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*** Favorite Chapters - Shelob's Lair (LOTR)
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enanito
Rohan

Mar 23, 5:51pm

Post #1 of 39 (2459 views)
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*** Favorite Chapters - Shelob's Lair (LOTR) Can't Post

Four years ago during our LOTR read-thru, this became one of my favorite chapters... because I had volunteered to be the chapter leader. So for any "lurkers" out there, I enthusiastically endorse taking a leap of faith and leading your own chapter discussion!

There's way too much I could say about this chapter, and I don't want to re-tread what was discussed last time (I had a veritable laundry-list of talking points). So I'm going to to change it up and focus on three aspects to begin with, and then I’m sure the discussion will take its own course. It's best if you've re-read the chapter on your own, as I won't be posting excerpts or summaries as part of the original post (but will later on for sure)

1. Tolkien as a story writer
I’m no scholar, and I don't pretend to be anything more than a simple lover of Tolkien and his world. But my understanding is that often Tolkien was his own worst enemy when trying to write a coherent story. Yet this chapter completely engrosses me – I feel as if I was present alongside F&S as they are enveloped entirely by the menacing darkness which saps even their willpower. How do you think this chapter measures up in terms of story-writing? Feel free to either talk in general, or give a specific quote or device you find effective.

2. Good versus Evil
OK, this isn’t very original, since most everything in the Silmarillion/LOTR/Hobbit is based off this theme. But let’s take Frodo (and Sam) as Good, and Shelob as Evil. What stands out to you specifically in this chapter? Does Tolkien introduce anything here that adds a unique aspect to goodness or evilness?

3. Legends and current days
We get an aside right during the juicy part of the story, to give us a bit of history on Shelob. I’ve often noticed how Tolkien is constantly showing how legends of the past continually intrude on events of the present. Do you find the inclusion of Shelob’s backstory effective, in how we are first teased about her old-school malice, then learn a lot more? And if so, would you have wished for even more, or is the amount “just right”?


Roverandom
Bree


Mar 23, 8:57pm

Post #2 of 39 (2381 views)
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The Itsy-Bitsy Spider [In reply to] Can't Post

This is alternately one of my favorite and least favorite chapters, and my opinion changes several times in each new reading. The writing, as you point out, is mesmerizing. The utter blackness of the lair is a character unto itself; and it threatens to become the real villain of the episode, as it weighs down on Frodo and Sam, robbing them first of their senses, then their will and ultimately their hope. When Shelob finally makes Her appearance, it's as if the hobbits are already beaten and She's just there to mop up. She uses Her darkness like She uses her sting, to wound and immobilize and to facilitate Her wicked games.

As for the references to legends, I believe they are just right for what they are intended to provide, that being a sense of Shelob's powers as they coincide with the ancientry of her pedigree. Like the Balrog, She is the last of an only slightly lesser evil (in comparison to Sauron) and, therefore, to be feared all the more. For some reason, I equated her with the Balrog from my first reading and have never lost that connection.

I like the fact that Sauron and Shelob seem to have a similar, yet unique, relationship to that of His boss and Her mom. The difference, as I see it, is that Sauron is clearly the superior (or at least he makes the assumption that He is). The line "his cat he calls her; but she owns him not" is the telling one. Like any true "domesticated" feline, it is uncertain as to who is in charge! I contrast that with Morgoth, who also thought He was in charge, but who fled in the face of His "pet".

It is the Good vs. Evil part of the chapter that causes me to question whether or not I like it as a part of the story. It is also the most compelling argument for me to appreciate it. A simple reading would expect Good to triumph over Evil, perhaps not easily, but finally. We don't get anywhere near that satisfaction here. Elves cry "Elbereth!", but Shelob scoffs at what would normally signal the approach of Good's victory. Even Galadriel's phial doesn't work the first time. It takes the monster Herself to help Sam deliver the fatal blow...and then the blow isn't even fatal??? When I finally realized that Shelob had most likely, as the narrator suggests, crawled off and rebuilt herself, I was outrageously disappointed.

