Monday, October 4, 2010

Down came the rain and washed the spider out

Current book: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Pages read: 360 - 447 (end)

So, I was kind of wrong about Faramir taking the hobbits back to Minas Tirith - he actually just takes them to cave behind a waterfall on the way to Minas Tirith and then decides to let them go about their business. While they're discussing things, however, Gollum, who wasn't with the hobbits when they ran into Faramir's patrol, shows up again. Faramir's men want to kill him, but Frodo convinces them to spare his life. Frodo goes to get him and ends up coaxing him into coming into the cave, though Gollum feels betrayed when he realizes said cave is full of men. Anyway, Faramir realizes the importance of their quest and sends them on their way, though he warns Frodo that the path they're taking, through Cirith Ungol, has a very dangerous reputation.

Gollum leads Sam and Frodo to a huge stairway up a towering cliff, and they slowly climb it. At the top, they find themselves in a dark, foul-smelling cave, and, once they're sufficiently lost in its twists and turns, Gollum abandons them. They're able to get out with the help of one of Galadriel's gifts - a vial full of starlight - though they have to fend off the giant spider, Shelob, who makes her home in the cave. Just when they think they've escaped, Gollum returns to attack Sam while Shelob goes after Frodo. Sam successfully fights Gollum off and rushes to Frodo's aid. He wounds Shelob and the spider retreats, but Frodo has already been bitten, and appears dead. Sam takes the Ring, determined to finish the task, and sets out to carry on, but before he can, a group of orcs arrives. He overhears them say that Shelob has a poison that paralyzes her victims, and that Frodo is not, in fact, dead. Sam curses himself for his stupidity and follows the orcs, who have taken Frodo's unconscious form to a nearby tower. He doesn't quite catch them in time, however, and the doors of the tower are slammed shut before he can enter.

This book definitely felt as though it had more of an ending than the first one. I mean, it's not as if there's any real resolution or anything, but the cliffhanger works pretty well, I'd say. This section, where the hobbits climb Cirith Ungol and fight Shelob, is fairly entertaining. Tolkien seems to speed things up a little here in order to move the Ring toward Mordor a little faster. I realize that we're going to switch back to the storyline of the other heroes at the beginning of the next book, but it feels startlingly close to ending right now.

I find myself musing a little on the fantasy trope of giant spiders. First, let me just say that I am an arachnophobe, so I'm coming at this from a very particular perspective. (Well, I'm not that much of an arachnophobe, I guess. I'm what you'd call a functional arachnophobe, meaning I am able to deal with spiders when necessary, and they don't make me scream and panic. I strongly dislike them and do not want them to touch me or be in the same room as I am, but I can and will kill them and dispose of their bodies. I do, however, sometimes have nightmares about them.) I just think that giant spiders aren't as scary as everybody seems to think they are. Ok, they're kind of gross, I guess, but all the horror is taken out of them when you make them giant. A spider has to be small enough that it can be somewhere without your knowledge; that's what makes it creepy. When they get big, they're just outsized, almost comedic monsters. Now, surround them with hordes of smaller spiders, and then you've got something. Something completely terrifying.

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