+ [title] Witches Abroad
In an earlier version of the APF I used "Witches Abroad" as an example of an 'obvious' joke I did not really think warranted explanation as an annotation. This led, of course, to a steady trickle of email asking: "I don't see anything funny about the title, can you please explain it for me?".
All I meant was that just as "Equal Rites" is a title that hinges on the 'Rites/Rights' pun, so does "Witches Abroad" play with the two slightly different meanings of the word 'abroad'. In one sense it reads like a ominous warning: "Witches are at large tonight!", and in a more literal sense it means: "Witches oversea, on a journey to foreign countries". In the book, both senses are true, of course...
Compare also Mark Twain's travelogues The Innocents Abroad and A Tramp Abroad, and e.g. Dull's warning from Shakespeare's Love's Labour Lost: "There's villainy abroad; [...]"
- [p. 7] "'Hurrah, I've discovered Boyle's Third Law.'"
Sinking to the ultimate depths of trivial annotating, I suppose I should point out here, if only for completeness' sake, that (a) there is only one single 'Boyle's law', which (b) says that if temperature is kept constant, the volume and pressure of a gas are inversely related.
- [p. 7] "Like finding that bloody butterfly whose flapping wings cause all these storms we've been having lately [...]"
Rather literal interpretation of one of the most often-cited examples of Chaos theory, called the Butterfly effect: a butterfly flapping its wings can cause a storm because in Chaos theory results are not proportional to causes.
- [p. 9] The three urban legends Terry mentions briefly in the footnote are all quite well-known, and can be found in any decent collection of such stories, but just in case not everyone is familiar with them:
The first story is about a family whose grandmother dies on vacation. In order to avoid bureaucratic hassle they decide to strap her to the roof-rack of the car, and cross the border back to their own country. During a rest-room stop, somebody steals the car, grandmother and all.
The second story is that of the people who return home after a night out, and find their dog choking to death in front of the door. They race him to the vet, who discovers that the dog is choking on a human finger he must have bitten off a burglar.
The third story is that of a man and woman having sex in the back seat of a car, when some serious accident happens and they become trapped. In order to free them from their predicament, the car has to be cut open with a torch, after which the woman supposedly comments: "My husband will be furious, it was his car".
Much more information about these and countless other urban legends can
be found in Jan Harold Brunvand's books. If you're on the net, you may
want to check out
- [p. 9] "She had called upon Mister Safe Way, Lady Bon Anna, Hotaloga Andrews and Stride Wide Man."
Safeway is the name of a supermarket chain. Terry says: "I needed some good names that sounded genuinely voodoo. Now, one of the names of one of the classic gods is Carrefour. It's also the name of a supermarket chain in my part of the world, and I used to grin every time I drove past. Hence, by DW logic, Safeway. Bon Anna I'm pretty sure is a genuine voodoo goddess. The other two are entirely made up but out of, er, the right sort of verbal components."
- [p. 11] "Desiderata Hollow was making her will."
'Desiderata' literally means: "things missing and felt to be needed". It is the name of a popular prose poem, written by Max Ehrman in 1927, full of advice about life and how to deal with it.
I would love to include a quote from Desiderata here, but for legal reasons it is probably better if I do not. See the 'Copyright Discussion' section in the Editorial Comments Chapter.
- [p. 15] "'Wish I was going to Genua,' she said."
Terry writes: "This may or may not already be an annotation somewhere, but Genua is a 'sort of' New Orleans with a 'sort of' Magic Kingdom grafted on top of it.
It had its genesis some years ago when I drove from Orlando to New Orleans and formed some opinions about both places: in one, you go there and Fun is manufactured and presented to you, in the other you just eat and drink a lot and fun happens."
- [p. 15] "'Mr Chert the troll down at the sawmill does a very good deal on coffins [...]'"
This confirms the unwritten rule that says all Discworld trolls must have mineral names: 'chert' is a dark-coloured, flintlike quartz.
- [p. 16] "Her name was Lady Lilith de Tempscire, [...]"
Tempscire is actually a French transliteration of Weatherwax.
- [p. 17] "[...] at least two of those present tonight were wearing Granny Weatherwax's famous goose-grease-and-sage chest liniment."
In Victorian times, children's chests were often smeared with a large helping of goose grease in order to keep out the cold.
Channel swimmers also used to use goose grease. Perhaps they still do...
