"Grew in the telling" - spiders - (actually for War of the Ring)

Bruce N H

Hi all,

This is actually prompted by something from the War of the Ring Mythgard Academy class, but there doesn't seem to be a forum for that, so I guess this is the next best thing.

Somewhere (one of the letters I assume) JRRT wrote that LotR started out as a sequel to the Hobbit but that it grew in the telling. Over the course of discussing Return of the Shadow, Treason of Isengard, and now War of the Ring, we see this over and over.
- The Ring, of course, started out as a magical trinket useful for getting out of elvish prisons and dragons' lairs grew into the One Ring, capital letters very much indicated.
- Gandalf was at one point just a guy who had the job of being a wizard, probably one of very many (we joked about cos-playing at wizard-con many seminars ago) to being a Maia, one of five, sent by the Valar to inspire the free peoples of Middle Earth in their opposition to Sauron.
- Strider was at one point a hobbit off on adventures wearing his wooden shoes to the heir of Isildur.
- The Nazgul started out as barrow wights, a fairly local threat, and became the chief servants of Sauron.
- Faramir became the brother of Boromir, and then became much more noble, a true heir of the blood of Numenor. In fact the people of Gondor were at one point the remaining kingdom that kicked out the Numenoreans, but they became the people awaiting their returning king. Add to this Aragorn was originally going to start his own kingdom, but then he becomes the returning King who restores the land, with echoes of Arthur and even Jesus.
- Even the timeline grew - at one point it was implied that Isildur was only a few generations back, but we grow to a 3000+ year third age since the War of the Last Alliance.

Anyway, and we could go on, in all of these places we see some character or plot element start out somewhat mundane but get more and more epic and mythic. But there's one exception - Shelob. Here we seem to follow the pattern We start out with lots of spiders very similar to the Mirkwood spiders from the Hobbit. Then in the re-writing they become the very spiders of Beleriand that were plaguing Beren etc. Then, in a move that shocked me, we get the switch to Ungoliant herself. But then JRRT steps back from that mythic height and we get Ungoliant's last daughter. I certainly understand the reasoning - there's no way Sam could fight off an ancient evil spider-demon on par with Melkor - but still it seems a departure from Tolkien's usual pattern of letting something/someone grown and grow in stature until they reach the form in the published LotR. Can anyone think of other examples?



Well-Known Member
I guess dialling Frodo's captivity and escape from Minas Tirith back to Cirith Ungol could be an example of that too.

Jim Deutch

Well-Known Member
"Shrunk in the telling" -- this is an interesting and interestingly-different kind of topic!

If things that only appeared in plot outlines, and were never really incorporated into the story can count, I can think of a couple.

Saruman - one plot outline includes the single sentence "Balrog is really Saruman?" That would have been a significant upgrade to Saruman! Does simply not including it in anything later qualify as a downgrade?

Bombadil - if I remember correctly, another plot outline included Bombadil actually turning away Black Riders who attack the Hobbits. In the published story, though, he says "Tom is not master of Riders from the Black Land far beyond his country." (I didn't notice before, and don't remember any discussion of, the fact that "master" here is NOT capitalized. That's interesting in and of itself...)
I don't know if this one really qualifies as a downgrading of Bombadil, though. I still think he could have done it, at least within his own borders, in spite of what he says there...

Maybe changing Treebeard from a giant into an Ent might qualify, too, but this is more a sideways change than a definite downgrade. He's still pretty awesome.