I wrote a paper on archery last school year, and I was going to post it on here, and somehow it never happened all summer. So. . . here we are now. My apologies to everyone who has been waiting to read this.
“So long as the new moon returns in heaven a bent, beautiful bow, so long will the fascination of archery keep hold of the hearts of men” (Thompson, 5).
The bow is a fascinating weapon, and it has been used since the days of ancient Egypt. Today, firearms have taken its place in warfare, but archery is still practiced as an intriguing sport, and a powerful method of hunting. It is the oldest sport still practiced. The Scorton Silver Arrow Contest, begun in Yorkshire, England in 1673 (Haywood, x) is still held today—and still for only male archers over twenty-one (Studelska, 35). It is the oldest recorded sporting event (Studelska, 35). In this paper, I will explore different types of archery practiced today, discuss the history of archery, and give some examples of archery in literature.
There are three types of bow that are most often used today: the longbow, the recurve bow, and the compound bow (Habeishi, 8). The longbow has the simplest design. It is simply a string, strung across a curved stick, with a grip in the middle. (Habeishi, 10). The recurve bow is slightly more complicated. It bends back away from the archer at the tips of the limbs (Habeishi, 11). The handle in the middle of the bow is called a “grip”, and the parts of the bow above and below it are called “limbs” (Habeishi, 9). Most recurve bows are made with a window above the grip (called a “sight window”) for the archer to look through (Habeishi, 11).
The recurve bow and the longbow are stored unstring—or, with the string unattached from the tip of the upper limb. Bows bend forward (away from the archer) when unstring, and must be bent backwards to be strung again. Some recurve bows bend back so far when unstrung that the tips of the limbs almost touch each other (Habeishi, 11)! An archer can bend the bow between their legs to string it, but using a stringer is easier, and has less chance of damaging the bow. A stringer is simply a string that is looped onto either tip of the bow. The archer stands on the stringer, and then can pull up on the bow to bend it with one hand and pull the bow-string into place with the other.
The recurve bow has been used for thousands of years, and the very design of the longbow has hardly changed since its creation sometime from 9000 to 6000 B.C. (Habeishi, 10). The compound bow, however, was only invented in 1966. It is the newest bow and possibly the easiest to use, but with the most complicated design. The compound bow has a pulley called a “cam” on the tip of both arms. A cam consists of two pulleys, one larger than the other. Turning the larger pulley is harder than turning the smaller one. This makes a compound bow easier to hold drawn than to pull back (Habeishi, 13). Compound bows were used only for hunting at first, but later used for recreation (Habeishi, 13). Most hunters, however, still use compound bows (Haywood, xiii).
The recurve bow is sometimes called the “Olympic bow” as recurves are the most popular bows in the Olympics (Habeishi, 10). Hercules, the legendary founder of the Olympics, was an archer himself; and there may have been archery at the first Olympic games. There is no record of archery, however, being practiced at ancient Olympics between 776 B.C. and A.D. 393 (Studelska, 36). Archery appeared in the modern Olympics in 1900. It was also a part of the Olympics in 1904, 1908, and 1920; but it was eliminated after 1920, as there were no standard, international rules, making the sport frustrating and confusing (Studelska, 36). It was not practiced at the Olympics again for fifty-two years (Habeishi, 3). In 1931, seven countries came together and founded The Fédération Internationale de Tir á l’Arc (Klein, 24), or Federation of International Target Archery (FITA). FITA made rules for competitive archery, and archers appeared in the Olympics again in 1972 (Habeishi, 3). In 1992, Antonio Rebollo ignited the Olympic torch with a flaming arrow at the Olympics in Barcelona (Studelska, 43).
At the 1908 Olympics in London, Sybil Newall from Great Britain won a gold medal for archery. At fifty-three, she was the oldest woman to win a gold medal at the Olympics.
The great archers of England have been given much attention, but archery originated elsewhere, and was brought to the island by invaders. Some believe archery originally started somewhere in Asia (Laubin, 1). Wherever it had its origins, it had spread all over the globe by the time Christ was born. Australia is the only place in the world where there is no sign of archery having been used in the past (Laubin, 1).
The ancient Egyptians used archery to defend themselves, shooting bows almost as tall as men (Habeishi, 2). They made arrowheads from flint and bronze (Habeishi, 2), and it is believed that the king of Egypt used golden arrows (Studelska, 6). The Assyrians, however, began using recurve bows, that were smaller and lighter than the Egyptian bows, but stronger (Habeishi, 2). They also made them from more than one material, combining horn, leather, and wood (Haywood, ix). This type of bow is called a composite bow. They gave the Assyrians mastery in battle, and the Middle East had an advantage in archery for hundreds of years (Habeishi, 2). In 1200 B.C., the Hittites mastered shooting arrows from moving chariots (Habeishi, 2).
