Friday, October 17, 2008

Well I did know that the Old English words are "lob," "cob" and "spiþra"

I got publicly corrected twice in class today.

You, Prof. Drout, were corrected about Tolkien lore?

No, not hardly (though it could certainly happen).

About philological principles?

Nope, though there are plenty of people who could do this.

About literary theory?


About spiders.

We were discussing Shelob, and I mentioned in a throw-away line that I thought her portrayal "as a tarantula" in the film didn't work for me; that Shelob, with her great horns, etc., didn't look like the Peter Jackson version.

"It wasn't a tarantula; it was a trapdoor spider" corrected one student.

"Well, ok," I said. "But I wished they'd used a bird-eating spider. They are much scarier looking." (I had just seen one in a jar up at the Harvard Museum of Natural History."

"A bird-eating spider is actually a kind of tarantula," said a different spider-loving student.

So I have not one, but two arachnophiles in my class.

Later the second student emailed me:
The Black Tunnel Web Spider was the spider that Peter Jackson modeled Shelob after. The spine that Shelob from the movie uses is inconsistent with spiders' actual morphology. Spiders have no spine on their abdomens and use hollowed out fangs to inject venom into their victims.

Shelob could not have been one of the goliath bird-eating spiders because they are tarantulas and tarantulas do not produce webs. Tarantulas rely simply on a single venomous bite to kill their prey before eating it.

Though I would add that suggests that at least some tarantulas put a veil of silk across their burrow entrances, my student is right that this is very different from what Shelob does.

My students so totally rock.

1 comment:

Marie said...

Actually, there is an interesting language question here. Tolkien refers to Shelob's 'sting' several times, which is what has led many people to imagine her with a stinger like a bee (as Jackson used in the movie.) However, Tolkien was almost certainly refering to her venemous bite when he said sting, so a real-world spider could have been used as a model w/o modification. In Letter 163, Tolkien referred to his own encounter with a tarantula as a child as "being stung."

If you want to see people being very silly in discussing the biology of Middle Earth's fauna, check out:
this thread.