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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
*** Favorite Chapters - Shelob's Lair (LOTR)
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squire
Half-elven


Mar 28, 8:32pm

Post #26 of 39 (599 views)
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Dark vs Dark and Smelly; Monster vs Female Monster [In reply to] Can't Post

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.

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.
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
Can we talk?
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.9
That, 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.



squire online:
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Dr. Squire introduces the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader's Diary


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(This post was edited by squire on Mar 28, 8:38pm)


squire
Half-elven


Mar 29, 3:16am

Post #27 of 39 (572 views)
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Report from the archives: the infamous 2005 "Shelob and Sex" thread [In reply to] Can't Post

I just found this long transcript of a TORn-in-exile discussion of the sexual themes in the Shelob's Lair chapter.

If I remember the tangled history, the Reading Room discussion got so inappropriate that the mods deleted it. The initial poster, 'Socrates' (see below on the pseudonyms) reposted his initial thoughts on an alternative board that disgruntled TORn members had set up to allow them to conduct 'non family friendly" discussions.

As a concession to something - the other board's etiquette? - when I copied the new thread I changed all the posters' header names to a set of Greek names from one of Socrates' symposia. (Yes, I know.) For what it's worth, 'Socrates' was NZ Strider (a stalwart of the Reading Room, able to debate Curious and the Reverend on their own terms); Anytus was the late drogo_drogo (drogo on the new boards); Cebes was the late an seileachan (a.s. on the new boards).

Now this thread is very long, and is not very easy to read. If you review nothing else I recommend you read the very first few posts, where Socrates posted for discussion the feminist critic Brenda Partridge's analysis of the Shelob's Lair scene. That's the most prominent of the 'female sexuality' analyses of Shelob that I referred to earlier in this subthread, and to which I was referring when in my thread I switched holes, to put it indelicately.



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.


N.E. Brigand
Half-elven


Mar 29, 5:58am

Post #28 of 39 (571 views)
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Tolkien in 1966: "The female monster ... is different ... a sucking, strangling, trapping creature." [In reply to] Can't Post

We gave that remark some consideration here in 2016.

I'm still curious to know which pop singer wrote Tolkien a fan letter from Las Vegas. Was it one of the Rat Pack?


Treachery, treachery I fear; treachery of that miserable creature.

But so it must be. Let us remember that a traitor may betray himself and do good that he does not intend.


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<><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><>
Discuss Tolkien's life and works in the Reading Room!
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How to find old Reading Room discussions.


N.E. Brigand
Half-elven


Mar 29, 6:13am

Post #29 of 39 (565 views)
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Even half-wits (and half-whits) are sometimes called upon to do so. // [In reply to] Can't Post

 


Treachery, treachery I fear; treachery of that miserable creature.

But so it must be. Let us remember that a traitor may betray himself and do good that he does not intend.


-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-
<><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><><>
Discuss Tolkien's life and works in the Reading Room!
+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=
How to find old Reading Room discussions.


noWizardme
Half-elven


Mar 29, 9:42am

Post #30 of 39 (557 views)
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Yes, absolutely: "Frodo advances in grim devotion to duty, but Sam is passionate..." //" [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.


noWizardme
Half-elven


Mar 29, 9:42am

Post #31 of 39 (557 views)
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I think the thing is - Sam is simple, but he's not stupid. // [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.


noWizardme
Half-elven


Mar 29, 10:08am

Post #32 of 39 (557 views)
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I have been hasty... [In reply to] Can't Post

...If I gave the impression that imagining a change in Shelob's gender, or removing the 'filth' had no effect at all. Nor that I had no idea what people were going on about considering possible sexual themes in the writing. I meant that the whole chapter does not collapse for me because of my imagined changes. Shelob (or Helob, or even Itlob) remains monstrous, though naturally it comes out different, which would, I suppose be the effect of any change.

Anyway, I'm glad that we get to explore this angle for an either increasingly fascinated or appalled set of Reading Room readers who weren't with us for the 2016 read-through.