- [p. 18] "'Tempers Fuggit. Means that was then and this is now,' said Nanny."
Well -- almost. The actual Latin phrase is "tempus fugit": "time flies".
- [p. 24] "As Nanny Ogg would put it, when it's teatime in Genua it's Tuesday over here..."
This refers to an old and very silly song by J. Kendis and Lew Brown, which goes:
When it's night-time in Italy, it's Wednesday over here.
Oh! the onions in Sicily make people cry in California.
Why does a fly? When does a bee?
How does a wasp sit down to have his tea?
If you talk to an Eskimo, his breath will freeze your ear.
When it's night-time in Italy, it's Wednesday over here.
- [p. 26] "'You can't get the wood,' she said."
This was Henry Crun's standard excuse for not actually building anything he'd invented, on the BBC Goon Show radio comedy programme.
- [p. 29] "The author, Grand Master Lobsang Dibbler, had an address in Ankh-Morpork."
This is yet another incarnation of Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler, the Ankhian entrepreneur we learn much more about in Moving Pictures, and who also appears in Small Gods as the Omnian businessman Dhblah.
Also, the name is a direct reference to Tuesday Lobsang Rampa, who was one of our world's more successful psychic hoaxers: actually named Cyril Hoskin, and son of a Devon plumber, Lobsang Rampa claimed to be a Tibetan monk with paranormal powers. He wrote the best-selling 1956 book The Third Eye which, even though Rampa was exposed as a fraud by Time Magazine in 1958, is still being printed and sold as the real thing 50 years later. Rich, gullible people such as actress Shirley MacLaine still pay money to have their 'third eye' opened up by contemporary Rampa equivalents.
When questioned about the name, Terry answered: "I know all kindsa Tibetan names... Kelsang, Jambel, Tsong, Tenzin, Tupten (drops Tibetan reference book on foot)... but Lobsang is, thanks to Mr Rampa, probably the best known."
- [p. 29] "There was a knock on the door. Magrat went and opened it. 'Hai?', she said."
Apart from being Magrat's ninja war cry, 'Hai?' also means 'Yes?' in Japanese.
- [p. 34] "'Shut up. Anyway, she's non compost mental,' said Granny."
"Non compos mentis" is a Latin phrase meaning "not of sound mind".
- [p. 37] "'Anno Domini, I said.'"
Anno Domini means 'year of our Lord' (as in e.g.: 1993 AD). It is indeed also used to denote old age, although this usage is a fairly recent literary invention, dating back to at least 1888 when Rudyard Kipling wrote the short story Venus Annodomini (which is itself of course a pun on Venus Anadyomene -- see the annotation for p. 128 of Wyrd Sisters ).
- [p. 41] "No one ran up them wearing dirndls and singing. They were not nice mountains."
Refers to the opening scene of The Sound of Music, where Julie Andrews does just that: running up the mountains, and singing, and wearing dirndls (if you want to know what a dirndl looks like, go see the movie).
- [p. 42] "The witches flew along a maze of twisty little canyons, all alike."
This refers back to a legendary message that appeared in Crowther & Woods' text adventure game ADVENT (see also the annotation for p. 114 of The Colour of Magic ): "You are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike."
Many games have included variants of this. It also appeared in Zork ("The second of the great early experiments in computer fantasy gaming", as The New Hacker's Dictionary describes it), and in the Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy game you appear in your own brain, in "a maze of twisty synapses".
- [p. 42] The section dealing with dwarfs (and in fact, just about everything Terry writes about dwarfs in the earlier books) is a parody of Tolkien's dwarves from The Lord of the Rings.
In particular, compare the witches' musings on mine entries and invisible runes to Tolkien's scenes outside Moria. Dwarf bread brings to mind Tolkien's waybreads: cram and lembas. And as the witches leave the dwarfs, they have an encounter with a wretched creature mumbling something about his birthday...
- [p. 43] "[...] and spake thusly: 'Open up, you little sods!'"
In Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings there is a famous scene outside the dwarven mines of Moria, where invisible runes written on the door (and revealed by the wizard Gandalf) give our heroes the clue as to how to get the door to open, namely by saying the word 'friend'.
Personally, I like Nanny Ogg's way better.
- [p. 45] "[...] if more trolls stopped wearing suits and walking upright, and went back to living under bridges [...]"
See the annotation for p. 140 of Lords and Ladies .
