Created By: Theriocephalus on January 19, 2018 Last Edited By: Theriocephalus on January 28, 2018
Troped

Mammoths Mean Ice Age

Mammoths being used to symbolize the (or an) Ice Age and the associated cold and barbarism.

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Herds of mammoths appearing out of nowhere are one of the lesser-known side effects of prolonged cold spells.

After the dinosaurs, woolly mammoths are some of the most well-known of prehistoric creatures. Unlike the dinosaurs, which have become associated in the popular imagination with the steaming jungles and volcanoes of Prehistoria, the mammoths are instead almost always thought of as inhabiting cold, snowbound lands. This is largely because the most well-known member of their genus, the woolly mammoth (Mammuthus primigenius), lived alongside early mankind in northern Eurasia and North America during the last major Ice Age. As the mammoths were the most physically impressive and memorable specimens of the Ice Age's megafauna, popular culture eventually began to use them as a symbol of the Ice Age itself, and through that of the cold and rigors associated with it, and the (by modern perceptions) uncivilized and barbarous state in which Ice Age humans lived.

As such, when these shaggy elephant-like animals appear in modern fiction, they almost always do so in conditions of intense cold: outside of settings that try to hew to more realistic interpretations of these animals, you will not find mammoths living in warm or temperate lands, nor near civilization. Instead, their appearance is often used as a shorthand of sorts to communicate that a land or period is terribly, terribly cold, and often not suited for civilization. The most common way this plays out is to symbolize the Ice Age itself — a mammoth sighting is almost required for time travelers visiting that period, and they'll be a common sight for Ice Age cavemen as well. Likewise, they are sometimes used to show that a new ice age has gripped the world, with herds of mammoths appearing alongside the ice and snow to show the way the world has changed.

A fantasy-specific way this trope plays out is to place mammoths in the Grim Up North. Being fairly recent animals in Earth's history, mammoths look enough like modern fauna not to feel too out of place in relatively Earth-like worlds, yet strange and unusual enough to serve as fantastical creatures alongside more traditional fantasy beasts. Thus, they are often placed in the uncivilized, snowbound northlands of fantasy worlds, their presence reinforcing the fact that their homes are both extremely cold and far from the comforts of civilization. In these cases, if The Horde comes from here, you might see it use the local mammoths as War Elephants, to further drive home that they come from very cold, wild and uncivilized places.

Since Tropes Are Flexible, this can be extended to other shaggy pachyderms such as mastodons and fictional mammoth- and mastodon-like creatures, as long as their presence is used to symbolize cold and ice ages. Other hairy Ice Age megafauna, such as woolly rhinos, is sometimes used to similar effect, although this is far less common.

As a final note, most real life mammoths did not live in particularly cold conditions and did not have thick coats (the only two that did were the woolly mammoth and its ancestral species, the steppe mammoth), and were very similar to modern elephants in most respects. However, they are not as famous as their woolly cousins, and so they never really show up in fiction.


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Ice Age examples:

    Comic Strips 
  • Calvin and Hobbes: In one of Calvin's Imagine Spots, a sudden ice age hits the world overnight, covering it in ice and snow and providing excellent sledding opportunities. Calvin realizes what is going on when he sees, besides a glacier covering a large part of his town, a herd of woolly mammoths passing by his house.

    Film — Animated 
  • The Ice Age film series features a number of woolly mammoths as characters, including Manfred the mammoth as part of the core cast, which have come to be some of the most easily recognizable visual symbols of the movies.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Zigzagged in 10,000 BC. Mammoths appear to be native to the icy tundra where the caveman protagonist comes from, but are also tamed and used as beasts of burden by a pyramid-building civilization living in a warm desert.

    Literature 
  • Stephen Baxter's "Mammoth Trilogy" uses the beasts as view point characters to chart three specific periods in human history and our relationship with the cold.
    • Silverhair is about how humans arrived and survived in the mammoth's hunting grounds during the height of the ice age.
    • Longtusk is about the decline and extiction of the mammoths as the ice age ends. No more ice, no more mammoths.
    • Icebones features genetically engineered and revived mammoths which are used to help terraform Mars, as they are one of the few creatures which can survive in the chilly martian steppe. Mars' atmosphere being too thin to hold heat for long means using ice-adapted creatures like mammoths, and as humans abandon Mars, move back to Earth, and are implied to go extinct due to a nuclear war there, the mammoths are left alone on an icebound planet again.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Generally speaking, when documentaries and other shows about prehistoric life have segments focused on the Ice Age, these will almost always see woolly mammoths play major parts. Other Ice Age fauna — cave lions, Irish elk, saber- and scimitar-toothed cats, giant ground sloths, etcetera — will of course also appear and be talked about, some less often and some more so, but it is rare for any type of this fauna to gain true universal use. The hairy pachyderms, however, can be guaranteed to consistently have major focus in almost any show touching on the Ice Age.
    • Prehistoric Park: The second episode — "A Mammoth Undertaking" — sees Nigel Marven travel back to the Ice Age to rescue its megafauna. His original intent is specifically to rescue a mammoth, and it is on these creatures, their lifestyle, their diet, their impact on their environment and the causes for their extinction that most of the segment is spent, with other animals largely restricted to brief one-off appearances. The one exception to this is an Elasmotherium, a one-horned wooly rhino the size of an elephant, that Nigel runs into by accident and also brings to the future.
    • Walking with Beasts: The Ice Age segment, "Mammoth Journey", is as the name implies focused around the yearly migration of a herd of mammoths heading from the plains of the then-dry North Sea to the Alps and then back over the course of a year. Other creatures — Cro-Magnon and Neanderthal humans, cave lions, wooly rhinos — appear, but the mammoth herd's migration remains the main focus and framing device, with the other creatures appearing as animals the mammoths encounter or (in the case of the humans and lion) predators menacing them.