I was also very hasty in that I skimmed to see what Shelob's lair was like with those imagined changes. I didn't consider the fight scene. Let's see what the effect is of making Shelob 'him' and 'he' (and naming 'him'. 'Helob' where the male pronoun becomes ambiguous). I'm sure that the following passage would also have been keeping critics just as busy about possible innuendo as the actual text has done:


{misquote}
Helob ... heaved up the great bag of his belly high above Sam’s head. ... Now splaying his legs Helob drove his huge bulk down on him again. Too soon. For Sam ... held the elven-blade point upwards, fending off that ghastly roof; and so Helob, with the driving force of his own cruel will, with strength greater than any warrior’s hand, thrust himself upon a bitter spike. [etc.]

{/misquote}

Again, of course, it comes out differently, but I'm still getting 'Freudian horror' here, just of a different kind - how about you?
Oh, and 'Helob' makes me think of a 1980s children's cartoon, in which I expect Helob(TM) is something to do with Skeltor(TM). But that's another story Wink

~~~~~~
"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 29, 10:16am

Post #33 of 39 (555 views)
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I'll give it a go, but I will need help [In reply to] Can't Post

It might be a lot of fun to discuss 'Choices...' I'm willing to start it up ,but I won't have time for a considered or careful OP. It's going to be bare bones, relying upon everyone else to flesh it out

Still, I have gone on ad nauseum trying to reassure potential chapter leaders that staring something, anything, is useful and appreciated, and that it isn't necessary to write something long or learned. So this will be a test of that idea.
Of course if someone else was just about to volunteer, I'd be happy to give way for them Smile. Or it might be that 'Someone' wants to take on Tower of Cirith Ungol after that, so that we see how Sam's 'Choices' work out?

~~~~~~
"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 29, 11:21am

Post #34 of 39 (559 views)
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Been here before? [In reply to] Can't Post

Thanks for that link back to 2016 (when I remember hoping the 2020s would be less tumultuous - ah, that's not going too well so far Crazy).

I'd forgotten that I tried experimentally 'gender-switching' Shelob in that discussion, too. I get old, I repeat myself....

But I also made a point that I'd like to repeat (I get old, I repeat myself.... )


In Reply To
Changing Shelob into another kind of monster - a bear, a snake, a giant - works less well for me. Not as scary. Maybe that's because:


Quote
'Spiders,' observed Professor JRR Tolkien, cradling the word with the same affection that he cradled the pipe in his hand, 'are the particular terror of northern imaginations.'

(Tolkien in the 1968 Telegraph interview you quote)

That's an interesting quote. It makes me think that Tolkien in thinking of a lot of other spiders in a lot of other stories, which I don't know about.

I can, however do Shelob as a dragon. Shelob has some features in common with Glaurung, the dragon from Children of Hurin:

=> horrible, head-turning stench, to do with 'filth' (both Frodo/Sam and Turin nearly faint from it)

=> can gain a mental influence over people. Frodo and Sam seem to struggle against Shelob's malice and will. Shelob has had a lasting effect on Gollum : "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. (my italics). You could pretty much re-purpose that quote for Glaurung, I think. Glaurung causes people to have episodes of madness and amnesia. Not the same, but reminiscent perhaps.

=>both monsters are defeated by being stabbed in the underbelly. Shelob accidentally assists with this by trying to crush Sam while he still has his sword... er...erect. Turin, a notable fighter rather than a hobbit, needs no such assistance.





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


squire
Half-elven


Mar 29, 1:10pm

Post #35 of 39 (551 views)
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Helob gets on top [In reply to] Can't Post

Thanks for putting the thought-experiment into words. Although I agree that the scene still works as a mortal struggle, I suppose I can't get the gendered-monster issue out of my head so easily. When a male giant spider monster wants to kill Sam, I immediately imagine him backing off, crouching, and leaping forward with some kind of deadly weapon whether jaws, claws, or sting. In other words, the classic male predator's attack with "tooth and claw" (see; dragons; orcs; trolls; balrogs; etc.) -- and the opposite of Tolkien's throwaway remark in that old interview about how female monsters operate.

