If you’re a fan of The Lord of the Rings–or even if you’ve just seen The Return of the King–you’ll remember the horrifyingly large spider, Shelob. The monster very nearly kills Frodo, after all, quite possibly coming closest of all enemies to actually halting Frodo’s quest. But in Middle-earth: Shadow of War, Shelob takes the form of a decidedly un-monstrous woman. Recently, creative vice president Michael de Plater explained to Eurogamer why, exactly, Shelob isn’t a massive spider in the game.
Monolith and de Plater, it turns out, have extended JRR Tolkien’s lore to explain Shelob’s transformation. De Plater views both Shelob and her minion, Gollum, as heroes of a sort, with Shelob having successfully manipulated Gollum into succeeding in destroying the One Ring, where Frodo failed. In his and the team’s eyes, Shelob and Gollum are “more human” than the unnaturally moral main characters.
“A big part of what we do is look at these characters that are in kind of the grey zone–they’re not as pure good as Gandalf or Aragorn, they’re more human,” he argued. “So you’ve got Shelob representing darkness and then you’ve got Galadriel representing light, so you’ve got a duality between these two powerful women basically opposing each other in the same way that there’s a lot of duality in our game.”
As a result, having Shelob appear as a woman allowed Monolith to convey that duality more clearly. It allows them to draw distinctions, such as communicating that Shelob, and not Galadriel, is the more honest character.
“We were also thinking really in a lot of ways that, not intentionally, but it felt like Gandalf and Galadriel kind of lied to them [the Fellowship] a little bit about their chances,” he explained. “And what differentiates Shelob is that she’s completely honest… So she’s evil, or perceived as evil, but she has this honesty to her, and so as we started thinking through that and thinking of her as this dark mirror to Galadriel and filling that role in our story of that narrator and what that would look like.”
This transformation is couched in JRR Tolkien’s fiction, although Tolkien, of course, never went so far as to portray Shelob as a woman. But de Plater argues that Shelob’s lineage allows her to shapeshift: her mother, Ungoliant, is described by Tolkien in The Silmarillion as a primordial spirit with the ability to change her form.
De Plater’s explanation sounds like not much more than elaborate head canon to me, but considering the breadth of the universe that Tolkien detailed, it’s not too much of a stretch. In any case, Shadow of War’s predecessor, Shadow of Mordor, already took many creative liberties with the fiction, such as making the Ring-maker Celebrimbor one of the main characters.
Shadow of War launches on October 10 for PS4, Xbox One, and PC. Warner Bros. recently detailed the game’s online multiplayer functionality, which you can learn about here. In addition, you can read more about Shadow of War’s loot box and microtransaction systems.