    Video Games 

    Real Life 

Grim Up North examples:

    Card Games 
  • Magic: The Gathering: The loxodons are a species of humanoid elephants who normally resemble the African kind and are known for being some of the most fastidious, strict and law-abiding people in the worlds they inhabit, generally gravitating towards large cities and religious hierarchies. The exception to this are the loxodons of Tarkir, who resemble humanoid mammoths and inhabit a range of high, wild and snowy mountains. These woolly loxodons live in scattered barbarian clans and tribes in the icy wilderness, in sharp contrast to the strict and orderly loxodons of other planes.
    Even among the hardiest warriors of the Temur, loxodons are respected for their adaptation to the mountain snows. — "Woolly Loxodon"

    Literature 
[[folder]]

[[folder:Tabletop Games]]
  • Warhammer: Norsca, the local equivalent (more or less) to the real-life Viking lands, is a particularly brutal version of the Grim Up North. Most of it is wild, monster-haunted and unforgiving wilderness, inhabited only by insane demon-worshipping barbarians and all wrapped in some of the most staggeringly cold conditions in the Old World. Besides fantasy monsters such as manticores, trolls and such, it is also home to herds of enormous woolly mammoths, which the aforesaid barbarians regularly capture and train for war.

    Video Games 
  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim takes place in Tamriel's Grim Up North province, the titular Skyrim. Mammoths are domesticated by giants so you can loot mammoth tusks, meat, and cheese from giant camps.
  • In both Warcraft 3 and World of Warcraft, mammoths appear among the wildlife of the Grim Up North continent Northrend. In the latter they are even available as mounts for the players. Some notable variants include the woolly mammoths, which are noted to be wilder and more primal than other varieties and make for feral and cunning mounts, and white-furred ice mammoths used as mounts by the ice giants, who believe their mounts protect them from frostbite and snow blindness. WoW adds another real but less known ice age mammal, the wooly rhinoceros. As it happens, neither elephants nor rhinoceroses exist elsewhere in the game, although there are animals resembling them.

Community Feedback Replies: 25
  • January 19, 2018
    Theriocephalus
    A tentative relaunch of an older draft, with the intention to try and give it a stronger unifying theme.
  • January 19, 2018
    Theriocephalus
    I don't suppose anyone knows how to get an image to display the size you want it to? The one I picked out is displaying a lot smaller than I feel it should be.
  • January 19, 2018
    MetaFour
    Page images can only be 350 pixels wide. If the image is wider than that, the image uploader will automatically resize it, which looks like it happened to your picture. If you want it to be less shrunken, you'd have to edit the original to arrange the panels vertically.
  • January 19, 2018
    Theriocephalus
    Thank you. I'll figure something out tomorrow, then.
  • January 20, 2018
    Diask
    • In Spelunky HD, mammoths appear in area 3 as enemies that repeatedly shoot freezing projectiles from their noses.
  • January 20, 2018
    Snicka
    • Zigzagged in Ten Thousand BC. Mammoths appear to be native to the icy tundra where the caveman protagonist comes from, but are also tamed and used as beasts of burden by a pyramid-building civilization living in a warm desert.
  • January 20, 2018
    Snicka
    ^^^ Maybe use only the second panel of the comic? Mammoths are still visible on it, and Calvin exclaiming "it's a new Ice Age" makes it pretty clear what it's about.
  • January 20, 2018
    CrypticMirror
    Stephen Baxter's "Mammoth Trilogy" uses the beasts as view point characters to chart three specific periods in human history and our relationship with the cold.
    • Silverhair is about how humans arrived and survived in the mammoth's hunting grounds during the height of the ice age.
    • Longtusk is about the decline and extiction of the mammoths as the ice age ends. No more ice, no more mammoths.
    • Icebones feature genetically engineered and revived mammoths which are used to help terraform Mars, as they are one of the few creatures which can survive in the chilly martian steppe. Mars' atmosphere being too thin to hold heat for long means using ice adapted creatures like mammoths, and as humans abandon Mars, move back to Earth, and implied to go extinct due to a nuclear war there, the Mammoths are left alone on an icebound planet again.
  • January 20, 2018
    zarpaulus
    • The Elder Scrolls V Skyrim takes place in Tamriel's Grim Up North province, the titular Skyrim. Mammoths are domesticated by giants so you can loot mammoth tusks, meat, and cheese from giant camps.
  • January 20, 2018
    Theriocephalus
    All right, sorry for the delay but I haven't had terribly stable wi-fi today. I'll add the examples now.

