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Shelob was an "evil thing in spider form...[the] last child of Ungoliant to trouble the unhappy world", living high in the Ephel Dúath mountains that border Mordor. There are numerous references to her being ancient, predating the events of The Lord of the Rings by many ages. Although she resided in Mordor and was unrepentantly evil, she was independent of Sauron and his influence.
This creature makes her first appearance in The Lord of the Rings in the chapter "The Stairs of Cirith Ungol"; though she is formally introduced in the next chapter, "Shelob's Lair," where the author says of her: "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 shadow; for all living things were her food, and her vomit darkness." Her descendants (upon whom she would often feed) include, possibly, the Giant Spiders who both captured and were defeated in Mirkwood by Bilbo Baggins's Dwarf allies in The Hobbit.
Shelob's lair was Torech Ungol, below Cirith Ungol ("Pass of the Spider"). It lay along the path that Sam Gamgee and Frodo Baggins took into Mordor en route to Mount Doom. Her spider-silk, which was spun in both rope and cobweb form, was strong and cleverly made, trapping those who walked into it. Shelob had encountered Gollum during his previous trip to Mordor, and he apparently worshipped her after his own fashion. The Orcs of the Tower of Cirith Ungol called her "Shelob the Great" and "Her Ladyship," and also had limited knowledge of Gollum's relationship with her (they referred to him as "Her Sneak"). Sauron himself was aware of her existence, but left her alone; as she was a useful guard on the pass. He occasionally sent her prisoners for whom he had no further use.
Gollum led the Hobbits Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee into her lair so that after she consumed them, he could collect the One Ring, as she had no use for it. After losing track of Gollum, the two Hobbits realized that the tunnel was blocked by her webs. She cornered them, but Frodo used the light of the Phial of Galadriel to drive her off. Frodo then wielded his Elven blade, Sting,' to cut the webs, and the Hobbits believed that they had escaped the trap.
However, Gollum waylaid the pair and tried to strangle Sam, while Shelob stung Frodo, rendering him paralyzed. An enraged Sam fought off Gollum and then battled Shelob desperately using his master's sword Sting. Sam first hewed off a claw from one of her legs and stabbed out one eye (the latter being the only soft part of her body). Then he inflicted a deep gash upon her body. Seeking to crush Sam under her abdomen, she accidentally impaled herself upon Sting. Shelob's rage was rekindled and she resolved once more to kill Sam; but the Hobbit defeated her by unleashing the light of the Phial of Galadriel, which burned and temporarily blinded her. Shelob fled into her lair, significantly wounded; fluids dripping from her pierced abdomen. Her final fate, according to the text, will remain unknown to the people of Middle-earth; however, it can be assumed that, wounded as she was, she would not return to her former lifestyle for a while, possibly not ever.
Thinking Frodo dead, Sam took the Ring from his lifeless friend and left his body behind. Yet, due to the enhanced hearing offered by the Ring, he discovered from the squabbling of a pair of Orcs that Shelob normally injected a small dose of venom that was not intended to kill her victims, but only to render them unconscious and keep their meat fresh, as seen with lesser spiders.
In Peter Jackson's film trilogy, Shelob's appearance is held over until the middle of the third movie, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. In the movie, Shelob can be seen to have a retractable venomous wasp-like stinger at the rear end between the spinnerets, unlike real spiders (which inject venom with their fangs) but consistent with the book's description of Shelob. Shelob also appears to have a gaping mouth, whereas real spiders can ingest only liquid. In a DVD commentary, Jackson says Shelob's appearance is mostly based on the tunnel-web spiders of New Zealand, which he hates.
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