But this was really all for the best, part of the book's lesson that Evil is never truly gone from our imperfect world. Like Morgoth, Sauron, and whatever is to come later, there will always be Evil, and Good must always strive against it. The lesson was a powerful one to me, and I think it fits both Middle-Earth and our own Earth to a T.

For just as there has always been a Richard Webster, so too has there been a Black Scout of the North to greet him at the door on the threshold of the evening and to guard him through his darkest dreams.


CuriousG
Half-elven


Mar 24, 5:17pm

Post #3 of 39 (2340 views)
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A darkness worse than Moria's [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
The writing, as you point out, is mesmerizing. The utter blackness of the lair is a character unto itself; and it threatens to become the real villain of the episode


I really love this line:


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Night always had been, and always would be, and night was all.



CuriousG
Half-elven


Mar 24, 6:07pm

Post #4 of 39 (2339 views)
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Hunger vs evil [In reply to] Can't Post

Thanks for leading this chapter, enanito!

I have always liked this chapter as the Underdog vs. the Big Monster That No One Can Kill. It is some of Tolkien's best writing, not just the other line I quoted, but this one too, which has wonderful emotional impact:


Quote
Then holding the star aloft and the bright sword advanced, Frodo, hobbit of the Shire, walked steadily down to meet the eyes.


I also like the give & take in this chapter since it's not a simple fight, then it's over. They first drive off Shelob with the Phial, then make a run for it, then hit one of her webs. When Sam's sword can't cut it, my heart took a dip. Then just like the Phial, it's Sting to the rescue! By extension, it's also Elves to the rescue (again), and Bilbo too, just as Bilbo's gift of the mithril-coat saved Frodo in Moria. Then they think they've won again, but no, Frodo's run off recklessly, and Gollum springs a trap. I enjoy being on this roller-coaster.

Legends: while I had no idea who Ungoliant was on my first reads, it's that hinting of a greater lineage that makes Shelob seem more terrible as an adversary. It's not like they just blundered into the cave of a nameless, hungry bear. They've come up against a legend, and an undefeated one when pitted against much better warriors, which makes their resistance all the more heroic.

Good/evil: I was thinking about this, and though Tolkien pointedly does call Shelob evil, and I don't feel like picking a fight with him, I still thought about a story written from the point of pasture grass.
  • Grass: "Along come the evil sheep. They bite us and chew us and dissolve us in their stomachs, desiring life for themselves at our expense."
  • Sheep: "Nay, we are not evil, we are part of the ecosystem, and we must eat to survive. The evil ones are Men, who kill us to make lamb stew."
  • Men: "Nay, we too must eat to survive. It is the giant spiders who eat us who are evil..."
  • Giant spiders: "We too must eat to survive. It is the giant birds who eat us who are evil..."
So I'm left thinking Shelob is partly evil, and partly just another hungry organism in the ecosystem. When real spiders attack flies in their webs, they do it out of hunger and survival, and they don't apologize for the harm inflicted, nor do they seem any more evil than the birds or whatever that eat the spiders. The point is, no one likes being eaten.

Orcs, by contrast, like to kill, torture, maim, and torture some more, and all for fun. Orcs are evil. If they ate grass, they'd do it just to be mean.


CuriousG
Half-elven


Mar 24, 6:14pm

Post #5 of 39 (2337 views)
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Another legend [In reply to] Can't Post

This is a passage lost on people who don't know The Silmarillion, but having read that and gone through the heartache and futility of Beleriand's fight against Morgoth, it seems like some good came out of it after all in this redemptive passage:

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For a moment it glimmered, faint as a rising star struggling in heavy earthward mists, and then as its power waxed, and hope grew in Frodo’s mind, it began to burn, and kindled to a silver flame, a minute heart of dazzling light, as though Eärendil had himself come down from the high sunset paths with the last Silmaril upon his brow. The darkness receded from it, until it seemed to shine in the centre of a globe of airy crystal, and the hand that held it sparkled with white fire.


Just wow!