    @ Snicka: good idea, I'll try that out.
  • January 20, 2018
    dvegaj
    Ah, I thought this was a trope specifically about mammoths.

    I saw the Anime example, Big Convoy in Beast Wars Neo, which did fit the definition of mammoth-like creature, but not that of "mammoths equal Ice Age".
  • January 20, 2018
    Malady
    VideoGame.Epic Battle Fantasy: Mammoths appear in the snowy areas.
  • January 21, 2018
    Snicka
    I think that the Ice Age example should mention Manfred the mammoth by name, as he's the protagonist of the franchise, whereas the other mammoths are secondary characters (Manfred's Love Interest, their daughter, and a few others).
  • January 21, 2018
    Snicka
  • January 21, 2018
    Theriocephalus
    ^^^ Could you expand on that a bit? I don't want to just list examples of mammoths in cold places, since I feel that by itself that leans towards People Sit On Chairs — woolly mammoths did objectively only live in snowy or at least cold places in real life, after all. I'd prefer there to be a, well, I guess a stronger link with themes of ice, ice ages and harsh, cold lands.

    Normally I'd expand the example myself in these situations, but I'm afraid I don't really know enough about the work you're citing to do so.
  • January 21, 2018
    Malady
    So, should this be Mammoths Mean Ice Age instead?

    IIRC, the mammoths had Ice Resist, and one of them was The Last Of Their Kind, presumably due to Ice Age ending or something? Need to replay to check.
  • January 22, 2018
    Reymma
    ^ I would suggest appending: "World of Warcraft adds another real but less known ice age mammal, the wooly rhinoceros. As it happens, neither elephants nor rhinocerouses exist elsewhere in the game, though there are animals resembling them."
  • January 25, 2018
    Malady
    Did you mean Mammoths Mean Ice Age, or did you actually want Mammoths Mean Ice?
  • January 25, 2018
    Theriocephalus
    ^ In all honesty, that's something I'm trying to work out myself.

    On the one hand, I recognize that this two things would be, at least to a degree, separate concepts — on the one hand there's mammoths being associated with intense cold and ice, and on the other there's mammoths being used as symbolism for the Ice Age. My worry is that trying to jam the two things on the same page will hurt the trope's focus and make it undesirably vague and ill-defined.

    On the other hand, I'm not entirely sure how productive it would be to try and separate the two concepts. Let's say that, for instance, I make a draft for "mammoths are associated with cold and elemental ice" and another for "mammoths are used to symbolize the or an ice age", or alternatively I simply ditch one concept and focus on the other. Would there be enough material for each to stand alone? Are the two possible concepts in fact separate enough to disentangle that throughly? Should I try to redefine this page and give it a stronger internal focus, or should I try to split it into two potential tropes?

    At the moment, I'm sort of leaning towards the second option, but it's far from a sure thing and I very much welcome any advice.
  • January 25, 2018
    Malady
    How about those two ideas being clearly differentiated by

    The Mammoths Mean Ice Age concept would just be the fusion of those tropes... And it might be different enough for its own trope?

    Although, is it Mammoths in particular, for the prehistoric-times meaning? Or Extinct Animals Means Ancient or something?
  • January 26, 2018
    dvegaj
    I think we could limit the trope to "mammoths mean Ice Age" for the time being since this seems to be the most common variant of the two. Then, if we find enough examples we could separately make "mammoths mean cold/snow". And while we are at it, this example in World of Warcraft in which you see these "woolly mammoths" in Northend, are these exactly woolly mammoths, or just some similar animals?
  • January 27, 2018
    Theriocephalus
    ^ ^^

    Thank you both for your input. What I think I'm going to do right now is limit this trope to "mammoths mean Ice Age/Stone Age", since there's only a couple of "mammoths mean Ice/Cold" examples so far. The "ice" examples I'll save in a Word document for the time being, and if more examples turn up I'll see if that can work as a viable trope.

    Now, the last main question here is what to do about the Grim Up North examples. Should those stay in as a variant on the "ice age" theme? They're not strictly the same thing, but a thematic connection exists and they're not really all that rare, so I'd prefer to keep them.

    ^ I had a look at the WoW wiki. They're explicitly identified as woolly mammoths in-game, or just mammoths on occasion, accuracy issues notwithstanding.
  • January 27, 2018
    dvegaj
    Well I think the "mammoths in the Grim Up North" is more of a potential subtrope or sub-variant of "mammoths mean cold/ice/snow". The Grim Up North locations are characterized by permanently cold climates anyway... that's what I think.
  • January 27, 2018
    Theriocephalus
    Hmm... perhaps the Grim Up North examples could be put in a separate set of folders within the same page? Something like what Horse Of A Different Color does for its subtypes of exotic mounts (giant birds, carnivorous animals, etc.). So there might be a header saying "ice age examples", and then the folders with the examples, and a second header beneath it saying "Grim Up North examples", and then its own folders beneath it.

    That might work.
  • January 28, 2018
    Theriocephalus
    All right, if nobody else has anything left to add, I'm going to send this up in a couple of hours.
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