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Shelob was a child of Ungoliant, a Giant Spider-like creature, she appears at the end of the second volume of The Lord of the Rings, where her attack leads to Sam Gamgee's key decision to take over the quest to destroy the One Ring.

"There age-long she had dwelt, an evil thing in spider-form, even such as once of old had lived in the Land of the Elves in the West that is now under the Sea, such as Beren fought in the Mountains of Terror in Doriath, and so came to Lúthien upon the green sward amid the hemlocks in the moonlight long ago. How Shelob came there, flying from ruin, no tale tells, for out of the Dark Years few tales have come. 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 shadows; for all living things were her food, and her vomit darkness. 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 Lord of the Rings, Shelob's Lair


Shelob in The Lord of the Rings

Sam battles Shelob by John Howe
Shelob was a huge creature in spider form, apparently the spawn of Ungoliant and some lesser spider of Arda. She dwelled high in the mountains of Mordor, having established her lair there before Sauron claimed Mordor as his own. Shelob spent her early days feeding off elves and men, but as elves and men became scarce in the area, she fed upon orcs. Sauron would sometimes send her captured prisoners for whom he had no further use and amuse himself watching how she played with her prey. Even though they did not communicate, Sauron and Shelob understood each other. Shelob was like a pet to Sauron, and she served as a secure guardian of the pass of Cirith Ungol to prevent any intruders from entering the dark land.

Her lair was along the path that Sam Gamgee and Frodo Baggins took while seeking Mount Doom. Their guide, Gollum (whom the orcs of the Tower of Cirith Ungol call "Her Shelob's Sneak"), had reached some sort of understanding with her, and he led the hobbits directly into her trap.

While put off by the Phial of Galadriel in the tunnels, she intercepted them again outside and attacked Frodo, stinging him into a death-like coma. Sam managed to defeat her by letting her impale herself upon Sting when she tried to crush him under her massive body. Wounded, she fled to her lair and was never seen again.

Thinking Frodo dead, Sam took the One Ring from him and left his body behind, but discovered by listening to a party of Orcs that Shelob's venom was not intended to kill its victims but only to render them unconscious and keep their meat fresh.

Early History and Associations

Before moving to Terech Ungol beneath Cirith Ungol, Shelob lived in Beleriand, in the Ered Gorgoroth.

Shelob's descendants (upon whom she would often feed) included the smaller, but still giant, spiders of Mirkwood, who captured Bilbo Baggins' Dwarf allies during the Quest of Erebor.

The name Shelob is derived from "lob", an archaic English word for spider. A variation, "cob" is the derivation of the word "cobweb". It is doubtless an Anglicization of the original Westron/Sindarin word, according to the Translator conceit.

Movie Adaptation

In Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings based on the books, Shelob's appearance is held over until the middle of the third movie, The Return of the King.

In the movie, Shelob can be seen to have a retractable venomous sting at the rear end between the spinnerets, resembling a wasp's sting. This is very much unlike real spiders which inject venom with their fangs but accurate relative to the novel. Shelob also appears to have a gaping mouth, whereas real spiders can ingest only liquid. In the book, on the other hand, "clusters" of eyes are mentioned, which may suggest compound eyes like those of insects; the Shelob in the movie does not have compound eyes, which is appropriate. A hunting spider of the family Lycosidae, which Shelob most closely resembles, would have two large eyes facing forward, and a few smaller ones almost hidden below. The only spiders that can reasonably be said to have "clustered" eyes (though not true compound eyes) are the daddy long-legs spiders of the family Pholcidae, but Shelob does not resemble these rather spindly and fragile spiders in other aspects of her physique.

See also