- [p. 45] "It's often said that eskimos have fifty words for snow. This is not true."
In fact, the situation regarding eskimos and snow is pretty much the same as the one Terry subsequently describes for dwarfs and rocks: eskimos have a number of different words for different kinds of snow and ice, but nothing out of the ordinary.
- [p. 51] "'[...] whenever I deals with dwarfs, the phrase 'Duck's Arse' swims across my mind.'"
From the phrase "tight as a duck's arse", implying excessive meanness.
- [p. 53] "'I knows all about folk songs. Hah! You think you're listenin' to a nice song about... about cuckoos and fiddlers and nightingales and whatnot, and then it turns out to be about... about something else entirely,' she added darkly."
Just as an example of the type of song Granny may have in mind, here are a few verses of 'The Cuckoo's Nest':
As I went a-walking one morning in May
I spied a pretty fair maid and unto her did say
For love I am inclined and I'll tell you of my mind
That my inclination lies in your cuckoo's nest.
Some like a girl who is pretty in the face
And some like a girl who is slender in the waist
Ah, but give me a girl who will wriggle and will twist
At the bottom of the belly lies the cuckoo's nest.
When this annotation led to a torrent of similar folk songs being discussed on a.f.p., at one point Terry chimed in with: "My favourite was something I think by a guy called Diz Disley back in the very early 70s. From memory:
As I walked out one May morning,
In the month of Februaryyy,
I saw a pretty serving maid a-comin'
out the dairy;
A handsome knight came ridin' by
I politely raised my cap and
They went behind the stable
and I never saw what happened."
- [p. 54] "'Thank goodness witches float.'"
An obvious joke, but easily missed: refers to ducking suspected witches. If they drowned, they were innocent.
- [p. 55] "The maiden, the mother and the... other one."
The "other one" is the crone. See also the annotation for p. 218.
- [p. 59] "'Der flabberghast,' muttered Nanny. 'What's that?' said Magrat. 'It's foreign for bat.'"
Well no, it is not, actually. The German word for bat is 'Fledermaus', as in Johann Strauss' famous operette Die Fledermaus. 'Flabberghast' seems to derive more from the plain English 'flabbergasted' (meaning: astonished beyond belief). Similarly, 'die flabbergast' apparently was a Mozart-spoofing sketch that Dudley Moore did in Beyond The Fringe.
- [p. 75] The names the witches are considering for themselves are puns on existing airline companies or their acronyms. Nanny Ogg starts to say Virgin Airlines, but is rudely interrupted by a gust of wind.
- [p. 77] "'I like stuff that tells you plain what it is, like... well... Bubble and Squeak, or... or... 'Spotted Dick,' said Nanny absently."
Americans might be amazed to learn that Bubble and Squeak, Spotted Dick, and Toad-in-the-Hole (which is mentioned a few lines further down) are all actually the names of existing British delicacies.
Nanny Ogg is correct in identifying Toad-in-the-Hole as a sausage embedded in a sort of tart filled with pancake batter.
Bubble and Squeak is traditionally made on Boxing Day from Christmas
leftovers (potato, onion, cabbage and Brussels sprouts appear to be
favourite ingredients among
alt.fan.pratchett readers), fried up together
Spotted Dick is a suet-sponge pudding with currants or sultanas in it.
- [p. 78] "'Magrat says she will write a book called Travelling on One Dollar a Day, and it's always the same dollar.'"
Refers to the famous traveller's guide originally titled Europe on Five Dollars a Day. This is of course also parodied in the Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy ("see the wonders of the universe for only twenty Altairian dollars per day").
- [p. 79] "What does cojones mean?"
'Cojones' is Spanish for 'hen's eggs', colloquially used for 'testicles'. The whole 'Thing with the Bulls' section spoofs the annual bull running festival of Pamplona in our world. Ernest Hemingway was very impressed with this macho activity, and used the word 'cojones' to describe the bravery displayed by the young men participating in the event.
I doubt if it originated with Hemingway, but to this day "having the balls" is used in both English and Spanish to mean "act bravely".
- [p. 83] "''S called the Vieux River.' 'Yes?' 'Know what that means?' 'No.' 'The Old (Masculine) River,' said Nanny. 'Yes?' 'Words have sex in foreign parts,' said Nanny hopefully."