No One in Particular
Lorien


Mar 25, 12:47am

Post #6 of 39 (2305 views)
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Evil [In reply to] Can't Post


In Reply To
Good/evil: I was thinking about this, and though Tolkien pointedly does call Shelob evil, and I don't feel like picking a fight with him, I still thought about a story written from the point of pasture grass.
  • Grass: "Along come the evil sheep. They bite us and chew us and dissolve us in their stomachs, desiring life for themselves at our expense."
  • Sheep: "Nay, we are not evil, we are part of the ecosystem, and we must eat to survive. The evil ones are Men, who kill us to make lamb stew."
  • Men: "Nay, we too must eat to survive. It is the giant spiders who eat us who are evil..."
  • Giant spiders: "We too must eat to survive. It is the giant birds who eat us who are evil..."
So I'm left thinking Shelob is partly evil, and partly just another hungry organism in the ecosystem. When real spiders attack flies in their webs, they do it out of hunger and survival, and they don't apologize for the harm inflicted, nor do they seem any more evil than the birds or whatever that eat the spiders. The point is, no one likes being eaten.

Orcs, by contrast, like to kill, torture, maim, and torture some more, and all for fun. Orcs are evil. If they ate grass, they'd do it just to be mean.


But, as it is noted, Shelob likes to play with her food before eating, which, when your food is sentient, thinking beings, could very well be considered evil. Or Evil.

While you live, shine
Have no grief at all
Life exists only for a short while
And time demands an end.
Seikilos Epitaph


enanito
Rohan

Mar 25, 12:55am

Post #7 of 39 (2300 views)
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Hero! [In reply to] Can't Post


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Then holding the star aloft and the bright sword advanced, Frodo, hobbit of the Shire, walked steadily down to meet the eyes.

I seriously cannot get through this chapter without re-reading this sentence multiple times. I savor the beginning, middle, and end - even though it's really not long at all.

Even though Shelob had defeated countless warriors in days long past, a simple Hobbit was fearless in confronting her. Yowza.


enanito
Rohan

Mar 25, 1:03am

Post #8 of 39 (2299 views)
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A bit of existential ennui, maybe? [In reply to] Can't Post

Who can blame her if she's bored? Wink

I guess maybe a distinction is that Orcs actively seek out those they torture, while Shelob (at least at this stage) seems to react mostly to those entering what she considers her territory.

But then again, her ultimate purpose is stated to be "swollen till the mountains could no longer hold her up and the darkness could not contain her." And that's not very friendly at all...


CuriousG
Half-elven


Mar 25, 1:38am

Post #9 of 39 (2292 views)
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Frodo, hobbit of the Shire [In reply to] Can't Post

I feel when reading this great line that Tolkien is proud of Frodo the way a biographer would be proud of a real person they're writing about. Or maybe still as fiction, it's like: "Wow, I created Frodo, but OMG, look at what he can do!"


Solicitr
Gondor


Mar 25, 6:13pm

Post #10 of 39 (2213 views)
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Y'know, [In reply to] Can't Post

This thread could be extended to include 'The Choices of Master Samwise' as well, since really they are two half-chapters that go together (and in the draft, were all one).


noWizardme
Half-elven


Mar 25, 6:46pm

Post #11 of 39 (2201 views)
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It's a special darkness [In reply to] Can't Post

It's a special darkness -- one, I think that has something to do with Shelob's particular kind of evil


Quote
“‘This is the way in,’ said Gollum softly. ‘This is the entrance to the tunnel.’ He did not speak its name: Torech Ungol, Shelob’s Lair. Out of it came a stench, not the sickly odour of decay in the meads of Morgul, but a foul reek, as if filth unnameable were piled and hoarded in the dark within.”

[my bolds here and in all other quotes]


It seems to me that 'hoarded' is a word to be used for something that the hoarder values. I think the darkness and the stench are part of Shelob's armoury, rather than just the natural consequence of being underground:


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“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.”


