The Encyclopedia of Arda - an interactive guide to the world of J.R.R. Tolkien
Dates
Apparently became extinct after the end of the Third Age1
Location
Originated in the southern lands of the Harad
Species
Evidently related to modern elephants
Meaning
Ultimately from Old High German olbenta, meaning 'camel'2
Other names

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About this entry:

  • Updated 19 June 2003
  • Updates planned: 2

Oliphaunts

The monstrous elephants of the Third Age

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"Oliphaunt am I,
Biggest of all,
Huge, old, and tall.
"
from Sam's rhyme of the oliphaunt
in The Two Towers IV 3, The Black Gate is Closed

A word for the southern monsters also known as Mûmakil, evidently gigantic cousins of the modern elephant. Oliphaunt is a real word from ancient English.


Notes

1

The last documented oliphaunts were seen in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields on 15 March III 3019. We have to assume that they died out some time after that battle, because (as far as we know) they no longer exist anywhere in the world.

2

It should be emphasised that this derivation from the Germanic word for camel is Tolkien's own theory, and is not supported by all etymologists. Others link the word to the Greek elephantos (meaning both 'ivory' and 'elephant'). While Tolkien acknowledged this connection, he thought olbenta to be a more likely direct ancestor of oliphaunt, which is just one of many variant spellings of the word going back into history. Tolkien's choice of this word was perhaps influenced by the character of Sir Olifaunt, a giant knight who appears in Chaucer's 'Sir Thopas' among the Canterbury Tales.

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