HASA Resources

Things of Middle-earth

Giant Spiders

Type: Animals

Description:


Table of Contents:

Physical Characteristics
Habitat
Feeding Habits
Unusual Powers:
The Unlight of Ungoliant
Shelob's Mind Influence
Black Webs
Speech
History
Lesser Breeds:
The Giant Spiders of Mirkwood
Ordinary Spiders
Etymology
A Personal Note from Tolkien

Physical Characteristics

...she [Ungoliant] took shape as a spider of monstrous form...

The Silmarillion, Quenta Silmarillion, Ch 8, Of The Darkening of Valinor

Most like a spider she [Shelob] was, but huger than the greatest hunting beasts, and more terrible than they because of the evil purpose in her remorseless eyes. ...they were lit with a fell light again, clustering in her out-thrust head. 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 hairs that stuck out like steel spines, and at each leg's end there was a claw.

The Two Towers, LoTR Book 4, Ch 9, Shelob's Lair

...from behind them [Frodo and Sam] came a sound... a gurgling, bubbling noise, and a long venomous hiss. ...

The bubbling hiss drew nearer, and there was a creaking as of some great jointed thing that moved with slow purpose in the dark. A reek came on before it.

The Two Towers, LoTR Book 4, Ch 9, Shelob's Lair

As soon as she had squeezed her soft squelching body and its folded limbs out of the upper exit from her lair, she moved with a horrible speed, now running on her creaking legs, now making a sudden bound.

The Two Towers, LoTR Book 4, Ch 9, Shelob's Lair

...he [Frodo] was aware of eyes growing visible, two great clusters of many-windowed eyes... The radiance of the star-glass was broken and thrown back from their thousand facets, but behind the glitter a pale deadly fire began steadily to glow within, a flame kindled in some deep pit of evil thought. Monstrous and abominable eyes they were, bestial and yet filled with purpose and with hideous delight, gloating over their prey trapped beyond all hope of escape. ...

The stench of death was like a cloud about him. ...

They [Shelob's eyes] wavered. Doubt came into them as the light approached. One by one they dimmed, and slowly they drew back. ... Still it approached, and the eyes began to quail. One by one they all went dark; they turned away, and a great bulk, beyond the light's reach, heaved its huge shadow in between.

The Two Towers, LoTR Book 4, Ch 9, Shelob's Lair

But Shelob was not as dragons are, no softer spot had she save only her eyes. Knobbed and pitted with corruption was her age-old hide, but ever thickened from within with layer on layer of evil growth. The blade scored it with a dreadful gash, but those hideous folds could not be pierced by any strength of men... She yielded to the stroke, and then heaved up the great bag of her belly high above Sam's head. Poison frothed and bubbled from the wound. ...

Sam had fallen to his knees... his senses reeling in the foul stench... Slowly he raised his head and saw her... eyeing him, her beak drabbling a spittle of venom, and a green ooze trickling from below her wounded eye. There she crouched, her shuddering belly splayed upon the ground, the great bows of her legs quivering, as she gathered herself for another spring...

The Two Towers, LoTR Book 4, Ch 10, The Choices of Master Samwise

... No onslaught more fierce was ever seen in the savage world of beasts, where some desperate small creature armed with little teeth, alone, will spring upon a tower of horn and hide...

The Two Towers, LoTR Book 4, Ch 10, The Choices of Master Samwise

The spider lay dead beside him [Bilbo], and his sword-blade was stained black.

The Hobbit, Ch 8, Flies and Spiders


Habitat

There, beneath the sheer walls of the mountains and the cold dark sea, the shadows were deepest and thickest in the world; and there in Avathar, secret and unknown, Ungoliant had made her abode.

The Silmarillion, Quenta Silmarillion, Ch 8, Of The Darkening of Valinor

...that region [Nan Dungortheb] was filled with fear... Thither, as was earlier told, Ungoliant had fled from the whips of the Balrogs, and there she dwelt a while, filling the ravines with her deadly gloom, and there still, when she had passed away, her foul offspring lurked and wove their evil nets; and the thin waters that spilled from Ered Gorgoroth were defiled, and perilous to drink, for the hearts of those that tasted them were filled with shadows of madness and despair. All living things else shunned that land, and the Noldor would pass through Nan Dungortheb only at great need...

