Literature: Leiningen Versus the Ants

"You're insane! They're not creatures you can fight—they're an elemental—an 'act of God!' Ten miles long, two miles wide—ants, nothing but ants!"

"Leiningen Versus the Ants" ("Leiningens Kampf mit den Ameisen") is a 1938 short story by German author Carl Stephenson.

Leiningen is a plantation owner in Brazil who believes that human ingenuity and determination can triumph over anything. As such, while all other plantation owners have fled, he decides to fortify and hold his lands against a massive, miles-large swarm of ravenous army ants.

Adapted several times into other media, including a radio program, the movie The Naked Jungle starring Charlton Heston, and an episode of MacGyver. Also parodied by the cartoon Camp Candy and a short story from National Lampoon (which replaced the ants with snails).

You can read this story online in several places, including here.

"Leiningen Versus the Ants" provides examples of:

  • The Amazon: The story takes place in the actual Amazon rainforest.
  • Benevolent Boss: Leiningen, eventually offering his workers their full pay to take the last escape route from the plantation's fall.
  • Bug War: While not actually science fiction, the heart of the story is still humans versus inhuman, mindless monsters.
  • Crazy-Prepared: Leiningen has designed his plantation specifically to defend against an assault by army ants. It's surrounded by a moat built by diverting a river, with locks to let him raise and lower the water level and wash them away. When the mechanism controlling the water level fails and the ants overrun his plantation, he has another moat protecting the buildings at the center of the plantation. This one is filled with petrol, including backup tanks so he can burn it and refill it multiple times.
  • Eye Scream: Guess which part of the body the ants attack first...
  • A Father to His Men: Leiningen, despite not being military. Even facing a gruesome death, Leiningen's workers refuse to abandon him, even when offered an escape route and their full pay to take it. When their only hope comes down to a suicide mission, Leiningen takes it upon himself rather then having one of his men attempt it.
  • Hungry Jungle: The Amazon is portrayed as this.
  • Humanity Is Superior: As long as they use their heads.
  • Kill It with Fire: As detailed in Crazy-Prepared, the inner moat does this.
  • Kill It with Water: In the end, Leiningen is forced to flood his entire plantation to get rid of the ants.
  • Mercy Kill: the only thing you can do for animals caught by the ants.
  • Mighty Whitey: Leiningen in a nutshell. He alone stands against the ants when all the natives flee. Part of the reason he undertakes the suicide mission is because he doesn't trust his native workers to pull it off.
  • Misplaced Wildlife: Demonstrating the awesome power of the swarm, Leiningen watches them strip a non-native elk to the bone in minutes.
  • The Spock: Leiningen is a partial example.
  • The Swarm: Two miles wide, ten miles long of hungry ants.

The movie The Naked Jungle provides examples of

  • Batman Gambit: Leiningen pulls one: after fellow plantation owner Gruber accuses him of stealing contract workers (whom he recognizes by their whip scars), Leiningen acknowledges that they probably are under contract...but they're murderers, and he has to hang them first. Which he proceeds to do, until the Comissioner steps in and points out that they are entitled to a fair trial (which will certainly find them innocent) first.
  • River of Insanity: For the Comissioner, who is close to a breakdown by the time he comes back.
  • Self-Made Man: Leiningen started out at age nineteen, with four workers and twenty acres. Five years later, he had a hundred workers, and three hundred acres.
  • Suggested By: The Naked Jungle is almost entirely about Leiningen coming to terms with his bride, with the ants as an afterthought.
  • Talk About the Weather:
    Joanna: "Everything I say seems to make things worse. I'm trying not to irritate you."
    Leiningen: "I noticed that. I find it irritating."

Alternative Title(s):

The Naked Jungle