As is to be expected from the sequel to Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, Shadow of War takes more than a few liberties with the Lord of the Rings canon. There’s maybe no better example of that than Shelob, the giant, monstrous spider who is one of the main characters in Shadow of War, where she appears as a human woman. That’s a form we never see her take in the books or movies, and it’s understandably left some fans scratching their heads. But the alternative, according to developer Monolith, was to dramatically reduce her role.
GameSpot recently spoke with Shadow of War’s lead narrative designer, Tony Elias, about the negative response to Shelob’s initial unveiling. “I think people’s sense of who Shelob is is one of the great spiders, and we could have done just that, sure,” he explained. “We could have had Shelob appear in great spider form, but she would have had a much smaller role in the game, ultimately. We really wanted to explore this character.”
“We thought there was a lot to explore there, and we could do that with a humanoid representation,” he added. “We’re not saying she is a woman; maybe she goes back between the two. It’s very clear from the outset that this is a form that she takes when she communicates with Talion. It allowed us to do a lot more with the story, it allowed us to use her in a more meaningful way in the story.”
Turning a giant spider into a human might seem like an out-of-nowhere stretch. And while he didn’t claim that Shelob-as-a-lady was some small detail that people simply missed, Elias stated that Monolith did look to the original JRR Tolkien text in making the change.
“If you look back at Two Towers for example, I think one of the first descriptions of Shelob is an evil thing in spider form,” he said. “It’s an interesting way to describe this creature: a spider form. Not just a spider, or a great spider. And so it feels like it’s chosen [that form] in a way.
“Her mother was Ungoliant, who it’s suggested is a Maiar, but this kind of primordial being [who is] all powerful. Shelob is the daughter of Ungoliant. We kind of ran with that idea of a creature that could transform itself, depending on the context–we have done that in the first game with Sauron in fear form. Sauron has his war form and he has his fear form, and Shelob, you could think of the spider as Shelob’s war form, and her fear form she uses when she counsels Talion. She can read the web of fate. We see her as this kind of dark oracle, a sort of dark Galadriel who can see the future and guide his path.”
Elias agreed with a comparison to It, saying it’s a “great contemporary reference.” He went on to again reiterate that it would not have been possible to have Shelob in her role if she appeared to Talion in her usual form.
“These are sort of archaic icons in a way, these creatures that inspire terror in humanity, these ancient, monstrous forms,” he said. “Shelob is just that, it’s just sort of if she had appeared in spider form and remained in spider form, and then she’s going to guide Talion on his path in the future, what actions he might want to take with the siege of Minas Ithil.
“I think this is not something that could probably be dramatically supported over the long haul. People generally don’t trust monsters when they appear in monstrous form. I think you have to give it more breadth, and explore what this character, the other dimensions of what this character could be, and that’s what we were trying to do in Shadow of War.”
Whether that justifies the change to Shelob will be a matter of some debate; fans who dislike the various liberties that Monolith has taken with the canon aren’t likely to be pleased, while others will overlook them. For a look at what the critics make of the game, check out our Shadow of War review and Shadow of War review roundup, as well as our look at the challenges of making a Lord of the Rings video game.
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