The Mississippi River is often known as 'Old Man River', for instance in the classic song from the 1936 Kern/Hammerstein musical Show Boat. Near the mouth of the Mississippi lies New Orleans, on which Genua seems to be largely based. And then there are the riverboats, with the gamblers...
- [p. 84] "[...] she wants to make it a Magic Kingdom, a Happy and Peaseful place [...]"
The most famous part of the Walt Disney World theme park in Orlando, Florida, is officially called the 'Magic Kingdom'.
- [p. 84] "[...] Samedi Nuit Mort, the last night of carnivale, [...]"
Samedi Nuit Mort = Saturday Night Dead, a reference to the television comedy show Saturday Night Live.
- [p. 85] "'That means Fat Lunchtime,' said Nanny Ogg, international linguist."
Actually, 'Mardi Gras' means 'Fat Tuesday'. Nanny Ogg is confusing 'Mardi' with 'Midi', which means 'midday', i.e. lunchtime.
- [p. 99] "Even Magrat knew about Black Aliss."
In Terry Pratchett's universe Black Aliss is obviously the evil witch of all fairy tales. The stories referred to here are Sleeping Beauty, Rumpelstiltskin and Hansel And Gretel.
- [p. 107] "Are you the taxgatherers, dear?' 'No, ma'am, we're --' '-- fairies,' said Fairy Hedgehog quickly."
This is a Blues Brothers reference: in the film, the dialogue goes: "'Are you the police?' 'No, ma'am, we're musicians.'"
- [p. 117] "'[...] there's been other odd things happening in this forest.'"
Magrat then goes on to describe more or less what happened in the fairy tales of Goldilocks and the Three Bears and The Three Little Pigs.
- [p. 118] "'[...] some ole enchantress in history who lived on an island and turned shipwrecked sailors into pigs.'"
For once, Nanny Ogg doesn't mix up two or more real-world tales, but gets the story (almost) right: Circe was the name of the sorceress from the Odyssey who lived on the island Aeaea, and turned Ulysses' shipmates into pigs when they landed (but didn't shipwreck) there.
- [p. 119] "[...] around Defcon II in the lexicon of squabble."
In the jargon of American military planners, the DEFCON scale (for Defence Readiness Condition) is used to describe the level of preparedness of US military forces. I quote from The Language of Nuclear War -- An Intelligent Citizen's Dictionary by H. Eric Semler, James J. Benjamin, Jr., and Adam P. Gross:
"DEFCON 5 describes a state in which forces are at normal readiness, while DEFCON 1, referred to as the "cocked pistol," indicates a state of extreme emergency, when forces are poised for attack. Not all U.S. military forces are simultaneously at the same DEFCON. The DEFCON varies depending upon the type of weapon with which the troops are equipped and the region in which they are deployed. For example, U.S. troops in South Korea are always at DEFCON 4 but soldiers tending nuclear missiles deployed in the continental U.S. are normally kept at DEFCON 5. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, President John F. Kennedy raised the DEFCON of U.S. forces to DEFCON 2 (a status just below wartime conditions)."
- [p. 120] "'Oh? It's all wishing on stars and fairy dust, is it?'"
Fairly standard magic-related concepts, but perhaps it should be noted that wishing on stars is done in Disney's Pinocchio, while fairy dust features heavily in Peter Pan (both the original play and the subsequent Disney movie).
- [p. 120] "'[...] and no one doesn't get burned who sticks their hand in a fire.'"
I feel that in Witches Abroad Terry was experimenting much more than usual with the literary device of foreshadowing. This is only one of the many instances in the book where something is said that means nothing to the reader first time around, but which suddenly becomes very significant when you notice it during a re-read, and you already know what is going to happen later.
- [p. 122] "'What some people need,' said Magrat, [...], 'is a bit more heart.' 'What some people need,' said Granny Weatherwax, [...], 'is a lot more brain.' [...] What I need, thought Nanny Ogg fervently, is a drink."
These are The Wizard of Oz references to the Tin Man, Scarecrow and Lion respectively, once you remember that an alcoholic drink is also known as 'Dutch courage'. In fact, in the original book the courage the Lion is given comes in a bottle, and many feel that Baum had alcohol in mind when he wrote it.
- [p. 122] The farmhouse landing on Nanny Ogg, and the subsequent events involving dwarfs looking for ruby-coloured footwear are references to The Wizard of Oz.