Another clue (I think) that the darkness and stench emenate from Shelob and are part of her peril is this:


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“Here was some opening in the rock far wider than any they had yet passed; 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. Fighting off both the sickness and the fear, Frodo gripped Sam’s hand. ‘Up!’ he said in a hoarse breath without voice. ‘It all comes from here, the stench and the peril. Now for it! Quick!’”



And there's something very odd about Shelob's webs too:


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“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.


~~~~~~
"Yes, I am half-elven. No, it does not mean that I 'have one pointy ear' "
Sven Elven, proprietor of the Rivendell convenience store.


noWizardme
Half-elven


Mar 25, 7:00pm

Post #12 of 39 (2197 views)
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Shelob is a particular kind of evil, I think [In reply to] Can't Post

I don't think I'm up to drawing up some Venn Diagram of Evil, but it does seem to me that Shelob is different in evil nature from Sauron, and different again from the orcs.


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“Already, years before, Gollum had beheld her, Sméagol who pried into all dark holes, and in past days he had bowed and worshipped her, 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.”


So she's a sort of goddess of evil, if Gollum can 'worship' her. And her goal is described as:


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“Little she knew of or cared for towers, or rings, or anything devised by mind or hand, who only desired death for all others, mind and body, and for herself a glut of life, alone, swollen till the mountains could no longer hold her up and the darkness could not contain her.”


By comparison, Sauron seems to me to be about domination of the will. He's being described, I feel sure as one of these contrasting poles:


Quote
The story is cast in terms of a good side, and a bad side, beauty against ruthless ugliness, tyranny against kingship, moderated freedom with consent against compulsion that has long lost any object except power, and so on...

Tolkien Letter #144 (which came up last week when we were discussing Frodo's pacifism)


~~~~~~
"Yes, I am half-elven. No, it does not mean that I 'have one pointy ear' "
Sven Elven, proprietor of the Rivendell convenience store.


noWizardme
Half-elven


Mar 25, 7:02pm

Post #13 of 39 (2193 views)
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Or, of course if someone wanted to lead 'Choices...' next week then nobody will stop them...// [In reply to] Can't Post

