In J. R. R. Tolkien's fictional lands of
Middle-earth, a "mûmak" (plural "mûmakil") is a pachyderm of the southern land of Harad, similar to but much larger than today's elephant, and said to be its ancestor.
The terms "mûmak" and "mûmakil" were used by the Men of
Gondor. Hobbitfolklore called these creatures Oliphaunts.
The oliphaunt is described in "
The Two Towers", Book IV, Chapter 3. Samwise Gamgeeexpresses a desire to see one and tells of Hobbit-lore of them being "big as a house" (see poem below). Later, in Chapter 4, the creature is first called "mûmak" by Damrod, one of Faramir's Ithilienrangers. Sam then sees one as big as a "moving hill." Tolkien relates that Sam's "fear and wonder" may have enlarged the animal in his eyes. However, some reports say that they were almost 20 metres tall.
Employed as a beast of burden by the natives of Harad, the
Haradrim, the "mûmakil" were also used in battle during the wars of the Third Age. In the War of the Ring, they were used by troops in Ithilienand in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, much like war elephants of the real world. In battle, they carried tower-like structures (corresponding to the real world's howdahs), with Haradrim archers in them, on their backs.
These beasts had skin so thick, it was almost impenetrable—making them almost invulnerable to arrows. The only known way to kill one was to shoot it in the eye, doubtless a very difficult task to perform. Also, as with real elephants, horses unfamiliar to them refused to go near them, making them effective against enemy cavalry. Tolkien implies that the creatures became extinct and that its "kin that live still in latter days are but memories of his girth and majesty."
The word "oliphaunt" is a variant spelling of the archaic word "
oliphant" meaning "elephant", "ivory", "elephant-tusk", "musical horn made of an elephant tusk", or "a musical instrument resembling such a horn". It appears in Middle Englishas "olifant" or "olifaunt", and was borrowed from Medieval French "olifanz". The French word owes something to both Old High German"olbenta" "camel", and to Latin "elephantus" "elephant", a word of Greek origin. OHG "olbenta" is a word of old Germanic origin; cf. Gothic "ulbandus" also meaning "camel". But the form of the OHG and Gothic words suggests it is also a borrowing, perhaps indeed directly or indirectly from Greek "elephas" (ελεφας) literally "ivory", though apparently with some confusion as to the animal the word referred to. The word survives as the surname "Oliphant" found throughout the English speaking world (used by people such as the political cartoonist Pat Oliphant). The Clan Oliphantis an ancient Scottish family, originally of Norman origin. J. R. R. Tolkien was born in the South African city of Bloemfontein where the Afrikaansword for elephant is "olifant".
The most famous use of the oliphant is in
The Song of Roland"The oliphant is set to Roland's Lips;" Roland fails to call for help at the Battle of Roncevauxin 778until it is too late for him and his comrades. The oliphaunt is echoed in " The Lord of the Rings" by Boromir's horn and counterposed by Helm's horn and the horns of Buckland.
"Oliphaunt" is also the title of a short comic poem about the beast quoted by the hobbit
Samwise Gamgee, based on traditional bestiarylore from the Shire.
The "mûmakil" appear in
Rankin-Bass's animated version of "The Return of the King" as part of Mordor's attack force. They resemble woolly mammoths with evil red eyes and two large bumps on their heads like Asian elephants.
"Mûmakil" also appear in
Peter Jackson's "", where Faramir and his men ambush two of them along with the Haradrim.
In "", they play a key role in the
Battle of the Pelennor Fields, where the Rohirrim lose many men due to a direct charge against them (quite counter to real-life tactics, as noted above). However, they are ultimately defeated by the Army of the Dead. Legolasalso kills one beast all by himself, climbing up it and shooting it in the head piercing the brain stem, in fashion similar to the way he had previously dispatched a cave-troll in the tomb of Balin in the mines of Moria. Here they are interpreted as being much, much larger (50-100 feet or 15-30 metres tall) than today's elephants with two sets of large tusks, one set in the upper jaw with a further set of smaller tusks, and another in the lower (like in the extinct " Deinotherium") . The oliphaunts are also much much larger than intended by Tolkien since in the poem they are said to be "as big as a house"; in the movie they were much larger. The giant tusks hang close to ground level, and carry either spiked sleeves for hitting enemies, or house a broad barbed wiresuspended between them, used for simply grinding anything in front of the animal down. Also, their skin is cut by blades and pierced by arrows relatively easily, though their hides are so tough they seem to shrug off any pain. Legolasuses embedded arrows as handholds and footholds to climb up to one animal's back. Éowyncuts one down with a sword in each hand by cutting the hamstring of its back legs, doing the same to another with a thrown spear before she is dismounted, and her brother Éomerincapacitates two by killing one of the leader of the Haradrim riding on top with a well-aimed spear throw. The man topples down with the spear still embedded in him, and the apparatus used to steer the "mûmak" by pulling the ears is disrupted, causing it to turn to the side and knocking over the other.Peter Jackson mentions in the DVD commentary for the Extended Edition of "The Return of the King" that the scenes with the "mûmakil" are deliberately less violent and shorter than the original cut (i.e. Oliphaunts were originally going to be required to be shot in the eyes to be killed, but this was cut), because test audiences may have been reminded of the infamous abuse of circus elephants and given the creatures unintended sympathy. He also says that they specifically chose "not" to make the "mûmakil" trumpet with their trunks, as elephants are commonly imagined to, but to bellow a slowed-down and distorted lion's roar. This is, once again, to keep the audience from thinking of them as sympathetic creatures rather than evil monsters. As another part of this effort, many shots were added of "mûmakil" crushing Rohirrim soldiers, horse and all.In the commentary and making-of features in the Special Edition of the Return of the King, many of the cast and crew mistakenly use "mûmakil" to refer to a single animal (the correct is "mûmak").
Noting their huge proportions and role in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields as
shock troops, some have compared them to the Imperial AT-ATwalkers of " Star Wars", as "MAD" magazine has done by juxtaposing one of the latter with them in a parody.
In popular culture
*In the game, "", typing in the word 'oliphaunt' into the console will create larger elephant units.
*"Mumak" appear in the
roguelikecomputer roleplaying game " NetHack" as slow but powerful monsters.
*Mumak are a unit for the faction of Mordor in "Lord Of The Rings: Battle For Middle Earth 2", and are large powerful beasts.
* Tolkien, J. R. R. "The Lord of the Rings".
* Tolkien, J. R. R. "Oliphaunt".
1989, Contemporary Books/Calico, illus. Hank Hinton
* "The Song of Roland" (
Oxfordtext, 1972. Translated by Douglas David and Roy Owen. George Allen and Unwin, ISBN 0048410039)
* "Oxford English Dictionary" OUP
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