It’s a little more complicated than you might have thought and enveloped in Tolkien lore.
Not long ago, Monolith and Warner Bros dropped a lore bombshell on Tolkien fans when they revealed a new trailer for Middle-Earth: Shadow of War which revealed that giant spider Shelob was able to turn into a beautiful woman. Shelob is well-established in Tolkien’s lore as a giant, malevolent spider, so it came as quite a surprise for fans to see her as a pale, leggy seductress. Not only was it hinted that she could possibly hold the secret to defeating Sauron, but Shelob is also narrating the game.
After quite a few raised eyebrows and the expected backlash from fans wondering why Shelob is being painted as a woman, and a sexy one at that, Monolith Creative vice president Michael de Plater told Eurogamer that this unexpected change in the tale wasn’t made simply to get an attractive woman in a revealing dress into the game.
It is important to note that this concept initially came from de Plater’s belief that like Gollum, Shelob is one of the unsung heroes in Lord of the Rings. Shelob sensed Frodo’s ever-growing weakness and corruption from the Ring, and knew when the time came, Frodo would be unable to destroy the Ring. That explains why Shelob sought to kill Frodo in The Two Towers and made a pact with Gollum and hastening him on his way to Mount Doom, leading to the final confrontation that saw the Ring destroyed. de Plater goes on to explain that Shelob is seen as a darker version of Galadriel, as she sends her minions off to do her bidding, albeit it may be for her own well-being. Whereas Galadriel and Gandalf look over the realm and its people. de Plater goes on to explain:
“There were two things that were a starting point for our inspiration. A big part of what we do is look at these characters that are in kind of the grey zone – they’re not as pure good as Gandalf or Aragorn, they’re more human. Characters we’re inspired by, characters like Boromir and Saruman and Denethor, because I think sometimes Lord of the Rings gets characterised as being oversimplified, black and white, good guys vs bad guys, but actually there are these incredible nuanced characters. So you’ve got Shelob representing darkness and then you’ve got Galadriel representing light, so you’ve got a duality between these two powerful women basically opposing each other in the same way that there’s a lot of duality in our game. So we thought those two in opposition are really interesting, and the way Galadriel basically manipulated and sent people off on these different quests, but ultimately left to themselves that quest [to destroy the ring] would have failed. Then you think of Shelob as almost the dark mirror to [Galadriel], who actually had this minion [Gollum] that… if you think about it in a way, ultimately succeeded.”
He also noted that while Shelob is evil, she’s at least honest about it and her true intentions, unlike those who sent the Fellowship off on a quest that they knew was all but doomed right from the start but wanted them to try anyway. That still begs the question…how and why is Shelob shape-shifting into a woman now? It is a little tricky to unpack considering Shelob is centuries old and has never (as far as we know) taken the form of a woman before in order to do her bidding. As for the ‘how’, de Plater explains that Shelob’s mother was a Ungoliant, who is described by Tolkien as an evil spirit taking the form of a spider. Okay, so we’ve got that out of the way.
As for the ‘why’ aspect of it, de Plater explains:
“Why would you take the form of a spider? Because they’re terrifying. It really is to provoke fear, there’s a psychological dimension to that, and the other thing with Ungoliant and the spirit of darkness is this line that she hates light but she craves it, and so Celebrimbor and the new ring also represent this new thing that she has a love / hate relationship with.”
So basically – she can, so she will because she has the power to do so. Shelob also feels the need to involve herself in Talion’s quest, so it is presumably much easier to communicate with him in human form rather than as a giant, scary spider. As huge Tolkien fans, we’re not entirely sure this is a satisfactory explanation. For one thing, there is no concrete evidence in Tolkien’s lore that Shelob was about to transform just because her mother was able to.
Additionally, Tolkien says specifically that Shelob just wanted something more tasty to eat other than orcs or Gollum, which is the only reason she allows Gollum to live so he can lure others there. So the whole she’s-evil-but-still-kinda-good thing doesn’t quite fit the narrative, but we can’t wait to see how the story plays out and how Shelob will affect and shape Talion’s quest.
Middle-Earth: Shadow of War will launch for Xbox One, PC and PS4 on October 10th, 2017.