, Harry snarks about sticking it in an anvil and leaving it on the White House lawn.
  • 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***"
  • Bruce Coville's Book of... Magic: In Questing Magic, main character Patrick gets brought back in time by Merlin (using a small time machine). Merlin explains that Morgan Le Fay has put a spell on the stone, preventing Arthur from getting to it so he can pull the sword (referred to here as Excalibur, rather than Caliburn) out, and he needs Patrick so his Anti-Magic abilities can negate said spell.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Fort Boyard required contestants to pull a sword out of a wooden log, then use it to chop a rope holding the key in place. The official name of the challenge was "Excalibur".
  • 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 (2008), 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.

  • In the video for Angus McSix's "Master of the Universe", the Sword of Power, Sixcalibur, is embedded in the skull of some kind of giant when Angus finds it during the first verse. He draws it from the skull and is healed and transformed.

  • In the Beauty and the Beast musical, Belle reads a book to the Beast about King Arthur pulling Excalibur out of a stone.

    Video Games 
  • 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.
  • 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...
  • This same twist from Castlevania is used in Magicka. It acts a lot more like a hammer than a sword.
  • And also in Dungeons of Dredmor:
    "It's an extremely magical sword meant for the heir to the throne or the destined saviour of the world or something. None of this nonsense applies to you, of course, so it's going to remain stuck in that rock."
  • 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.
  • The French translation of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Pastnote  calls the Master Sword (an explicitly magical legendary sword that rests on a stone pedestal in an enchanted forest) "Excalibur".
  • You can steal Excalibur, explicitly named as such, in Evil Genius. Since your minions aren't worthy enough to pull it, they steal it still stuck inside the stone. In the sequel, it returns as a loot item though this time the Genius gets the idea of using acid to dissolve the stone in order to get the sword and since it's a sword in the modern era it's used instead to buff your minions rather than actually using it as a weapon.

    Western Animation 
  • The Batman: The Brave and the Bold episode "Day of the Dark Knight!":
    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 the 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.


    Fan Works 
  • The Child of the Storm universe plays with this. In the sequel Ghosts of the Past, Loki explains that the sword Arthur pulled from the stone and the sword gifted to him by the Lady in the Lake were two different swords, but both were named Excalibur — it was the actual name of the former, and gifted to the second because of the importance and power of names.

  • 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 Caliburnus/Caledvwlch, which came from Atlantis. The surviving Atlanteans are basically treated as The Fair Folk and their leader is the Lady of the Lake (and Merlin's mom).
  • 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, a very drunk Arthur or rather Artos grabs the "sword of office" of the aged Ambrosius, drives it deep into a log, and challenges Ambrosius's ward and presumptive successor Medrodus to pull it out. When he can't, Artos does it himself and is acclaimed Count of Britain in Ambrosius's place. Artos later names the sword Caliburn.
  • 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.
  • In The Warlord Chronicles by Bernard Cornwell, Merlin gives Arthur Excalibur but he makes him stand naked on a sacred stone all night, holding it up.
  • 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 Once and Future King actually takes a fairly ambiguous approach towards the sword(s). The Sword in the Stone is not given any other name when Arthur pulls it out, but after a bit of a Time Skip, the sword Arthur brings to battle is referred to as Excalibur. The book makes no mention of the Sword in the Stone breaking or Excalibur being from the Lady of the Lake, suggesting that they are the same blade under different names, but not confirming it.
  • In Here Lies Arthur, Myrddin (Merlin) came up with the story of Arthur drawing the sword from the stone years before the events of the book to portray Arthur as the rightful King of the Britons. At the start of the story, he has a peasant girl named Gwyna pose as The Lady of the Lake and give Arthur Caliburn (Excalibur) to show a band of Irish pagans he wants Arthur to ally with that the nominally Christian Arthur has the favour of the old gods. Myrddin starts telling the story of Caliburn at the villages he visits, only for someone who had heard the first story to point out the discrepancy. Myrddin smoothly replies that the sword from the stone was broken and Arthur needed a new one, then segues into another story that quickly gets everyone to forget the question.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 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. He also points out that he couldn't have retrieved it if they hadn't worked as one, but the lesson is lost among the squabbling chiefs. The sword itself is never named.
  • 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. Later Double Subverted when the real Excalibur is also revealed to be in a stone, and Arthur draws it out, but then subverted again when this reveals it to be the sword that was broken, rather than the one Excalibur was supposed to replace. Because its other half is the Dark One's dagger. The Lady of the Lake is mentioned (revealed to be Lancelot's mother, just as in the original literature), but is never given any connection to the sword.

    Tabletop Games 
  • 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.

    Video Games 
  • 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.
  • Excalibur and Caliburn are separate createable swords in Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Echoes of Time. Excalibur is the superior of the two.
  • 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 reason is as follows: King Arthur receives Excalibur from Nimue, along with the scabbard. However, the scabbard causes King Arthur to become corrupt and power hungry, which in turn, corrupts Excalibur. This causes Excalibur to split into Caliburn, Arondight (Lancelot's sword), Galatine (Gawain's sword), Laevatein (Percival's sword), and Deathcalibur (Arthur's sword). Deathcalibur is little more than a large sword, however, due to it's corruption.
  • In Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, Excalibur is one of the weapons wielded by the legendary Zodiac Braves. Interestingly, the player never lays hands on the original - the one obtained through the relic questline is instead a painstakingly crafted replica.
  • Shadow Hearts: From The New World, there is a sword in a stone, but it a completely different sword named Zondeek. Amusingly, Frank, a guy who fights by slapping katana hilts into objects and using them, doesn't even bother trying to pull the sword out of the pedestal, and just slaps a hilt onto the sword's hilt and uses it as it is.
  • Heroine's Quest has the Flaming Sword Balmung stuck in a tree; this is the Nordic mythology equivalent of Excalibur stuck in the stone.
  • In the Lords of Magic Legends of Urak expansion, the Arthurian scenario (based heavily on Malory) gives the Sword in the Stone the name of Sequence and explicitly describes Excalibur as a different sword granted to Arthur by the Lady in the Lake.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Fate/stay night Caliburn was drawn from the stone and broken in battle, replaced by the fairy-forged Excalibur. Excalibur can function as a powerful Wave Motion Sword, while Caliburn can perform a similar if weaker attack, to the point where a projection of it, if wielded by Saber, can kill Berserker seven times in a single strike. That is only if it is wielded by Saber though. And that's just a replica.
    • Fate/Apocrypha includes Clarent as a separate sword which Mordred stole from Camelot's armory. It is capable of an attack similar to Excalibur but as a sword representing the rightful ruler it was weakened when stolen.
    • Just to round out the confusion Fate/EXTRA has Excalibur Galantine, a sword separate from, but related to, Arthur's Excalibur, wielded by Gawain. This reflects the fact that in some early versions of the legend, it was Gawain rather than Arthur who wielded Excalibur (or "Escalibor" as it was then called). And like the previous ones, can also unleash a Sword Beam.
  • 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 Tears to Tiara, which is a retelling of Arthurian legend with a lot of elements from the Literature/Mabinogion, the sword in the stone is neither Excalibur, nor any other proposed name for it. It is instead called Danwyn, and belonged to Arthur's ancestor, Pwyll the King of Elves. Appropriately enough, it is presumably a reference to Owain Danwyn, a Welsh Prince with a strong candidacy for being the "real life" King Arthur.

  • 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.
  • Parodied in Dragon Mango, where Cherry finds one in the lake, and Mango, one in a stone.
  • Averted in Homestuck, where the sword in the stone is specifically identified as Caledfwlch, 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.

Alternative Title(s): Excaliburn