Adventure, Alps, ATAT, Elephants, Greeks, Hannibal, Hoth, Mammoth, Mumak of Harad, Napoleon, Oliphaunt, Peter Jackson, Pyrrhus of Epirus, Romans, Sam Gamgee, Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien, war
Grey as a mouse,
Big as a house,
Nose like a snake,
I make the earth shake,
As I tramp through the grass;
Trees crack as I pass.
With horns in my mouth
I walk in the South,
Flapping big ears.
Beyond count of years
I stump round and round,
Never lie on the ground,
Not even to die.
Oliphaunt am I,
Biggest of all,
Huge, old, and tall.
If ever you’d met me
You wouldn’t forget me.
If you never do,
You won’t think I’m true;
But old Oliphaunt am I,
And I never lie.
(“The Black Gate is Closed”, LOTR 646)
Welcome, as always.
Sam dearly wants to see an oliphaunt– and he will get his chance. Were he able to see the third part of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings, he would see many more than one.
Sam does see one, however:
To his astonishment and terror, and lasting delight, Sam saw a vast shape crash out of the trees and come careering down the slope. Big as a house, much bigger than a house, it looked to him, a grey-clad moving hill” (“Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit”, LOTR 661).
Here’s how the film shows two of them:
These are, of course, based upon real war elephants.
The west– our west– first saw such elephants in the 280s BC, in the army which Pyrrhus of Epirus brought from Greece to fight the Romans.
Such elephants were thought to be useful against great blocks of infantry.
They could be used like tanks to knock holes in the formations.
To most people, the most familiar images, however, would be from Hannibal’s invasion of Italy in 218 BC.
And, most famous of all, is his taking of the elephants across the Alps.
In fact, this did not end well for the elephants. Ancient accounts suggest that out of forty elephants, only one survived.
Crossing the Alps reminded us of Napoleon doing this in 1800. Here’s the heroic version:
And this is what really happened (a little like Hannibal’s elephants):
JRRT says of the oliphaunt Sam saw that “…the Mûmak of Harad was indeed a beast of vast bulk, and the like of him does not walk now in Middle-earth” (“Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit”, LOTR 661).
It’s unclear what he means by this, except perhaps that an oliphaunt was more like a mammoth
Even so, we can only contrast an ancient war elephant (reconstructed)
with those in the film
and which reminded us strongly of ATATs from the assault upon Hoth,
and think how disappointed Sam would be in what he would see in our world versus his!
Thanks, as always, for reading!