Shelob is a fictional demon in the form of a giant spider from J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth legendarium. She appears at the end of the fourth book, second volume (The Two Towers), of The Lord of the Rings. Her lair lies in Cirith Ungol ("the pass of the spider") leading into Mordor. Gollum deliberately leads Frodo Baggins there in hopes of recovering the One Ring when Shelob attacks Frodo. The plan is foiled when Samwise Gamgee greatly injures Shelob with Frodo's Elvish dagger, Sting, and the Phial of Galadriel.
Shelob was an "evil thing in spider-form...[the] last child of Ungoliant to trouble the unhappy world", living high in the Ephel Dúath mountains on the borders of Mordor. There are numerous references to her predating the events of The Lord of the Rings by many ages. Although she resided in Mordor and was unrepentantly evil, she was independent of Sauron and his influence.
This creature makes her first appearance in the chapter "The Stairs of Cirith Ungol", though she is formally introduced in the next chapter "Shelob's Lair" where the author says "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". Her descendants include the Giant Spiders of Mirkwood defeated by Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit.
Her exact size is unknown, but she may be 10-15 feet wide, including her legs. She is significantly larger than her descendants, the Great Spiders of Mirkwood. Unlike ordinary spiders, she uses a stinger instead of chelicerae to inject her venom and paralyze her victims. Her hide is tough enough to resist the sword Sting, and the strings of her webs likewise resilient to ordinary blades, though the magical Sting manages to cut them. Her main weak point is her eyes, which can be easily harmed or blinded.
Shelob's lair was Torech Ungol, below Cirith Ungol ("Pass of the Spider"), along the path that Frodo Baggins and Sam Gamgee took into Mordor, where Shelob had encountered Gollum during his previous trip to Mordor, and he apparently worshipped her. The Orcs of the Tower of Cirith Ungol called her "Shelob the Great" and "Her Ladyship", and referred to Gollum as "Her Sneak". Sauron himself was aware of her existence, but left her alone, as a useful guard on the pass, and occasionally fed prisoners to her. In the story, Gollum led the Hobbits into her lair to himself recover the One Ring after she consumed them. She cornered them; but Frodo used the Phial of Galadriel's light to drive her off, and used Sting to cut the webs blocking the tunnel. Gollum waylaid the pair and tried to strangle Sam, while Shelob paralysed Frodo; whereafter Sam fought off Gollum and then wielded Sting against Shelob. Seeking to crush Sam, she instead impaled herself upon Sting; and was nearly blinded by the Phial of Galadriel; whereupon she fled. Thinking Frodo dead, Sam took the Ring from his friend and left his body behind, but discovered by listening to a pair of Orcs that Frodo was alive but senseless, under a minor influence of venom.
As Tolkien admitted in a letter to his son, Shelob "is of course only 'she + lob'", lob being an archaic English word for spider, influenced by Old English loppe or "spider". The word is not related to "cob" nor "cobweb". Old English attercoppe (meaning "spider") is derived from atter meaning "poison" and coppe meaning "head"; the OE term is a loan from Old Norse language and survives in modern Danish as edderkop, spider. Tolkien used "attercop" as well as "cob" and "lob" in The Hobbit, where Bilbo Baggins sings songs taunting the giant spiders in Mirkwood: "Attercop, Attercop, Old Tomnoddy" and "Lazy Lob and Crazy Cob".
In the 1981 BBC Radio adaption of The Lord of the Rings, Shelob is portrayed by BBC Radiophonic Workshop member Jenny Lee via a series of treated vocal effects. As part of the technical crew Lee had contributed sound effects elsewhere in the series, but received an acting credit for her work on Shelob.
In Peter Jackson's film trilogy, Shelob's appearance is delayed until the middle of the third movie, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, wherein Shelob has a retractable venomous wasp-like stinger between the spinnerets, which she uses to paralyze Frodo. She also appears to have a gaping mouth, equipped with four chelicerae and two fangs. Of her eyes, only four are visible. In a DVD commentary, Jackson says Shelob's appearance is mostly based on the New Zealand tunnel-web spider, which he hates.
In the video game The Return of the King, based on the film, Shelob is one of the bosses and her defeat is required to beat the level "Shelob's Lair". In The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth II, Shelob is a hireable hero-unit of the Goblin faction.
In the video game Lego The Lord of the Rings, she is the enemy of the level The Secret Stairs, briefly, as Frodo and Gollum run away from her. She then appears at the start of the next level, Cirith Ungol, wherein the player(s) can use the characters of Samwise Gamgee or the Orc, Shagrat.
Shelob is a major character in the video game Middle-earth: Shadow of War, where she serves as both the narrator and an ally to player character Talion. In the game, Shelob uses her Maian shape-shifting ability to assume the form of an attractive human woman. Following criticism of this decision, creative director Michael de Plater explained his interpretation that Gollum and Shelob were "the unsung heroes of The Lord of the Rings", with Shelob sensing Frodo's weakness and making a pact with Gollum to hasten him to Mount Doom and the confrontation that destroys the ring. De Plater envisioned Shelob as a dark counterpart to Galadriel, noting how both manipulate lesser beings, but that Shelob is more honest.