Saturday, March 5, 2016

Shelob and other Two Towers stuff

[Spoiler alert for the book and movie]

Several years ago I got a nice hardback set of the Lord of the Rings books. It was a long time before I started (re-)reading them though, and after the first book the set stayed in a box for a while. I just finished The Two Towers. I remember that it was never really my favorite, largely because it starts with a huge departure from Frodo’s story, which was what I really wanted to hear about. I guess I didn’t have much of a frame of reference for the other stuff. I guess the movies helped me care more about Aragorn and company – in fact, it found that I generally pictured the movie actors as the characters. That’s not surprising, I guess, but I don’t necessarily do that with books I read before seeing the movie. (For instance, when I reread Jurassic Park, I didn’t picture the people like the actors.)

One thing Tolkien does really well is paint a very vivid picture of the locations. I had a particularly vivid picture in my head of the whole Imlad Morgul / Cirith Ungol part, and it fit pretty well as I read it again. (Side note: I looked up pictures online, and some of the maps I saw were clearly wrong: They had Minas Morgul on the north side of the river, and the road crossed the river a couple of times.

Shelob is a cool enemy. It’s strange to say that, since I loath spiders. Maybe it would be more accurate to say that she’s a compelling enemy, since nothing could be more terrifying than a giant spider lurking in a murky cave. I may have pictured her a little differently this time, since the book says that her eyes are “two great clusters of many-windowed eyes”. I think I had missed the part about them being in two groups and pictured them in rows, more like a normal spider. At first I thought that maybe Tolkien was saying that they were compound eyes like a fly. That didn’t sit right though, and I think that’s wrong: “Monstrous and abominable eyes they were, bestial and yet filled with purpose and with hideous delight” I don’t think that compound eyes could really convey purpose or delight. Also, it says that they go out one by one as she turns away from the phial of Galadriel, and Sam stabs one of them. So they must be individual eyes.

Incidentally, Shelob’s face is one thing the movies get very wrong. Aside from not glowing and being arranged in a random, asymmetrical way, the eyes are just black dots that don’t really convey anything at all except nastiness. Certainly not intelligence. I remember from the special features that Peter Jackson showed a bunch of options to his kids and asked them which one was the scariest. That was very much the wrong question. I also disagree with their choice – nasty isn’t the same as scary.

One last thing – I’m not quite sure about the mechanics of on thing. When Sam slashes at Shelob, he can’t damage her. But when she tries to crush him, she impales herself. Yet, Sam manages to stay on his feet. It says this is because Shelob’s own strength is driving her bulk down onto the sword, but I’d think that it would drive Sam down before it would pierce her. But I think Tolkien has earned the benefit of the doubt, so I’ll trust him on this.

Oh, one other really last thing: I missed that when Sam attacks Shelob, he wields both swords at once. I thought that was pretty cool. Especially since he has to wield Sting left-handed (since he doesn’t have time to switch them). Yay Sam!