As female, Shelob attacks Sam by trying to crush him beneath her body weight - the oddest form of attack by a predator animal that I can imagine, since most animals' bellies are their most vulnerable parts and they never present that way except as a surrender. Given, here, that Shelob is a monster of indeterminate kind: affecting as an invertebrate but of a size to require vertebrate structure ("an evil thing in spider-form" - IV.9), and displaying a spider's hunting habits to some degree (webs, stinging, sucking the juices).

But the crushing beneath a great belly is no spider's behavior. It is new as a fighting tactic, seen in my mind only in human wrestling where weight is a weapon within a fight-game's rules.

And that pulls me back to the sex thing: with no guidance from his natural models, Tolkien has Shelob "get on top" and impale herself on Sam's pricking sword while trying to engulf, smother, and crush him beneath her swollen belly-bag. Although you can and did put in the male pronoun, the fight makes far less sense that way because it's gendered by behavior and metaphor, not just by the pronoun.



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.


CuriousG
Half-elven


Mar 30, 12:52am

Post #36 of 39 (476 views)
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One thing about Shelob is her grossly unnatural size [In reply to] Can't Post

Spiders actually don't scare me. I think they're rather cool, and I admire their webs.

But anything *too big* does scare me. A 20-foot tall rabbit would scare me. Even a 20-foot playful puppy. There's my instinct saying "Something has gone horribly wrong with nature" when the size is increased so much. And she's got personality and intelligence, whereas I think most real spiders just like to eat things and don't expect other things to worship them.

I tried another thought experiment: imagine the spiders in Cirith Ungol are normal spider size, but there are literally millions of them. "There were spiders on the ceiling that dropped on their heads, spiders on the ground that covered their feet, and spiders on the wall jumping on their clothing and scampering across their faces."

That would scare me!

And the gender issue just doesn't register at all for me. She's a big scary monster. I don't care which restroom she uses in the airport.


No One in Particular
Lorien


Mar 30, 1:01am

Post #37 of 39 (473 views)
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Shelob [In reply to] Can't Post

I got about halfway through the thread before I gave up.

Towers could indeed be phallic symbols. They could also be fortified redoubts.

Swords could be phallic symbols. They could also be very sharp edged weapons with excellent offensive capabilities.

When I see arguments like that it just makes me think that if you look for something, you will usually find it whether it's there or not.

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 30, 1:45am

Post #38 of 39 (474 views)
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Authorial intent [In reply to] Can't Post

I was first exposed to this line of thought 4 years ago during the LOTR read-thru, and I find that time has not really done much for the argument. I feel there are two ways to approach a reader discussion of Tolkien - we can share our impressions of what we as readers feel as we read his words, or we can share connections between specific passages and the greater world of canon. Neither is necessarily better, just different.

A main reason this aspect of Shelob doesn't resonate for me is that it seems so out-of-place with most everything else Tolkien authored, most everything else he wrote about what he had authored, and most everything else Tolkien said about what he had written. So as I've engaged in the mythos, I just don't find these themes.

I don't discount that they may exist "even if Tolkien didn't explicitly write it out", or "even if Tolkien didn't realize it". And it's not to say that there aren't parallels between his writings and those of others who definitely do purposefully engage in the sexual aspect. So for me I go "hmmm, that's interesting" and move on, whereas others may feel it's a stronger theme to pursue.


uncle Iorlas
Lorien


Mar 31, 7:21pm

Post #39 of 39 (342 views)
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observed in the wild [In reply to] Can't Post

https://i.imgur.com/9zW63qv.gifv
I can't get it to upload properly, but it's funny and just barely relevant, alas.

I haven't been able to post much for a week or two, virus life eh wot, but I've seen a lot of interesting stuff go by and I hope nobody will mind if I drop contentious posts in a bunch of dormant old threads whenever I get a bit of time.

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