The Silmarillion, Quenta Silmarillion, Ch 14, Of Beleriand and Its Realms

"Do not go to Cirith Ungol!" [said Faramir.] ...
"...there is some dark terror that dwells in the passes above Minas Morgul. If Cirith Ungol is named, old men and masters of lore will blanch and fall silent."

The Two Towers, LoTR Book 4, Ch 6, The Forbidden Pool

There agelong she [Shelob] had dwelt, an evil thing in spider-form, even such as once of old lived in [Beleriand]... How Shelob came there [Cirith Ungol], flying from ruin, no tale tells... 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. ...

...long now had she been hungry, lurking in her den, while the power of Sauron grew, and light and living things forsook his borders; and the city in the valley was dead, and no Elf or Man came near, only the unhappy Orcs. Poor food and wary. But she must eat, and however busily they delved new winding passages from the pass and from their tower, ever she found some way to snare them....

And as for Sauron: he knew where she lurked. It pleased him that she should dwell there hungry but unabated in malice, a more sure watch upon that ancient path into his land [Mordor] than any other that his skill could have devised. And Orcs, they were useful slaves, but he had them in plenty. If now and again Shelob caught them to stay her appetite, she was welcome: he could spare them. And sometimes as a man may cast a dainty to his cat (his cat he calls her, but she owns him not) Sauron would send her prisoners that he had no better uses for: he would have them driven to her hole, and report brought back to him of the play she made.

So they both lived, delighting in their own devices, and feared no assault, nor wrath, or any end of their wickedness. Never yet had any fly escaped from Shelob's webs...

The Two Towers, LoTR Book 4, Ch 9, Shelob's Lair

Far and wide her lesser broods... spread... from the Ephel Dúath to the eastern hills, to Dol Guldur and... Mirkwood.

The Two Towers, LoTR Book 4, Ch 9, Shelob's Lair


Feeding Habits

... The outlet [of Shelob's Lair] was blocked with some barrier, but not of stone: soft and a little yielding it seemed, and yet strong and impervious ... Across the width and height of the tunnel a vast web was spun...

The Two Towers, LoTR Book 4, Ch 9, Shelob's Lair

... He [Bilbo] was deep in thoughts ... when he felt something touch him. Something like a strong sticky string was against his left hand, and when he tried to move he found that his legs were already wrapped in the same stuff, so that when he got up he fell over.

Then the great spider, who had been busy tying him up while he dozed, came from behind him and came at him. He could only see the thing's eyes, but he could feel its hairy legs as it struggled to wind its abominable threads round and round him. ... He beat the creature off with his hands -- it was trying to poison him to keep him quiet, as small spiders do to flies...

The Hobbit, Ch 8, Flies and Spiders

"Garn!" said Shagrat. "She's got more than one poison. When she's hunting, she just gives 'em a dab in the neck and they go as limp as boned fish, and then she has her way with them..."

The Two Towers, LoTR Book 4, Ch 10, The Choices of Master Samwise

Frodo was lying face upward on the ground and the monster was bending over him... Frodo was already bound in cords, wound about him from ankle to shoulder, and the monster with her great forelegs was beginning half to lift, half to drag his body away.

The Two Towers, LoTR Book 4, Ch 10, The Choices of Master Samwise

...laughed Gorbag[,] "He's nothing but carrion now..."

"You fool," snarled Shagrat. "... Carrion! Is that all you know of Her Ladyship? When she binds with cords, she's after meat. She doesn't eat dead meat, nor suck cold blood. This fellow isn't dead!" ...

"Nar -- this little filth, he'll wake up, in a few hours; and beyond feeling a bit sick for a bit, he'll be all right. ... And of course, beyond wondering where he is and what's happened to him."