All Terry's references appear to be to the movie version, incidentally, not to the book. In the book Dorothy obtains Silver Shoes instead of Ruby Slippers, doesn't say anything approaching "... we're not in Kansas any more", and of course the book doesn't have a 'dingdong' song.
- [p. 123] "'You know, Greebo,' she said. "I don't think we're in Lancre.'
Dorothy, to her dog, in The Wizard of Oz: "Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore."
- [p. 130] "'[...] that girl with the long pigtails in a tower [...] Rumplestiltzel or someone.'"
The girl with the long hair is Rapunzel from the famous fairy tale of the same name. 'Rumpelstiltskin' is a different, unrelated fairy tale involving a dwarf spinning gold out of straw.
- [p. 134] "Not a Ronald in sight."
Terry says: "Yep... direct use of existing East London rhyming slang there (Richard the Third = turd)."
- [p. 139] "'That's 'cos you're a wet hen, Magrat Garlick,' said Granny."
When questioned about the phrase, Terry explained: "Perfectly good British slang. A 'wet hen' is bedraggled, sad and useless. Probably not as useless as a big girl's blouse, though, and better off than a lame duck."
- [p. 152] "'My full name's Erzulie Gogol,' said Mrs Gogol. 'People call me Mrs Gogol.'"
This resonates with In the Heat of the Night (see the annotation for p. 277 of Men at Arms ), in so much as we have two persons of the same profession, one of them black, the other white, and one of them way out of her territory.
The name 'Erzuli' comes directly from Voodoo religion. Maîtresse Erzulie (also known as Ezili) is the ideal figure of womanhood, and the spirit of love and beauty.
- [p. 153] "'This is Legba, a dark and dangerous spirit,' said Mrs Gogol."
Legba (also known as Papa Legba or Legba Ati-bon) is the Voodoo spirit of the cross-roads, where the Above meets the Below. He is "on both sides of the mirror". He leans on a stick, and another of his symbols is the macoutte (straw sack). Chickens are sacrificed to him by twisting their neck till they are dead.
- [p. 154] "So he said 'Get me an alligator sandwich -- and make it quick!'"
It is obvious that Granny is trying to tell a joke here -- and failing miserably. The problem was that quite a few readers (including yours truly) were having trouble figuring out what that joke was supposed to be in the first place.
People started asking about the Alligator Joke so frequently on
alt.fan.pratchett, that eventually Terry himself posted the following
"definitive explanation of the alligator joke":
"It is (I hope) obvious that Granny Weatherwax has absolutely no sense of humour but she has, as it were, heard about it. She has no grasp of how or why jokes work -- she's one of those people who say "And then what happened?" after you've told them the punchline. She can vaguely remember the one-liner "Give me an alligator sandwich -- and make it snappy!" but since she's got no idea of why it's even mildly amusing she gets confused... all that she can remember is that apparently the man wants it quickly."
When conversation on the net then turned to the origins of the joke, he followed up with:
"As a matter of fact, I'm pretty sure I first came across the joke in an ancient US comedy routine -- Durante or someone like him. It sounds burlesque."
See the annotation for p. 195 of Mort for another type of meta-joke based on the alligator joke.
- [p. 155] Emberella -> Embers; Cinderella -> Cinders...
- [p. 157] "'I am called Saturday.' 'Man Saturday, eh?' said Nanny Ogg."
Nanny is thinking of Man Friday as in Robinson Crusoe's native friend. But Saturday is of course none other than Baron Samedi (Samedi = Saturday), the Voodoo keeper of cemeteries and lord of zombies. He appears as a skeleton wearing a top hat and a black cane.
- [p. 172] "Nanny Ogg waved the jug again. 'Up your eye!' she said. 'Mud in your bottom!'"
The two traditional English toasts being mixed up here are "bottoms up" and "here's mud in your eye".
- [p. 174] "[...] Nanny Ogg and the coachmen were getting along, as she put it, like a maison en flambé."
See the annotation for p. 284 of Guards! Guards!
- [p. 175] "[...] Nanny Ogg kept calling them 'Magrats', but they were trousers, and very practical."
Calling them Magrats is a reference to Bloomers, originally a female costume consisting of jacket, shirt and Turkish trousers gathered closely around the ankles, introduced by Mrs Amelia Bloomer of New York in 1849. Associated with the Woman's Rights Movement, the outfit met with little success. Nowadays 'bloomers' is applied to the trouser portion only.
- [p. 201] "'This is [...] Sir, Roger de Coverley.'"
