The Oliphaunt

Oliphaunt by Inger Edelfeldt

One of my favourite passages from the Lord of the Rings is this sympathetic description of a slain Southron warrior flung from the ‘Oliphaunt’.

‘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 wondered what the man’s name was and where he had come from; and if he really was evil of heart, or what lies or threats had led him on the long march from home; and if he would not really rather have stayed there in peace’

‘The Two Towers’

I think Sam’s views are very much those of the author and reflect the humane vision which permeates the work and makes it an enduring classic of Fantastic Fiction.


9 thoughts on “The Oliphaunt

  1. In The Silmarillion Tolkien did occasionally make the odd implication that all Easterlings and Men not of the West were evil, but I think what he meant was more that since they were farther from the Light of Valinor, Morgoth could corrupt them easier. This passage is an important one that I’d forgotten — Sam’s empathy causes us to see this Southron in a different light. He’s no orc, he is a Man, and thus of the second race of the Children of Illuvatar.

    Thanks for sharing this and reminding me!

  2. Reblogged this on The Warden's Walk and commented:
    Usually we think of the other men in Middle Earth — the Haradrim, the Easterlings, the Southrons, the Wild Men — as being decidedly evil to their core. But in this passage from The Two Towers, Sam’s empathy gives us a different look into who they are.

    • Thanks for the comment David with regards to the Haradrim, the Easterlings, the Southrons and the Wild Men there is an interesting article by Astrid Winegar, “Aspects of Orientalism in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings” which can be found at

  3. Reblogged this on Lily Wight and commented:
    I recognised this image from a glimpse of the top third but I have never seen a version by this artist. It’s wonderful. More brilliant stuff from The Warden’s Walk.

  4. The hair braided with gold is an interesting detail; Tolkien elsewhere describes Fingon as wearing his black hair plaited with gold. The elves are, of course, generally a “good” people, and thus this shared descriptive detail seems to emphasize a common thread between the citizens of Middle Earth and this foreigner. Particularly since, with Tolkien, character’s physical descriptions tend to be important when they are given in detail.

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