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Reviving the Art of Swashbuckling


The introduction of the Peter Pan Battle Sword to the competitive and trend-setting toy market might be the first move in reacquainting today's children with the forgotten art of swashbuckling.

It is a first-rate sword. For slaying dragons, rescuing maidens or any general acts of chivalry, one would be hard put to find a better sword. With its gold blade, made out of a finely honed piece of semi-hard plastic, and its brown handle, made out of an intricately carved piece of hard plastic, a young swashbuckler is prepared for any adventure.

Of course, swords have always been found on the shelves of toy stores, but this one is different, and not just because of the tie-in to the movie. This sword features a built-in bell, which when swung provides a clanging noise. It fosters the imagination of the swashbuckler. As he plays along gallantly swinging the sword, the clanging authenticates swordplay. The adventurer no longer has to be satisfied with the mere sound of a sword wisping through air or thumping against the living-room couch. With a good thrust, swing or chop, the sword lets out the simulated sound of two swords clashing.

Having failed to enter this selection on Santa's list by the mandatory Thanksgiving deadline, Paul, my nephew, was ecstatic when he unexpectantly found this gift under the Christmas tree. He spent hours chasing his uncles, attacking his grandparents and rescuing his younger brother, wielding the sword with the heroic purpose that only a 7-year-old knows. The present was a hit, and as I found out later after visiting others over the holidays, the Peter Pan Battle Sword was one of the most popular gifts of the season.

The other popular gift (not surprisingly another movie-related item) seemed to be the Nerf Bow and Arrow. This armament, both safe, with cushioned arrows, and well-constructed, with a hard durable bow, allows the child to become one of Robin Hood's Merry Men, so he may go out and fight for the oppressed and for a redistribution of wealth.

Paul, having received this gift on his recent birthday, had already become a proficient bowman by Christmas. So, as I approached the entrance to my sister's home, I was immediately ambushed by the young defender of the people, who had mistaken me for one of the King's men. I protested such an accusation, as I deflected one of the arrows with the round of my stomach, but he wouldn't hear it.

Paul stood blocking the entrance with an arrow drawn and aimed, telling me to hand over all my gold. Having been subjected to many an instance of the cunning of his uncles, grandfather and father, Paul would not let the matter be easily dismissed. I had my checkbook, but he wouldn't take a check. He wanted hard money. I forked over 87 cents, and after he patted me down, I was allowed to pass through Sherwood Forest and enter the house.

Later, I picked up the bow and arrow from the floor and started to practice my shooting. Paul came along and said he would be the Sheriff of Nottingham and I could be Little John. I quickly loosed an arrow, but missed. (The sights must have been off.) I nocked another arrow and was off, chasing the Sheriff of Nottingham, prepared to take from the rich and give to the poor.

This toy trend seems to be particularly male-oriented, but the movie industry could easily correct it. Penny Marshall could make a quasi-cartoon (a la Dick Tracy) movie version of Barbie with Madonna in the title role and Warren Beatty as Ken. Or Jodie Foster could be a revisionist Wizard of Oz. She could play Dorothy, now a thirtysomething divorced mother, who must return to Oz and bring her teen-age daughter back home to Kansas.

But whatever happens in the future, it is refreshing to see children playing again with swords and bows and arrows. Robin Hood and Peter Pan are classics. They're heroes from adolescent literature that as children most of us found inspiring and as adults we remember fondly. Maybe the trend will continue. Maybe the end is near for the Teen-age Mutant Ninja Turtle Pizza Throwers and the New Kids on the Block bubble-gum cards.

Mario T. Rossilli is a Baltimore free-lance writer.

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