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The Two Towers: Novel Summary: Book IV - Chapter 9

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Summary: Gollum leads the hobbits into the tunnel, which is the lair of the giant spider Shelob, and leaves them in the darkness. Sam remind Frodo of Galadriel's gift to them: a phial that contains light from the elven star. The light drives Shelob back, but only temporarily; eventually, she attacks the hobbits again, and stings and wraps Frodo in her web. As Sam frantically attempts to call out a warning to Frodo, Gollum jumps him from behind. They struggle. Because he underestimates the "fat, stupid hobbit," Sam drives off Gollum. Still, however, Gollum does damage: Sam is so enraged at the creature's treachery that he is overwhelmed by the desire for vengeance. He draws his sword and runs after Gollum, only to realize that he has left helpless Frodo behind.

Analysis: Tolkien's symbolic use of light and darkness is particularly strong in this chapter. Into the foul gloom of Shelob's Lair, where "[n]ight always had been, and always would be, and night was all," the hobbits shine the light from the Phial of Galadriel. Light, of course, functions here as a symbol of hope (".and hope grew in Frodo's mind."). Notably, the light from the phial does not fully drive away the darkness; for instance, it confuses and drives back Shelob, but only temporarily. The real effect of Galadriel's miraculous light is not to vanquish utterly Frodo and Sam's foes, but to give them the courage to face them-which, of course, is how hope can work in the world. Hope does not magically erase our problems, but it can give us strength to confront them. Readers may be instructed by contrasting Galadriel's phial with the Ring as described in the next chapter: "Certainly the Ring had grown greatly in power as it approached the places of its forging; but one thing it did not confer, and that was courage." Evil cannot confer courage. Good can and does.
Like the Watcher outside the gates of Moria, Shelob is a symbol of an old, evil power whose interests are quite apart from the political and military affairs of Middle-earth. Sauron uses Shelob for his purposes, the narrator tells us, but we know that Sauron does not master Shelob; indeed, in the next chapter, the text leaves open the question of whether Shelob nursed her wounds and returned to strength some time after Sam attacked her. The narrative description of Shelob as "an evil thing in spider-form" reinforces the idea, prevalent throughout The Lord of the Rings, that evil is a formidable foe, capable of taking many forms, not all of which are as readily recognizable as a monstrous spider. Although some critics have made much of the fact that Tolkien had a clear memory of being frightened by a spider as a child, Shelob therefore works as a symbol on a far deeper level than that of an exorcism of the author's juvenile nightmares.


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