Wednesday, March 29, 2006

JRRT: The Story of the Arachnid in the Tolkien Universe

First, some background.
In college at Georgia Southern University, I was lucky enough to take an English class (ENG 399) that was "taught" by a South African professor whose name escapes me right now. This class focused on the
Lord of the Rings writings of J.R.R. Tolkien. These days I am convinced that I could produce a syllabus and teach a class with more depth, importance, and meaning than this class I took, but I wasn't going to pass up the chance to get college credit to study LOTR. This short paper was one of the class assignments.

The spider lay dead beside him, and his sword blade was stained black. Somehow the killing of this giant spider, all alone by himself in the dark without the help of the wizard or the dwarves or of anyone else, made a great difference to Mr. Baggins. He felt a different person, and much fiercer and bolder in spite of an empty stomach, as he wiped his sword on the grass and put it back into his sheath. (The Hobbit, p. 154)

On the near side of him lay, gleaming on the ground, his elven blade, where it had fallen useless from his grasp. Sam did not wait to wonder what was to be done, or whether he was brave, or loyal, or filled with rage. He sprang forward with a yell, and seized his master's sword in his left hand. Then he charged. No onslaught more fierce was ever seen in the savage world of beasts, where some desperate small creature armed with little teeth, alone, will spring upon a tower of horn and hide that stands above its fallen mate (The Two Towers, p. 428).

Spiders hold a special place in the mythology of Middle Earth. They act as important turning points in The Hobbit and The Two Towers. Bilbo learns to trust in himself after killing his first spider, alone in the dark forest of Mirkwood, and he is a much more resilient individual forever after. In a similar manner, Sam is forced to rely on himself when Shelob drugs Frodo on the borders of Mordor. Sam ceases to be the "baggage" that he may have been throughout the journey to that point. He takes a truly active part in the history of the Ring, become the last Ringbearer--if only for a short time.

Shelob dwells in the mountainous passes on the western border of Mordor, and no tale is told how she came to that place in Cirith Ungol or how long she has dwelled there. "But still she was there, who was there before Sauron, and before the first stone of Barad-dur; and she served none but herself. . ." (The Two Towers, p. 422). Long has she lived in the dark tunnels of her lair, feeding upon anyone or anything foolish enough to blunder into her dank webs. Shelob's offspring spread all over Middle Earth, most notably into the dark corners of Mirkwood forest, north of Mordor. It was these offspring of Shelob's that Bilbo Baggins so enraged with his songs of "Attercop" and "Lazy Lob." "But none could rival her, Shelob the Great, last child of Ungoliant to trouble the unhappy world" (The Two Towers, p. 423).

Ungoliant, the mother of all the spiders of Middle Earth, has an equally ambiguous beginning. During the First Age of Middle Earth, Melkor, the Vaia who introduced evil into the world and was exiled from the wonderful world of Valinor, joined forces with Ungoliant to destroy the Trees of Light that illuminated Valinor. No one knows where Ungoliant originated from, but there are tales of her descending from the original darkness. Indeed, Tolkien's earliest writings point towards this fact. One of the earliest names given the Great Spider was Moru, which means "the Primeval Night." She had several other names including Gwerlum (Gloomweaver), but she was known commonly as Ungoliant, an adaptation of the elvish Ungwe Lianti (The Book of Lost Tales, Part I, p. 152).

Melkor found her in a deep ravine in Avathar, far in the southern regions of Middle Earth, well removed from the vigilance of the Vala in the north. There she lived, "and took shape as a spider of monstrous form, weaving her black webs in a cleft of the mountains. There she sucked up all light that she could find, and spun it forth again in dark nets of strangling gloom, until no light more could come to her abode" (The Silmarillion, p. 73). Melkor persuaded Ungoliant to aid him, and dissuaded her fears by promising to her whatever she desired when his revenge was achieved.

Ungoliant created a cloak of darkness that covered her and Melkor and totally veiled them from sight. Her darkness was so thick that nothing could pierce it. She slowly climbed the southern mountains that guarded the blessed land of Valinor and then wove a rope ladder for Melkor to climb. He ascended to the high peak and looked down in the land, perceiving that all were prepared for a festival and their guard was lowered. Wrapped in the dark cloak, he and Ungoliant swiftly descended to the mound of Ezellohar, where Telperion and Laurelin, the Trees of Valinor stood giving light to the land.