The Two Towers, LoTR Book 4, Ch 10, The Choices of Master Samwise

[Said the Mirkwood spiders,] "...we'll hang him head downwards for a day or two."

The Hobbit, Ch 8, Flies and Spiders

...said Shagrat[,] "D'you remember old Ufthak? We lost him for days. Then we found him in a corner; hanging up he was, but he was wide awake and glaring. How we laughed! She'd forgotten him, maybe, but we didn't touch him -- no good interfering with Her..."

The Two Towers, LoTR Book 4, Ch 10, The Choices of Master Samwise

...one of the fat [Mirkwood] spiders ran along a rope till it came to a dozen bundles hanging in a row from a high branch. Bilbo was horrified... to see a dwarvish foot sticking out of the bottoms of some of the bundles...

The Hobbit, Ch 8, Flies and Spiders

[Said the Mirkwood spiders,] "We will eat you and leave your bones and skin hanging on a tree."

The Hobbit, Ch 8, Flies and Spiders

[Gollum said,] "It may well be... that when She throws away the bones and the empty garments, we shall find it... the Precious..."

The Two Towers, LoTR Book 4, Ch 9, Shelob's Lair

Now splaying her legs she drove her huge bulk down on him again. ...

There she crouched, her shuddering belly splayed upon the ground, the great bows of her legs quivering, as she gathered herself for another spring -- this time to crush and sting to death: no little bite of poison to still the struggling of her meat; this time to slay and then to rend.

The Two Towers, LoTR Book 4, Ch 10, The Choices of Master Samwise


Unusual Powers: The Unlight of Ungoliant

A cloak of darkness she wove about them when Melkor and Ungoliant set forth: an Unlight, in which things seemed to be no more, and which eyes could not pierce, for it was void.

The Silmarillion, Quenta Silmarillion, Ch 8, Of The Darkening of Valinor

And in that very hour Melkor and Ungoliant came hastening over the fields of Valinor, as the shadow of a black cloud upon the wind fleets over the sunlit earth... Then the Unlight of Ungoliant rose up even to the roots of the Trees... she set her black beak to their wounds... and they died. ...Ungoliant belched forth black vapours... and swelled to a shape so vast and hideous that Melkor was afraid. ...

The Light failed; but the Darkness that followed was more than loss of light. In that hour was made a Darkness that seemed not lack but a thing with being of its own: for it was indeed made by malice out of Light, and it had power to pierce the eye, and to enter heart and mind, and strangle the very will.

The Silmarillion, Quenta Silmarillion, Ch 8, Of The Darkening of Valinor

But Manwë from his high seat looked out, and his eyes alone pierced through the night, until they saw a Darkness beyond dark which they could not penetrate, huge but far away, moving now northward with great speed; and he knew that Melkor had come and gone.

Then the pursuit was begun [by] the host of Oromë... But so soon as any came up with the Cloud of Ungoliant the riders of the Valar were blinded and dismayed, and they were scattered, and went they knew not whither; and the sound of the Valaróma faltered and failed. And Tulkas was as one caught in a black net at night, and he stood powerless and beat the air in vain. But when the Darkness had passed, it was too late: Melkor had gone whither he would, and his vengeance was achieved.

The Silmarillion, Quenta Silmarillion, Ch 8, Of The Darkening of Valinor

...there came messengers from Formenos, and they... told how a blind Darkness came northward, and in the midst walked some power for which there was no name, and the Darkness issued from it. But Melkor also was there, and... he slew Finwë King of the Noldor... for Finwë alone had not fled from the horror of the Dark. ...and the Silmarils were gone.

The Silmarillion, Quenta Silmarillion, Ch 9, Of the Flight of the Noldor

...she [Ungoliant] quailed, and turned to flight, belching black vapours to cover her...

The Silmarillion, Quenta Silmarillion, Ch 9, Of the Flight of the Noldor


Unusual Powers: Shelob's Mind Influence

Already, years before, Gollum had beheld her [Shelob]... and the darkness of her evil will walked through all the ways of his weariness beside him, cutting him off from light and from regret.

