Middle-Earth: Shadow of War, the latest video game set in the world of Lord of the Rings, looks like some crazy Tolkien fanfiction. Its most recent trailer went even wilder, and introduced us to, among other things, the giant spider Shelob... in the form of human woman. How? Why? The team behind the game has a reason, and it’s a weird one.
Speaking to Eurogamer about the decision to include Shelob, both in her more usual spider-form and as the sultry woman you see above (wearing a new ring of power, because like I said, this game goes some places), video game studio Monolith’s creative vice president Michael de Plater explained that the game took inspiration from Tolkien’s books—specifically the description of Shelob’s spider-mom, Ungoliant. In the books, Ungoliant was described as an evil spirit who “took on the form” of a Spider, so why not have Shelob be able to “take on the form of a sexy lady”?
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.
Uh-huh. Okay. de Plater’s comments are amazing because they display a lot of Tolkien knowledge and a lot of thought, while also being completely out there.
But wait, there’s even more! de Plater went on to argue he felt like seeing Shelob in a non-spider form helped contrast her with Galadriel as a dichotomy of light and dark... and that actually, Shelob and Gollum are the secret real heroes of the entire Lord of the Rings saga. de Plater apparently believes that Gollum’s deal with Shelob to off Frodo before he can get to Mount Doom was because the two could sense Frodo would be too weak-willed to cast the ring into the fires himself, its pull being too strong, while Gollum, who would indeed eventually help destroy the ring, would be more capable of the momentous task:
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.
I mean, sure, this whole theory relies on you thinking that Gollum threw the ring into Mount Doom with himself purposefully, rather than accidentally dropping it and then chasing after it in one final act of greed, but still. Also: Whaaaaaaaaaat?
With explanations like these, it feels like the story of Shadow of War has gone completely off the deep end in a way that’s probably both deeply alarming to Tolkien purists and yet also batshit crazy enough that it seems kind of intriguing. I mean, after you turn giant spiders into women walking around Mordor in fancy evening wear, where else do you go from there?
You’ll find out when Shadow of War hits shelves October 10.