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Gollum leads Sam and Frodo to a dark stone wall and to
a cave within it, which they enter. The smell is overwhelmingly
bad. Gollum reports that the cave is the entrance to a tunnel, but
he does not say its name, Shelob’s Lair. Despite the possibility
that the cave is filled with Orcs, Sam and Frodo know that they
The tunnel is totally dark, and the hobbits proceed by
feeling the walls. Strangely, Gollum disappears, leaving the hobbits
to find their way themselves. Suddenly, Frodo is aware of an intense
feeling of hostility and danger emanating from the darkness. They
hear a bubbling hiss, but can see nothing. Sam shouts to Frodo to
raise the phial of Galadriel, a small container blessed by Galadriel
that Frodo wears around his neck. The phial shines a strong light
that illuminates hundreds of tiny eyes, all of them staring at the
hobbits. The eyes belong to Shelob, a giant spider-monster ever
hungry for creatures to devour, used by the evil Sauron to guard
Frodo is terrified, but he walks boldly toward the eyes,
which retreat as he advances. The hobbits head for the end of the
tunnel, but are held up by cobwebs stretched across the passageway.
The cobwebs are too strong to be cut by a knife, and the hobbits
fear they are trapped until Frodo remembers Sting, his Elf-made
knife. They cut their way through, and the hobbits are within view
of the exit from the tunnel. Frodo shouts that they should run and
pulls ahead. Sam lifts the phial to see, notices that there are
orcs ahead, though, and hides the phial. Suddenly Shelob attacks,
moving swiftly between Sam and Frodo. Sam shouts a warning to his
master, but he is silenced by the clammy hand of Gollum, who has
betrayed the hobbits by leading them to Shelob. Sam removes himself
from Gollum’s grasp and threatens to stab him, but Gollum moves
In the midst of the struggle with the spider-monster Shelob,
Sam discovers Frodo lying face up, paralyzed by the spider’s poison.
The sight of his master in such an awful state fills Sam with courage
and rage, and he charges Shelob. He manages to stab her in one eye, which
goes dark. Heaving her belly up over Sam, Shelob prepares to crush
the hobbit, but instead impales herself on his sword. Shelob shudders
in pain and withdraws. Sam rushes to Frodo, and then charges Shelob
again. The defeated spider flees. Sam calls out to Frodo, whom he
at first believes to be asleep.
When Sam suddenly realizes that Frodo may be dead, he
is stricken by the thought that he himself must now carry out the
mission of destroying the Ring. He is upset by the idea of taking
the Ring from Frodo’s body and carrying it himself, remembering
that it was originally entrusted only to Frodo. But Sam decides
that, as Frodo’s companion, he may legitimately inherit the mission.
Sam takes the Ring. He attempts to flee, but hears Orc voices surrounding
him. Without reflecting on his actions, Sam puts on the Ring, and
feels as though the world has changed. As a result of wearing the Ring,
Sam can understand the Orc language perfectly. The Orcs take up
Frodo’s paralyzed body and carry it away.
Sam follows behind, listening to the guards’ conversation.
One Orc, named Shagrat, is telling the other, Gorbag, that Shelob
has been wounded. Gorbag is impressed that any creature was able
to hurt Shelob and cut through the cords of her cobwebs. He imagines that
the creature must be very powerful indeed. Shagrat announces that
the orders given from above are to retrieve Frodo safe and sound,
with a careful examination of all his possessions. Gorbag wonders
whether Frodo is even alive at all, but Shagrat affirms that Shelob
only eats living flesh, so that Frodo must still be living, although
stunned. Sam is amazed to hear that Frodo is alive. The Orc guards
carrying Frodo slam the doors behind them. Sam still has the Ring,
but is separated from his friend.
Frodo and Sam’s encounter with the revolting monster Shelob
is the culminating danger of their journey. The spider represents
a danger different from their previous trials in several ways. For
one thing, the hobbits’ encounter with Shelob marks the first time
that any character in the novel has tricked them into danger. Before
this point, the dangers they face have always been obvious and undisguised:
the Nazgûl flying overhead to spy on them, the
Uruk-hai kidnapping them, and the guards of Gondor mistaking them
for fugitive murderers. Those tests of endurance have been difficult,
but overt. With Gollum’s treachery comes a new case of a trial,
one that stems from deception and wrongful trust. Gollum does not
attack the hobbits or threaten them, as their previous enemies have
done, but tricks them by winning their confidence over an extended period.
As an enemy, the pathetic Gollum now appears more dangerous than
all the others, as he has played upon the natural goodness of the
hobbits and exploited it to his own advantage. In a sense, Frodo
recalls the tradition of the tragic heroes of ancient Greek drama,
as he suffers because of his tragic flaw of excessive trust.
As Frodo’s nemesis, Shelob is different from previous
villains in the novel in a variety of other ways. Unlike Saruman
or Wormtongue, the giant spider-monster is incapable of speech,
and even perhaps of rational thought. She is a creature of instinct,
following only her hungry stomach. She does not care for world domination like
Sauron; in fact, we learn that she is much older than Sauron, and dwelt
in her cave long before the Dark Lord ever came to rule over Mordor.
Shelob is a surprising figure of evil as she is an animal, and it
is somewhat hard for us to imagine animals being so thoroughly and
inherently evil. Moreover, the great danger Shelob represents is the
first and only appearance of an evil female force in The
Lord of the Rings. The narrator hammers home the point
that Shelob is female, repeatedly calling the spider “She.” Furthermore,
the narrator explicitly tells us how Shelob devours her babies,
making her a perverse mother figure. Readers of Tolkien often remark
on how few women appear in his works, so it is noteworthy that Frodo’s closest
and most fearsome brush with death comes at the hand of a female.
As the title of Chapter 10 indicates,
the novel ends with a surprising focus not on Frodo, who has been
the protagonist and Ring-bearer for all of the novel thus far, but
rather on Sam. It is Sam who cuts through Shelob’s web with his
knife Sting, and it is Sam who assumes possession of the Ring—and
takes on all the responsibility that goes along with it. The servant
steps into the limelight and accepts the burden, no longer a follower
but a hero. Indeed, the decisions Sam makes in this chapter arguably
demonstrate more quick thinking and courage than anything we have
seen from Frodo. For all his sense of inferiority and servility,
Sam may be made of stronger stuff than the hobbit he considers his
master. The larger moral lesson of this revelation is clear: anyone
may have the inner potential for heroism, no matter how insignificant
his or her social rank may seem. In a moment of hardship and challenge,
even the lowliest person may emerge as the figurative Ring-bearer
and the savior of the world.
The last pages of The Two Towers leave
us in great suspense, making us rush to start reading the third
volume in Tolkien’s novel. In part, the suspense is simply plot-related,
as we want to find out whether Sam is capable of handling the Ring-bearer
role and whether he has what it takes to fulfill the hobbits’ mission.
The personal and emotional aspect of the novel’s conclusion, however,
is equally suspenseful. Sam and Frodo have been such a close team throughout
Book IV that it is hard to imagine what might happen now that they
are separated. When the Orc guards slam the gates in Sam’s face,
denying him access to Frodo, we wonder whether Sam’s extraordinary
devotion to Frodo will be an impediment in the grand role he has
assumed for himself. Now that Sam has the Ring, he could go his
own way. Yet his attachment to Frodo may keep him from doing so.
The choice between commitment to one’s friends and the need to follow
one’s own destiny will no doubt be a difficult one for Sam.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Two Towers!