Often, fantasy stories revolve around a magical item with powerful properties. It could be the only weapon in the land with the power to defeat the Dark Lord. It could be tied directly to the magical land itself, representing either balance or the prospect of chaos, depending on who interacts with it. But more often than not, great fantasy comes with fantastic objects as plot devices, as ancient and storied as they are powerful.
For this list, we’re looking exclusively at artifacts that come from stories in the High/Epic/Heroic Fantasy or Supernatural Adventure Fantasy genres. No artifacts from settings or shared universes that include space or science fiction. So no Infinity Gauntlet or Anakin’s Lightsaber or the like.
With that in mind here are the 15 Greatest Fantasy Artifacts of All Time!
15 FROSTMOURNE (WORLD OF WARCRAFT)
A notorious sword with terrible power. In the World of Warcraft games and world, the spirit of the orc shaman and warchief Ner’zhul was cursed and remade into the Lich King. The Lich King was entombed in a mound of throne-shaped ice from which he would telepathically command the Scourge in a campaign to conquer the realm of Azeroth.
Also thrusting from the Frozen Throne was the two-handed runeblade Frostmourne, which contained a portion of the Lich King’s spirit and power. The Lich King hoped that one day a warrior powerful and desperate or ambitious enough to take the sword would do so and become his embodied agent. He got his wish in the form of Prince Arthas Menethil. Desperate to save his homeland of Lordaeron, Arthas took Frostmourne. But through the Lich King’s influence, Arthas only brought death and destruction back to his homeland, converting much of his army and people into Scourge.
Frostmourne killed and absorbed many souls while Arthas wielded it. And what good would a cursed, soul sucking sword be without a foreboding inscription? "Whomsoever takes up this blade shall wield power eternal. Just as the blade rends flesh, so must power scar the spirit."
14 STING (THE HOBBIT)
This somewhat unassuming sword was discovered in a troll cave by Bilbo Baggins not long after he had set out with the company of Thorin Oakenshield. Elrond identifies the blades recovered from the cave as having been forged by the High Elves of the First Age. Only later, when Biblo fends off the spiders of Mirkwood, does he name the sword Sting.
It served Bilbo faithfully throughout his adventures. When the time came for his nephew Fordo Baggins to embark on his own perilous quest, Bilbo entrusted the short sword to him. Perhaps Sting’s most useful feature, apart from its function as a sword, was the ability for the blade to glow bright blue when evil denizens were close by. Frodo had to discard quite a lot of baggage on the Journey to Mordor but Sting was always kept close. Samwise Gamgee even got to wield Sting when Frodo had been captured by Shelob and the orcs of Cirith Ungol.
Sting didn’t start out as a legendary sword, even if it was ancient and forged by elves. But sometimes being the right sword for the job can earn it a place in history.
13 THE HOLY HAND GRENADE (MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL)
Nothing wrong with a levity counterpoint! In the classic Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch was the decisive divine weapon used by King Arthur and his knights to defeat the guardian of the Cave of Caerbannog. Arthur and his knights were quite skeptical of Tim the Enchanter's warnings of the danger supposedly posed by an ordinary looking white rabbit. But several decapitations and dismemberments later, they were forced to consider alternate options.
Like the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch. Bring forth the Holy Hand Grenade! The Book of Armaments describes precisely how to wield the Holy Hand Grenade to devastating effect. “And Saint Attila raised the hand grenade up on high, saying, 'O LORD, bless this Thy hand grenade that with it Thou mayest blow Thine enemies to tiny bits, in Thy mercy.'" Don’t forget to count to three before throwing it, not two, not four, three! Arthur throws it and the killer rabbit snuffs it.
The Holy Hand Grenade was actually a visual satire of the Sovereign’s Orb, one of the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom, which looks exactly like the Holy Hand Grenade. Perhaps not the most reverent of artifacts, but certainly one of the funniest!