'Sir Roger de Coverley' is the title of a folk dance.
- [p. 201] "'...my name is Colonel Moutarde...'"
'Moutarde' is French for 'mustard'. Colonel Mustard is the name of one of the characters in the board game (and subsequent movie) Clue (or Cluedo).
The object of this game is to deduce not only which of several suspects has murdered the unfortunate 'Mr X', but also what weapon was used, and in which room of the mansion the murder took place. Once you think you've figured it out you have to publicly 'accuse' the murderer, just as Fate does, and if you're right you win the game.
- [p. 201] Casanunda, "the world's greatest lover", refers to our world's Casanova. Notice that Casanova is often roughly pronounced as 'Casanover' (emphasis on the 'over'), and that Casanunda (emphasis on the 'unda') is a dwarf...
Actually, Casanunda is lying, because we later find out he's only the world's second greatest lover. But this should not surprise us, since yet even later (in Lords and Ladies) we also find out that he is an Outrageous Liar.
- [p. 207] "Nanny Ogg's voyages on the sea of intersexual dalliance had gone rather further than twice around the lighthouse, [...]"
A popular way of staving off boredom at typical British seaside holiday resorts is to take a trip in a small boat, which will often journey out as far as the local lighthouse and circumnavigate it. Hence the above colloquialism, implying that Nanny's experiences were not limited to the inshore waters of male/female relationships.
- [p. 218] "The maiden, the mother and the crone."
Traditionally, the wiccan goddess (see Equal Rites annotation) is viewed as the triple entity maiden/mother/crone, and our witches indeed echo this model. Neil Gaiman uses the triple goddess quite often in his The Sandman series.
- [p. 219] "Mrs Gogol's hut travelled on four large duck feet, which were now rising out of the swamp."
Baba Yaga is a witch in Russian folklore, who had a hut that stood, and was able to turn around, on chicken feet. I don't believe that hut could walk, however. (Neil Gaiman seemed to think it could, though: Baba Yaga and a walking hut figure in Book 3 of his excellent Books of Magic.)
One of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition ('House on hen's legs') also refers back to Baba Yaga, by way of another Russian's painting of said fairy tale hut.
- [p. 222] "'I'm a world-famous liar.' 'Is that true?' 'No.'"
Casanunda here recreates the famous liar paradox: Epimenides the Cretan saying "All Cretans are liars". For more information on this paradox see any good book about logic puzzles, although I particularly recommend Douglas R. Hofstadter's Metamagical Themas.
- [p. 222] "'Well, maybe I'm only No. 2,' said Casanunda. 'But I try harder.'"
This was the catchphrase from a well-known ad campaign in the late 60s. The No. 2 was car rental firm Avis; Hertz was No. 1.
Avis still uses the "we try harder" slogan, but the "we're No. 2" part was dropped a long time ago.
- [p. 241] "'[...] what was that Tsortean bloke who could only be wounded if you hit 'im in the right place?'"
Nanny is thinking of the Discworld version of Achilles, who was invincible except for a small spot on his heel.
- [p. 252] "Nanny kicked her red boots together idly. 'Well, I suppose there's no place like home,' she said."
Another Wizard of Oz reference (kicking her shoes together three times and saying a similar sentence invoked the spell that transported Dorothy home from Oz).
- [p. 252] "But they went the long way, and saw the elephant."
Several people were immediately reminded of Fritz Leiber's Hugo award winning novelette Gonna Roll The Bones, which ends: "Then he turned and headed straight for home, but he took the long way, around the world." Terry has said there is no conscious connection, however.
"Seeing the elephant" also resonates nicely with The Lord of the Rings, where Bilbo complains wistfully that he never got to see an elephant on his adventures 'abroad': "[...] Aragorn's affairs, and the White Council, and Gondor, and the Horsemen, and Southrons, and oliphaunts -- did you really see one, Sam? -- and caves and towers and golden trees and goodness knows what besides. I evidently came back by much too straight a road from my trip. I think Gandalf might have shown me round a bit."
Also, "to have seen the elephant" is British military slang dating back to the 19th century, and means to have taken part in one's first battle, while during the 1849 California Goldrush, "going to see the elephant" was widely used as a phrase by people to signify their intention to travel westwards and try their luck. (See e.g. JoAnn Levy's 1999 book They Saw the Elephant: Women in the California Gold Rush.)
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