The Two Towers, LoTR Book 4, Ch 9, Shelob's Lair

Drawing a deep breath they [Frodo and Sam] passed inside [Shelob's Lair]... They walked as it were in a black vapour wrought of veritable darkness itself that, as it was breathed, brought blindness not only to the eyes but to the mind, so that even the memory of colours and of forms and of any light faded out of thought. Night always had been, and always would be, and night was all. ...

But for a while they could still feel, and indeed the senses of their feet and fingers at first seemed sharpened almost painfully. ...

... But after a time their senses became duller, both touch and hearing seemed to grow numb...

... And still the stench grew. It grew, until almost it seemed to them that smell was the only clear sense left to them, and that was for their torment. ...

... Here was some opening in the rock... and out of it came a reek so foul, and a sense of lurking malice so intense, that Frodo reeled. And at that moment Sam too lurched and fell forwards. ...

Maybe they had passed the dreadful unseen opening, but whether that was so or not, suddenly it was easier to move, as if some hostile will for the moment had released them. ...

... Frodo's hand wavered, and slowly the Phial drooped. Then suddenly, released from the holding spell to run a little while in vain panic for the amusement of the eyes, they both turned and fled together; but even as they ran Frodo looked back and saw with terror that at once the eyes [of Shelob] came leaping up behind.

The Two Towers, LoTR Book 4, Ch 9, Shelob's Lair

"Aiya Eärendil Elenion Ancalima!" he cried...

But other potencies there are in Middle-earth, powers of night, and they are old and strong. And She that walked in the darkness had heard the Elves cry that cry far back in the deeps of time, and she had not heeded it, and it did not daunt her now. Even as Frodo spoke he felt a great malice bent upon him, and a deadly regard considering him.

The Two Towers, LoTR Book 4, Ch 9, Shelob's Lair

And so back they turned... and with every stride they climbed higher above the stenches of the unseen lair, and strength returned to limb and heart.

The Two Towers, LoTR Book 4, Ch 9, Shelob's Lair


Unusual Powers: Black Webs

In a ravine she [Ungoliant] lived, ... weaving her black webs in a cleft of the mountains. There she sucked up all light that she could find, and spun it forth again in dark nets of strangling gloom, until no light more could come to her abode...

The Silmarillion, Quenta Silmarillion, Ch 8, Of The Darkening of Valinor

But still she [Shelob] was there [Cirith Ungol]... weaving webs of shadow; for all living things were her food, and her vomit darkness.

The Two Towers, LoTR Book 4, Ch 9, Shelob's Lair

Holding aloft the Phial Frodo looked and before him he saw a greyness which the radiance of the star-glass did not pierce and did not illuminate, as if it were a shadow that being cast by no light, no light could dissipate. Across the width and height of the tunnel a vast web was spun, orderly as the web of some huge spider, but denser-woven and far greater, and each thread was as thick as a rope. ...

The Two Towers, LoTR Book 4, Ch 9, Shelob's Lair

He [Bilbo] ... noticed a place of dense black shadow ahead of him, black even for that forest [Mirkwood], like a patch of midnight that had never been cleared away. As he drew nearer, he saw that it was made by spider-webs one behind and over and tangled with another.

The Hobbit, Ch 8, Flies and Spiders


Unusual Powers: Speech

...Morgoth could not elude Ungoliant... [He] was drawing near to the ruins of Angband... and Ungoliant... knew that here he would seek to escape from her, and she stayed him, demanding that he fulfil his promise.

"Blackheart!" she said. "I have done thy bidding, but I hunger still."

The Silmarillion, Quenta Silmarillion, Ch 9, Of the Flight of the Noldor

[Note: there is no quote in Tolkien's works that explicitly ascribes the power of speech to Shelob; however, both her mother and her children (the Spiders of Mirkwood) could speak, and the following quotes indicate at least the ability to engage in advanced communication, which might suggest speech:]

Already, years before, Gollum had beheld her
... and in past days he had bowed and worshipped her... And he had promised to bring her food. But her lust was not his lust. Little she knew of or cared for towers, or rings, or anything devised by mind or hand...

