Tolkien Geek

Blogging J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" and other aimless pursuits.


TTT: Bk 4, Ch 9

Shelob's Lair
"'It's a trap!' said Sam, and he laid his hand upon the hilt of his sword; and as he did so, he thought of the darkness fo the barrow whence it came. 'I wish old Tom was near us now!' he thought."
While the fighting before Minas Tirith is about to begin, Frodo and Sam follow Gollum to the tunnel. They had begun to lose track of the time and the only way for them to tell that it was day was that the darkness was more like a "great roof of smoke" than the deep blackness of night. About a mile or so away, they saw before them a great grey wall which seemed to be the last rise of stone to the peak of the mountain. Even from that distance though they could smell a foul stench that got stronger as they got closer. But Gollum assures them that it is the only way, and one that he has taken once before.

Soon they entered the utter darkness of the tunnel. There air was still and stagnant and there was not sound. The walls on the sides felt smooth to the touch. Frodo and Sam walked side by side a few steps behind Gollum touching the walls with their outstretched hands to maintain their bearing. They each noticed an occasional opening on either side as they continued down the straight tunnel. They felt things brush up against their heads and hands. It seems that they walked for hours.

They at last discovered the source of the stench. On the lefthand side, Frodo found his hand reaching into a huge opening in the wall. They hurried past it and all of a sudden noticed that Gollum was gone. Sam urges Frodo forward. They had to move quickly. The tunnel, however, broke into a fork. On the left they hit a blockage of some sort, so they moved over to take the right fork. And that's when they heard a sound:
"Startling and horrible in the heavy padded silence: a gurgling, bubbling noise, and a long venomous hiss. They wheeled round, but nothing could be seen. Still as stones they stood, staring, waiting for they did not know what."
This part always creeps me out. The idea of fumbling around the dark of the unknown is disturbing enough. But to suddenly come to the realization that I was no longer alone, that something horrible and malicious was now with me would make me freeze with terror. The hobbits had made the acquaintance of the guardian of Torech Ungol and her name was Shelob.

The backstory for Shelob is that she is the last child of Ungoliant, the Maiar spirit in the form of a great spider who helped Melkor (Morgoth) destroy the two trees of Valinor. Ungoliant had mated with several great spiders of Beleriand before she killed them. Shelob was a product of one of these unions. After the Great War of Wrath at the end of the First Age, Shelob managed to escape the lands that were covered by the sea and eventually found this little nook in the Mountains of Shadow. She lived only to devour whatever entered her lair.

It was said that Shelob herself sired many offspring and these were the lesser spiders of Mirkwood, that Bilbo and the Dwarves battled on their great journey to the Lonely Mountain of Erebor, as told in "The Hobbit". She fed mostly on Orcs. I always get a laugh when in PJ's "Return of the King", Gollum says "And they don't tastes very nice, do they Precious?" What she longed for was sweeter meat, and this is what Gollum promised her on their first meeting long ago when he first entered Mordor.

She provided the perfect guard against enemies of Sauron. He knew of her presence and considered her to be a "pet". Every so often he would send prisoners to her lair to appease her appetite. But Shelob was the main reason the Sauron never feared any attack from the path of Cirith Ungol. Originally Tolkien wrote the scene to include many spiders, like those of Mirkwood. In other early drafts, when deciding to make one great terrible spider, he wrote it as being Ungoliant itself. Tolkien's own experiences may well have a lot to do with this creation. In a letter dated June 7, 1955 to W. H. Auden (letter no. 163), he writes:
"...I knew that the way was guarded by a Spider. And if that has anything to do with my being stung by a tarantula when a small child, people are welcome to the notion (supposing the improbable, that any one is interested). I can only say that I remember nothing about it, should not know it if I had not been told; and I do not dislike spiders particularly, and have no urge to kill them. I usually rescue those whom I find in the bath!"
Peter Jackson, however, is deathly afraid of spiders and allowed his designers at Weta Workshop the challenge of trying their best to scare him. And I'd say it worked out pretty well.