12 THE MOONLIGHT GREATSWORD (FROMSOFTWARE GAMES)
Probably most famous as it appeared in the Dark Souls games, The Moonlight Greatsword is a legendary Dragon weapon with magical properties. In the world of Dark Souls, Seath the albino dragon betrayed his own kind because he happened to be born without the stone scales of immortality. So instead he set about achieving immortality with magical experiments in his crystal domain of the Duke’s Archives. There the player may encounter Seath the Scaleless and fight him.
In order for him to drop the Moonlight Greatsword in Dark Souls, the player specifically has to cut off the tip of Seath’s rear tail. No easy feat. But the sword makes for a powerful magic build weapon with high intelligence scaling and moonlight projectile magic attacks.
The Moonlight Greatsword has appeared in all of FromSoftware’s games, going back to the Sword of Moonlight in Demon’s Souls, and the Sword of Moonlight in the King’s Field series. It even appears in Bloodborne’s The Old Hunters DLC. A legendary sword for the determined adventurer in any reality.
11 THE DAGGER OF TIME (PRINCE OF PERSIA)
In Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, The Dagger of Time was one of the Artifacts of Time, believed to be created by Kaileena, the Empress of Time. For untold millennia, the powerful Sands of Time were contained in the magical Hourglass of Time on the Isle of Time. See the theme?
At some point in the past, the Maharaja of India looted the Artifacts of Time and brought them to his treasure vault. It was there that a young Persian Prince would eventually come upon the Dagger while his father’s treacherous Vizier would take the Hourglass. The Vizier tricked the Prince into releasing the Sands of Time upon the city of Azad, transforming all the city’s inhabitants into crazed sand-based monsters. Fortunately, with the help of the Maharaja’s daughter, the Prince used the dagger to recollect the Sands and ultimately reverse the curse.
The Dagger itself is versatile as a tool and a weapon. It lets the wielder slow down and reverse time, rectifying mistakes in platforming or combat and leaves enemies helplessly suspended in time while the wielder is unaffected. Sands of Time is still remembered as one of the best action adventure games of the Sixth Console Generation and still boasts one of the most unique artifact weapon mechanics in gaming.
10 THE SUBTLE KNIFE (HIS DARK MATERIALS)
In Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials Trilogy, Lyra Belacqua and Will Parry come to be the custodians of an intriguing and dangerous knife. Lyra had already begun to use the Alethiometer to learn secrets of the multiverse and the people she’d met, but the Subtle Knife’s power was on a whole different level.
The Knife had been forged by the philosophers of Cittágazze and each of the blades on its two sides were fearsome in their own way. One side bore an edge that could cut through any known matter effortlessly. At one point in the series Will Parry uses this edge against a prime piece of an armored bear’s suit, forged from the renowned sky iron. Nothing else in the series is ever shown to cut through sky iron like butter. But the other side of the Knife is even more powerful. Its edge is so small and so finely honed that it can cut through the fabric of space and open portals into other worlds.
These two abilities let Will and Lyra confront the unjust Authority and liberate countless trapped souls throughout the multiverse. The Subtle Knife is a singularly powerful artifact that could give its wielder profound freedom.
9 THE BLACK MATERIA (FINAL FANTASY)
In the Compilation of Final Fantasy VII, The Lifestream of Gaia can manifest in physical form and condense into crystal-like pieces called Materia. In the game, Cloud and his party members can use the different types of Materia to cast spells, summons and enhance their stats. But there is one particular Materia that drives the sinister plot of the villain Sephiroth.
The Black Materia is a unique and singular Materia supposedly sealed in the Temple of the Ancients. Sephiroth plans to take the Materia for his own and use it to summon Meteor, the Ultimate Destructive Magic. With Meteor hurtling toward the planet, the Lifestream would be forced to coalesce and Sephiroth would absorb the Lifestream, which would make him a god.
Keeping the Black Materia out of Sephiroth’s hands calls for deep sacrifices from Cloud and the party. Its dichotomous power with the White Materia and its apocalyptic threat made it a compelling plot artifact in Final Fantasy VII.
