In a recent conversation on Mos Eisley, a debate started as to whether or not Shelob had tusks. Does she have tusks, or fangs; what is her in-book description? enter image description here

^^ not Shelob, but the picture that sparked the debate, this I assume is a Mirkwood spider, who are distant relations to Shelob (I believe).

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    That's a picture from the 1977 animated TV film version of The Hobbit. I wouldn't put any stock in any of the pictures. (Wait till you see, and hear, the Elven-king). Nov 10, 2015 at 16:15
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    @MattGutting Wad gave us a shot by shot outake of that entire movie in chat about 5 min ago haha.
    – Himarm
    Nov 10, 2015 at 16:16
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    See also scifi.stackexchange.com/q/13283/4918 Do Balrogs Have Wings?
    – b_jonas
    Nov 10, 2015 at 16:35
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    @MattGutting - after Legolas love triangle by Jackson, I will never ever laugh at the animated film. Nov 10, 2015 at 17:05
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    @DVK I actually quite like a few aspects of it. They pay attention to the songs, and they do they riddles OK (if a bit overblown: "...and beat...high mountain...DOWN!!!!!!!") Nov 10, 2015 at 17:10

2 Answers 2


Yes and no.

There's almost no physical description of Shelob in the books; the best we have is that her venom comes from a beak:

Slowly he raised his head and saw her, only a few paces away, eyeing him, her beak drabbling a spittle of venom, and a green ooze trickling from below her wounded eye.
-- The Two Towers, chapter Shelob's Lair

But since Lord of the Rings is a fantasy novel and not a biology textbook, the word "beak" may be an imprecise reference to chelicerae, a spider's mouthparts. On a wide scale, chelicerae may look beak-like, but they do have fangs at the end:


Whether you'd call these "tusks" is up to how precisely you define tusks. Mammalian tusks, such as the familiar ones of wild boar, are made of keratin (the same as hair and fingernails), but arthropod anatomy is quite different from that of mammals: e.g. they have no bones, as the hard part of their body is all on the outside (the exoskeleton).

What about the other labels on that picture?

"Googly eyes?"

Sort of, yes:

he was aware of eyes growing visible, two great clusters of many-windowed eyes - the coming menace was unmasked at last. The radiance of the star-glass was broken and thrown back from their thousand facets, but behind the glitter a pale deadly fire began steadily to glow within, a flame kindled in some deep pit of evil thought. Monstrous and abominable eyes they were, bestial and yet filled with purpose and with hideous delight
-- The Two Towers, chapter Shelob's Lair

Bunny ears?"

Not really; the closest we have is horns:

clustering in her out-thrust head. Great horns she had
-- The Two Towers, chapter Shelob's Lair

"And what the hell are these deals?"

It's not clear what those clawed hairy things at the front are meant to be. They could be either mouthparts (chelicerae, as discussed above - in which case the things labelled as tusks are probably not realistic) or legs. In the latter case, they fit the description given in the books, except that they don't bend up above her back as the other legs in the picture do:

Her legs were bent, with great knobbed joints high above her back, and hairs that stuck out like steel spines, and at each leg's end there was a claw.
-- The Two Towers, chapter Shelob's Lair

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    The "these deals" look like fangs. The "bunny ears" look like antennae, but the source is clearly showing Shelob to be more demonic.
    – user40790
    Nov 10, 2015 at 20:42
  • I'd suggest pedipalps, but none of those facial instruments were ever used in such a manner. Feb 22, 2017 at 13:50
  • It also might be informative to consider that contemporary spiders have two basic forms of chelicerae: those which move sideways in opposition, like pincers, and those which strike towards the abdomen like snake fangs. It is conceivable that the ancient Ungoliant spawn featured a third style with their arrangement of chelicerae. Feb 27, 2017 at 9:08
  • Tusks are specialized teeth. Are teeth keratin?? Aug 9, 2021 at 2:42

In an essay Tolkien wrote criticizing Pauline Baynes’ poster-map, one of the things he took issue with was her depiction of Shelob.

enter image description here

Tolkien then describes how Shelob should have actually looked.

Shelob is not described in precise spider terms; but she was "most like a spider" (II 334). As such she was enormously magnified; and she had two horns and two great clusters of eyes. But she had the characteristic tight constriction of spiders between the front section (head and thorax) and the rear (belly) — this is called (II 334) her "neck", because the rear portion is swollen and bloated out of proportion. She was black, except for the underpart of her belly, which was "pale and luminous" with corruption. She would have eight legs, properly disposed, four a side, where they could function as organs of movement and seizure.
Private memorandum critiquing Pauline Baynes’ poster-map, quoted in The Nature of Middle-earth

  • The question asks about tusks, not horns. The book itself confirms that she had horns, see quote in my answer. (They're quite different things, albeit both hard keratinous head growths: elephants and walruses have tusks, goats and rhinoceroses have horns.)
    – Rand al'Thor
    Aug 7, 2021 at 9:42
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    @Randal'Thor - Interesting, I sort of just assumed they were the same thing. (I don't really know that much about spiders.) I still think this a useful quote on a answer about Shelob's appearance, so I'll leave the answer up.
    – ibid
    Aug 8, 2021 at 1:28
  • @Randal'Thor - I've removed the claim from the answer
    – ibid
    Aug 8, 2021 at 7:26

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