In Larry Niven's The Flight of the Horse collection, the Vivarium contains a number of extinct animals collected from the past, including a horse and a Gila monster, but also an elephant:

The cage they were passing was labeled:

ELEPHANT - Retrieved from the year 700 AnteAtomic, approximately, from the region of India, Earth, EXTINCT.

The wrinkled grey beast watched them go with sleepy indifference. His air of inhuman age and wisdom was such that he must have recognized Svetz as his captor. But he didn't care.


the time travel machine is actually travelling into a fantasy world, and the "animals" are legendary creatures mistaken for natural ones: the horse is really a unicorn, the Gila monster is a dragon, and while the ostrich is an ostrich it also turns out to be descended from a Roc.

What about the elephant?

That is, what sort of legendary creature is it really? Is there an elephant-like creature from India's mythology, perhaps, since the inscription mentions India? Or is it a real elephant, an exception to the rule?

  • 2
    You do know that the Earth is flat, don't you? And that there are some elephants involved somehow? – Deer Hunter Oct 3 '15 at 0:38
  • @DeerHunter: The World Elephant? Not the sort of animal you could fit into even the largest time machine, I would have thought; but on the other hand, the association with India does fit. – Harry Johnston Oct 3 '15 at 7:09
  • There are elephants in The Lord of the Rings, a work of fantasy... – Mr Lister Oct 3 '15 at 8:41

Larry Niven's 'Flight Of The Horse' or 'Svetz' time-travel stories are admittedly from a different perspective than the classic H. G. Wells -based time-travel adventure. Not only does the stream of time in these stories vary and fork and split, with multiple versions or continua quite possible, and 'changing the present' also possible, but there's an even more variation-suggesting thing going on: as Niven himself said, more or less and not quoting, since the time machine is itself illogical or impossible, Svetz encounters (and brings back) impossibilities or mythological animals.

Usually his missions were prompted by the childish Secretary General's fascination with some picture-book for children or other. For the elephant, I would speculate (though Niven definitely never said so nor indicated anything of the sort) that the S.G. glanced at a page from a book about Hindu gods, and was taken with the picture of Ganesha, the elephant-headed humanoid god of removal of obstacles (and so forth).

So, presumably, in an unwritten adventure, Svetz was sent to the Indian subcontinent around 700 A.D. to seek out a Hindu god with an elephant's head, and found... well, dully enough... an elephant instead. Or he persuaded Ganesha (literally) to accompany him in the time machine's extension cage, and on the trip back, the elephant-headed god turned into an elephant.

(All I can say is, it could have been worse: He might have tried to bring back the Hindu god Shiva instead... with who-knows-what results, perhaps catastrophic in the extreme, even more than the production of the Roc from the ostrich during the accidental destruction of Henry Ford's first automobile. Shiva, you know, was a god of destruction as well as transformation and renewal-of-life, and the opening of his third eye produced annihilation (more or less.) But... if he had morphed in the extension cage... what would he have turned into? but this is pure speculation. :)




  • Yeah, Ganesha was my second thought. +1 – Deer Hunter Oct 6 '15 at 5:04

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