Following up on the last post on Swords, I thought it might be helpful to provide a complementary guide on bows. Now, again, this is a simplification of a very complex subject, so this information is best used for aspiring writers who just need a quick fact-check or a source of inspiration.
Now then, to business. I’ll begin, as I did with the Swords post, by outlining a few of the various types of bows.
1. Training Bow
--This light bow is easy to draw and is thus ideal for training beginning archers. The bowstring can be tightened or loosened according to the level of ability. Because it’s so light and simple, it’s not intended as a fighting weapon; it could perhaps be used for hunting, but is mostly suited to target practice.
-- If your characters are in training (either as archers or rangers or other military/protection forces), than the training bow will be a good bet to start them off. Be sure to graduate them to an actual bow, though, after their muscles develop!
--The longbow is quite tall (roughly the height of the person who uses it) and fairly slender. It’s widest at the handle, where the archer grasps it. Historically, this bow came from the English Longbow used during the middle ages and made particularly famous by Robin Hood and by the success of various battles in the Hundred Years’ War. It is quite a strong bow with a large shooting range, so it functions well for both hunting and warfare.
--Among bows, the longbow is generally lighter, quicker to prepare for shooting, and quieter. Additionally, it is fairly simple in construction, so skilled carpenters (like Medieval bowyers) could construct the longbow in just a few hours. The longbow can be made from various woods, with yew being preferable and mulberry, elm, oak, ash, hazel, and maple being acceptable substitutes. Because of the simplicity of a longbow, it is ideal for a fantasy culture where there are large military forces of archers who must be armed quickly or where bows do not play a primary role in the action.
3. Recurve Bow
-- True to its name, the recurve bow has tips that curve away from the archer when the bow is strung. Because of its shape, the recurve bow stores and delivers energy more efficiently than a strait bow (e.g. a longbow), which gives the arrows greater speed. At the same time, the recurve bow is often a good deal shorter than a longbow, which makes it lighter and easier to transport. A version of this bow, the Mongolian bow, was the weapon of choice for the Mongol Horde during the Middle Ages, a force that conquered most of Europe and Asia.
-- Because of its practicality and range, the recurve bow is favored by mounted horsemen (like the Mongols). However, since it’s so intricate, it’s also much more difficult to make. Thus, the recurve bow would work best with a culture that hunts or wages war primarily on horseback and has a long history of skilled craftsmen.
-- A crossbow is a special kind of bow where the arrow is attached to a simple machine that holds it in a ready-to-fire position until the “trigger” is releases it. Crossbow construction ranges from a simple wooden mechanism to a much more complex weapon incorporating several pieces of metal. Typically, crossbows are made of a composite of wood, horn, and sinew that make them much stronger and more efficient.
-- You may think that, because a crossbow is a “simple machine,” that you can’t use it in your fantasy story. The earliest known crossbows, however, date back to 5th century B.C., during the time of the Ancient Greeks. Ancient Chinese also utilized this weapon. If the ancients were smart enough to discover this weapon, why not your fantasy cultures?
-- A longbow has a faster shooting rate and are more accurate, but crossbows release more kinetic energy (thus have greater speed and can penetrate harder surfaces, even armor). Additionally, crossbows can be used after a single week of training, while longbows may take years to build up the strength to draw and use it. It’s up to you to decide whether or how to include the crossbow in your fantasy!
Included is a picture of the components of a recurve bow. Generally, the parts labeled in that illustration may be applied to other bows, as well; I’ve found them useful myself when detailing the specific actions of an archer.
If you are writing extensively about bows, archery, or any function thereof, get a good reference book from the library and be sure to do your research. After all, nobody wants to write a climactic battle scene in which the fate of the world hangs in the balance of one misshot inaccurate badly-made arrow!