“From behind them came a sound,
startling and horrible in the heavy padded silence: a gurgling, bubbling noise,
and a long venomous hiss. They wheeled round, but nothing could be seen.”
LOTR:ROTK B4 C9
Shelob was the spawn of Ungoliant, an evil spirit that manifested into spider form and who mated with and devoured the spider-creatures of the Ered Gorgoroth. Shelob dwelt for many years in Nan Dungortheb with her countless brothers and sisters, even after Ungoliant ventured elsewhere. She survived the Elder Days, fleeing into the East after the ruin of the earth during War of Wrath.
Shelob established a lair called Torech Ungol, high in the Mountains of Shadow that formed the western wall of Mordor. During the first centuries of the Second Age, before Sauron claimed Mordor as his own, Shelob mated with her offspring which she slew and devoured. Her descendants spread out all along Ephel Dúath and the Ered Lithui, while others wandered Northward when Greenwood the Great fell into darkness and was ever after called Mirkwood.
Sauron knew of her existence and though she would often trouble the Orcs along the mountain passes to Minas Morgul, he did not disturb her feeding, understanding that she was a more effective deterrent to those who might try to spy on his lands than any garrison of Orcs would ever be. Sauron would sometimes send her captive prisoners for whom he had no further use. For her part, Shelob called no one master but herself, and her only ambition was to devour all that came near her and so grow ever larger in evil and malice.
Shelob played a prominent role in the War of the Ring. She captured Gollum, who somehow managed to survived her insatiable appetite, by promising to bring her sweeter meats. Indeed, Gollum became known as ‘Shelob’s Sneak’ to the orcs of Cirith Ungol. It was Gollum, who brought the Ring bearer and his companion into her lair, as they sought a way into Mordor, nearly destroying the quest of the Ring. However, the stout-hearted Samwise Gamgee impaled her with Frodo’s sword Sting, when she tried to crush him under her massive belly. Wounded, she fled into dark places under the mountain and like Ungoliant before her passed out of all knowledge.
Frodo, Sam and Gollum entered the darkness of Torech Ungol…
It may indeed have been daytime now, as Gollum said, but the hobbits could see little difference, unless, perhaps, the heavy sky above was less utterly black, more like a great roof of smoke; while instead of the darkness of deep night, which lingered still in cracks and holes, a grey blurring shadow shrouded the stony world about them. They passed on, Gollum in front and the hobbits now side by side, up the long ravine between the piers and columns of torn and weathered rock, standing like huge unshapen statues on either hand. There was no sound. Some way ahead, a mile or so, perhaps, was a great grey wall, a last huge upthrusting mass of mountain-stone. Darker it loomed, and steadily it rose as they approached, until it towered up high above them, shutting out the view of all that lay beyond. Deep shadow lay before its feet. Sam sniffed the air.
`Ugh! That smell!’ he said. `It’s getting stronger and stronger.’
Presently they were under the shadow, and there in the midst of it they saw the opening of a cave. `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.
`Is this the only way, Sméagol? ‘ said Frodo.
‘Yes, yes,’ he answered. ‘Yes, we must go this way now.’
‘D’you mean to say you’ve been through this hole?’ said Sam. `Phew! But perhaps you don’t mind bad smells.’
Gollum’s eyes glinted. `He doesn’t know what we minds, does he precious? No, he doesn’t. But Sméagol can bear things. Yes. He’s been through. O yes, right through. It’s the only way.’
`And what makes the smell, I wonder,’ said Sam. `It’s like – well, I wouldn’t like to say. Some beastly hole of the Orcs, I’ll warrant, with a hundred years of their filth in it.’
‘Well,’ said Frodo, ‘Orcs or no, if it’s the only way, we must take it.’
Drawing a deep breath they passed inside. 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.
From The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in the chapter ‘Shelob’s Lair’
Upon entering the cave they were over come by both the horrible stench and the numbing darkness that stole away the very life within.