Then the Unlight of Ungoliant rose up even to the roots of the Trees, and Melkor sprang upon the mound; and with his black spear he smote each Tree to its core, wounded them deep, and their sap poured forth as it were their blood, and was spilled upon the ground. 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 the poison of Death that was in her went into their tissues and withered them, root, branch, and leaf; and they died (The Silmarillion, p. 76).

The Valar realized Melkor's deed when a vast darkness was cast over the land and they gave chase after the two, but Ungoliant's Cloud was so impenetrable that Melkor and the Great Spider easily evaded capture and fled to the north, As they fled, Melkor attacked the stronghold of Formenos and stole the Silmarils, the three jewels that help the light of the Trees and were made by Feanor before the destruction of Telperion and Laurelin. Upon hearing this, Feanor cursed Melkor and named him Morgoth, "the Black Enemy of the world," which he was forever after called.

As Morgoth and Ungoliant neared his stronghold of Angband in the north, Morgoth tried to evade the Spider, for he had grown fearful of her growing power and blackness. Ungoliant guessed his mind and demanded the treasures of Formenos for her reward as he promised. Morgoth gave to her all but the Silmarils, which he desired for himself. The fought long and Morgoth's cries of pain and hatred awakened the Balrogs that dwelt deep below Angband. They swiftly came to their master's aid and cut Ungoliant's strangling webs with their whips of flame. She fled before them, covering her trail with her dark vapor and went south into the Ered Gorgoroth, "the Mountains of Terror," in the region of Beleriand. She then disappeared from any further tales, but her horrible offspring that bred within that dark valley earned it the name of Nan Dungortheb, "the Valley of Dreadful Death." Nothing is told of the final fate of Ungoliant, but The Silmarillion hints that she devoured herself in the end to satisfy her never ending hunger.

Spiders are very rare in Tolkien's story line, but they hold very important roles. Ungoliant helped cast the first darkness upon Valinor and aided in the theft of the famous Silmarils--the First Age's parallel to the Rings of Power. The spiders of Mirkwood almost halted the Dwarves quest to the Lonely Mountain, but more importantly, they cemented Bilbo's dependence upon The Ring. It was a great help in rescuing his friends and was "help" to him for many years to come. Years later, the last of the great spiders, Shelob, unwittingly had the fate of Middle Earth swaying back and forth within her dark lair as she struggled to capture and kill the two Ringbearers. Spiders are not as numerous as Orcs or as terrifying as a Nazgul, but they hold a pivotal place in the history of Middle Earth.


J.R.R. Tolkien, The Book of Lost Tales, Part I. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1983.

_____, The Hobbit. New York: Ballantine Books, 1966.

_____, The Silmarillion. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1977.

_____, The Two Towers. New York: Ballantine Books, 1965


Blogger David said...

Retyping this paper onto my laptop today made me realize how badly it is written and frankly, how much I plaguerized the phrasing and style of Tolkien while writing it.


Plus, it's not very informative and doesn't really deal with the transformative role of spiders in any depth. Instead, I ramble on and on about Melkor and Ungoliant.

The reason for the Silmarillion focus, I believe, was my desire to inject some of Tolkien's deeper myths into the class, which was completely focus on the three books in the LOTR storyline. I had hoped when I signed up that it would weave more of the total Tolkien universe together into a coherent whole.

Still, I was getting credit for the class and I got away with turning in such a substandard paper.

9:37 AM, March 29, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey man, come clean!!! What grade did the South African Hack/Prof give you???

10:22 PM, April 10, 2006  
Blogger David said...

I got a 92 on the paper! (Shameful grade inflation, probably.)

8:30 AM, April 11, 2006  

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Monday, March 27, 2006

TAS: Crowd support is important

October 28, 1992

I saw something amazing last Thursday night and learned a lesson at the same time.

No, it wasn't the ghost of Elvis informing me that Atlantis did exist or anything like that. It happened in Hanner Fieldhouse as I watched the Lady Eagles go up against the Lady Moccasins of UT-Chattanooga.

The crowd on hand to watch the game numbered less than twenty--not counting the teams involved, but those people had as much to do with that game as any player on either team.

