Gollum’s plot comes to fruition.
There agelong she had dwelt, an evil thing in spider-form, even such as once of old had lived in the Land of the Elves in the West that is now under the Sea, such as Beren fought in the Mountains of Terror in Doriath, and so came to Lúthien upon the green sward amid the hemlocks in the moonlight long ago. How Shelob came there, flying from ruin, no tale tells, for out of the Dark Years few tales have come. But still she was there, who was there before Sauron, and before the first stone of Barad-dûr; and she served none but herself, drinking the blood of Elves and Men, bloated and grown fat with endless brooding on her feasts, weaving webs of shadow; for all living things were her food, and her vomit darkness. […]
‘We’ll see, we’ll see,’ [Gollum] said often to himself when the evil mood was on him, as he walked the dangerous road from Emyn Muil to Morgul Vale, ‘we’ll see. It may well be, O yes, it may well be that when She throws away the bones and the empty garments, we shall find it, we shall get it, the Precious, a reward for poor Sméagol who brings nice food. And we’ll save the Precious, as we promised. O yes. And when we’ve got it safe, then She’ll know it, O yes, then we’ll pay Her back, my precious. Then we’ll pay everyone back!’
[…] And as for Sauron: he knew where she lurked. It pleased him that she should dwell there hungry but unabated in malice, a more sure watch upon that ancient path into his land than any other that his skill could have devised. […] And sometimes as a man may cast a dainty to his cat, (his cat he calls her, but she owns him not) Sauron would send her prisoners that he had no better uses for: he would have them driven to her hole, and report brought back to him of the play that she made.
So they both lived, delighting in their own devices, and feared no assault, nor wrath, nor any end of their wickedness.
Of course this was Gollum’s plan all along, to bring them to Shelob’s lair and abandon them to the tender mercies of a demon spider. I also love how Tolkien perfectly understands the position of a cat to her humans.
But Frodo and Sam have been through plenty of darkness already, and they’re not about to give up on “the last lap”.
‘Master, master!’ cried Sam, and life and urgency came back into his voice. ‘The Lady’s gift! The star-glass! A light to you in dark places, she said it was to be. The star-glass!’
[…] Slowly his hand went to his bosom, and slowly he held aloft the Phial of Galadriel. For a moment it glimmered, faint as a rising star struggling in heavy earthward mists, and then as its power waxed, and hope grew in Frodo’s mind, it began to burn, and kindled to a silver flame, a minute heart of dazzling light, as though Eärendil had himself come down from the high sunset paths with the last Silmaril upon his brow. […]
Frodo gazed in wonder at this marvellous gift that he had so long carried, not guessing its full worth and potency. Seldom had he remembered it on the road, until they came to Morgul Vale, and never had he used it for fear of its revealing light. Aiya Eärendil Elenion Ancalima! he cried, and knew not what he had spoken; for it seemed that another voice spoke through his, clear, untroubled by the foul air of the pit.
But other potencies there are in Middle-earth, powers of night, and they are old and strong. And She that walked in the darkness had heard Elves cry that cry far back in the deeps of time, and she had not heeded it, and it did not daunt her now. Even as Frodo spoke he felt a great malice upon him, and a deadly regard considering him. Not far own the tunnel, between them and the opening where they had reeled and stumbled, he was aware of eyes growing visible, two great clusters of many-windowed eyes – the coming menace was unmasked at last. The radiance of the star-glass was broken and thrown back from their thousand facets, but behind the glitter a pale deadly fire began steadily to glow within, a flame kindled in some deep pit of evil thought. Monstrous and abominable eyes they were, bestial and yet filled with purpose and with hideous delight, gloating over their prey trapped beyond all hope of escape.
This is the second time Frodo has spoken an ancient line of Elvish that he didn’t actually “know” or understand, which I’ve always credited to that hint of clairvoyance, as well as his general “Elf-friend” status. It was a lot more effective with the Nazgûl, which may be partly because they’re only “servants”, but also because they were once mortal, and still could potentially be destroyed if their master falls. Shelob is basically a literal demon-spawn, and words have little power over her.
Frodo and Sam force her to retreat with the light of the star-glass, then manage to escape the tunnel with a little help from Sting.
‘Come!’ cried Frodo. ‘On! On!’ Wild joy at their escape from the very mouth of despair suddenly filled all his mind. His head whirled as with a draught of potent wine. He sprang out, shouting as he came. […]
‘The pass, Sam!’ he cried, not heeding the shrillness of his voice, that released from the choking airs of the tunnel rang out now high and wild. ‘The pass! Run, run, and we’ll be through – through before any one can stop us!’
Sam is understandably concerned about Frodo’s reckless behavior, but more because of the Orcs in the tower ahead than Shelob.
Hardly had Sam hidden the light of the star-glass when she came. A little way ahead and to his left he saw suddenly, issuing from a black hole of shadow under the cliff, the most loathly shape that he had ever beheld, horrible beyond the horror of an evil dream. […]
As soon as she had squeezed her soft squelching body and its folded limbs out of the upper exit from her lair, she moved with a horrible speed, now running, on her creaking legs, now making a sudden bound. She was between Sam and his master. Either she did not see Sam, or she avoided him as the bearer of the light, and fixed all her intent upon one prey, upon Frodo, bereft of his Phial, running heedless up the path, unaware yet of his peril. […]
Sam gasped and gathered all his remaining breath to shout. ‘Look out behind!’ he yelled. ‘Look out, master! I’m’ – but suddenly his cry was stifled.
A long clammy hand went over his mouth and another caught him by the neck, while something wrapped itself about his leg. Taken off his guard he toppled backwards into the arms of his attacker.
‘Got him!’ hissed Gollum in his ear. ‘At last, my precious, we’ve got him, yes, the nassty hobbit. We takes this one. She’ll get the other. O yes, Shelob will get him, not Sméagol: he promised; he won’t hurt Master at all. But he’s got you, you nassty filthy little sneak!’
And this brings us to one of the more controversial changes in the films, namely the falling out between Frodo and Sam (as orchestrated by Gollum). The reasoning behind it was that Gollum needed a moment of triumph…but that’s exactly what this is! It’s out of character for basically everyone involved and makes Frodo look particularly awful (and stupid). There’s also not much incentive for Gollum, since two hobbits can’t seem like much more of a threat to a GIANT SPIDER than one, and he seems like the sort of person who would much prefer seeing Sam dead than winning some mind game against him. The whole thing just feels unnecessary and manipulative, particularly since it ended up in the first act of Return of the King instead of the end of The Two Towers – although since I’m on the subject of stuff added to Return of the King, I do think opening with Sméagol’s backstory worked really well.
Anyhow, Sam’s furious at Gollum’s treachery (and at the very least finds it satisfying to finally be able to beat him up) and quickly turns the tables on him.
That was enough for him. Grabbing from behind was an old game of his, and seldom had he failed in it. But this time, misled by spite, he had made the mistake of speaking and gloating before he had both hands on his victim’s neck. Everything had gone wrong with his beautiful plan, since that horrible light had so unexpectedly appeared in the darkness. And now he was face to face with a furious enemy, little less than his own size. This fight was not for him. […]
Sword in hand Sam went after him. For the moment he had forgotten everything else but the red fury in his brain and the desire to kill Gollum. But before he could overtake him, Gollum was gone. Then as the dark hole stood before him and the stench came out to meet him, like a clap of thunder the thought of Frodo and the monster smote upon Sam’s mind. He spun round, and rushed wildly up the path, calling and calling his master’s name. He was too late. So far Gollum’s plot had succeeded.
Next time: The choices of Master Samwise…