8

In the Lord of the Rings, Gollum/Smeagol’s plan is to lead Frodo and Sam into the pass of Cirith Ungol, where he was gonna leave them to be consumed by Shelob and take the ring from the remains. However is it possible that Shelob might’ve kept the ring for herself? She is last child of Ungoliant, the Primordial Spider, and is capable of intelligent thought since she allowed Gollum/Sméagol to leave the tunnels the first time around after he made a pact with her to bring tastier meals than him to her, so is there any reason to believe she wouldn’t keep the ring for herself?

7

She might, but she would not have used it.

The spiders and spider-things we read about in Tolkien's work are all motivated primarily by the same thing: hunger. The spiders of Mirkwood capture Bilbo and the dwarves for food: the fact they're also foiling Gandalf's plan is merely a coincidence. So it is with Shelob. We read in the conversation between the Orcs that all she's interested in is capturing them to eat, and nothing in Frodo and Sam's encounter with her suggests otherwise.

This is in accordance with the description in The Silmarillion of the primal "spider", Ungoliant.

But she had disowned her Master, desiring to be mistress of her own lust, taking all things to herself to feed her emptiness; and she fled to the south, escaping the assaults of the Valar and the hunters of Oromë, for their vigilance had ever been to the north, and the south was long unheeded. Thence she had crept towards the light of the Blessed Realm; for she hungered for light and hated it.

It's worth noting that this hatred of the light extends to Shelob and her hatred of Sam's phial. It seems reasonable to assume, then, that Shelob and Ungoliant are similar creatures in many respects.

Everything we read about Ungoliant centers around her insatiable hunger:

But when Ungoliant understood the purpose of Melkor, she was torn between lust and great fear;

And later:

But Ungoliant sucked it up, and going then from Tree to Tree she set her black beak to their wounds, till they were drained;

And later:

Then perforce Morgoth surrendered to her the gems that he bore with him, one by one and grudgingly; and she devoured them, and their beauty perished from the world. Huger and darker yet grew Ungoliant, but her lust was unsated.

It's worth noting in the above passage that Ungoliant is eating the gems of Valinor. While magic is a complex and amorphous concept in Tolkien's work we might, at a stretch, imagine many of these gems as sources of "magic" and "power" just as the Silmarils - and later the Ring - are.

And most extreme of all:

Of the fate of Ungoliant no tale tells. Yet some have said that she ended long ago, when in her uttermost famine she devoured herself at last.

A being so ruled by hunger, then, that she would eat herself.

Given that Shelob is a child of Ungoliant, clearly a closely related creature, and everything we read about her revolves around eating, it would seem that she, also is motivated entirely by hunger and not by power.

In fact, this is confirmed in The Two Towers:

Little she knew of or cared for towers, or rings, or anything devised by mind or hand, who only desired death for all others, mind and body, and for herself a glut of life, alone, swollen till the mountains could no longer hold her up and the darkness could not contain her.

So if she did gain possession of the ring, it is likely that she would simply either ignore it or attempt to eat it, with uncertain results.

2

She didn't care about it.

Little she knew of or cared for towers, or rings, or anything devised by mind or hand, who only desired death for all others, mind and body, and for herself a glut of life, alone, swollen till the mountains could no longer hold her up and the darkness could not contain her.

-- The Two Towers, chapter "Shelob's Lair"

This is consistent with what we know about her character. She shows intelligence only in a brutish, beastly sort of way. Her existence revolves around luring creatures into her traps and devouring them; a Ring of Power would have little interest to her.

This doesn't, of course, account for the effect the Ring has on everyone (except Tom Bombadil) who comes into contact with it. Perhaps even a creature usually unmotivated by powerlust would be affected by the addiction of the Ring. But given that Gollum would come to take it almost immediately after she first came into contact with it, the Ring wouldn't have much time to take hold of her. Her lack of care for such things would probably take time to wear down, especially given her immense age, and the Ring wouldn't be able to do that in the short time that she would 'possess' it before Gollum seized it.

Further reading:

  • I started writing this a couple of hours ago, and then went AFK for a while. Matt Thrower's answer is better, but I thought this was worth posting anyway. – Rand al'Thor Jan 11 at 11:42
  • Absolutely worth it, for the reflections on ring-desire, Gollum and the further reading, thanks. – Bob Tway Jan 11 at 13:24

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