Gollum had gone in first and seemed to be only a few steps ahead. While they were still able to give heed to such things, they could hear his breath hissing and gasping just in front of them. But after a time their senses became duller, both touch and hearing seemed to grow numb, and they kept on, groping, walking, on and on, mainly by the force of the will with which they had entered, will to go through and desire to come at last to the high gate beyond.
‘There’s more than one passage here,’ he whispered with an effort: it seemed hard to make his breath give any sound. `It’s as orc-like a place as ever there could be! ‘
After that, first he on the right, and then Frodo on the left, passed three or four such openings, some wider, some smaller; but there was as yet no doubt of the main way, for it was straight, and did not turn, and still went steadily up. But how long was it, how much more of this would they have to endure, or could they endure? The breathlessness of the air was growing as they climbed; and now they seemed often in the blind dark to sense some resistance thicker than the foul air. As they thrust forward they felt things brush against their heads, or against their hands, long tentacles, or hanging growths perhaps: they could not tell what they were. And still the stench grew. It grew, until almost it seemed to them that smell was the only clear sense left to them. and that was for their torment. One hour, two hours, three hours: how many had they passed in this lightless hole? Hours-days, weeks rather. Sam left the tunnel-side and shrank towards Frodo, and their hands met and clasped. and so together they still went on.
At length Frodo, groping along the left-hand wall, came suddenly to a void. Almost he fell sideways into the emptiness. 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! ‘
Calling up his remaining strength and resolution, he dragged Sam to his feet, and forced his own limbs to move. Sam stumbled beside him. One step, two steps, three steps-at last six steps. Maybe they had passed the dreadful unseen opening, but whether that was so or not, suddenly it was easier to move, as if some hostile will for the moment had released them. They struggled on, still hand in hand.
But almost at once they came to a new difficulty. The tunnel forked, or so it seemed, and in the dark they could not tell which was the wider way, or which kept nearer to the straight. Which should they take, the left, or the right? They knew of nothing to guide them, yet a false choice would almost certainly be fatal.
`Sméagol! ‘ said Frodo, trying to call. ‘Sméagol! ‘ But his voice croaked, and the name fell dead almost as it left his lips. There was no answer, not an echo, not even a tremor of the air.
`He’s really gone this time, I fancy,’ muttered Sam. `I guess this is just exactly where he meant to bring us. Gollum! If ever I lay hands on you again, you’ll be sorry for it.’
Presently, groping and fumbling in the dark, they found that the opening on the left was blocked: either it was a blind, or else some great stone had fallen in the passage. ‘This can’t be the way,’ Frodo whispered. ‘Right or wrong, we must take the other.’
‘And quick! ‘ Sam panted. ‘There’s something worse than Gollum about. I can feel something looking at us.’
From The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in the chapter ‘Shelob’s Lair’
When at last they released they were forsaken in the darkness Sam remembered the the Star-glass of the lady Galadriel and Frodo held it aloft and turned back the terrible eyes in the darkness.
They had not gone more than a few yards when from behind them came a sound, startling and horrible in the heavy padded silence: a gurgling, bubbling noise, and a long venomous hiss. They wheeled round, but nothing could be seen. Still as stones they stood, staring, waiting for they did not know what.
`It’s a trap!’ said Sam, and he laid his hand upon the hilt of his sword; and as he did so, he thought of the darkness of the barrow whence it came. ‘I wish old Tom was near us now!’ he thought. Then as he stood, darkness about him and a blackness of despair and anger in his heart. it seemed to him that he saw a light: a light in his mind, almost unbearably bright at first, as a sun-ray to the eyes of one long hidden in a windowless pit. Then the light became colour: green, gold, silver, white. Far off, as in a little picture drawn by elven-fingers he saw the Lady Galadriel standing on the grass in Lórien, and gifts were in her hands. And you, Ring-bearer, he heard her say, remote but clear, for you I have prepared this.
The bubbling hiss drew nearer, and there was a creaking as of some great jointed thing that moved with slow purpose in the dark. A reek came on before it. ‘Master, master!’ cried Sam, and the life and urgency came back into his voice. ‘The Lady’s gift! The star-glass! A light to you in dark places, she said it was to be. The star-glass!’
