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"How about a magic trick? I'm going to make this pencil disappear...TA-DA! It's... Ah, it's gone...."
"Can't tell. I'll have to write it down...."
River Tam, just prior to throat-stabbing

You know, they weren't joking when they said the pen was mightier than the sword. Or the pencil. Or the paintbrush. In the proper hands any writing tool can become a truly deadly weapon, and earns extra Badass points for the user at the same time - especially if used against an opponent with one of those piddling "real" weapons.

Typically, the writing tool will be used as a stabbing weapon, aimed for the head, throat, or chest. Occasionally it may be used as a throwing weapon. The pen or pencil may be used for more than just stabbing however; for example, an inkpen may be used to spray ink in the face of an attacker.

Paintbrushes being used to write spells and curses on opponents are common in eastern works; most popular depictions of this are derived from a Chinese folktale about a boy who could bring paintings to life when he signed them. An evil emperor would force the boy into drawing him vast riches and he would instead conjure a dragon or tsunami to kill the emperor, depending on the telling.

Bonus points if, after the pen is used, someone makes a snarky comment on the pen's superiority.

A subtrope of Improvised Weapon. May be used by an Improbable Weapon User or a Combat Pragmatist.

Easily confused with something Sean Connery has been searching all his life for.

Examples of The Pen Is Mightier include:


Advertising

  • Parodied in a Geico ad series which mocks Stock Phrases. In this particular sketch, "Is the pen mightier than the sword?", a ninja brandishes his sword. The camera changes to a guy signing for a package with a pen. He opens the package and removes a taser, which takes the ninja out instantly.

Anime & Manga

Comic Books

  • Bullseye in Daredevil used pencils, among many other things, as darts to kills people.
  • In one of the Halloween comics by Chaos, a young Michael Myers gouged out a fellow mental patient's eye with a crayon.
  • "Ink", a henchman in the Garth Ennis Punisher MAX series got his nickname because he killed a man with a pen.

 Larry: Stabbed him in the neck?

Cavella: Stabbed him in the eye. Just kept going 'til he hit brain.

Film

  • In the 1989 Batman, Joker declares that "The pen is truly mightier than the sword!" after he kills one of Grissom's allies by stabbing a really sharp ink quill into the man's throat.
  • During the tank battle of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indy's father uses his fountain pen to spray a German soldier in the face to blind him. Brody follows up by quoting the classic phrase.
  • In the climax of the film Red Eye, the heroine surprises the antagonist holding her captive with a well-aimed pen through the throat.
  • During the opening flashback detailing Danny Greene's life in Kill The Irishman, Danny's shown being stabbed in the hand by bullies, and keep in mind that he and said bullies are High School age at best.
  • In Friday the 13 th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, Final Girl Rennie manages to fend Jason off at one point by stabbing him in the eye with a pen.
  • In Grosse Pointe Blank Martin uses a fountain pen a high school friend gave him to finish off an assassin.
  • In the first of the Jason Bourne films, Bourne surprises a knife-wielding assassin with a pen to the hand, causing him to drop the knife.
  • A non-lethal version occurs in The Running Man when a Jerkass attorney gets Arnold Schwarzenegger to sign some documents before he's led off to certain death. There's no table so he tells Arnie to use his back. Arnie signs the documents, then puts in the full stop by stabbing the pen into the lawyer's back, causing him to run off screaming (with the pen still stuck in him) with Arnie commenting "Don't forget to send me a copy."
  • In Death Race, Lists stabs a thug in the back with his pen during a fight, providing the vital distraction that allows the hero to turn the tide of the fight.
  • Joe Pesci kills a man this way in Casino. Rather disgusting to watch.
  • The titular character in Psycho Cop Returns kills one of his victims with a pencil into the eye.
  • The protagonist of The Lost Empire (also known as The Monkey King) acquires a magical pen that can expand into a sword. The trope title is in fact referenced, though in practice the sword-form is mightier.
  • Played with in Goldeneye. Q whips up a bomb shaped like an ordinary ballpoint pen. Three clicks of the button arms it, three more disarms it.

