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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.
 

Grond

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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.
Christopher T. Summarized the orkish languages as follows by age.
1st age = Valinorean/Eldarin due to descendency from Maia.
2nd age = Black Speech
3rd age = Westron.
 

Squint-eyed Southerner

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Yet there's a complication, as far as the question of Sam with the orcs goes. In Appendix F, the author says that, although Sauron had failed in his goal of making the Black Speech a universal language for his subjects in the Second Age,

When Sauron rose again, it became once more the language of Barad-dur and of the captains of Mordor. The inscription on the Ring was in the ancient Black Speech, while the the curse of the Mordor-orc in II, 48, was in the more debased form used by the soldiers of the Dark Tower, of whom Grishnakh was the captain.

So the "soldiers of the Dark Tower" used a "debased form" of Black Speech, which leads me to wonder if those of Minas Morghul and Cirith Ungol may have also. It was the "official" language of Mordor; could it have been "required"? After all, it was the language used by the Nazgul, including those in Minas Morghul. If so, Sam could hardly have understood it without aid.
 

Gothmog

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As far as the Mirkwood spiders are concerned it is not only that Bilbo can understand their speach, it seems that they can also understand what Bilbo is saying. He sings little insulting songs to them and it appears that they understand the insults and don't like them. So I would say that the effect of the ring was only to improve his hearing which could also help his understanding of their speech simply by hearing it more clearly. With Sam in Mordor there is a distinct possibility that the ring could help with understanding forms of orc speech due to Sauron dominating and controlling the orcs and the greater part of Sauron's power being bound up in the ring.
 

Squint-eyed Southerner

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We'll never know how far the author might have gone in trying to bring The Hobbit in line with LOTR; we do know he gave up the attempt. I think he'd probably agree that it must be accepted on its own terms, as a fairy story with its own conventions.

It stands between pure myth, where anything is possible, including communication with animals -- or plants or rocks -- and Romance, which moves toward "realism", or more accurately, plausibility, and where this sort of thing becomes more difficult to introduce. When it does appear, it tends to become either rationalized, as in the case of Sam and the orcs, or more or less clearly marked as exceptional, an irruption of the mythical world into "the green earth in the daylight"; the Balrog comes to mind.

I'd just add that the Balrog is an example of how Tolkien deals with the movement from one mode to another: chronologically; the First Age is more "mythical" than the Second, which is more mythical than the Third. We see this at work in LOTR, as we follow Aragorn's transition from Romance quest-hero to High Mimetic king. And the later chapters and appendices imply that the process will continue, ending with the low mimetic world we inhabit today.
 
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Squint-eyed Southerner

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You'll get no challenge from me; the purse is well within fairy tale conventions. A random analog would be the giant's harp in "Jack and the Beanstalk", a tale whose origins may go back millenia.

The Hobbit is about growing up; put in Freudian terms, Bilbo the infant hero must go through the trials of adolescence, one of the first of which is to acquire a phallus. He initially tries to achieve this the wrong way, by attempting to steal one. This is emphasized as he pulls it from the troll's pocket. That this is "against the rules" is made clear by the resulting outcry and battle. No, the phallus must be earned.
 

Alcuin

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We'll never know how far the author might have gone in trying to bring The Hobbit in line with LOTR; we do know he gave up the attempt. I think he'd probably agree that it must be accepted on its own terms, as a fairy story with its own conventions.
Tolkien did radically alter The Hobbit chapter “Riddles in the Dark” to match Lord of the Rings. In the original story, the one he told his children and subsequently first published, after Bilbo defeats Gollum in the riddle game, Gollum gives him a magic ring and shows him the way out. In the new version rewritten to match Lord of the Rings, Bilbo finds the Ring on the floor of the goblin tunnels and has to flee Gollum after the riddle-game; Gollum leads him to the Back Door by accident, then nearly catches him. Douglas Anderson reprints the entire old version of “Riddles in the Dark” in The Annotated Hobbit.

At the Council of Elrond, Tolkien tips his hat to readers through the voice of Bilbo, who says,
“ I will now tell the true story, and if some here have heard me tell it otherwise” – he looked sidelong at Glóin – “I ask them to forget it and forgive me. …”
 

Olorgando

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My purse post remains unchallenged. Why talk about spiders and not purses? ☺☺☺
Or for that matter that from what we know, Gandalf may have destroyed the three Trolls that represented the absolute intellectual pinnacle of trolldom? ;)

Those Trolls must certainly have learned what language they knew from humans (and their purses from them - though these purses seem uncomfortably close to Brothers Grimm / Tinkerbell territory) - they hang around (if very much at the fringes of) human habitations much more than say in the vicinity of the Great Goblin of TH infamy's Goblin Town in the Misty Mountains - is my impression, anyway.

Somewhere there is a comment on the Trolls' and the Orcs' dialects, the former being too close to "laborers", the latter to "munitions workers". That thought has the vision of Rex Harrison in his "Henry Higgins" role in the 1964 movie "My Fair Lady" pop up in my mind (in which Audrey Hepburn, being then the much bigger box-office draw, replaced Julie Andrews as Eliza Doolittle, while the latter, as per Wikipedia, had starred in "the original Broadway and London shows". Harrison starred both in the shows and in the movie). I can't tell a Kiwi from a 'Roo, which elicited guffaws from some "south-equatorians" in another JRRT site (and the reputed fine points of some German dialect differences seem to me have gone below the level of splitting hairs - is this where Otto Hahn got his idea about nuclear fission?!?)
 

Squint-eyed Southerner

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You're quite right, Alcuin, as to the story of the ring; though Anderson points out that, despite the author's implication in the Prologue, Bilbo didn't "lie" in either version. I'm not near my library, so can't give the exact quotes.

But of course, I was referring to the attempt at a major reworking begun and abandoned in the 60's, rather than the changes made in the 50's.
 

Grond

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Or for that matter that from what we know, Gandalf may have destroyed the three Trolls that represented the absolute intellectual pinnacle of trolldom? ;)

Those Trolls must certainly have learned what language they knew from humans (and their purses from them - though these purses seem uncomfortably close to Brothers Grimm / Tinkerbell territory) - they hang around (if very much at the fringes of) human habitations much more than say in the vicinity of the Great Goblin of TH infamy's Goblin Town in the Misty Mountains - is my impression, anyway.

Somewhere there is a comment on the Trolls' and the Orcs' dialects, the former being too close to "laborers", the latter to "munitions workers". That thought has the vision of Rex Harrison in his "Henry Higgins" role in the 1964 movie "My Fair Lady" pop up in my mind (in which Audrey Hepburn, being then the much bigger box-office draw, replaced Julie Andrews as Eliza Doolittle, while the latter, as per Wikipedia, had starred in "the original Broadway and London shows". Harrison starred both in the shows and in the movie). I can't tell a Kiwi from a 'Roo, which elicited guffaws from some "south-equatorians" in another JRRT site (and the reputed fine points of some German dialect differences seem to me have gone below the level of splitting hairs - is this where Otto Hahn got his idea about nuclear fission?!?)
Well, why don't we just pivot from purses and spiders into a subject discussed "ad nauseum" here many years ago and one which I still love to hash and re-hash... Could the One Ring think, talk, act, react????............

Hey Gothmog!!! Do you want to get into an argument over this topic again. We could start a new thread.
 

Merroe

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Bilbo didn't "lie" in either version.
... he *almost* lied...! 🧐:)

Indeed Bilbo was so pleased with their praise that he just chuckled inside and said nothing whatever about the ring; and when they asked him how he did it [= getting out of the Goblin tunnels], he said: “Oh, just crept along, you know—very carefully and quietly.”
 

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