...she lusted for sweeter meat. And Gollum had brought it to her.

"We'll see..." he [Gollum] said... "It may well be... that when She throws away the bones and the empty garments, we shall find... the Precious, a reward for poor Sméagol who brings nice food..."

So he thought in an inner chamber of his cunning, which he still hoped to hide from her, even when he had come to her again and had bowed low before her while his companions [Frodo and Sam] slept.

The Two Towers, LoTR Book 4, Ch 9, Shelob's Lair

Suddenly he [Bilbo] saw, too, that there were [Mirkwood] spiders huge and horrible sitting in the branches above him... [He] watched a group of them for some time, and then in the silence and stillness of the wood he realised that these loathsome creatures were speaking one to another. Their voices were sort of thin creaking and hissing, but he could make out many of the words that they said. They were talking about the dwarves!

"It was a sharp struggle, but worth it," said one. "What nasty thick skins they have to be sure, but I'll wager there's good juice inside."

"Aye, they'll make fine eating, when they've hung a bit," said another.

The Hobbit, Ch 8, Flies and Spiders


History

The Eldar knew not whence she [Ungoliant] came; but some have said that in ages long before she descended from the darkness that lies about Arda... and that in the beginning she was one of those that he [Melkor] corrupted to his service. But she had disowned her Master, desiring to be mistress of her own lust, taking all things to herself to feed her emptiness.

The Silmarillion, Quenta Silmarillion, Ch 8, Of The Darkening of Valinor

And in that very hour [of the mingling of the lights of the Two Trees] Melkor and Ungoliant came hastening over the fields of Valinor, as the shadow of a black cloud upon the wind fleets over the sunlit earth; and they came before the green mound Ezellohar. Then the Unlight of Ungoliant rose up even to the roots of the Trees, and Melkor sprang upon the mound; and with this black spear he smote each Tree to its core, wounded them deep, and their sap poured forth as it were their blood, and going then from Tree to Tree she set her black beak to their wounds, till they were drained; and the poison of Death that was in her went into their tissues and withered them, root, branch, and leaf; and they died. And still she thirsted, and going to the Wells of Varda she drank them dry; but Ungoliant belched forth black vapours as she drank, and swelled to a shape so vast and hideous that Melkor was afraid. ...

So the great darkness fell upon Valinor.

The Silmarillion, Quenta Silmarillion, Ch 8, Of The Darkening of Valinor

... And Nienna arose and went up onto Ezellohar, and cast back her grey hood, and with her tears washed away the defilements of Ungoliant; and she sang in mourning for the bitterness of the world and the Marring of Arda.

But even as Nienna mourned, there came messengers from Formenos, and they were Noldor and bore new tidings of evil. For they told how a blind Darkness came northward, and in the midst walked some power for which there was no name, and the Darkness issued from it. But Melkor also was there, and he came to the house of Fëanor, and there he slew Finwë King of the Noldor before his doors, and spilled the first blood in the Blessed Realm; for Finwë alone had not fled from the horror of the Dark. And they told that Melkor had broken the stronghold of Formenos, and taken all the jewels of the Noldor that were hoarded in that place; and the Silmarils were gone.

The Silmarillion, Quenta Silmarillion, Ch 9, Of the Flight of the Noldor

Meanwhile Morgoth escaping from the pursuit of the Valar came to the wastes of Araman. ... Through this region Morgoth and Ungoliant passed in haste... Together they went on, for Morgoth could not elude Ungoliant, and her cloud was still about him, and all her eyes were upon him; and they came to those lands that lay north of the Firth of Drengist. Now Morgoth was drawing near to the ruins of Angband, where his great western stronghold had been; and Ungoliant perceived his hope, and knew that here he would seek to escape from her, and she stayed him, demanding that he fulfil his promise. ...

