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Metallic Motifs

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"Robert was the true steel. Stannis is pure iron, black and hard and strong, yes, but brittle, the way iron gets. He'll break before he bends. And Renly, that one, he's copper, bright and shiny, pretty to look at but not worth all that much at the end of the day."
Donal Noye, A Clash of Kings

Stock symbolism attached to various metals and metallic alloys and applied to characters associated with them. Most common include:

  • Iron: strong, durable, but rough and unwieldy. Magical in older works.
  • Steelnote : like iron, but sharper and more dangerous (usually top-tier if no fictional metals are present); occasionally, undertones of technical knowledge
  • Gold: either king of metals (The Leader, Rank Scales with Asskicking optional), or fancy but completely useless
  • Silver: mystical metal, invariably badass; occasionally, "second best" (The Lancer), may rarely have connotations of treachery or blood money (as in "Thirty pieces of silver").
  • Bronzenote : durability, antiquity, old ways, classic art; at other times, "third-rate" (can be a Power Trio with the two above, if it's not replaced by Copper or Platinum)
  • Copper: utility, cheapness, deformability (can be a Power Trio with Gold and Silver)
  • Tin: toy-like, ineffective, utility
  • Brassnote : loudness, cheapness, antiquity
  • Mercury: speed, volatility, unpredictability, shapeshifting
  • Lead: slow, heavy, impenetrable
  • Platinum: like gold, but even more so (can be a Power Trio with Gold and Silver with it at the top, knocking Bronze out from the bottom); less associated with wealth, but more with purity, especially in a technical kind of way
  • Aluminum: modernity, high-tech, lightness; occasionally, cheapness
  • Chromium: modernity, high-tech, shine, cleanliness

May overlap with astrological motifs (mainly Western Zodiac), since each celestial body is associated with a metal in astrology (e.g. Sun with gold, Moon with silver, etc.).



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    Anime & Manga 
  • Sailor Moon's magic crystal was known as the Silver Crystal, and her kingdom was known as the Silver Millenium. Mamoru's magic crystal was known as the Golden Crystal. Both of these are in keeping with the associations given in the description, since Sailor Moon was the incarnation of an all-powerful goddess, and Mamoru was a king (and also somewhat useless when his powers were compared to hers).
  • In One Piece, we have the Pirate King Gol D. "Gold" Roger and his first mate Silvers Rayleigh, as well as a member of Roger Pirates called Scopper Gaban.
  • In the War Arc of Naruto, the Fourth Kazekage uses "Gold Dust," which reflects his beliefs and attitude in life. To be specific, he measured the "value" of things/people, including his own son Gaara, though those evaluations were never necessarily right. For example, he judged Gaara to be a failure. He was obviously wrong. Though he didn't realize it until he saw Gaara again after being revived by the Edo Tensei.
  • In Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba there's the blade, katana in particular; Zenitsu was motivated by his master Jigoro to be like a blade during its forging, to constantly be purified and focused on the one thing it matters: mastering yourself to eventually become unbreakable steel. Zenitsu’s development as a demon slayer goes exactly like the katana forging process; his Thunder Clap and Flash technique even has an added deeper meaning to its stronger forms, Zenitsu literally calls them “Folds”, not only he is folding the angles of his dashing but also “folding himself” like forgery processing, making him, the blade, a better molten steel. At the end, to hit the point home, Zentisu’s actual nichirin blade is the only one out of his companions Tanjiro and Inosuke that never breaks throughout the series.

    Comic Books 
  • The Metal Men consisted of The Leader Gold, The Big Guy Iron, the slow-witted Lead, the temperamental Mercury, the insecure Tin, and the vain (female) Platinum.
  • Superman is known as the Man Of Steel.
  • Doc Savage is "the man of Bronze," both for his strength and his bronzed skin. The Superman people "borrowed" it for their "man of Steel" sobriquet (as well as Savage's "Fortress of Solitude").
  • The Incredible Hulk: one member of the U-Foes, an evil version of the Fantastic Four, is Ironclad, the Thing equivalent.
  • There was an old Spider-Man villain-turned-somewhat hero called Molten Man who was colored gold but was not a nice guy. When he reformed, instead of turning into a full-fledged superhero as most Heel–Face Turn cases do, he mostly tried to lead a normal life after he gave up villainy.
  • The Silver Surfer is a cosmic herald, who can fly through space and draw on raw cosmic force to blast his enemies.
  • Iron Man wears Powered Armor, which is the source of his strength.