`The star-glass?’ muttered Frodo, as one answering out of sleep, hardly comprehending. `Why yes! Why had I forgotten it? A light when all other lights go out! And now indeed light alone can help us.’
Slowly his hand went to his bosom, and slowly he held aloft the Phial of Galadriel. 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.
Frodo gazed in wonder at this marvellous gift that he had so long carried, not guessing its full worth and potency. Seldom had he remembered it on the road, until they came to Morgul Vale, and never had he used it for fear of its revealing light. Aiya Eärendil Elenion Ancalima! he cried, and knew not what he had spoken; for it seemed that another voice spoke through his, clear, untroubled by the foul air of the pit.
But other potencies there are in Middle-earth, powers of night, and they are old and strong. And She that walked in the darkness had heard the Elves cry that cry far back in the deeps of time, and she had not heeded it, and it did not daunt her now. Even as Frodo spoke he felt a great malice bent upon him, and a deadly regard considering him. Not far down the tunnel, between them and the opening where they had reeled and stumbled, he was aware of eyes growing visible, two great clusters of many-windowed eyes – the coming menace was unmasked at last. The radiance of the star-glass was broken and thrown back from their thousand facets, but behind the glitter a pale deadly fire began steadily to glow within, a flame kindled in some deep pit of evil thought. Monstrous and abominable eyes they were, bestial and yet filled with purpose and with hideous delight, gloating over their prey trapped beyond all hope of escape.
Frodo and Sam, horror-stricken, began slowly to back away, their own gaze held by the dreadful stare of those baleful eyes; but as they backed so the eyes advanced. Frodo’s hand wavered, and slowly the Phial drooped. Then suddenly, released from the holding spell to run a little while in vain panic for the amusement of the eyes, they both turned and fled together; but even as they ran Frodo looked back and saw with terror that at once the eyes came leaping up behind. The stench of death was like a cloud about him.
‘Stand! stand! ‘ he cried desperately. `Running is no use.’
Slowly the eyes crept nearer.
`Galadriel! ‘ he called, and gathering his courage he lifted up the Phial once more. The eyes halted. For a moment their regard relaxed, as if some hint of doubt troubled them. Then Frodo’s heart flamed within him, and without thinking what he did, whether it was folly or despair or courage, he took the Phial in his left hand, and with his right hand drew his sword. Sting flashed out, and the sharp elven-blade sparkled in the silver light, but at its edges a blue fire flicked. Then holding the star aloft and the bright sword advanced, Frodo, hobbit of the Shire, walked steadily down to meet the eyes.
They wavered. Doubt came into them as the light approached. One by one they dimmed, and slowly they drew back. No brightness so deadly had ever afflicted them before. From sun and moon and star they had been safe underground, but now a star had descended into the very earth. Still it approached, and the eyes began to quail. One by one they all went dark; they turned away, and a great bulk, beyond the light’s reach, heaved its huge shadow in between. They were gone.
‘Master, master!’ cried Sam. He was close behind, his own sword drawn and ready. ‘Stars and glory! But the Elves would make a song of that, if ever they heard of it! And may I live to tell them and hear them sing. But don’t go on, master. Don’t go down to that den! Now’s our only chance. Now let’s get out of this foul hole!’
From The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in the chapter ‘Shelob’s Lair’
Samwise Gamgee saw the beast standing over his Master and he came on with a rage and vengeance that even Shelob in her countless years of wickedness had never beheld.
Frodo was lying face upward on the ground and the monster was bending over him, so intent upon her victim that she took no heed of Sam and his cries, until he was close at hand. As he rushed up he saw that Frodo was already bound in cords, wound about him from ankle to shoulder, and the monster with her great forelegs was beginning half to lift, half to drag his body away.
On the near side of him lay, gleaming on the ground, his elven-blade, where it had fallen useless from his grasp. Sam did not wait to wonder what was to be done, or whether he was brave, or loyal, or filled with rage. He sprang forward with a yell, and seized his master’s sword in his left hand. Then he charged. No onslaught more fierce was ever seen in the savage world of beasts; where some desperate small creature armed with little teeth alone, will spring upon a tower of horn and hide that stands above its fallen mate.