 

~~~~~~
"Yes, I am half-elven. No, it does not mean that I 'have one pointy ear' "
Sven Elven, proprietor of the Rivendell convenience store.


enanito
Rohan

Mar 25, 7:03pm

Post #14 of 39 (2202 views)
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Meanwhile outside Shelob's Lair... Master Samwise is making some choices! [In reply to] Can't Post

As many have noted, the end of this chapter really flows into the beginning of the next, and Solictr alerted me that it was even a single chapter in original manuscripts. So if you like, let's also include some discussion of the first bits of "The Choices of Master Samwise"...

Samwise the hobbit, Hamfast's son
Now Sam gets his moment of glory, and he really shines (pun intended). Sam is "a hobbit", and there's a parallel with Frodo, who was described as a "hobbit of the Shire". Does anything differentiate Sam's hobbit heroism compared to Frodo's? And it really doesn't matter, but do we feel that either hobbit is "more heroic"?

Samwise leader of the Hobbit Uprising?
In previous discussion of the Scouring of the Shire, it was mentioned how perhaps Merry/Pippen's experiences, although exotic for a hobbit, may not have prepared them to lead an uprising. Since the breaking of the Fellowship, Sam has taken a leadership role unlike what Merry/Pippen were called to confront. Would his standing up to Shelob be an experience that would uniquely qualify him to lead a revolt later on, or is comparable to Merry and the Witch King, and Pippin and Denethor?

Fury => Divine intervention => Personal resolve
I find it interesting that at first Sam's fighting spirit against an unimagineable beast is driven by fury. Then when beaten down, we get a kind of divine intervention from not only Galadriel but the other High Elves he had come in contact with. But the real power came only when "As if his indomitable spirit had set its potency in motion". Actually, I don't find this simply interesting... I totally love it. What made the difference in the end was Sam's own spirit.


Solicitr
Gondor


Mar 25, 7:46pm

Post #15 of 39 (2187 views)
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Agree [In reply to] Can't Post

She's kind of Lovecraftian, an eldritch horror, the sort of ancient ur-god whose malign motives are beyond our comprehension. Sauron's evil at least can be understood.


CuriousG
Half-elven


Mar 25, 9:00pm

Post #16 of 39 (2180 views)
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Shared heroism [In reply to] Can't Post

More great questions & observations--thanks.


Quote
Now Sam gets his moment of glory, and he really shines (pun intended). Sam is "a hobbit", and there's a parallel with Frodo, who was described as a "hobbit of the Shire". Does anything differentiate Sam's hobbit heroism compared to Frodo's? And it really doesn't matter, but do we feel that either hobbit is "more heroic"?

My thought is that they have a shared heroism when facing Shelob, not in a quantitative way that "50 hero trinkets > 45 hero trinkets," but still, I think they have roughly equal amounts, and by pooling them as friends, they're a stronger heroic team. (So roughly 50 + 50 = 130 in this case.) Taken individually, I would still equate them. Sam's epic battle against Shelob is thrilling and inspiring, but I have no doubt Frodo would be equally heroic in fighting for Sam.

On the other hand, Sam's spirit seems to fuel the Phial more than Frodo's. Shelob had been daunted by the Phial in Frodo's hand, but within what I'd guess is the same hour, she's more daunted than ever. I'm not sure if it's about who's more heroic, or if it's a different context. Frodo used the Phial to drive Shelob off so they could run (sensibly) in the opposite direction. This time it's about a fight that seems like it's to the death of one or the other.


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As if his indomitable spirit had set its potency in motion, the glass blazed suddenly like a white torch in his hand. It flamed like a star that leaping from the firmament sears the dark air with intolerable light. No such terror out of heaven had ever burned in Shelob’s face before. The beams of it entered into her wounded head and scored it with unbearable pain, and the dreadful infection of light spread from eye to eye. She fell back beating the air with her forelegs, her sight blasted by inner lightnings, her mind in agony. Then turning her maimed head away, she rolled aside and began to crawl, claw by claw, towards the opening in the dark cliff behind.




Quote
Samwise leader of the Hobbit Uprising?
In previous discussion of the Scouring of the Shire, it was mentioned how perhaps Merry/Pippen's experiences, although exotic for a hobbit, may not have prepared them to lead an uprising. Since the breaking of the Fellowship, Sam has taken a leadership role unlike what Merry/Pippen were called to confront. Would his standing up to Shelob be an experience that would uniquely qualify him to lead a revolt later on, or is comparable to Merry and the Witch King, and Pippin and Denethor?