But Ungoliant had grown great, and he less by the power that had gone out of him; and her cloud closed about him, and she enmeshed him in a web of clinging thongs to strangle him. Then Morgoth sent forth a terrible cry... Deep in forgotten places that cry was heard. Far beneath the ruined halls of Angband, in vaults to which the Valar in the haste of their assault had not descended, Balrogs lurked still, awaiting ever the return of their Lord; and now swiftly they arose, and passing over Hithlum they came to Lammoth as a tempest of fire. With their whips of flame they smote asunder the webs of Ungoliant, and she quailed, and turned to flight, belching black vapours to cover her; and fleeing from the north she went down into Beleriand, and dwelt beneath Ered Gorgoroth, in that dark valley that was after called Nan Dungortheb, the Valley of Dreadful Death, because of the horror that she bred there. For other foul creatures of spider form had dwelt there since the days of the delving of Angband, and she mated with them, and devoured them; and even after Ungoliant herself departed, and went whither she would into the forgotten south of the world, her offspring abode there and wove their hideous webs. Of the fate of Ungoliant no tale tells. Yet some have said that she ended long ago, when in her uttermost famine she devoured herself at last.

The Silmarillion, Quenta Silmarillion, Ch 9, Of the Flight of the Noldor

There agelong she [Shelob] had dwelt, an evil thing in spider-form, even such as once of old lived in [Beleriand]... How Shelob came there [Cirith Ungol], flying from ruin, no tale tells... 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.

The Two Towers, LoTR Book 4, Ch 9, Shelob's Lair

Already, years before, Gollum had beheld her... and in past days he had bowed and worshipped her... And he had promised to bring her food. ...

...[He] had come to her again and had bowed low before her while his companions [Frodo and Sam] slept.

The Two Towers, LoTR Book 4, Ch 9, Shelob's Lair

But ... now had she been hungry, lurking in her den, ... and no Elf or Man came near, only the unhappy Orcs. Poor food and wary. But she must eat... But she lusted for sweeter meat. And Gollum had brought it to her.

"We'll see..." he [Gollum] said... "It may well be... that when She throws away the bones and the empty garments, we shall find... the Precious, a reward for poor Sméagol who brings nice food..."

The Two Towers, LoTR Book 4, Ch 9, Shelob's Lair

Poison frothed and bubbled from [Shelob's] wound. Now splaying her legs she drove her huge bulk down on him again. Too soon. For Sam still stood upon his feet, and dropping his own sword, with both hands he held the elven-blade point upwards, fending off that ghastly roof; and so Shelob, with the driving force of her own cruel will, with strength greater than any warrior's hand, thrust herself upon a bitter spike.

The Two Towers, LoTR Book 4, Ch 10, The Choices of Master Samwise

Then he [Sam] put [the One Ring] on.

At once he was aware that hearing was sharpened while sight was dimmed, but otherwise than in Shelob's Lair. ...

He heard... down away under the rock the bubbling misery of Shelob, groping, lost in some blind passage...

The Two Towers, LoTR Book 4, Ch 10, The Choices of Master Samwise

Shelob was gone; and whether she lay long in her lair, nursing her malice and her misery, and in slow years of darkness healed herself from within, rebuilding her clustered eyes, until with hunger like death she spun once more her dreadful snares in the glens of the Mountains of Shadow, this tale does not tell.

The Two Towers, LoTR Book 4, Ch 10, The Choices of Master Samwise


Lesser Breeds: The Giant Spiders of Mirkwood

Far and wide her lesser broods, bastards of the miserable mates, her own offspring, that she slew, spread from glen to glen, from the Ephel Dúath to the eastern hills, to Dol Guldur and the fastnesses of Mirkwood. But none could rival her, Shelob the Great, last child of Ungoliant to trouble the unhappy world.

The Two Towers, LoTR Book 4, Ch 9, Shelob's Lair

The nastiest things they [Thorin Oakenshield's company] saw were the cobwebs: dark dense cobwebs with threads extraordinarily thick, often stretched from tree to tree, or tangled in the lower branches on either side of them. There were none stretched across the [Elf-]path, but whether because some magic kept it clear, or for what other reason they could not guess.

