Mar 28 2020, 8:32pm
I would agree that if the odor references were left out, the hobbits' ordeal in the tunnels would still "suggest death (darkness, confinement, sensory loss, decay, terror....)", as you put it.
Dark vs Dark and Smelly; Monster vs Female Monster
But after all, isn't that what we've already experienced in the Barrows and Moria, and will experience once again on the Paths of the Dead? The underworld journey is a trope that Tolkien embraces numerous times.
And that's why I noticed the smell, including the typical (for Tolkien) use of squeamish euphemism "filth unnameable", etc. for the body and its functions.
The correlative factor, the femaleness of the monster, would again not seem to be necessary for the horror to play itself out. And yet, there she is - one of the few females of any description in the book, and definitely the only evil one. Again, why? And so as you say, a reader "makes something of it" willy-nilly. And believe me, you haven't read feminist criticism of Tolkien until you've read some of the fantastic conclusions drawn by some writers on Shelob's nature and symbolic role in the story! Which I referred to indirectly in my post, trying to remain delicate and polite on our family board.
To jump ahead to the beginning of the following chapter, I've always loved this bit of Freudian horror:
She ... heaved up the great bag of her belly high above Sam’s head. ... Now splaying her legs she drove her huge bulk down on him again. Too soon. For Sam ... 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. Deep, deep it pricked, as Sam was crushed slowly to the ground. Can we talk?
No such anguish had Shelob ever known, or dreamed of knowing, in all her long world of wickedness. ... A shudder went through her. - LR IV.10
Vocab time: great bag of her belly; splaying her legs; down on him again; thrust herself upon a bitter spike; deep, deep it pricked; a shudder went through her.
In the most cruelly parodic fashion, given the actual events, what's going on here in the subtext is that Shelob "got on top". In this passage, Shelob is a woman indeed.
And the weirdest thing about Shelob, to me, is that she truly is Ungoliant's daughter. The elder creature is the original 'female spider monster' of Tolkien's imagination, going back decades. I feel sure that much of the language in the tunnel in this chapter (back to Shelob's Lair) is Tolkien finally getting to write at length about the nature of the Darkness that Ungoliant vomited, or excreted, or spun, and sought to wrap the entire world in during her adventure with Morgoth to kill the Two Trees and steal the Silmarils.
In a few steps they were in utter and impenetrable dark. Not since the lightless passages of Moria had Frodo or Sam known such darkness, and if possible here it was deeper and denser. There, there were airs moving, and echoes, and a sense of space. Here the air was still, stagnant, heavy, and sound fell dead. 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.- LR IV.9That, I suggest, is the incredible negative power that Morgoth knew he had to recruit if he was going to destroy the Trees.
And that connection also brings us the counterpart for Shelob in the LR that I noted. It's not Galadriel, although, she's a strong candidate for girl on girl opponent by supplying Frodo with the glass that defeats Shelob (containing the light that Ungoliant tried to poison and kill). Rather, it's Sauron to whom she is repeatedly compared in their contrasting modes of evil and their self-regarding mutual dependence - a replay again of the team/marriage of Ungoliant and Morgoth in the original story.
RR Discussions: The Valaquenta, A Shortcut to Mushrooms, and Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit
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(This post was edited by squire on Mar 28 2020, 8:38pm)