My thoughts here would be that physical courage in the face of fear is one leadership trait, but not the only one. I have trouble seeing Sam being the successful leader of Shire resistance.





squire
Half-elven


Mar 25, 9:04pm

Post #17 of 39 (2185 views)
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Colon all angels [repost from Nov. 2005] [In reply to] Can't Post

[Not to be presumptuous, but I developed this essay for one of the Reading Room's earlier discussions of this chapter. I offer it here as a repost because I suspect it will be new to our current corps of contributors. I still think it is a strong piece, even if some of the strength is in the form of 'Oh, the whiff!']

Colon all angels

But Love has pitched his mansion in
The place of excrement;

W. B. Yeats, "Crazy Jane Talks to the Bishop", 1933

It seems like I've read dozens of analyses of Shelob and her lair that emphasize her femaleness and the sexual imagery that Tolkien supposedly uses in this chapter. But isn't there a case to be made for the other side, if you're going to indulge in lurid symbolism? It seems to me that Frodo and Sam are in a gigantic ***hole. Shelob stands, not for sex, but for food and its byproduct, **it. The tunnel represents what becomes of food after it is eaten, and the hobbits are going in the wrong way, before they have become food. The repulsion is complete: no one belongs in this tunnel who isn't already halfway digested. (Gollum, of course, has long since been "consumed" by the Ring, and so is quite at home here; so are the Orcs for the same reason though by different mechanism.)

Not that the two images aren't connected, as Yeats so well shows. Tolkien's use of the female gender to characterize his spider images (Ungoliant and Shelob) fascinates me -- because I defy you to look at your average spider and think, "Ah, a female. Of course". Spiders are sexless to human eyes. We depend on scientists to tell us that the female is the aggressor, eating its male mates, etc. They probably know what they're talking about. But only through the magic of metaphor does that suggestion make its way to our brains. It's not about the spiders. It's about the human obsession with female sexuality in all its complexity, that allows us to use spiders as stand-ins for what we might fear or admire in human women. Among other consequences, the idea of the dominant female spider has so entered our cultural awareness that both Tolkien and his critics take it for granted.

Spiders eat. They are predators. The females are evidently dominant, larger and stronger than the males, who seem to serve only to fertilize the females, and then get eaten and turned into **it. Does this have anything to do with humanity? Well -- no. Not really. But does it have anything to do with human fears (or male human fears)? Yes, somehow, and quite strongly. Does the sex imagery have anything to do with the peristaltic journey? Again, yes, somehow. You know of what I speak.

Here I stand back and admire Tolkien. How much did he know, and when did he know it? Is any of this "personal"? Is any of it "archetypal"? Is any of it "right"? Shelob's Lair, to me, is the high point of horror in the Lord of the Rings. I think the "food" imagery trumps the "sex" imagery by about a factor of ten, but they're both there, ultimately interpenetrated and symbolically linked.

Since Tolkien insists on using Shelob as a female, female she is, even ending up being opposed to Galadriel by desperate critics, for lack of a real Morgan Le Fay or La Belle Dame Sans Merci character in this sexually unbalanced romance. But opposing a 20-foot spider to a beautiful Elf-woman doesn't feel totally right to me, as far as my primitive literary instincts will allow me to offer an opinion. I think Shelob is more properly opposed to Sauron himself (who is also accused of wanting to "eat the world", by the way). But Sauron is not really about **it. Shelob, in the end, is.



squire online:
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Solicitr
Gondor


Mar 26, 1:07pm

Post #18 of 39 (2032 views)
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Well, [In reply to] Can't Post

By making Ungoliant and her daughter female, Tolkien is tapping into deep Jungian roots: while there is no shortage of male death-gods, it seems that female deities always crop up where mindless, entropic destruction and devouring is personified; the Crone face of the triple goddess; Hel, Morrigan, Hecate, Kali. Freud went on at some length about the child's fear of the mother, of being devoured, and Persephone's darker pre-Homeric roots are hinted at when we learn her sacred animal was the sow- an animal which eats its own young.


Solicitr
Gondor


Mar 26, 1:12pm

Post #19 of 39 (2030 views)
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Sam [In reply to] Can't Post

Like but unlike. Frodo advances in grim devotion to duty, but Sam is passionate, he's enkindled by righteous fury: "Now come, you filth! You've hurt my master, you brute, and you'll pay for it!" For Sam, it's personal, and it may be that it's his love, forged steel-hard, that causes the Phial to blaze like it does.


enanito
Rohan

Mar 27, 6:52pm

