Spiders creep me out… even the “teensy weensy spider” that went up the water-spout in that children’s song. I know that spiders have an important niche in the ecosystem, including my garden, but that’s a moot point. I don’t like spiders.
Spiders in kids lit include Charlotte’s Web and the glorious Anansi stories from Africa and the Caribbean. I have been trying to remember which book contained the first monster spider combat that really scared me… was it Verne’s Mysterious Island or Journey to the Center of the Earth? Or perhaps an old Tarzan epic? Forgetting the source for such a powerful impression is annoying, I am not curious enough to reread the old stories to find out. Do you remember?
The most vivid literary depictions are in Tolkien, in both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. The books are much more fun than the films… but wasn’t that your experience with Harry Potter, and Twilight, and just about every book that has been “translated to the big screen”? The best version of The Hobbit was surely the 1977 animation, which you can see here with French subtitles. I feel sorry for the children who will experience so many great stories first… or only ever… on-screen.
But the suspense created by dramatic irony and special effects is wonderful in this scene from the new film version. I wanted to yell out, “Just step on it”, the way little kids watching a play or panto will shout to warn Jack about the giant behind the door.
Shelob is a fictional giant spider from J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth legendarium. She appears at the end of the fourth book, second volume (The Two Towers), of The Lord of the Rings. Her lair lay in Cirith Ungol (“the pass of the spider”) leading into Mordor. Gollum deliberately led Frodo Baggins there in hopes of recovering the One Ring when Shelob attacked Frodo. The plan was foiled when Samwise Gamgee defeated Shelob with Frodo’s elvish light and sword.
Shelob was an “evil thing in spider form…[the] last child of Ungoliant to trouble the unhappy world”, living high in the Ephel Dúath mountains that border Mordor. There are numerous references to her being ancient, predating the events of The Lord of the Rings by many ages. Although she resided in Mordor and was unrepentantly evil, she was independent of Sauron and his influence.
This creature makes her first appearance in the chapter “The Stairs of Cirith Ungol”, though she is formally introduced in the next chapter “Shelob’s Lair” where the author says “But still she was there, who was there before Sauron, and before the first stone of Barad-dûr; and she served none but herself, drinking the blood of Elves and Men, bloated and grown fat with endless brooding on her feasts, weaving webs of shadow; for all living things were her food, and her vomit darkness.” Her descendants (upon whom she would often feed) include the Giant Spiders who captured and were defeated by Bilbo Baggins’s Dwarf allies in Mirkwood in The Hobbit.
Shelob’s lair was Torech Ungol, below Cirith Ungol (“Pass of the Spider”). It lay along the path that Sam Gamgee and Frodo Baggins took into Mordor along their route to Mount Doom. Her spider-silk, which was spun in both rope and cobweb form, was strong and cleverly made, trapping those who walked into it. Shelob had encountered Gollum during his previous trip to Mordor, and he apparently worshipped her after his fashion. The Orcs of the Tower of Cirith Ungol called her “Shelob the Great” and “Her Ladyship,” and knew of Gollum’s relationship with her (they referred to him as “Her Sneak”). Sauron himself was aware of her existence, but left her alone, as she was a useful guard on the pass. He occasionally sent her prisoners for whom he had no further use.
Gollum led the Hobbits into her lair so that he could get the One Ring after she consumed them, as she had no use for it. After losing track of Gollum, the Hobbits realized that the tunnel was blocked by her webs. She cornered them, but Frodo used the Phial of Galadriel’s light to drive her off. Frodo then used Sting to cut the webs and the Hobbits thought that they had escaped the trap.
However Gollum waylaid the pair and tried to strangle Sam, while Shelob stung and paralysed Frodo. An enraged Sam fought off Gollum and then battled Shelob desperately using his master’s sword Sting. Sam first hewed off a claw from one of her legs and stabbed out one eye (the latter being the only soft part of her body). Then he inflicted a deep gash upon her body. Seeking to crush Sam, she instead impaled herself upon Sting. Shelob’s rage was rekindled and she resolved to kill Sam, but he defeated her by unleashing the light of the Phial of Galadriel, which burned and temporarily blinded her. Shelob fled into her lair, significantly wounded. Her final fate, according to the text, will remain unknown to the people of Middle-earth.
Thinking Frodo dead, Sam took the Ring from his friend and left his body behind, but discovered by listening to a pair of Orcs that Shelob normally injects a small dose of venom that was not intended to kill her victims, but only to render them unconscious and keep their meat fresh, as with lesser spiders.