 James Bond: Well, they said the pen is mightier than the sword.

Q: Thanks to me, they were right!

  • In Terminator 2, Sarah Connor taunts her shrink about having previously stabbed him in the knee with a pen.
  • In Holla If You Hear Me, a man is stabbed in the head with a pencil, while one of the killers gets a pen in the neck.
  • A character gets a crayon in the eye in The Children.

Literature

  • Discworld: Ankh-Morpork Patrician Olaf Quimby II had his reign ended when he was killed by a disgruntled poet during an experiment to test the truth of the saying "The pen is mightier than the sword". In his memory, it was amended to read: "The pen is mightier than the sword only if the sword is very small and the pen is very sharp."
    • In one book, a Running Gag is a vampire who keeps filing personal-injury complaints against his employers. Apparently he chose to work in places such as a holy water dispensary, a garlic farm, and a pencil factory.
  • Played with in Percy Jackson and The Olympians; the title character has a pen that turns into a sword.
  • Calligraphy brushes are commonly used as weapon in Wuxia genre by fighters who specialized in hitting Pressure Point, since all they have to do is hit at the right spot.
  • Maximum Security, the third book in the CHERUB series, has Lauren fighting off and seriously injuring an attacker with the first thing she could grab- a hotel biro.
  • The Stationery Voyagers are living pens, and one of them is at risk of turning into a nuclear bomb.

Live Action TV

  • The R. Tam Sessions. "I'll have to write it down."
  • In 24, Kim Bauer deals with a woman who is holding her hostage by stabbing her in the leg with a pen. Said woman is then shot by the police.
  • In the revived Battlestar Galactica, Felix Gaeta, asking Gaius Baltar about the path to Earth in the latter's prison cell, tries to kill Baltar with a pen, stabbing him in the neck, but missing the carotid artery. This leads to something of a Crowning Moment Of Funny on Baltar's part during his trial, when, after Felix perjures himself on the stand, Baltar says (or more accurately, screams), "The whole fleet knows this man tried to stab me through the neck -- and you missed! Butterfingers!"
    • This is played with later, when in the fourth-act scene after Gaeta stabs Baltar, he asks someone for a pen. It's believed that after the incident with Baltar, Gaeta has been forbidden to carry pens on his person.
    • Battlestar likes this trope. During The Mutiny Arc, Romo Lampkin stabs a marine with a pen. The first thing he does after that? He reclaims the sunglasses that the marine took from him and refers to the now-dead marine as his "pen-pal".
  • In Heroes, Sylar crucifies Isaac against his own painting of the future, using his own paintbrushes, before he kills him.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Buffy and Willow have used pencils to take out vampires.
  • Also in the spinoff Angel.

 Spike: I had a wee spat with a werewolf myself once. Fought for over an hour! Brutal. Vicious. I almost lost my—

Fred: Angel killed him with a pen.

  • In an episode of Burn Notice, Michael escapes a room full of bad guys using only a pencil. How? He holds it against the bad guys' leader's neck, and threatens to punture the guy's artery unless they let him go.
  • In The Lost Room, one of the Objects is a pen which can microwave people, which a small-time crime boss uses to enforce order.
  • Get Smart - Max sticks a sword-wielding KAOS agent with a pen carrying a paralysis drug, and says...well, you know...
  • Kamen Rider Fourze's eponymous Rider wields the Pen Module on his right leg. Enough said.
    • To elaborate, said Rider tries to use it, but instead writes the word Baka on a window. Then we find out that whatever is written with said pen becomes solid, making them very useful as shields or just even using the ink to clog petrification lasers.

