Massive & ferocious creatures from the Southlands
“There came great beasts, like moving houses in the red and fitful light,
the mûmakil of the Harad dragging through the lanes amid the fires huge towers and engines.”
LOTR; ROTK B4 C4
The Red Book of Westmarch states that Mûmakil, know as Oliphants in the Shire, lived in the jungles of Far Harad, far to the south of any known maps of Middle-earth, where the Haradrim called them Mûmakil. Massive, often ferocious beasts, their legs were like trees, their bodies were larger than a house, they had enormous sail-like ears, and they had a long snout like a huge serpent. Somehow the Haradrim tamed them and the result was possibly the most brutally effective beast of war that Middle-earth ever saw.
The Haradrim strapped massive, carriage-like tiered towers on the backs of these beasts, and from these towers Haradrim archers and spearmen hurled projectiles down upon their enemies. The mûmak itself, enraged and goaded by its cruel Haradrim masters, would charge through the enemy, trampling archer, swordsman and horse beneath its massive feet.
Killing a mûmak was almost impossible – its rough, leathery hide made arrows relatively harmless, and any bowman standing to take a shot would be an easy target for the archers on top of the mûmak. Horses had a natural fear of the Mûmakil so even the most skilled horsemen could not get close enough to strike at its great, trunk-like legs. The only known way to kill an oliphaunt was to shoot it in the eye, which typically meant standing in front of it as it charged the archer, and thus a very difficult task to perform.
Due to their habitation in the far south, oliphants were creatures of legend to the inhabitants of the Westlands. The Hobbits had an old poem about oliphants, which Samwise Gamgee recited to Gollum in Ithilien.
It is recorded in the Red Book of Westmarch that on March 7th in the year 3019 of the Third Age, that Faramir led the Rangers of Ithilien on an ambush against a contingent of Haradrim marching north. This battle was witnessed by Frodo Baggins and Sam, and they saw an Oliphant in full charge. The maddened animal had smashed its war-tower in its rush through the woods; unguided it trampled soldiers of both sides until it disappeared from view.
During the Siege of Gondor, beginning on March 14th, oliphants were used to drag war towers and engines to be used against the walls of Minas Tirith. On March 15th, in the subsequent Battle of the Pelennor Fields, oliphants were used as rallying points for the Haradrim after the Rohirrim had charged into the fray. Eventually all of the great beasts were killed as the forces of the West won the battle, but both Derufin and Duilin, the sons of Duinhir of Morthond were trampled in the process.
A new fear was upon them. They heard singing and hoarse shouting. At first it seemed a long way off, but it drew nearer: it was coming towards them. It leaped into all their minds that the Black Wings had spied them and had sent armed soldiers to seize them: no speed seemed too great for these terrible servants of Sauron. They crouched, listening. The voices and the clink of weapons and harness were very close. Frodo and Sam loosened their small swords in their sheaths. Flight was impossible.
Gollum rose slowly and crawled insect-like to the lip of the hollow. Very cautiously he raised himself inch by inch, until he could peer over it between two broken points of stone. He remained there without moving for some time, making no sound. Presently the voices began to recede again, and then they slowly faded away. Far off a horn blew on the ramparts of the Morannon. Then quietly Gollum drew back and slipped down into the hollow.
‘More Men going to Mordor,’ he said in a low voice. `Dark faces. We have not seen Men like these before, no, Sméagol has not. They are fierce. They have black eyes, and long black hair, and gold rings in their ears; yes, lots of beautiful gold. And some have red paint on their cheeks, and red cloaks; and their flags are red, and the tips of their spears; and they have round shields, yellow and black with big spikes. Not nice; very cruel wicked Men they look. Almost as bad as Orcs, and much bigger. Sméagol thinks they have come out of the South beyond the Great River’s end: they came up that road. They have passed on to the Black Gate; but more may follow. Always more people coming to Mordor. One day all the peoples will be inside.’
`Were there any oliphaunts?’ asked Sam, forgetting his fear in his eagerness for news of strange places.
`No, no oliphaunts. What are oliphaunts? ‘ said Gollum.
Sam stood up, putting his hands behind his back (as he always did when ‘speaking poetry’), and began:
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.
‘That,’ said Sam, when he had finished reciting, `that’s a rhyme we have in the Shire. Nonsense maybe, and maybe not. But we have our tales too, and news out of the South, you know. In the old days hobbits used to go on their travels now and again. Not that many ever came back, and not that all they said was believed: news from Bree, and not sure as Shiretalk, as the sayings go. But I’ve heard tales of the big folk down away in the Sunlands. Swertings we call ’em in our tales; and they ride on oliphaunts, ’tis said, when they fight. They put houses and towers on the oliphauntses backs and all, and the oliphaunts throw rocks and trees at one another. So when you said “Men out of the South, all in red and gold;” I said “were there any oliphaunts? ” For if there was, I was going to take a look, risk or no. But now I don’t suppose I’ll ever see an oliphaunt. Maybe there ain’t no such a beast.’ He sighed.
`No, no oliphaunts,’ said Gollum again. ‘Sméagol has not heard of them. He does not want to see them. He does not want them to be. Sméagol wants to go away from here and hide somewhere safer. Sméagol wants master to go. Nice master, won’t he come with Sméagol? ‘
From The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers in the chapter ‘The Black Gate is Closed’
In the Red Book of Westmarch it is written that Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee witnessed a battle between the Harad and the men of Gondor in the land of Ithilien.