Post #20 of 39 (1964 views)
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Gollum & Tom Bombadil [In reply to] Can't Post

A couple random thoughts as we close out the week, in case this piques anyone's interest in sharing their perspective:

What rules Gollum?
Gollum leads F&S into the cave at the start of the chapter, then reappears to take out Sam at the end. We've discussed a bit about Gollum, but I'm wondering your thoughts on what actually rules Gollum? The Ring has power of course. Does Sauron's influence over Gollum differ in any way from the Ring's influence - it could be one and the same, but could there be differences? And what about Shelob, who Gollum "had bowed and worshipped her, and the darkness of her evil will walked through all the ways of his weariness beside him"? Is there any remnant of Gollum's true will left inside him, to make any semblance of own choice, or is he always deceived into thinking he's choosing for himself when it's really another power moving him along?

What Would Tom Do?
Tolkien throws in a reference to Tom, who Sam wishes "was near us now". What in the world could Tom do in this situation? Does Sam envision that Tom might actually be able to control Shelob like he did Old Man Willow? We know Elvish incantations and the mention of Elbereth didn't do much, but might something along the lines of "Hey dol! merry dol! ring a dong dillo!" do a bit better? Wink


squire
Half-elven


Mar 27, 7:07pm

Post #21 of 39 (1966 views)
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What might Tom do, indeed? [In reply to] Can't Post

I tend to agree that Tom might not be able to overmaster Shelob, given her solidity and her proximity to Sauron's world, compared to the evil things of the far northlands that bordered Tom's country.

But you never know. For one thing, Tom does not combat evil with Hey dol! Merry dol! Rather, he chants a more respectable form of incantation, whose power proves quite effective against spirits in dark and dangerous underground places:
Get out, you old Lob! Curl up in the sunlight!
Shrivel like the cold mist, like the winds go wailing,
Out into the barren lands far beyond the mountains!
Come never here again! Leave your burrow empty!
Lost and forgotten be, darker than the darkness,
Where gates stand for ever shut, till the world is mended. - LR
I.6, edits by squire




squire online:
RR Discussions: The Valaquenta, A Shortcut to Mushrooms, and Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit
Lights! Action! Discuss on the Movie board!: 'A Journey in the Dark'. and 'Designing The Two Towers'.
Archive: All the TORn Reading Room Book Discussions (including the 1st BotR Discussion!) and Footerama: "Tolkien would have LOVED it!"
Dr. Squire introduces the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader's Diary


= Forum has no new posts. Forum needs no new posts.


Plurmo
Rohan

Mar 28, 12:45am

Post #22 of 39 (1945 views)
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Of Shelob, Gollum, Frodo and Sam [In reply to] Can't Post

"And I find more bitter than death the woman who is a snare, whose heart is a net, and whose hands are chains. The man who pleases God will escape her, but the sinner will be ensnared."

Gollum is a sinner, Frodo a sinner in the making and Sam is innocent. To each his own snaring game with Shelob.

Frodo being entrapped and eaten alive by Shelob corresponds to his deserved life in a corrupted Shire after he claims the Ring for himself. It is by the actions of others that he escapes his fate in both occasions.

Still, he is taken half-alive from Shelob's nets the same way he is eventually taken half-alive from the Shire. A sinner walking naked into his purgatory. Carried away by the Ringbearers as he was once carried away by orcs.

This interpretation requires no sexual angle, but relies on the idea that Shelob, like Galadriel with the Ring, represents the snaring feminine form of Evil. Whether webs of horror or beauty incommensurate.

PS: maybe that passage from Ecclesiastes is why Shelob has claws in her paws.

Now back to my retirement.


Hasuwandil
Lorien


Mar 28, 12:39pm

Post #23 of 39 (1900 views)
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Spider Pass [In reply to] Can't Post

One thing that struck me is that none of the good guys seem to know specifically what danger Gollum is leading Frodo and Sam to, despite the fact that Cirith Ungol means "Spider Pass" in Sindarin. Where do they think it got its name? Surely they've heard of Ungoliant? And Frodo and Sam, at least, have surely heard of the spiders of Mirkwood.

On Shelob's backstory, it seems we know where she was during the Second Age (and for a thousand years before Sauron moved in next door). Of course, I suppose it's possible she got around. I wonder where her offspring hung out before they moved into Mirkwood. Ephel Duath? Ered Lithui? Emyn Muil? Did they prefer mountain caves or ravines like their mother, or did they prefer other habitats?

One thing I wonder is how Gollum and Shelob gained an understanding. I don't think Gollum can communicate directly with Shelob. Why didn't she eat him? Did she ignore him because he's so scrawny? Did he bring a gift? He's good at stealth killing, but I understand Shelob likes her meat fresh.