I have attended a few volleyball games this year at Hanner Fieldhouse and I have observed how small the crows usually is. It is usually made up of the same people every time, who either love to watch volleyball or know some of the players. I have also noticed how little these people get into the game. It is a rare occurrence to hear a cheer out of anyone except the volleyball players on the floor below.

That is what makes last Thursday such as amazing event. The Lady Eagles were treated to the cheers of their fans, and the ladies responded.

I am not sure exactly what caused the fans' spirits to rise, but I have a good guess. There were two spectators in attendance at Hanner who were cheering for the Lady Moccasins. Maybe we took it as a challenge that we would not be out-cheered at our place.

Whatever the reason, a few people began to chant and cheer our ladies on to victory, and it almost worked.

I have always heard that spirited fans help a team succeed, but I never truly saw it work. GSU began the match almost asleep, being beaten easily in the first game, but they battled back to win game two. Around this point, the crowd began to become a factor. Georgia Southern became a noticeably different team. The Eagles' hitting improved, their defense improved, and they played better than I have seen them play all year.

GSU was facing defeat in game four, down two games to one and also down by a score of 12 - 9. But the crows didn't give up on them and they came back with gutsy plays to even the match.

The Lady Eagles played their hearts out Thursday night to make the match an exciting one, but in the end they fell in defeat by the slimmest of margins. I would like to think that the enthusiasm of the crowd helped them, and I hope that it did.

But I wonder how the score would have been without the cheers. I also wonder why it took opposing fans to entice us to cheer for our team. Therein lies a lesson. Maybe we all felt compelled to rise above our complacency and show our team that we supported them and that we believed in them.

I for one was inspired and hope that this is a trend that will last into the future. We all need a little appreciation now and then.



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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

TAS: The amazing power of hair

October 21, 1992

Do you all remember the story of Samson and Delilah? Samson had superhuman strength due to his long hair. Delilah cut his hair while Samson slept and when he awoke he found that he had lost his strength.

Now you may be wondering, "What does this have to do with sports?" Fear not gentle reader, for I will tell you.

Last year I costumed myself as a 50s style beatnik for Halloween. Beatniks were know for their poetry, bongos, black clothes, and most importantly (to this story anyway) their beards. Beatniks wore goatees.

So while the Braves were eking their way through the NLCS against the Pirates, my goatee was growing. I watched with bated breath as the Braves inches their way past the Pirates and come within a whisker (get it?) of beating the Twins in the World Series.

I was disappointed that Cox and Company lost but received a kind of substitute uplift when the Halloween party arrived. My costume was a big hit and everyone loved the goatee. But once Halloween was over I shaved it off and went on my clean-shaven way.

This year the Braves set franchise records in attendance (over three million) and in total games won in the regular season (98). But they have not learned the knack of making the post season games easy.

They almost lost the NLCS this year, but I saved them. You see, I began to wonder how things had changed from last year to this year. As I stroked my chin in silence it came to me. I WAS BEARDLESS!!! Simple, isn't it? All I had to do was grow my goatee back and then the Braves would win. So, Wednesday morning I started regrowing my goat. It must have given Sid Bream that extra half-step towards victory.

People who see me every day will not interject and say, "But [Burb], you don't have a goatee now!" Right. I figured that since I had the hair last year during the World Series, in order to avoid defeat I must shave it this year.

It seemed to work on Saturday night. Damon Berryhill (notice the growth on his face) felt the power of hair and belted a three-run homer into the seats to give the Braves a 3 - 2 win in Game One.

Unfortunately, things slipped a little on Sunday. All-time save leader Jeff Reardon, who sports a fine beard, gave up a two-run, pinch-hit homerun to Ed Sprague in the top of the ninth inning to give the Blue Jays the win and tie the Series at a game apiece.

Who can predict the capricious hair follicle? Certainly not I. Maybe if everyone here at Georgia Southern calls a halt to shaving (faces for the guys and legs for the ladies) we can build up an insurmountable force that no Blue Jay can defeat.

If it works for Mark Lemke, who has a continuous stubble that Don Johnson dreams about, than it can work for us. Lemke, affectionately nicknamed "Dirt" by his 'mates, is known for his post-season heroics.

Throw away your razor blades GSU. It is the least you can do for your team.