8 THE HOLY GRAIL (INDIANA JONES)
Indiana Jones was the codifier of modern archeological fantasy adventure. Even though Last Crusade was the third Indiana Jones movie, the central artifact of the film, the Holy Grail, took on a more personal significance for Indy and his father than previous ones.
Indy’s father Henry Jones Sr. had studied and search for the Holy Grail his whole academic life. His search was so all consuming that he didn’t spend much time being a father to Indy. Something he’s still resentful towards his father over when they reunite in WWII Germany to stop Nazi sympathizer Walter Donavan from acquiring the Grail.
With both parties having read the Jones Grail diary, it’s a race to reach the hidden temple where the Grail resides. Donavan shoots Jones Sr., forcing Indy to brave the booby traps protecting the Grail so he can retrieve it and heal his father. The climax of Last Crusade is such a satisfying moment of humility and reconciliation for Indiana Jones.
7 THE GENIE’S LAMP (ALADDIN)
Aladdin was just a street rat in the gleaming Arabian city of Agrabah when a chance encounter with the Princess Jasmine lands him in a palace cell. The scheming Grand Vizier Jafar disguises himself as an old man and frees Aladdin, then promises a great reward if he can retrieve a magic lamp from the Cave of Wonders.
Of course, such a cave would be chock full of mountains of jewels and golden treasure but forbid you from touching anything but the magic lamp. Aladdin finds the lamp but the monkey Abu’s reckless kleptomania gets them trapped and buried in the cave. They’re stuck until Aladdin rubs the lamp and coaxes out the wish granting Genie.
Besides the restrictions of no killing, no falling in love and no bringing back the dead, the three wishes are practically limitless in their potential. And not every Fantasy artifact comes with a Robin Williams-voiced Genie. In the end, Aladdin learns that some of the most worthwhile things can’t be acquired by magic or by acting just for oneself.
6 THE DEATHLY HALLOWS (HARRY POTTER)
To most of the characters of in the world of Harry Potter, the Deathly Hallows were nothing but fictitious items. In the wizard “fairytale” of the Three Brothers, Death bestows the Hallows as gifts. One to each of the three brothers that cheated him when they used magic to cross a treacherous river. Unfortunately the Hallows would ultimately let Death claim each brother. The all-powerful Elder Wand led one brother to be murdered in his sleep by another who coveted it. The Resurrection Stone drove the second brother to such grief that he killed himself to reunite with his dead loved ones. Only the third brother, with his cloak of invisibility, was able to pass his gift on to his descendants and reach a natural death.
In the seventh book, not only does Harry learn that the Deathly Hallows are real, but that they have been shaping the events of the series since the beginning. Dumbledore sought the Hallows himself in his foolhardy youth. Supposedly, anyone who could collect all 3 Hallows would become “Master of Death.” But by the end of the series, both Dumbledore and Harry learn the hard lesson that the pursuit of power for its own sake always has disastrous consequences. Accepting the inevitability of death and having the courage to do what’s right despite that prospect is a far greater and nobler power.
5 THE TRIFORCE (THE LEGEND OF ZELDA)
The Cosmic Capstone of Hyrule. In the beginning of the Legend of Zelda timeline, the three Golden Goddesses each created one of the sacred relics that would become the Triforce. Din created the Triforce of Power, Nayru created the Triforce of Wisdom and Farore created the Triforce of Courage. Residing in the sacred realm, the Triforce would maintain peace and balance in Hyrule so long as it was protected.
But of course, we know that the Triforce has been perpetually sought by Ganon. In some games Ganon himself is imbued with the Triforce of Power. In other games he seeks to capture the whole Triforce for himself, which legends say can grant its owner whatever they wish.
Fortunately for Hyrule, the Triforce of Courage also always anoints or inhabits a chosen warrior, destined to protect the land and vanquish evil. The hero often has the help of the bearer of the Triforce of Wisdom. These three artifacts have repeatedly shaped the destinies of some of the most memorable game characters in some of the most famous games of all time.