Now Frodo and Sam are faced with this monster, Gollum is no where to be found and they are struggling to decide what to do. Sam remembers the gift of the Lady Galadriel to Frodo, the star glass that contained the light of Earendil to aid him in dark places when all other lights go out. Frodo pulled it out and thrust the phial forward at Shelob. It flickered at first. Then, "as the power waxed, and hope grew in Frodo's mind, it began to burn , and kindled to a silver flame." Whether the increase in the phial's power was influenced by Frodo's growing strength or the other way around is not made clear.

After his initial horror at what the light reveales, Frodo's heart "flamed within him" and he unsheathed Sting, brandishing to blade toward the monster. Shelob for the first time experiences doubt, and the intensity of the light finally causes her to turn and flee. Frodo and Sam see their chance and run to the end of the tunnel, only to find it blocked by a web. Sam's blade has little effect on the woven barrier, but Sting - an Elven blade - shears right through it. Frodo gives Sam the phial to hold as he frees them from the tunnel. Somehow they could still feel Shelob's presence but they are not aware that there are many passages and holes within which she could travel.

Frodo runs ahead of Sam in the open pass and even the darkened skies above are a welcome sight. Sam tries to keep up with his master and suddenly he sees Shelob squeeze herself out of a hole on the left, putting herself in between the two hobbits.
"Great horns she had, and behind her short stalk-like neck was her huge swollen body, a vast bloated bag, swaying and sagging between her legs; its great bulk was black, blotched with livid marks, but the belly underneath was pale and luminous and gave forth a stench. Her legs were bent, with great knobbed joints high above her back, and hair that stuck out like steel spines, and at each leg's end there was a claw."

She takes little notice of Sam, and pursues Frodo, who is not aware she is behind him and no longer has the protection of the phial's light (something Alan Lee must have forgotten in his illustration to the right, unless that light is generated by Sting). As Sam calls out to warn Frodo, he is grabbed from behind by Gollum. At last the loathsome creature could exact his revenge on the hobbit that treated him so harshly, leaving Frodo to Shelob. "O yes, Shelob will get him, not Smeagol: he promised; he won't hurt Master at all." But he had Sam now and he surely meant to kill him. Sam struggles and manages to throw himself backwards on top of Gollum, who was taken by surprise. Using the walking stick Faramir gave him he fights him off until he can get his hand on his Numenorean blade. Gollum, seeing he is beaten, runs off. Sam chases after him until he realizes that his Master is in danger.

The hobbit spins round and heads back up the pass to save him.

[Chronology: March 12th - March 13th 3019 T.A.]

Next: The Choices Of Master Samwise

(revised 10/6/06)


At 9:34 PM, Blogger frodo325 said...

Nothing irritated me more about the changes Peter Jackson made than having Frodo send Sam away.
Shelob's Lair was a place they both entered together and faced together. Frodo never would have sent Sam away--even with Gollum's insiduous treachery.

At 9:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll admit, that one bothered me a bit. I think that Jackson really wanted the audience to hate Gollum at that point 0 after spending most of the Two Towers making him sympathetic.

I'm working on a post right now about some of the biggest changes in each of the films. I'll start with FOTR. Probably be up sometime next week.

At 9:51 PM, Blogger frodo325 said...

I agree with you about Jackson wanting us to hate Gollum but it distorted Frodo's relationship and interaction with Sam in a much too drastic way.

I think having Gollum attack Frodo in the Lair and their struggle for the Ring showed Gollum's viciousness.

I wonder why they changed Frodo into a weaker character than Tolkien had subcreated him to be? This was one of those examples. It made Frodo appear to be very weak--I understand that Frodo did come to empathize with Gollum and see himself and his 'future' in Gollum but I just don't think he would have gone so far as to send his dearest Hobbit away. Their bond was too strong for that kind of nonsense. OK--rant is over.


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