The Fifty Year Sword

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The Fifty Year Sword
AuthorMark Z. Danielewski
Original titleHet Vijftig Jaars Zwaard
Cover artistPeter van Sambeek
LanguageDutch, English
GenreShort stories
PublisherDe Bezige Bij
Publication date
Holland edition 31 October 2005 and US edition in October 2012
Media typePrint (Hardback)
ISBN90-234-1856-5 (orig. Dutch)
& ISBN 90-234-1877-8 (Eng. trans.)
Preceded byThe Whalestoe Letters 
Followed byOnly Revolutions 

The Fifty Year Sword is a novella written by Mark Z. Danielewski. Only 1,000 first edition English books were released. 51 of those copies are signed in marker with a "Z" (varying in color and number to coincide with the 5 colored quotation marks that signify different speakers in the text), while the first copy is signed "Mark Danielewski" in ink. A second English edition of 1,000 was released in October 2006. A trade edition—slightly revised—was published by Pantheon in October 2012.

Mark Danielewski

The Fifty Year Sword uses unusual formatting and colors throughout the book, much like Danielewski's previous work, House of Leaves. However, unlike House of Leaves which only contained three colors (blue, red, and purple), The Fifty Year Sword contains 5 colors which are used on quotation marks. The colors indicate which of 5 characters is speaking at the moment, according to the introduction of the book. Additionally, two other colors are present, each used once: one representing the voice of the author, the other a reference to another of Danielewski's novels, Only Revolutions.

Plot summary[edit]

The Fifty Year Sword is essentially a mature-audience ghost story, in the disguised form of a children's book. The events of the book take place at Belinda Kite's 50th birthday party in an orphan's foster home. The story is narrated by Chintana, a kind yet sullen seamstress who is struggling with the recent divorce from her husband over an affair he had with the birthday girl, Belinda Kite. A storyteller is invited by a social worker to entertain the orphans. He brings with him a long, black box. The storyteller entertains the orphans by explaining his adventures of obtaining the contents of the box: His Fifty Year Sword, a weapon that never fails to cut but shows no wound until the victim's 50th year of life. He recalls a suspenseful, epic journey through mystical rocky trails and soundless forests, bent on finding an otherworldly swordsmith to satisfy a dark, never explained personal grudge. He then opens the box, revealing a seemingly bladeless sword, and he waves it in the air at the candles. Just then, the mistress and Birthday Girl, who has barged in toward the end of the story, gets annoyed at the storyteller and tells the children the whole thing is a bunch of hogwash, and sets out to prove it. She takes the hilt of the sword, and slashes it around at herself in any and all places in order to disprove the man's story, much to the horror of the children and the bemusement of the shadowy storyteller. The suspense grabs the reader even more as the storyteller finishes and Chintana and the other guests go outside so the Birthday Girl can toast herself as her 50th year of life begins at the stroke of midnight.

As they take the toast, and the clock hits midnight, signaling the 50th year of Belinda Kite, Belinda falls to pieces, as she has sliced herself in all discernible locations. Chintana, in a fit of empathy, runs to Belinda and holds her as the different discernible entities of her human body fall off. Chintana, at this point, likens holding her together to a series of stitches and the pressures and cuts that can tear it apart. How does one know how much it will take before it tears?

Live performance[edit]

On Halloween 2010, Danielewski conducted two sold-out performances of The Fifty Year Sword at the REDCAT theater inside Walt Disney Concert Hall. The evening featured five voices and large-scale shadows by shadowcaster Christine Marie.[1] The following year, REDCAT announced the show's return on Halloween 2011.[2] The show was performed again at the REDCAT venue on October 31, 2012.[3]


  1. ^ Mark Z. Danielewski's Halloween Party. Los Angeles Times. 1 November 2010.
  2. ^ The Fifty Year Sword. REDCAT Website. August 2011.
  3. ^ Deborah Vankin (2012-10-27). "Mark Z. Danielewski: The writer as needle and thread". The Los Angeles Times.

External links[edit]