‘Aye, curse the Southrons! ‘ said Damrod. ` ‘Tis said that there were dealings of old between Gondor and the kingdoms of the Harad in the Far South; though there was never friendship. In those days our bounds were away south beyond the mouths of Anduin, and Umbar, the nearest of their realms, acknowledged our sway. But that is long since. ‘Tis many lives of Men since any passed to or fro between us. Now of late we have learned that the Enemy has been among them, and they are gone over to Him, or back to Him-they were ever ready to His will-as have so many also in the East. I doubt not that the days of Gondor are numbered, and the walls of Minas Tirith are doomed, so great is His strength and malice.’
`But still we will not sit idle and let Him do all as He would,’ said Mablung. `These cursed Southrons come now marching up the ancient roads to swell the hosts of the Dark Tower. Yea, up the very roads that craft of Gondor made. And they go ever more heedlessly, we learn, thinking that the power of their new master is great enough, so that the mere shadow of His hills will protect them. We come to teach them another lesson. Great strength of them was reported to us some days ago, marching north. One of their regiments is due by our reckoning to pass by, some time ere noon-up on the road above, where it passes through the cloven way. The road may pass, but they shall not! Not while Faramir is Captain. He leads now in all perilous ventures. But his life is charmed, or fate spares him for some other end.’
Their talk died down into a listening silence. All seemed still and watchful. Sam, crouched by the edge of the fern-brake, peered out. With his keen hobbit-eyes he saw that many more Men were about. He could see them stealing up the slopes, singly or in long files, keeping always to the shade of grove or thicket, or crawling, hardly visible in their brown and green raiment, through grass and brake. All were hooded and masked, and had gauntlets on their hands, and were armed like Faramir and his companions. Before long they had all passed and vanished. The sun rose till it neared the South. The shadows shrank.
`I wonder where that dratted Gollum is? ‘ thought Sam, as he crawled back into deeper shade. `He stands a fair chance of being spitted for an Orc, or of being roasted by the Yellow Face. But I fancy he’ll look after himself.’ He lay down beside Frodo and began to doze.
He woke, thinking that he had heard horns blowing. He sat up. It was now high noon. The guards stood alert and tense in the shadow of the trees. Suddenly the horns rang out louder and beyond mistake from above, over the top of the slope. Sam thought that he heard cries and wild shouting also, but the sound was faint, as if it came out of some distant cave. Then presently the noise of fighting broke out near at hand, just above their hiding-place. He could hear plainly the ringing grate of steel on steel, the clang of sword on iron cap, the dull beat of blade on shield; men were yelling and screaming, and one clear loud voice was calling Gondor! Gondor!
`It sounds like a hundred blacksmiths all smithying together,’ said Sam to Frodo. ‘They’re as near as I want them now.’
But the noise grew closer. `They are coming!’ cried Damrod. `See! Some of the Southrons have broken from the trap and are flying from the road. There they go! Our men after them, and the Captain leading.’
Sam, eager to see more, went now and joined the guards. He scrambled a little way up into one of the larger of the bay-trees. For a moment he caught a glimpse of swarthy men in red running down the slope some way off with green-clad warriors leaping after them, hewing them down as they fled. Arrows were thick in the air. Then suddenly straight over the rim of their sheltering bank, a man fell, crashing through the slender trees, nearly on top of them. He came to rest in the fern a few feet away, face downward, green arrow-feathers sticking from his neck below a golden collar. His scarlet robes were tattered, his corslet of overlapping brazen plates was rent and hewn, his black plaits of hair braided with gold were drenched with blood. His brown hand still clutched the hilt of a broken sword.
It was Sam’s first view of a battle of Men against Men, and he did not like it much. He was glad that he could not see the dead face. He wondered what the man’s name was and where he came from; and if he was really evil of heart, or what lies or threats had led him on the long march from his home; and if he would not really rather have stayed there in peace-all in a flash of thought which was quickly driven from his mind. For just as Mablung stepped towards the fallen body, there was a new noise. Great crying and shouting. Amidst it Sam heard a shrill bellowing or trumpeting. And then a great thudding and bumping. like huge rams dinning on the ground.
‘Ware! Ware!’ cried Damrod to his companion. ‘May the Valar turn him aside! Mûmak! Mûmak!’
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. Fear and wonder, maybe, enlarged him in the hobbit’s eyes, but the Mûmak of Harad was indeed a beast of vast bulk, and the like of him does not walk now in Middle-earth; his kin that live still in latter days are but memories of his girth and majesty. On he came, straight towards the watchers, and then swerved aside in the nick of time, passing only a few yards away, rocking the ground beneath their feet: his great legs like trees, enormous sail-like ears spread out, long snout upraised like a huge serpent about to strike. his small red eyes raging. His upturned hornlike tusks were bound with bands of gold and dripped with blood. His trappings of scarlet and gold flapped about him in wild tatters. The ruins of what seemed a very war-tower lay upon his heaving back, smashed in his furious passage through the woods; and high upon his neck still desperately clung a tiny figure-the body of a mighty warrior, a giant among the Swertings.
On the great beast thundered, blundering in blind wrath through pool and thicket. Arrows skipped and snapped harmlessly about the triple hide of his flanks. Men of both sides fled before him, but many he overtook and crushed to the ground. Soon he was lost to view, still trumpeting and stamping far away. What became of him Sam never heard: whether he escaped to roam the wild for a time, until he perished far from his home or was trapped in some deep pit; or whether he raged on until he plunged in the Great River and was swallowed up.
Sam drew a deep breath. ‘An Oliphaunt it was!’ he said. `So there are Oliphaunts, and I have seen one. What a life! But no one at home will ever believe me. Well, if that’s over, I’ll have a bit of sleep.’
From The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers in the chapter ‘Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit’