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Did Frodo take it off? Or was the fell spider's sting simply too strong to be stopped by Mithril?

If it is the latter, that would be pretty surprising, because that would mean Shelob could possibly sting a sleeping dragon! (I remember Gimli saying "Mithril... hard as dragon scales!")

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Didn't she sting him in the neck? Or was that someone else? –  TLP Dec 21 '12 at 15:49

8 Answers 8

up vote 36 down vote accepted

She stung him in the neck.

From "The Choices of Master Samwise"

She's got more than one poison. When she's hunting, she just gives 'em a stab in the neck and they go as limp as a boned fish, and then she has her way with them.

So the mail would not have protected him.

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Therefore the movie depiction, though more practical and artistic, is incorrect. One might surmise for the movie that she got in below the chainmail's lower edge; it was only a shirt, so maybe she got him in the pelvis area? –  KeithS Dec 21 '12 at 22:26
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@KeithS and had her way with 'em? Most likely. –  Pureferret Dec 22 '12 at 8:02

Chainmail is composed of small rings, interlinked together. Against some piercing weapons it was ineffective. Arrows in particular could still injure the wearer. And since the monster would only need to penetrate it enough to inject poison (unlike an arrow that causes more injury the further it goes through), it doesn't seem that this would be much of an impediment to Shelob.

enter image description here

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Going by the movie would indicate that Shelob's fangs are about the size of baseball bats and very unlikely to pierce through the rings. Note also that real chainmail rings will break allowing piercing weapons to penetrate whereas Mithril rings will almost certainly not. –  user11154 Dec 21 '12 at 15:23
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@UserEleventyOne Going by the movie, Shelob's stinger was not located in her fangs, but was instead on the end of her abdomen. Additionally, as already mentioned, the stinger only needs to penetrate enough to break the skin, in order to effectively poison the target. –  Xantec Dec 21 '12 at 15:30
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@Xantec Well she's a pretty odd spider creature then. Nevertheless if we assume that the Mithril rings will not bend or break and are very finely woven (as they appear in the film) then there's no way anything much larger than a needle could penetrate –  user11154 Dec 21 '12 at 15:42
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@UserEleventyOne Well, she is a magical creature in a fantasy story. –  Xantec Dec 21 '12 at 15:49
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@Xantec Yes, but Mithril chainmail is also fantasy armor. No, Shelob couldn't pierce it or bypass it with its stinger; that's why she stung Frodo in the neck. –  Andres F. Dec 21 '12 at 19:53

In support of DQdlM's answer, Shelob doesn't pierce Frodo's mithril chainmail at all.

While in the book she stings him in his unprotected neck, it's clear that this doesn't happen in the movie! We see Shelob stinging Frodo from the front (since he turns to face her just before getting stung) and we can clearly see his neck is unhurt, so that's not the place. (As a bonus, we can see Shelob has a stinger, unlike real-world spiders. But that's neither here nor there).

However, I can still provide evidence that Frodo doesn't get stung through his chainmail. In this scene just minutes before his encounter with Shelob, we can see the mithril coat is actually way below his neck. Frodo's upper chest is unprotected!

enter image description here

Later we can clearly see at least two of his wounds: the wound from the Nazgul, and the other must be Shelob's attack, within his exposed upper chest.

enter image description here

and

enter image description here

Which makes us wonder why Frodo didn't wear his chainmail in a more practical fashion.

Disclaimer: evidence gathered from the forums of TheOneRing.net

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This amply illustrates the perils of style over substance. Open neck Mithril shirt = big hole where bad things can stick their sharp bits. He might as well have been wearing a chain mail bikini –  user11154 Dec 22 '12 at 20:25
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Wasn't the shirt originally made for a dwarf? It could simply be hanging a little low on a smaller hobbit frame. –  Jon of All Trades Apr 1 at 3:23
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I believe the hobbit book states that it was originally made for an elven prince, but I may be wrong –  Steven Wood May 15 at 9:02

The Mithril only covers his torso, not his whole body, so unless it's explicitly mentioned where Shelob bites Frodo we have to assume that she gets an uncovered area.

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Shelob was no ordinary foe. It was of a "higher" (or lower) lineage than your average dragon. Recall that Shelob was the "last child of Ungoliant to trouble the unhappy world", where Ungoliant destroyed more or less everything that's fair in Valar (together with Melkor). Plus, a chainmail is not particularly effective against piercing weapons.

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That just makes Sam freaking Legendary. –  aditya menon Dec 21 '12 at 15:20
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@adityamenon agree. In a previous question is discussed if Sam is the "true hero" of the LotR: scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/6238/… –  Francesco Dec 21 '12 at 15:24
    
@adityamenon - I don't think Sam has so many upvotes –  DVK Dec 21 '12 at 16:41
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Thank you for giving me a chance to vote The Mighty Sam, who did things that would have even made Aragorn quake in fear.. –  aditya menon Dec 21 '12 at 16:53
    
Shelob was not ordinary foe, but neither is Mithril ordinary chainmail. Shelob stung Frodo's neck, which was unprotected. –  Andres F. Dec 21 '12 at 19:55

If Shelob is representative of spiders in general, it would not have matter WHERE she stung him. She could have easily penetrated the chainmail shirt and its underlying padding because of how spiders administer venom to their target.

Cross-section drawing of spider's fang and poison sac

Cross-section drawing of spider's fang and poison sac

The spider's fang would easily penetrate chainmail because chainmail is a layer of links with holes in them. Even if they were covered with tiny scales to offer some layer of overt protection, chainmail is vulnerable to piercing weapons because they can slip between the links.

Shelob's sting, if it works like conventional spiders should have found little or no difficulty penetrating the chain shirt worn because she would have grabbed her prey with her cheliceral teeth, pinning him still and then moving her stinging fangs around on the armor until she found a spot she could penetrate, even if the armor was resistant to her first probe, like a real spider she would simply reposition the prey until she found a spot. She would not have to damage the armor to slip just a bit between a less well-defended spot and release the toxin.

Underside view of a spider's fangs, tucked away for convenience.

Underside view of a spider's fangs, tucked away for convenience.

Most spider fangs are relatively long and slender designed for deep penetration into insects who come equipped with their own natural armored chitin for protection. There really wouldn't have been any armor capable of resisting Shelob because of the nature of how armor is designed. For someone to be able to move, lift and wear armor for extended periods, there are always vulnerabilities to be exploited and chainmail is no exception, which is why it was often worn in combination with plate armors over more vital regions. Even then, it was not always proof against arrows, particularly the English longbow which in the hands of an experienced bowman could penetrate plate armor.

Early French combined chain and plate mail

Early French combined chain and plate mail

Unfortunately the movie production of Shelob did not seem to recognize Shelob was supposed to be a spider, not a wasp, so she should not have had a stinger, she would have had fangs to deliver an envenomed bite. So let's assume either Tolkien didn't know how spiders delivered venom or there was a production mishap where no one knew, either. Or there is a third option, she only resembled a spider and was just a monster with the appearance of a spider. In which case we can't really make any assumptions about her abilities other than she is a formididable enemy who has survived centuries killing everything that had ever found its way into her lair until Samwise, Sting and the Phial of Galadriel injured her for a time.

In Peter Jackson's film trilogy, Shelob's appearance is held over until the middle of the third movie, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. In the movie, Shelob can be seen to have a retractable venomous stinger at the rear end between the spinnerets, resembling a wasp's stinger, unlike real spiders which inject venom with their fangs. Shelob also appears to have a gaping mouth, whereas real spiders can ingest only liquid. In a DVD commentary, Jackson says Shelob's appearance is mostly based on the tunnel-web spiders of New Zealand, which he hates.

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I appreciate the detailed answer; but it wasn't presented in the movie that Shelob had time to administer venom to Frodo who was jumping in fear and very alert to every little sound/movement. –  aditya menon Dec 22 '12 at 1:41
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I don't remember Mithril as being indestructible, only very hard to come by and very valuable because of it. So I don't see why everyone assumes that it was. Shelob was also no ordinary spider. She was the last child of Ungoliant, the most dangerous spider to EVER exist. Surely a shirt of chainmail wouldn't have stopped HER, lest she would have starved to death CENTURIES ago. –  Thaddeus Dec 22 '12 at 2:26
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@Thaddeus Nevertheless, she stings Frodo in his neck in the book, and I think I've provided reasonable reason to believe something similar happens in the movie :) Shelob and Mithril are both mythical; normal rules of logic don't apply here. –  Andres F. Dec 22 '12 at 2:29
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MAGICAL THINKING IS NOT A REPLACEMENT FOR THINKING. Logic didn't stop working because it was a magical universe. You have provided nothing more than a badly scripted scene where wasps masquerade as spiders and scientific principles are overcome with the rantings of people who make a legend into a nit-picking festival. You may not like my answer. But if reason prevailed anywhere, it would be the correct one, since this IS how spiders actually administer venom. But since spiders are masquerading as wasps, you are correct, science and logic are both moot. Tolkien would be ashamed. –  Thaddeus Dec 23 '12 at 18:39
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@Thaddeus I have a huge respect for you and the quality of your answers in scifi in general. But here I must respectfully disagree: when discussing the mythical and magical, real-world thinking sometimes does go out the window. One only has to look at the nonsensical magical properties attributed to legendary weapons and armor, like for example King Arthur's Excalibur (and its scabbard!). –  Andres F. Apr 1 at 11:25

I agree that logic takes a place in fantasy but so also does imagination...I mean think in fantasy mithril is renowned for being extremely hard and durable. and may even have "magical" properties. But logically yes piercing weapons (including the fangs/stinger) would be effective against chainmail, normally. but in the movie you get several good looks at just how fine the rings in Frodo's mail is. we also see a troll attempt to kill Frodo with a hefty thrust with a spear of sorts. the pressure alone would be enough to kill a Halfling without actually piercing his body. we can assume that Frodo was not wearing his mail properly when the spider stings him. you can get a good idea of the trajectory of the stinger going straight to his gut .... I think its safe to assume that the spiders stinger has a point just fine enough to pierce Frodo's mail and puncture his skin..... abet barely....

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It's really a flaw in the story. If Frodo really were stabbed in the chest with something as large as Shelob's stinger, realistically, good luck with surviving. Also, for those of you saying that chain mail is vulnerable to stabbing, Frodo got stabbed with a very large spear by a troll, and didn't get hurt at all. Lastly, how is it that the wound is already a scar when Frodo was stung just a couple of hours beforehand?

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Shelob is intentionally keeping them alive for later eating, as spiders do. So she would have learned on Orcs over the centuries how to stab lightly and inject venom correctly to not kill him. –  Oldcat Jul 24 at 21:19

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