GREAT SPIDERS (THE HOBBIT)
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
The Great Spiders, also known as the Children of Ungoliant, were a race of oversized and sentient arachnids that lived in Middle-earth, particularly in dark and perilous places affected by the power of the Shadow.
The Great Spiders could speak to one another, though only those imbued with the power of (or derived from) the Ainur could understand them. Like Orcs and Goblins, Great Spiders were known to detest light, yet they thirsted for it and sought to devour it. Great Spiders comprise three separate known species.
Giant Spiders were a sentient race of Great Spiders that lived in Middle-earth. They lived in the South of Middle-earth in the First Age, but by the Third Age they had spread to other areas. They were descended from the spider-creatures of the Ered Gorgoroth. Giant Spiders infested the great forest of Greenwood the Great after the shadow of Sauron fell upon it and it became known as Mirkwood.
The Umaiar spiders, a subspecies of Umaiar (and by extension a sub-subspecies of Maiar), which included Ungoliant. There are those Maiar who took the form of giant spiders upon joining Morgoth. Apart from Ungoliant (who died by devouring herself), the fate of this race is unknown.
Spawn of Ungoliant
The Spawn of Ungoliant are the third race of Great Spiders. This race was spawned by Ungoliant after she fled to the South. She mated with and devoured the mortal giant spiders who lived there. Because they were half Umaiar, these spiders were immortal; they were bigger, stronger and smarter than their mortal kin.
The first Dark Lord, Melkor, used Ungoliant to help him destroy the Two Trees of Valinor and steal the Silmarils. Ungoliant, who had an insatiable desire to devour light, asked for the Silmarils to be given to her. Melkor refused and she attempted to kill him. Ungoliant was subsequently driven off by Melkor’s Balrogs, and she ultimately wandered across Middle-earth, consuming anything that gave off light, such as gemstones; and often mated with other large spiders. Her offspring were a great bane on the world in later years. She was described as surrounded by “an aura of darkness”. Her fate is unknown, but it is said that, always hungry, Ungoliant ended by devouring herself.
The Hobbit Bilbo Baggins, and his thirteen Dwarf companions encountered giant spiders in Mirkwood forest on their Quest to the Lonely Mountain. Only Bilbo’s magic ring and an Elven blade (Sting) allowed them to escape being eaten.
Frodo Baggins and Sam Gamgee encountered Ungoliant’s daughter, Shelob, in her lair as they were trying to enter Mordor during their quest to destroy the One Ring. Frodo was ambushed by the spider twice, and was paralyzed by her poison on the second encounter. Sam used Sting to attack Shelob and wounded her, forcing her to flee the scene. It is unknown whether she died from her wounds.
Influence of spiders in Tolkien’s life
Contrary to popular belief, the reason that Tolkien featured spiders so prominently in his stories was not because he was bitten by a tarantula when he was young, but rather because his son was afraid of them. Because of his son’s arachnophobia, they are portrayed negatively, always appearing as antagonists.