  • The T-1000 from Terminator 2: Judgment Day very much resembles mercury, and its shapeshifting properties are definitely thematic.

  • In the Arcia Chronicles, the Praetorian Guard of Tayana are split into the king's personal unit and the crown prince's unit. The former are associated with gold and mainly deployed to parades and celebrations. The latter are associated with silver and regularly carry out force recon and special operations.
  • In the Book of Daniel in The Bible, King Nebuchadnezzar has a dream of a giant statue with a golden head, silver chest and arms, bronze waist and thighs, iron legs, and feet made of iron and clay. Daniel interprets the dream as several kingdoms that will rise and fall, with Nebuchadnezzar's Babylon being the golden one.
  • Cradle Series: The world uses this for its Power Levels; by all indications, it's metaphorical rather than literal. Still, the motifs seem pretty universal. Sacred Valley uses badges of the appropriate materials to denote rank, and while badges are less common in the outside world, they still show up. In order: Foundation is wood, Copper is copper, Iron is iron, and Jade is jade. Gold seems to use gold, even though it is split between three distinct ranks (Lowgold, Highgold, and Truegold). The Lord realm uses a different metal for each rank: Underlords have half-silver, and Overlords have goldsteel. Sages have wintersteel, which can only be shaped by willpower, making it a perfect representation of a Sage. Heralds are implied to have the "deep, fiery metal" that Lindon never identifies. It's also never explained what the Archlord badge is supposed to be made of.
  • Both the "fanciness" and the "royalty" symbolism of gold are invoked by Moist Van Lipwig after picking up a golden suit in Going Postal to go with his golden postal worker's hat (in the next book to star him, he covers a top hat in gold glitter for the same effect on being put in charge of the bank). As a former Con Artist, standing out is pretty much how he succeeds. Made a plot point when it turns out an army of ancient golems will listen to him, because the gold suit is similar to what their handlers would have worn.
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire, the former blacksmith to the Baratheon family compares each of the 3 Baratheon brothers to different types of metal. Youngest brother Renly is copper, pretty and looks nice, but not worth much in a medieval society. Lawful Stupid middle brother Stannis is like iron; hard, inflexible, but brittle too. He'll break before he bends. Oldest brother Robert was the one that the blacksmith considered true steel, but 15 years trapped in a loveless marriage doing a job he hated ruined Robert's "true steel".
    • Iron (strength and simple practicality) and bronze (antiquity and tradition) are both strongly associated with the North. Of the initial settlers of the North, the Children of the Forest used stone tools and the First Men used bronze tools. The crown of the Stark kings is also made of iron and bronze.
    • Iron is also associated with... well, the Ironborn, due to their culture's emphasis on strength and brutality.
    • Both in- and out of universe, the Lannisters are associated with gold — they're very proud and ambitious. Justified, since their ancestral seat, Casterly Rock, is built over a gold mine, so they grew very rich as a result.
    • It is quite telling that the symbol of the current royal house (Baratheon) is the symbol stamped on silver coins, whereas gold coins are struck with a dragon mark, which is the symbol of the overthrown royal house Targaryen. The reason for this is that Orys Baratheon, the founder of House Baratheon was the right-hand man to Aegon I, who started the Targaryen dynasty.
  • In The Lord of the Rings, the Ent Treebeard says at one point that the wizard Saruman "has a mind of wheels and metal". This implies a cold, intellectual, sterile view of the world that has no place in it for the love of anything organic or growing. Considering the Green Aesops of LOTR, this is not a good thing to be in that series, and Saruman is dominated by Pride, Resentment and Jealousy, all of which cause his downfall.
  • Prince Nigel Haldane, Duke of Carthmoor in the Deryni novels is nicknamed "the Iron Duke". He's proven himself at combat from the age of twenty onwards, and he has gray eyes to boot.
  • The Steel General in Creatures of Light and Darkness is an ancient warrior from Old Earth who fights for the downtrodden, the underdog, and the rebel. As he's been wounded in battle, he's had parts replaced with steel, till all that remains of his original body is a ring of flesh he wears on his pinky.
  • The various Land of Oz books had a handful of metal-themed characters. The best known is Nick Chopper, the Tin Man, however there was also Tik-Tok the mechanical copper man, and an iron man who guarded the Nome King's palace.

