The Tolkien Forum

Welcome to our forum! Register a free account today to become a member! Once signed in, you'll be able to participate on this site by adding your own topics and posts, as well as connect with other members through your own private inbox! Plus you won't see ads ;)

Did the Ring allow Bilbo to talk to the Mirkwood spiders?

Joined
Feb 19, 2018
Messages
158
Reaction score
21
Location
Hobbiton
I don't think Shelob ever spoke in the book (though Gollum appeared to have some alliance with her, so maybe he at least figured out how to communicate with her), and I'm not sure if Ungoliant ever spoke to anyone but possibly Morgoth (who was a Valar and had near divine abilities, perhaps second only to Eru and maybe Manwe).

The only one that I can recall hearing and understanding the spiders talk is Bilbo. Of note of interest is that not all the North Eastern creatures could be understandable to your average joe that knew just the Common Speech, as, though the language of the Wargs was translated for us, it appears that nobody in the company (maybe save Gandalf), understood exactly what they were saying.

However, Bilbo DOES understand the spider children of Shelob. However, all of the time he is hearing and even talking to and taunting them, I believe, he is WEARING the Ring. (Could be wrong as I cannot recall every single word in that chapter.)

So it's possible that the Ring gave him the ability to understand and talk to the Spiders of Mirkwood.
 

BountyHunter

Member
Joined
Nov 5, 2018
Messages
45
Reaction score
5
Location
Kenora, Ontario, Canada
That was how it worked in the movies. It made sense to me.

I just finished a reread of The Hobbit, and I'm pretty sure Bilbo WAS wearing the ring whenever the spiders were understandable.
 

Merroe

Well-Known Member
Joined
Feb 14, 2016
Messages
258
Reaction score
284
Location
Luxembourg
What we read in LotR is that the ringbearer's observation skills are improved. Two quick examples ("A Journey in the Dark"):

"a deep uneasiness, growing to dread, crept over him again. Though he had been healed in Rivendell of the knife-stroke, that grim wound had not been without effect. His senses were sharper and more aware of things that could not be seen. One sign of change that he soon had noticed was that he could see more in the dark than any of his companions, save perhaps Gandalf. And he was in any case the bearer of the Ring: it hung upon its chain against his breast, and at whiles it seemed a heavy weight. He felt the certainty of evil ahead and of evil following; but he said nothing."

"Yet Frodo began to hear, or to imagine that he heard, something else: like the faint fall of soft bare feet."

It would therefore appear that the only help from the Ring would be to better hear whatever noises the spiders were making (even though this effect was attributed more to Frodo's past wound than to his Ring). But it is risky to carry conclusions made from LotR into the interpretation of TH since the latter was written long before the former existed.

TH mentions different languages of the Wargs, of the thrushes and of Beorn's language to talk to his animals. Bilbo could understand none of these. Would that have changed, had Bilbo put his Ring on his finger? I am not aware of any reference that the Ring would make its bearer understand other languages, leave alone speaking languages, that he does not already know.

I suppose therefore that in the case of the spiders, they were using the Common Speech!

Who knows, ... Shelob might speak several languages, if you take into account all the different races she had been devouring! :confused:
 

Valandil

High King at Annuminas
Joined
Jun 8, 2004
Messages
462
Reaction score
56
Location
Casper, WY
Since The Hobbit was first written as a children's story, Bilbo being able to speak with and understand any creature necessary was just part of the package. But the Ring later becomes a very convenient reason for this... so I think, yes! Perhaps this even led to JRRT's mention that the Ring conveyed the ability to understand and converse with all sorts of evil creatures (however this was worded).
 

Olorgando

Member
Joined
Aug 19, 2019
Messages
98
Reaction score
74
Location
Germany
My guess would also be that talking animals were simply a part of the classical fairy-tale canon (which JRRT only rejected later). The Eagles also can talk in the book, then there’s Roäc at the lonely mountain (is he in the movie?). There’s even a faint echo of this in “Fellowship”, when JRRT anachronistically describes a fox “thinking” and “wondering” just after Frodo, Sam and Pippin have left Hobbiton.
 

Alcuin

Registered User
Joined
Mar 9, 2005
Messages
802
Reaction score
354
Location
Consigned to the salt mines of Núrnen…
This is a good question, “Did the Ring allow Bilbo to talk to the Mirkwood spiders?” It’s actually addressed in the last chapter of Two Towers, when Sam has taken the Ring and left Frodo for dead on the ledge after he was stung by Shelob. The Orcs, if you recall, came over the ridge just before Sam crossed in the top of the cleft into Mordor, and he put on the Ring in order to hide from them.
[Sam] heard [the Orcs] clearly, and he understood what they said. Perhaps the Ring gave understanding of tongues, or simply understanding, especially of the servants of Sauron its maker, so that if he gave heed, he understood and translated the thought to himself.
So it worked for the Orcs, who seem to have been speaking in their own argot, which Sam (the text suggests we believe) could not normally comprehend. Maybe spider-speech was normally incomprehensible to Bilbo, too, but since he’d never before encountered talking spiders without his magic ring, he didn’t notice. In “Flies and Spiders”, Bilbo was already wearing the Ring (as BountyHunter points out) when, already amongst the spiders,
…in the silence and stillness of the wood [Bilbo] realized that these loathsome creatures were speaking one to another. Their voices were a sort of thin creaking and hissing, but he could make out many of the words that they said.
If it worked for Sam and the Orcs, then I think you can make a good argument that it worked for Bilbo and the spiders of Mirkwood. I don’t think it’s proof, but it sure is a good argument.

So were the Orcs and Spiders using Common Speech, as Merroe suggests (for the Spiders), is it “simply” a fairy story as Olorgando and Valandil point out (Tolkien loved “fairy stories”! He even wrote a serious essay on them, and delivered a now-famous talk on them, “Beowulf and the Critics”), or does the Ring convey the ability to understand Sauron’s creatures as BalrogRingDestroyer and Valandil put forward? Someone should start a poll…
 

Olorgando

Member
Joined
Aug 19, 2019
Messages
98
Reaction score
74
Location
Germany
One reason I occasionally may seem to harp on the early composition of TH is that I'm leery of doing too much "back-projection" from LoTR into TH - especially, as I've grumbled elsewhere, it was one of PJ's tactics in TH the film than rubbed me wrong (and there are serious issues in the real world with such questionable practices). So I would let my above post stand as my hypothesis for TH.
Formally OT (but I'm hopeless for going off on tangents as you may have noticed or will notice), for Sam's ability to understand the Orcs at Cirith Ungol, I would propose a different hypothesis: Though I did not find it in a cursory scan of my UT or HoMe books, I seem to remember a statement about Orcs that - whatever speech they may ever originally have had - their extremely quarrelsome nature led to sundering of dialects and language by orders of magnitude more swiftly than with the Elves. So say since the end of the First Age (a "mere" 6500 years before the War of The Ring - think of what happened to "Old Indo-European" in perhaps less time!) their languages had become so sundered that for communications between the clans, they had to use a form - the most debased form, certainly - of Common Speech. So as it seems clear to me than Sam's hearing had definitely been enhanced by the Ring, his being able to understand the Orcs would have been simply because they were also using common speech - as Merroe suggests above for the spiders.
 

Thread suggestions

Top