Spiders of Middle-earth
“Suddenly he saw, too, that there were spiders huge and horrible
sitting on the branches above him, and ring or no ring, he trembled with fear lest they should discover him.”
The Hobbit: C8
The large evil spiders of Middle-earth originated from the dark spirit Ungoliant, who took the form of a giant spider of incredible power and malice. It is said that she mated with the large spiders of the North, before disappearing into the southern reaches of Middle-earth, forever lost to history. It is uncertain if these large spiders with which she mated, existed on their own or if they were perhaps hatched in the breeding pits of Angband. We do know however, that the spawn of Ungoliant were imbued with her dark intelligence and evil spirit, growing to vast size and plaguing the mountains and forests of Middle-earth ever after.
The greatest of the children of Ungoliant was one called Shelob, who escaped the destruction of Beleriand and fled south to the Mountains of Shadow along the fences of Mordor. There she settled in myriad of caves bored into the high passes high in the mountains. This place or terror and despair would come to be known as Torech Ungol, “tunnel of the spider” in Sindarin.
It is believed the most, if not all of the large evil spiders found in the later years of Middle-earth, were likely begat by Shelob, who would kill and devour her mates when their purpose had been served. These spiders ranged throughout the Ephel Dúath and the Ered Lithui, eventually migrating north to the shadows under Mirkwood.
The evil spiders of Mirkwood were able to communicate with a crude language, which helped them coordinate attacks upon the unsuspecting and then feast upon their flesh. Like Shelob, they had stingers, which they used to subdue their victims until they could bind them with their insidious webs to keep their prey alive for later consumption. It was spiders such as these, that famously attacked the Dwarves of Erebor and their burglar, a halfling known as Bilbo Baggins, who would name his sword Sting after his attack upon these loathsome creatures.
In the far south, it is believed that spiders of Mordor were much larger in size and filled with a terrible malice, desiring to kill anyone that came upon them and devouring all things upon which they could feed, though none were as great or powerful as Shelob.
When the Dwarves on the quest of Erebor became lost in the dark forest of Mirkwood, they fell victim to these evil spiders, barely escaping with their lives.
He had picked his way stealthily for some distance, when he noticed a place of dense black shadow ahead of him, black even for that forest, like a patch of midnight that had never been cleared away. As he drew nearer, he saw that is was made by spider-webs one behind and over and tangled with another. Suddenly he saw too, that there were spiders huge and horrible sitting in the branches above, and ring or no ring he trembled with fear lest they should discover him.
Standing behind a tree he watched a group of them for some time, and then in the silence and stillness of the wood he realized that these loathsome creature were speaking one to another. Their voices were a sort of thin creaking and hissing, but he could make out many of the words that they said. The were talking about the dwarves!
“It was a sharp struggle, but worth it,” said one. “What nasty thick skins they have to be sure, but I’ll wager is good juice inside.”
“Aye, they’ll make fine eating, when they’ve hung a bit,” said another.
“Don’t hang ’em too long,” said a third. “They’re not as fat as they might be. Been feeding none so well of late, I should guess.”
“Kill ’em, I say,” hissed a fourth; “kill ’em now hang ’em dead for awhile.”
“They’re dead now, I’ll warrant,” said the first.
“That they are not. I saw one a-struggling just now. Just coming round again. I should say, after a bee-autiful sleep. I’ll show you.”
With that one of the fat spiders, ran along a rope till it came to a dozen bundles hanging in a row from a high branch. Bilbo was horrified, now the he noticed them for the first time dangling in the shadows, to see a dwarvish foot sticking out of the bottoms of some of the bundles, or here and there the tip of a nose, or a bit of beard or of a hood.
To the fattest of these bundles the spider went.- “It’s poor Bombur, I’ll bet,” thought Bilbo – and nipped hard at the nose that stuck out. There was a muffled yelp inside, and a toe shot up and kicked the spider straight and hard. There was life in Bombur still. There was a noise like the kicking of a flabby football, and the enraged spider fell off the branch, only catching itself with it’s own thread just in time.
The other laughed. “you were quite right,” they said, “the meat’s alive and kicking!”
“I’ll soon put an end to that,” hissed the angry spider, climbing back on to the branch!
From The Hobbit in the chapter ‘Flies and Spiders’