    Live Action TV 

  • The origin of Led Zeppelin's name. To quote TOW: "One account of how the new band's name was chosen held that Moon and Entwistle had suggested that the supergroup with Page and Beck would go down like a "lead balloon", a British idiom for disastrous results. The group dropped the 'a' in lead at the suggestion of their manager, Peter Grant, so that those unfamiliar with the phrase would not pronounce it "leed". The word "balloon" was transformed into "zeppelin", perhaps an exaggeration of the humour, and to Page the name conjured the perfect combination of heavy and light, combustibility and grace."

  • As the title indicates, Silverball Mania depicts EVERYTHING covered in silver and chrome.

  • Rudyard Kipling's "Cold Iron".
    Gold is for the mistress, silver for the maid,
    Copper for the craftsman cunning at his trade.
    "Good!" said the Baron, sitting in his hall,
    But Iron - Cold Iron - is master of them all.

    Tabletop Games 

    Video Games 
  • The Brotherhood of Steel in the Fallout series. Steel symbolises their technical and military prowess, as well as dedication to their ideals.
  • The robotic Sonic in Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is referred to as "Silver Sonic".
    • Later supporting character Silver the Hedgehog fits the metal's mystical association, since he has telekinetic powers.
  • Skyrim patriots will mock the PC for wearing any other type of armor than steel or iron. Moonstone armor in particular is associated with the foreigner elves, who are very unpopular at the moment.
  • In Pathologic 2, the Town-on-Gorkhon was originally built around a copper mine, which provided useful and non-toxic metal for the Town's water pipes. One day the copper reserves just...disappeared- probably because Earth wanted to stop miners from digging into Her flesh- and were replaced with lead. Lead is highly poisonous, so the mining stopped after that, and the Town recentered itself on beef production. This was the time when the Town's leaders stopped respecting Earth's children, the indigenous "Kin", and began to exploit them as a captive, cheap workforce. In the Town's present era, vast iron trains roar across its landscape, importing bladed tools (like Artemy's scalpels) made of the same metal. In the local Abattoir, cattle are processed into meat, their bones and iron-rich blood discarded in the nearby river. Vast grey warehouses (of zinc, which a character insists "counts as iron") loom across the Town. As befits all this iron, this is the era when the Kin decide to rebel and wage war on the townsfolk.
  • Cyberpunk 2077 uses iron-chrome contrast in the in-universe slang: specifically, "iron" refers to any kind of firearms, from the most basic to the most high-tech, while "chrome" refers to cybernetic augmentations of all kinds. Accordingly, the former term is usually used in the context of solving your problems with brute force and good old-fashioned violence, while the latter mostly pops up in conjunction with high-tech augmentations and netrunning.

    Western Animation 

    Real Life 
  • The use of metal titles for "ages" of man: Stone Age, Iron Age, Bronze Age, reflecting the basic level of technology.
  • The use of the term "Golden Age" to mean "a period of great happiness, prosperity, and achievement." E.g. the Comic Book culture has adopted Golden Age as well as Silver Age, Bronze Age (and sometimes Copper Age for post-Bronze & Platinum Age for pre-Gold) to delineate the history of comic books.
  • Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington was nicknamed "the Iron Duke" for "his consistent political resolve" (as The Other Wiki says).
  • Prince Otto von Bismarck was known as "the Iron Chancellor", in part for his diplomacy of realpolitik and his powerful rule and in part for a famous speech he gave advocating strong military power in a unified Germany.