I find Shelob interesting for a Tolkien name, because it's just Modern English, albeit somewhat archaic. I always want to pronounce it "sheh-LOBE", but I guess it should be pronounced "SHEE-lobb". The word "lob" can mean "spider", and has the sense of something that dangles, as a spider on a strand of spider-silk, something I have a hard time picturing Shelob doing. The word "cob" or "coppe" can also mean spider, as in "Attercop" from The Hobbit, which means "poisonous spider", and of course "cobweb".

Hêlâ Auriwandil, angilô berhtost,
oƀar Middangard mannum gisandid!


Roverandom
Bree


Mar 28, 1:36pm

Post #24 of 39 (1897 views)
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Gollum and Shelob and Stevie Nicks [In reply to] Can't Post

"She is like a cat in the dark and then
She is the darkness."

That popped into my head while thinking about Shelob's Lair, and I can't seem to get it out.

What I appreciate most in this chapter is the closure that it allows us, as it pertains to the problem of Gollum.

Gandalf's story of the Ring, as it is told in The Shadow of the Past, eventually leads to Gollum, how all his "'great secrets' under the mountains had turned out to be just empty night". How pathetic! We are reminded many times during the course of the story, how Gollum is a creature to be pitied, and it's stuff like this lovely line that convinces us. As much as we (and just about every character in the narrative) want him dead, once we know the misery he's endured over the ages, we can't find it in our hearts to hope he's killed off.

But now we've come to Shelob's Lair and the Gollum that had "pried into all dark holes", only to be disappointed, at last finds that not all darkness is a cheat. This one is the real deal. Let's take your quote and add what I feel is the point that finally tips Gollum from the semi-repentant old hobbit that came so close to giving up his evil ways when he saw Frodo sleeping on the Stairs of Cirith Ungol back to the villain of whom Faramir correctly surmised had "done murder before".

Gollum "worshipped her, 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".

My answer your question, enanito, (and thank you for such a great week of leadership) is that nothing rules Gollum in the end but himself. He has chosen to be relieved of choices. He can lie to himself and say, like so many others who succumb to darkness, that he was only following orders. Shelob is the Darkness; but as evil as She may be, Gollum has chosen to worship Her. The actions he has taken by the power of his free will, despite given the opportunity to repent, have condemned him. And the author has written himself, with one beautiful phrase, a way for himself and for us out of the Gollum Conundrum. Since his character has willingly cut himself off from the Light and with no regrets, he can go to a deserved (if still not completely unpitiable) death.

The only problem is that now I may not be able to listen to Rhiannon in quite the same way again.

For just as there has always been a Richard Webster, so too has there been a Black Scout of the North to greet him at the door on the threshold of the evening and to guard him through his darkest dreams.


noWizardme
Half-elven


Mar 28, 7:30pm

Post #25 of 39 (1867 views)
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Ten to one - odds are [In reply to] Can't Post

A strong post indeed, squire, thanks very much for bringing it back. I don't think I've read this particular one before, relative youngster that I am Smile

As an experiment, I tried re-reading the chapter, mentally replacing 'she' and 'her' with 'it/its' or 'he/his'. I can't say it had much effect for me on the feeling or the substance of the chapter. I agree with solicitr (and Plurmo elsewhere in this discussion) that gendering Shelob as she/her invites the reader to make something of it, especially in a story where female characters are rare. But I conclude that,for me, Shelob's femaleness is inessential.

As a further experiment, I tried getting rid of the filth and stench. It's easy but irrelevant to turn it into something comical instead. Just mentally deleting it doesn't affect the chapter all that much, but that is because (it seemed to me) it is only one of the aspects of the chapter that suggest death (darkness, confinement, sensory loss, decay, terror....). On my speedy re-reading for these purposes, it began to feel that this was a sort of journey into the Underworld. Frodo and Sam as Orpheus and Eurydice? Well, goodness knows where that idea might lead (or whether I want to follow it, let alone to look back).

So maybe you're right 10:1 this is about death and decay. And thinking of 'Odds Are' reminded me of this somehow encouraging song of that name, which I felt was what I needed in these strange times....

~~~~~~
"Yes, I am half-elven. No, it does not mean that I 'have one pointy ear' "
Sven Elven, proprietor of the Rivendell convenience store.

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