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John Howe - Spiders of Mirkwood.jpg
"Spiders of Mirkwood" by John Howe
General Information
LocationsMirkwood, Torech Ungol, Nan Dungortheb, Avathar
MembersUngoliant, Shelob
Physical Description
Skin colorBlack or grey
GalleryImages of spiders

The Spiders were small eight-legged creatures, known for capturing their prey in intricate webs. Many spiders of Middle-earth were known to reach a colossal size.



There was a more sinister side to the spiders of Middle-earth that entered it with the monstrous Ungoliant in the years before the First Age. A gigantic creature of spider-shape, it was she who destroyed the Two Trees of Valinor by sucking the light out of them, and escaped with Melkor into the lands of Middle-earth. Though Ungoliant herself disappeared into the far south, she left the northern lands infested with her offspring. During the First Age, the mountains of the Ered Gorgoroth were infested with these monsters, and became a place of dread.

The most infamous of Ungoliant's children lived far to the south and east of the Ered Gorgoroth, on the borders of the land of Mordor. This was Shelob, who haunted a network of tunnels watching the pass of Cirith Ungol, making a living on the hapless Orcs of Sauron and anyone else who happened to come down the passage. She had offspring of her own, too, smaller than she but with a cruel intelligence, that spread throughout the Ephel Dúath and north into Mirkwood. It was creatures like these that Bilbo Baggins encountered in The Hobbit, and through fighting them that his sword acquired its name Sting.

The offspring of Ungoliant differed in several important respects from normal spiders, beside their enormous size. Shelob is said to have had a stinger.[1] Likewise, the spiders of Mirkwood seem to have had stingers as well as "insect eyes" (possibly compound eyes rather than eye clusters).[2]


In Sindarin, the word for "spider" is ungol.[3] It is found in such names as Torech Ungol, Ungoliant, and Cirith Ungol.

In Gnomish, one of Tolkien's early conceptions of an Elven language, the word for "spider" is cing or cingwin (a struck out word was gung). A deleted Qenya word for "spider" was ung-we.[4]


  • A common myth is that Tolkien was bitten by a spider when he was young and this fueled his hatred for the species in his works, this is proven inaccurate through the below quotes:
"...when Ronald [Tolkien] was beginning to walk, he stumbled on a tarantula. It bit him, and he ran in terror across the garden until the nurse snatched him up and sucked out the poison. When he grew up he could remember a hot day and running in fear through long, dead grass, but the memory of the tarantula itself faded, and he said that the incident left him with no especial dislike of spiders."
J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography
"I knew that the way [for Frodo, Sam, and Gollum] was guarded by a Spider. And if that has anything to do with my being stung by a tarantula when a small child, people are welcome to the notion (supposing the improbable, that any one 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!"
J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 163, (dated 7 June 1955)
"I put in the spiders largely because this was, you remember, primarily written for my children (at least I had them in mind), and one of my sons [Michael] in particular dislikes spiders with a great intensity. I did it to thoroughly frighten him and it did!"
― From an interview of J.R.R. Tolkien on January 15, 1957 by Ruth Harshaw for the "Carnival of Books" radio show. (According to The Annotated Hobbit)
"Throughout his life, Tolkien’s son Michael had what he called “a deep-rooted abhorrence of spiders.”"
The Annotated Hobbit

Portrayal in adaptations

1982: The Hobbit (1982 text adventure game)

In the text adventure game, spiders don't make any explicit appearance, although you will see "Pale Bulbous Eyes" as you and your party travel along the Old Forest Road. If you stay on the road for too long, something will leap down from the trees and kill you.

2003: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King:

See Shelob: Portrayal in adaptations

2007: The Lord of the Rings Online:

Non-player (NPC, computer controlled) spiders are found in a number of areas of Middle-earth. Players can play a spider in the Player-versus-Player (PvP) area of the Ettenmoors once the player reaches level ten. Spiders in The Lord of the Rings Online have the ability to root and spit poison from a distance.
The appearance of spiders vary from zone to zone for NPC spiders and from rank to rank for player controlled spiders. They all look like very large spiders from the size of a cat up to the size of a large elephant.

2012-4: The Hobbit film series:

The spiders of Mirkwood are portrayed in the first two films, An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation of Smaug. In the former, they attack Radagast's dwelling in Rhosgobel, but are driven away by him. Radagast discovers that they came from the ruins of Dol Guldur, and deduces that they are descendants of Ungoliant. In the latter film, their role is faithful to their portrayal in the novel. Like in the book, they are capable of speech (although Bilbo is only capable of understanding them while wearing the Ring).

See also


  1. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers, "The Choices of Master Samwise"
  2. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, "Flies and Spiders"
  3. J.R.R. Tolkien, "Unfinished index for The Lord of the Rings", in Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull (eds), The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion, p. 490
  4. J.R.R. Tolkien, "I-Lam na-Ngoldathon: The Grammar and Lexicon of the Gnomish Tongue", in Parma Eldalamberon XI (edited by Christopher Gilson, Arden R. Smith, and Patrick H. Wynne), pp. 26, 43