Disturbed as if out of some gloating dream by his small yell she turned slowly the dreadful malice of her glance upon him. But almost before she was aware that a fury was upon her greater than any she had known in countless years, the shining sword bit upon her foot and shore away the claw. Sam sprang in, inside the arches of her legs, and with a quick upthrust of his other hand stabbed at the clustered eyes upon her lowered head. One great eye went dark.
Now the miserable creature was right under her, for the moment out of the reach of her sting and of her claws. Her vast belly was above him with its putrid light, and the stench of it almost smote him down. Still his fury held for one more blow, and before she could sink upon him, smothering him and all his little impudence of courage, he slashed the bright elven-blade across her with desperate strength.
But Shelob was not as dragons are, no softer spot had she save only her eyes. Knobbed and pitted with corruption was her age-old hide, but ever thickened from within with layer on layer of evil growth. The blade scored it with a dreadful gash, but those hideous folds could not be pierced by any strength of men, not though Elf or Dwarf should forge the steel or the hand of Beren or of Túrin wield it. She yielded to the stroke, and then heaved up the great bag of her belly high above Sam’s head. Poison frothed and bubbled from the wound. Now splaying her legs she drove her huge bulk down on him again. Too soon. For Sam still stood upon his feet, and dropping his own sword, with both hands he 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. Not the doughtiest soldier of old Gondor, nor the most savage Orc entrapped, had ever thus endured her, or set blade to her beloved flesh. A shudder went through her. Heaving up again, wrenching away from the pain, she bent her writhing limbs beneath her and sprang backwards in a convulsive leap.
Sam had fallen to his knees by Frodo’s head, his senses reeling in the foul stench, his two hands still gripping the hilt of the sword. Through the mist before his eyes he was aware dimly of Frodo’s face and stubbornly he fought to master himself and to drag himself out of the swoon that was upon him. Slowly he raised his head and saw her, only a few paces away, eyeing him, her beak drabbling a spittle of venom, and a green ooze trickling from below her wounded eye. There she crouched, her shuddering belly splayed upon the ground, the great bows of her legs quivering, as she gathered herself for another spring-this time to crush and sting to death: no little bite of poison to still the struggling of her meat; this time to slay and then to rend.
Even as Sam himself crouched, looking at her, seeing his death in her eyes, a thought came to him, as if some remote voice had spoken. and he fumbled in his breast with his left hand, and found what he sought: cold and hard and solid it seemed to his touch in a phantom world of horror, the Phial of Galadriel.
‘Galadriel! ‘ he said faintly, and then he heard voices far off but clear: the crying of the Elves as they walked under the stars in the beloved shadows of the Shire, and the music of the Elves as it came through his sleep in the Hall of Fire in the house of Elrond.
Gilthoniel A Elbereth!
And then his tongue was loosed and his voice cried in a language which he did not know:
A Elbereth Gilthoniel
o menel palan-diriel,
le nallon sí di’nguruthos!
A tiro nin, Fanuilos!
And with that he staggered to his feet and was Samwise the hobbit, Hamfast’s son, again.
`Now come, you filth!’ he cried. `You’ve hurt my master, you brute, and you’ll pay for it. We’re going on; but we’ll settle with you first. Come on, and taste it again!’
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.
Sam came on. He was reeling like a drunken man, but he came on. And Shelob cowed at last, shrunken in defeat, jerked and quivered as she tried to hasten from him. She reached the hole, and squeezing down, leaving a trail of green-yellow slime, she slipped in, even as Sam hewed a last stroke at her dragging legs. Then he fell to the ground.
Shelob was gone; and whether she lay long in her lair, nursing her malice and her misery, and in slow years of darkness healed herself from within, rebuilding her clustered eyes, until with hunger like death she spun once more her dreadful snares in the glens of the Mountains of Shadow, this tale does not tell.
From The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King in the chapter ‘The Choices of Master Samwise’