The Hobbit, Ch 8, Flies and Spiders

The nights were the worst [in Mirkwood]. It then became pitch-dark. ... [But] they could see eyes. ... And sometimes they would gleam down from the branches just above him; and that was most terrifying. But the eyes that he liked the least were horrible pale bulbous sort of eyes. "Insect eyes," he thought, "not animal eyes, only they are much too big."

The Hobbit, Ch 8, Flies and Spiders

There was the usual dim grey light of the forest-day about him when he came to his senses. The spider lay dead beside him, and his sword-blade was stained black. Somehow the killing of the giant spider, all alone by himself in the dark without the help of the wizard or the dwarves or of anyone else, made a great difference to Mr. Baggins...

The Hobbit, Ch 8, Flies and Spiders

Off Bilbo scuttled to a fresh place, but several of the spiders had run now to different points in the glade where they lived, and were busy spinning webs across all the spaces between the tree-stems. Very soon the hobbit would be caught in a thick fence of them all round him -- that at least was the spiders' idea. ...

With that he turned and found that the last space between two tall trees had been closed with a web -- but luckily not a proper web, only great strands of double-thick spider-rope run hastily backwards and forwards from trunk to trunk. Out came his little sword. He slashed the threads to pieces and went off...

The Hobbit, Ch 8, Flies and Spiders

Bilbo's next job was to loose a dwarf. What was he to do? If he cut the string which hung him up, the wretched dwarf would tumble... to the ground a good way below. ...

Bilbo immediately went to the end of the branch nearest the tree-trunk and kept back those [spiders] that had crawled up. He had taken off his ring when he rescued Fili and forgotten to put it on again, so now they all began to splutter and hiss:

"Now we see you, you nasty little creature! We will eat you and leave your bones and skin hanging on a tree. Ugh! he's got a sting, has he? Well, we'll get him all the same, and then we'll hang him head downwards for a day or two."

The Hobbit, Ch 8, Flies and Spiders

... But at last, just when Bilbo felt that he could not lift his hand for a single stroke more, the spiders suddenly gave it up, and followed them no more, but went back disappointed to their dark colony.

The dwarves [Thorin Oakenshield's company] then noticed that that they had come to the edge of a ring where elf-fires had been... But it seemed that some good magic lingered in such spots, which the spiders did not like.

The Hobbit, Ch 8, Flies and Spiders


Lesser Breeds: Ordinary Spiders

...he [Bilbo] poked his head above the roof of leaves [of an oak in Mirkwood] and then he found spiders all right. But they were only small ones of ordinary size, and they were after the butterflies. ...

The Hobbit, Ch 8, Flies and Spiders


Etymology

Both lob [as in Shelob] and cob [as in cobwebs] are words for "spider." Lob comes from the Old English loppe, lobbe; Middle English loppe, lop(p), lob. Cob is rare as a separate word and is probably taken from cobweb (Middle English coppe-web). In The Princess and the Goblin, however, George Macdonald used cob as a word for goblin.

The Annotated Hobbit, Ch 8, Flies and Spiders, Note 16

Do you think Shelob is a good name for a monstrous spider creature? It is of course only 'she + lob' (= spider), but written as one, it seems to be quite noisome.....

The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, Edited by Humphrey Carpenter, Letter 70 to Christopher Tolkien, 21 May 1944


A Personal Note from Tolkien

...I met a lot of things on the way [while writing the books] that astonished me completely. ... But I did know more or less about Gollum and his part, and Sam, and 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 [in Bloemfontein, South Africa], people are welcome to the notion (supposing the improbable, that anyone 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!

Well now I am really getting garrulous. I do hope you will not be frightfully bored.

The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, Edited by Humphrey Carpenter, Letter 163 to W. H. Auden, 7 June 1955

Contributors: Lyllyn 10.30.03; added Mirkwood Spiders: Elena Tiriel 26May04; added quotes & links: ET 29May04; added etymology: ET 30May04; added JRRT quote: ET 31May04; revised & reorganized: ET 6Jun04; added Letters: ET 8Jun04; added TOC links: ET 23Jun04

Related Library Entries

Things Search

   

Full Text Search


Search runs slowly