Roman archery was long considered inferior to that of the rest of the world, but in A.D. 500 they began drawing back their bows to their eye-level, instead of chest-level. This improved their accuracy (Habeishi, 2).
In Japan, the Samurai shot seven-foot-tall bows called yumi. These were made mostly from bamboo, and the grip was further down on the bow than usual. Exactly why this style was used is unknown, but it may have been to make shooting while kneeling or riding on horseback easier (Haywood, x).
The English adopted the use of recurve bows after invaders brought them to the island. They were used for hunting, or simply as a sport, but later in war as well, when fighting against cavalries (Habeishi, 2). At the Battle of Hastings in 1066, the invading Normans conquered using longbows. The use of longbows was adopted by the English after the invasion (Habeishi, 2). The practice of archery was encouraged by William the Conqueror, as it strengthened the nation (Thompson, 1). Later, the English royalty banned all sports except archery from 1327-1377—and in 1363 men were required to practice archery on Sundays and holidays (Studelska, 7).
After the invention of firearms, archery was used less and less in war, but still enjoyed as a pass-time. King Henry VIII encouraged the introduction of archery as a competitive sport (Habeishi, 3).
When the English began colonizing America, they adopted some of the Native American’s style of archery. The Indians were amazing archers, and often won battles against Europeans armed with guns (Habeishi, 3). Reginald Laubin told a story in his book American Indian Archery about asking an old Indian chief he knew to try shooting his bow. The Indian took the bow he had never shot before, and—on the second try with six arrows—landed all half a dozen in the target. When asked how long it had been since he had last shot a bow, he said it had been over “sixty winters” (Laubin, 5)! But the Indians were fascinated with firearms, and some of them gave up archery altogether as early 1727 (Laubin, 3).
After the Civil War, the Union refused Confederate veterans the use of guns, and many of them began using archery to hunt, and to amuse themselves (Habeishi, 3). Maurice Thompson, a former Confederate soldier, wrote a book about the use of longbows, called The Witchery of Archery. It chronicles his adventures in the wilderness of Florida with his longbow, his younger brother Will, their African American servant named Caesar, and perhaps some other acquaintances who loved the outdoors. The Witchery of Archery helped increase the popularity of the sport. The first national tournament was held in 1879, and Will Thompson was the champion of this first tournament—and of five others. Reading Maurice Thompson’s book has led me to believe Will to be the superior archer of the brothers—perhaps because he was more focused and less enthralled with sitting still and watching nature go on quietly around him!
Archery has played an important role in history, and is also found in all kinds of literature. The Bible mentions it quite a few times. It is referenced in Isaiah, Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Ephesians, and many other books. Isaiah 49 verses 2 and 3 says: “He made my mouth like a sharpened sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me into a polished arrow and concealed me in his quiver. He said to me, ‘You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendor’” (Holy Bible, 712). There are many other verses that liken people to arrows, often in the hand of God. Psalm 127 paints a slightly different picture, saying children are “like arrows in the hands of a warrior” (Holy Bible, 605), and the man with a full quiver is blessed (Holy Bible, 605). In Genesis 26 it tells how Esau was a hunter, “a man of the open country” (Holy Bible, 24), and in chapter 27 his father Isaac asks him to go hunting, and tells him to take his bow and his quiver (Holy Bible, 27). 2 Kings 13:10-20 tells of the death of Elisha the prophet. The current king of Israel, Jehoash, comes to him before he dies. Elisha tells him to shoot an arrow out the window, and uses it as a object lesson to show Jehoash how God will destroy Aram, Israel’s enemy (Holy Bible, 370). The beginning of 1 Chronicles chapter 12 gives a record of the men who joined David to fight with him. In verse 2 it says that they could all shoot arrows with both their right and their left hands (Holy Bible, 402). And in 1 Samuel 20 we find the famous story of David and Jonathan: David was uncertain if Jonathan’s father, Saul, was angry with him or not, and Jonathan promises to find out. He tells David to hide in the field where he will do target practice. If he tells the boy who is running for his arrows “Look, the arrows are beyond you,” then Saul is angry and David must go and hide from him (Holy Bible, 282).
Archery is also mentioned in many, many fictional stories, and it is found in some of the world’s oldest literature, including Homer’s famous poem, The Odyssey.
Everyone has heard tales of Robin Hood, and he is perhaps the most famous archer in literature. Quite apart from having a plethora of books written about him, he has made an appearance as a supporting role in many other stories. This legendary hero is mentioned in Sir Walter Scott’s novel, Ivanhoe. He is described at the tournament of Ashby-de-la-Zouche as being dressed in green and carrying a six-foot longbow and twelve arrows (Scott, 59). He takes part in an archery contest and is said to hit the inner ring of the target without pausing to look it over or aim, giving his opponent some cheerful advice practically while he shot (Scott, 115). He then preceded to split the other archer’s arrow in the next round, and then bring in a stick “rather thicker than a man’s thumb” (Scott, 116) to be the next target. He split it with his arrow, though his antagonist refused to shoot at a mark he knew he would miss (Scott, 116).