New Media

Role Playing Games

  • A Hero System supplement magazine once gave instructions/stats for running "Hack Writing" as a (none-too-serious) Martial Art. It originated when an ancient messenger, facing execution for being the bearer of bad news, decided to take someone with him and used his stylus as a weapon. Organizations such as The Brotherhood of the Pen use specially-crafted writing implements designed for maximum damage. Special maneuvers include "Cut & Paste" ("The writer cuts his victim's legs out from under him and then pastes him one."); "Narrative Hook" ("The writer simply reaches out and grabs his target."); and "Writer's Block", a defensive measure. ("The first maneuver taught to hack writers. Some are so skilled with it that it's all they do.")

Professional Wrestling

  • Bobo Brazil and the Sheik would often attempt to cut each other open with pencils.

Stand Up Comedy

  • Eddie Izzard talks about an alleged Awesome but Impractical self-defence manoeuvre that involves pushing a pen between an assailant's middle and ring fingers and squeezing their fingers together.

Tabletop Games

  • After Deadlands: Hell on Earth was released, there was a push to make the Librarians from Smart Guys with no real role in combat into badass bookworms, including the development of entirely new arcana. One such supernatural ability, aptly named the Pen is Mightier than the Sword, turns writing implements into deadly weapons. At its highest level, a magical pen does almost as much damage as a Laser Blade, and is better at defense!

Video Games

  • Beryl Benito, Tales of Hearts, has to get extra credit. Her Empathic Weapon is a massive paintbrush, taller than she is, which is waved at the enemy, applied to their faces, drawn magic circles with, or simply used as a heavy bludgeoning instrument. In a skit, she even declares that "They say 'the brush is mightier than the sword'!"
    • Shirley from Tales of Legendia uses feather pens as her weapons of choice, but lacks any artes that actually make direct use of them.
  • Relm kills people with both her brush and her drawings.
  • In the sound novel of Turn of the Golden Witch, Rosa uses a sawed off rifle, a purse with a bar of gold inside and a fountain pen to fight off the goat butlers summoned by Beatrice.
  • In the second Manhunt game, Danny and Leo can both equip ballpoint pens, and make good use of them, using them in some of the most brutal stealth kills of all time, gouging out eyes and giving people new breathing holes.
  • Imaginary-Barry in Alan Wake: The Signal DLC quotes/lampshades this after Alan takes out a wave of Taken. Granted, words in typewriter-font are utilized throughout the game, but It Makes Sense in Context.
  • Ma Dai from Dynasty Warriors 7 uses a giant paintbrush as a weapon.
  • Nogiku from Sengoku Rance uses a pen in battle. Granted, that pen is about the same size of a spear...
  • In World 3 of Fancy Pants Adventures, Fancy Pants Man takes Brad Borne's pencil and uses it to collapse an otherwise Broken Bridge. It's surprisingly effective compared to the local ninjas and pirates, who use actual swords.

Web Comics

Western Animation

 Stan: Pen gun. Mightier than the sword. Sword gun. Mightier than the pen gun.

  • In the Metalocalypse episode 'Performance Klok', the band's therapist calls his old band to gloat about how he's in a new one... the scene changes to several cobweb-covered skeletons, one of which has his monogrammed pen sticking out of an eyesocket.
  • An episode The Simpsons had Homer try to stab a representative of PBS with a bank pen. The chain was too short.

Real Life

  • The Officeguns.com Super Maul can shoot pens through a soda can. It can be built from standard office supplies.
  • An Improvised Weapon technique taught to CIA agents during the Cold War involved a pencil jutting out from between the knuckles of a fist, rammed upward through the soft part of the jawbone into the brain.
  • Gaius Julius Caesar stabbed one of his assassins with his stylus (a pointy thing for writing on wax tablets) before dying.
  • It's no knife, but a fountain pen does have a blade-like writing tip. Get stabbed in a large vein or artery like the jugular and it can be deadly, no doubt. Not to mention the, uh, negative effects of ink on the body's cells.
  • Averting this trope is why patients in mental asylums are given chalk or crayons for writing and drawing, not pens or pencils, though many a teacher knows how a thrown chalk can hurt.
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