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Monday, March 13, 2006

TAS: Oh how easily things can take a bad turn

October 14, 1992

I should have known from the start that it would be a bad sports weekend for me, but I didn't. I went blindly into Friday full of excitement, vim, and vigor.

I mean, consider my situation. the Braves had a 2 - 0 lead on the Pirates in the NLCS and I was headed to Athens to watch Georgia Southern test their mettle against the Bulldogs. I was not predicting a win for the Eagles, but I did expect an exciting game.

Well, things started off okay. My girlfriend and I set off Friday afternoon for Athens. We were going to spend Friday night with my sister and come home after the game on Saturday. The drive to Athens was largely uneventful until we got to the bypass. Then my weekend began to slowly unravel.

Somehow Lynda and I ended up going west on the Athens by-pass instead of east. So, we traveled all the way around Athens to get to the exit that was normally only minutes away. However, thanks to the circular nature of perimeter loops we eventually found the proper exit. Then we made our second mistake.

Once we got off the exit ramp we decided to ignore the notes Mary (my sister) had given me and headed left instead of right. Lynda and I surmised that since we were approaching the exit from the opposite direction we must also travel in the opposite direction.

This turned out to be a fatal error of judgment. We ended up snarled within the streets of Athens, city map in hand, vainly searching for our street in the dark of night. After 30 minutes of wandering and a stop for map reading and sustenance, we righted ourselves and found Mary's apartment.

We settled down for the evening only to be treated to a Braves loss to the Pirates. Still, they led 2 - 1 and I remained optimistic. I was looking forward to Saturday's historic game.

It would surely offer some excitement, right? I was correct. There was some excitement, but I didn't get to see it. Due to car malfunctions, my editor didn't get to the stadium until the second quarter. So we missed the only Southern score of the game. I had hopes that things might change in the third quarter, but it was all for naught.

And still I hoped. The Braves won game 4 of the NLCS and it looked as if they had good chances to sew up the series with Steve Avery on the mound.

Yet once again, things went horribly wrong. The statistics caught up with Avery and with Barry Bonds. Avery, who had once owned the Pirates, gave up 4 runs and 4 consecutive doubles in the first inning. Bonds decided to come out of his humongous slump (0 for 28 with men in scoring position in postseason play) to push the Bucs to a 7 - 2 rout.

Yeah, my past weekend really bit at times. But this weekend promises to be a lot rosier. I sure hope so. I can't afford another one like that.



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Monday, March 06, 2006

TAS: GSU offers many sports

October 7, 1992
This is my third year at Georgia Southern. During that time I have read many of the sports columns written in our school papers.

There is one thing that always appears every year. Various people have urged me to go and support our sports teams. I never fully understood where they were coming from until I became a sports writer.

Suddenly my eyes were truly opened to the wide variety of sports the students have at their disposal, primarily because I bust my gut every week trying to keep up with it all.

Of course, there is the football team, but let's go past them and look at some of the other teams that practice hard as well and deserve some support.

First, there is the Ladies Volleyball team. They are enjoying one of their best starts this season with a record of 6 - 4 overall and a home record of 3 - 1.

I went to the Charleston Southern game last Thursday and was impressed with the amount of enthusiasm that the team displayed for each other. They had to cheer because there were not very many spectators.

Second, we have the men's soccer team. They are currently having a disappointing 4 - 5 - 1 season, but if anyone has the determination to improve, soccer players do.

I had never been to a soccer game prior to last Wednesday but I did notice the amount of physical abuse and exertion that those guys go through. It's tough.

The GSU swim team will begin their season on November 5th. As the Olympics proved this summer, competitive swimming can be very exciting. Last year our team traveled to FSU and posted very good numbers in Florida State's brand new pool complex.

Then in December the Georgia Southern basketball teams begin another year. Now, in my opinion, college basketball is the most (continuously) exciting sport to watch.

Baseball is very exciting when your team is winning, but there is too much adjusting, checking runners, and so on sometimes. Basketball is non-stop. The men's team won the TAAC conference last year and played in the first round of the NCAA tournament against Oklahoma State.

The women had a disappointing 14 - 16 record, but nothing could turn them around quicker than a packed house cheering them on.

Okay, now I am through.

I am not preaching as much as I am letting you know what is out there. I have been as apathetic as anyone, but now I want to turn over a new leaf.

After all, you pay for admission to all sporting events with your student activity fee.

Why not use it?



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