Archery is also mentioned in C.S. Lewis’ famous The Chronicles of Narnia. Most of the seven books make at least a brief mention of archery. In the second book of the series, four children end up on an accidental visit to a magical world called Narnia, where they meet Father Christmas. He gives three of them Christmas gifts. One of the girls, Susan, is given a bow and arrows; and Father Christmas tells her “it does not easily miss” (Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, 108). In the fourth book, Prince Caspian, the four of them go on their second visit to Narnia, and find their gifts where they left them. Susan’s bowstring, by some magic, was still in working order. Mr. Lewis wrote that she gave it one small pluck, and that that soft sound brought back all their memories of their first trip to Narnia (Lewis, Prince Caspian, 29). But archery may be mentioned the most in the last book, The Last Battle. This book is about two other children visiting Narnia, Eustace and Jill. They helped the king of Narnia fight against an invading army. Jill did not know how to use a sword, and she therefore carried a bow, having practiced in the real world since her last visit to Narnia. “’If you must weep, sweetheart’ (this was to Jill), ‘turn your face aside and see you wet not your bow-string” (Lewis, The Last Battle, 139).
But if I hear the word “archery”, the first thing that comes to mind is The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. Archery plays an important role in both stories. The Hobbit is about thirteen dwarves who are trying to win back their gold from a dragon. The dragon is finally killed at the end of the story by a man named Bard, with a special black arrow. Before he shoots it, Bard tells his last arrow, “Black arrow! I have saved you to the last. You have never failed me and always I have recovered you. I had you from my father and he from of old” (Tolkien, The Hobbit, 212). Bard and several other men are described as using bows of yew (Tolkien, The Hobbit, 211 and 99) and a dwarf is said to use a bow made from horn (Tolkien, The Hobbit, 224).
In The Lord of the Rings, one of the main characters was an elf, named Legolas. He used his bow often during the books, and the only other weapon he carried was a knife (Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring, 314). When the nine main characters visit the elvish queen of a magical forest, she gives them all gifts. Legolas’ gift is a quiver of arrows and a bow “longer and stouter” (Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring, 421) than his first, and “strung with a string of elf-hair” (Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring, 421).
Granted, stringing a bow with hair would most likely not work so well, and saving an arrow for generations is probably next to impossible. They are, after all, fairy-tales. Also, in The Witchery of Archery, Maurice Thompson tells a story about a Native American who named a favorite arrow of his floo-hoo “on account of a peculiar roaring sound it made while flying through the air” (Thompson, 117). One would guess that an arrow with a name of its own has been kept for a while, though maybe not for generations.
At the time of the Norman conquest, archers would bring only a few arrows into battle and pick up their enemies’ and shoot them back (Haywood, x). In The Lord of the Rings, Legolas is said to go looking for arrows around the battle fields several times, in a similar way (Tolkien, The Two Towers, 405 and 526). Mr. Tolkien never specified how many he carried in his quiver. In 2001 when the motion picture of The Lord of the Rings was released, watching Legolas’ feats inspired many people to try archery for themselves (Studelska, 43).
As you can see, archery is still practiced today in a number of styles, it has played an important role in history, and many authors have included it in their books. Guns are now used in many places that bows where in the past, and they may save lives which archery could not. I do not think that guns are bad. But as long as “the new moon returns in heaven” I know the fascination of archery will keep a strong hold on my heart.
Habeishi, Beth L. and Stephen Mallory. Basic Essentials of Archery. Guilford and Helena: The Globe Pesquot Press, 2004.
Haywood, Kathleen and Catherine Lewis. Archery: Steps to Success, third edition. Champaign: Human Kinetics, 2006.
Holy Bible. New International Version. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988. Print.
Homer. The Odyssey, trans. Richmond Lattimore. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1967.
Klein, Adam G. Outdoor Adventure! Archery. Edina: ABDO Publishing Company, 2008.
Laubin, Reginald and Gladys Laubin. American Indian Archery. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1980.
Lewis, C.S. Prince Caspian. New York: Scholastic Inc., 1995.
Lewis, C.S. The Last Battle. New York: Scholastic Inc., 1995.
Lewis, C.S. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. New York: Scholastic Inc., 1995.
Scott, Walter, Sir. Ivanhoe. Mineola: Dover Publications, Inc., 2004.
Studelska, Jana Voelke. Archery for Fun. Minneapolis: Compass Point Books, 2008.
Thompson, Maurice. The Witchery of Archery. New York: Incandescence Press, 2016.
Tolkien, J.R.R. The Fellowship of the Ring. New York: Del Rey Market, 2012.
Tolkien, J.R.R. The Hobbit. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997.
Tolkien, J.R.R. The Two Towers. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994.