4 THE WARDROBE (THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA)
Probably the trope codifier for mystical worlds hidden behind closets or doorways. The titular wardrobe from The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe kept a portal to the allegorical fantasy world.
While staying at the estate of Digory Kirke, Lucy Pevensie discovered the Wardrobe while exploring the house. After stepping inside she found herself by the Lamp-post in the Lantern Waste, setting in motion the events that would bring all four Pevensie siblings to Narnia. There they would meet Aslan, the Great Lion God of Narnia, thwart the evil schemes of the White Witch and rule Narnia for 15 years during its Golden Age.
The origins of the Wardrobe are as much a play on Christian allegory as anything else in C. S. Lewis’s fiction. While Kirke was on his own youthful adventure in Narnia, Aslan permitted him to take an apple from a magical tree back to London, where the apple might heal his ailing mother. It did, and Kirke decided to plant the core in his own backyard which grew into a daughter tree of the one in Narnia. When the tree was eventually blown down in a storm, he had the remains remade into the Wardrobe. Proof that fond keepsakes can keep precious memories alive.
3 THE ARK OF THE COVENANT (INDIANA JONES)
The Holy Grail worked so well in the Last Crusade because it was set up from the beginning as a symbol of the unresolved issues between Indy and his Father Henry Sr. But for sheer awe-inspiring archeological appeal, it doesn’t beat out the Ark of the Covenant from the original Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Indy has to overcome tombs full of snakes, momentous ancient puzzles and plenty of Nazi goons to get to the Ark. He’s also racing against his professional rival Belloq, who seeks to sell the Ark to the Nazis for completely material gain.
He ultimately captured the Ark and Indy and Marion Ravenwood, bringing them all to a secret Nazi island near Crete. There they finally opened the Ark to witness its power. But instead of coming under his command, God’s wrath was unleashed on the Nazis. They were melted and incinerated as the power of the Ark swirled above the island in a terrible storm. Indy and Marion were spared because Indy knew not to risk looking at the Ark and inviting God’s wrath.
The Ark of the Covenant was proof that the world of Indiana Jones did indeed have supernatural forces and that you would mess with ancient artifacts at your own peril.
2 EXCALIBUR (THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING)
There is probably no sword more famous in all of Western Literature than Excalibur. The sword has always been a feature of Arthurian legend and through the numerous iterations of the story in Welsh, Irish, Latin, French and English traditions. The most well-known version of the tale today comes from T.H. White’s The Once and Future King which also directly inspired Disney’s The Sword in the Stone.
The origins of the sword have changed throughout the various versions. Sometimes the sword was originally forged on the Isle of Avalon. Sometimes the sword Excalibur is given to Arthur by the Lady of the Lake, and sometimes it was to found embedded hilt up in a stone, from which only the ordained King of Britain could retrieve it. In The Once and Future King Excalibur and the Sword in the Stone are one and the same.
As an enduring part of the Arthurian legend, Excalibur is still a powerful symbol of the responsibilities faced by those who happen upon great destinies.
1 THE ONE RING (THE LORD OF THE RINGS)
The One Ring to rule them all. Forged by the power-hungry Dark Lord Sauron in the volcanic fires of Mount Doom. In the backstory of Tolkien’s Middle Earth, Sauron tempted each of the major races with the knowledge to craft rings of power. But secretly, he forged the One Ring which would let him control all of the wearers of the lesser rings, thereby dominating all of Middle Earth. Sauron also imbued the Ring with his very own malice and drive for power.
We see throughout the films and the books how Sauron’s scheme for the Ring counts on the selfishness and weakness of mortals. The Ring radiates corrupting thoughts of wealth and power to all in its vicinity. Characters from hobbits to men to elves to wizards deal with the temping allure of the Ring. It’s extra devious in that the Ring has a will of its own to return to Sauron and that the only way any one could destroy it (if they could muster the will to) would be to take it back to the land of its master.
No other artifact in Fantasy is arguably more famous and no other artifact so profoundly drives the plot in such a direct and compelling way.
Were there any favorite fantasy artifacts of yours that we missed? Let us know in the comments!