Shelob was an "evil thing in spider form," living high in the Ephel Dúath mountains that border Mordor; the “last child of Ungoliant to trouble the unhappy world.” There are numerous references to her being ancient, and predating the events recalled in The Lord of the Rings by many ages. Although she resides in Mordor and is unrepentantly evil, she remains independent of Sauron and his influence.
This creature was first introduced in the chapter "Shelob's Lair," but is actually featured and is referred to long before she is properly introduced: "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."
She occupied Torech Ungol beneath Cirith Ungol ("Pass of the Spider"), and may have once lived in Beleriand. Also called the "Spider of Darkness," Shelob's brood (upon whom she would often feed) and descendants include the Giant Spiders who captured Bilbo Baggins's Dwarf allies in Mirkwood in The Hobbit.
Shelob's lair was along the path that Sam Gamgee and Frodo Baggins took while travelling 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. She attacked and stung Frodo, paralyzing him, while Gollum looked on and tried to strangle Sam. An enraged Sam fought off Gollum and then battled Shelob desperately using his master's sword. After hewing one claw from her leg and putting out one eye (the latter being the only soft part of her body), he ultimately defeated her when she impaled herself upon Sting while trying to crush him. She fled into her lair, significantly wounded. The story makes a point of saying that her final fate will remain unknown to the people of Middle-earth. It also makes a point — and even the Orcs remark on it — that it was the first time anyone had "stuck a pin" in Shelob.
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 could inject a dose of venom that was not intended to kill its victims, but only to render them unconscious and keep their meat fresh, as with lesser spiders. In the text, she was attempting to kill Sam outright, however.
As Tolkien admitted in a letter to his son, Shelob "is of course only 'she + lob'," - lob being an archaic English word for spider, influenced by Old English loppe or "spider". The word is not related to "cob" nor "cobweb". Old English attercoppe (meaning "spider") is derived from atter meaning "poison" and coppe meaning "head"; Tolkien used "attercop" as well as "cob" and "lob" in The Hobbit, where Bilbo Baggins sings songs taunting the giant spiders in Mirkwood: "Attercop, Attercop, Old Tomnoddy" and "Lazy Lob and Crazy Cob".
In Peter Jackson's film trilogy, Shelob's appearance is held over until the middle of the third movie, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. In the movie, Shelob can be seen to have a retractable venomous stinger at the rear end between the spinnerets, resembling a wasp's stinger. This is very much unlike real spiders, which inject venom with their fangs. Shelob also appears to have a gaping mouth, whereas real spiders can ingest only liquid. (Tolkien describes "her beak drabbling a spittle of venom".) In a DVD commentary, Jackson says Shelob's appearance is mostly based on the tunnel-web spiders of New Zealand, which he hates. In the film there is no indication that Shelob may be anything more than a simple giant spider, with no reference to the supernatural terror of her parent, Ungoliant.
In the film, Shelob 'stings' Frodo in the chest, while in the book, she penetrates him in the neck, above his mithril shirt. This is a possible plot incongruity, since, in a later scene, Sam witnesses two Orcs arguing over his unblemished mithril shirt (though the stinger could simply have hit him just above the shirt's cover, but just below his neck).
In the video game The Return of the King, which is based on the film, Shelob is one of the bosses and her defeat is required to beat the level "Shelob's Lair". In The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth II, Shelob is a hireable hero-unit of the Goblin faction.
In the videogame Borderlands the player must battle a giant Spiderant called 'Helob'
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 The Two Towers, book 4, chapter 9: "Shelob's Lair."
- ↑ Thomson, George H. (1967). ""The Lord of the Rings": The Novel as Traditional Romance". Wisconsin Studies in Contemporary Literature (Wisconsin Studies in Contemporary Literature, Vol. 8, No. 1) 8 (1): 43–59. doi:10.2307/1207129. JSTOR 1207129.
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