A shriek with the backing of all nine Nazgul ripped through the Tolkien fandom recently with an announcement in Middle-earth: Shadow of War that pushed the canon a little too far for its liking. Shelob, known in Lord of the Rings as the giant spider who waylays Frodo and Sam on the mountain path to Cirith Ungol, will not only be a spider in the game, but indeed, will also take a human temptress form to distract protagonist Talion from his missions.
Fittingly enough, Tolkien purists had the exact same reaction to Shelob as Frodo did…
However, Monolith is here to set the record straight. Creative Vice President Michael de Plater sat down with Eurogamer to explain the creative decision. His description is quite lengthy, and he operates under the assumption that Shelob wasn’t a pawn of Sauron, but an unsung hero, foreseeing that destroying the ring was something Frodo could not do. His logic is that Frodo had to be eaten to keep the ring out of Sauron’s hands…
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 [testing the Fellowship with the mirror in Lothlórien] 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 her, who actually had this minion [Gollum] that… if you think about it in a way, ultimately succeeded.
We were also thinking really in a lot of ways that, not intentionally, but it felt like Gandalf and Galadriel kind of lied to them [the Fellowship] a little bit about their chances and what differentiates Shelob is that she’s completely honest.. So she’s evil, or perceived as evil, but she has this honesty to her, and so as we started thinking through that and thinking of her as this dark mirror to Galadriel and filling that role in our story of that narrator and what that would look like.
He also points out that Shelob is not technically a spider, but rather, the daughter of an evil spirit named Ungoliant who chose to take the form of a spider. Shelob, who also takes the form of a spider, assumedly can take other forms as well.
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.
Loose interpretation, but I’ll buy it
Gamers love to preach about how video games have the power to take narratives where books and movies do not. However, whenever a developer actually tries to do that, they freak out in the name of canon, and retreat into their conservative, elitist shells, fearing the very change that they promote.
It’s important to remember that these Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor games are not part of the Tolkien Legendarium but rather, simply fan-fictions. A bunch of writers, who are also probably Tolkien nerds themselves, pounced on two very small details that we overlook and created the potential for a new story. Shelob is a spirit who takes a spider form, and yes, Frodo ultimately succumbed to the Ring and failed his quest. It was Gollum who had to finish it for him at the very end… accidentally.
From this spring board, we get those new narratives that video game writers can take us to. Here’s a game that’s actually doing it, but the mental defenses are going up and the flames are coming out.
Remember, it’s all just an interpretation. Your precious canon, is still intact, precious. Yesss….
Middle-earth: Shadow of War will be available on the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC on Oct. 10.
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