Ungoliant is thought to be a Maia, long ago corrupted by Melkor, but is not counted among the Ainur, as Tolkien Gateway states. There are other theories as to what she may be, but the most popular and likely is that she is of the Maiar; so, for the purposes of this question, let's assume that she is.

So is Shelob, great spawn of Ungoliant, a Maia, assuming that her mother is?

EDIT: Since there has been so much confusion, the key question here is NOT "What is Ungoliant?" The key question is truly and simply "If Ungoliant was a Maia, would Shelob also be?"

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    Probably not... See Luthien as an example of a child of a known Maia.
    – TGnat
    Apr 24, 2014 at 13:46
  • @TGnat Thank you for actually answering the question! Apr 24, 2014 at 14:18
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    See my answer: Ungoliant is incredibly unlikely to be a Maia and actually does have an origin (not explicitly stated though) in the Silmarillion.
    – user8719
    Apr 24, 2014 at 15:54
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    ...and since we can establish with 99.something % certainty that Ungoliant is not a Maia, this question then becomes the equivalent of "let's assume that Drogo Baggins is a Maia: is Frodo a Maia?"
    – user8719
    Apr 24, 2014 at 16:07
  • @JimmyShelter Actually, while apparently unlikely, 'tis not confirmed Ungoliant is not Maia, and one should not conclude she isn't. On the other hand, Drogo is confirmed a Hobbit, and non-Maia, making your argument invalid, sir Apr 24, 2014 at 16:34

3 Answers 3


It's not possible to be a Maia but not be one of the Ainur, as all of the Valar and Maiar were Ainur.

We're certain that Shelob is an offspring of Ungoliant, so the key question becomes: "what is Ungoliant?"

IMO there's too much of a tendency to declare that any unknown type of being must be a Maia. The Valar and Maiar were not the only spirits in Ea; there are at least two other examples from the Silmarillion, first of all those in the first conflict between Melkor and the Valar (from the Ainulindale):

But Manwë was the brother of Melkor in the mind of Ilúvatar, and he was the chief instrument of the second theme that Ilúvatar had raised up against the discord of Melkor; and he called unto himself many spirits both greater and less, and they came down into the fields of Arda and aided Manwë, lest Melkor should hinder the fulfilment of their labour for ever, and Earth should wither ere it flowered.

And secondly those who became (among other things) the Ents (from Of Aule and Yavanna/Of the Ents and the Eagles):

When the Children awake, then the thought of Yavanna will awake also, and it will summon spirits from afar, and they will go among the kelvar and the olvar, and some will dwell therein, and be held in reverence, and their just anger shall be feared.

Here both Manwë and Yavanna are capable of summoning spirits, so why should Melkor (who was in the beginning at least as powerful as Manwë) not also be? Furthermore, if Melkor is capable of corrupting Sauron and the Balrogs into his service, why should he not be capable of corrupting other spirits?

The last writings on Ungoliant were from the "LQ2" revisions to Quenta Silmarillion, and first of all deal with her origin:

In Avathar, secret and unknown save to Melkor, dwelt Ungoliante, and she had taken spider's form, and was a weaver of dark webs. It is not known whence she came, though among the Eldar it was said that in ages long before she had descended from the darkness that lies about Arda, when Melkor first looked down in envy upon the light in the kingdom of Manwe. But she had disowned her Master, desiring to be mistress of her own lust, taking all things to herself to feed her emptiness.

This is mostly standard stuff, but new here is the "but she disowned her Master" statement. Who was that Master? Melkor, of course:

...such darkness as in her famine she could weave was no defence against the eyes of Melkor, Lord of Utumno and Angband.
'Come forth!' he said. 'Thrice fool: to leave me first, to dwell here languishing within reach of feasts untold, and now to shun me, Giver of Gifts, thy only hope! Come forth and see! I have brought thee an earnest of greater bounty to follow.'

So that much is clear: Ungoliant was some form of being who was originally corrupted by, and served, Melkor, but had struck out on her own at some time in the past.

Key to Ungoliant's origin is a very specific point in time, so I'll emphasise it here: "when Melkor first looked down in envy upon the light in the kingdom of Manwe". The important word here is light, and that allows us to pinpoint her to the time after the Lamps were raised (Of the Beginning of Days):

...far off in the darkness he was filled with hatred, being jealous of the work of his peers, whom he desired to make subject to himself. Therefore he gathered to himself spirits out of the halls of Eä that he had perverted to his service, and he deemed himself strong. And seeing now his time he drew near again to Arda, and looked down upon it, and the beauty of the Earth in its Spring filled him the more with hate.

Lending further weight to the claim that this was the time, we see the words "jealous" and "looked down" here. So this was when Ungoliant entered the world.

Knowing from above that Melkor was Ungoliant's original Master, we therefore reasonably conclude that Ungoliant was one of those "spirits out of the halls of Eä that he had perverted to his service" (and Melkor therefore is capable of summoning and corrupting spirits), and that she's no more a Maia than the spirits Manwë or Yavanna summoned.

And therefore nor is Shelob.

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    An interesting follow-on question might be "what were those spirits that Manwë, Yavanna and Melkor summoned?" but it seems more appropriate for a separate question.
    – user8719
    Apr 24, 2014 at 15:39
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    Thanks for getting to the point while also giving large amounts of info! Apr 24, 2014 at 16:41
  • There's also the theory that what if Eru didn't just create the universe that LOTR is in and the music used to create the Aunir. "We still cannot rule out the chance that there are other existences than Arda, which may have been created by Eru. After all, not all the Ainur came down to Arda, and we have no concept of how many remained with him, nor do we know if he even needed any Ainur to build worlds. Eru could have created other existences outside the Ainur and the Music (that's a good idea, Legate!)." forum.barrowdowns.com/showthread.php?t=14559 Apr 24, 2014 at 17:08
  • @DoctorWho22 - I think this is explicit in one of the Morgoth's Ring texts, but I can't remember more precisely. By odd coincidence I'd just re-read the Ungoliant chapters in it yesterday; there's a LOT of info in them that appears nowhere else and that CT unfortunately left out of the published Silm (probably because they would have overbalanced this part of the story otherwise).
    – user8719
    Apr 24, 2014 at 17:17
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    +1 - this may be the best essay on Ungoliant's origin I've ever seen.
    – Bob Tway
    Apr 25, 2014 at 9:21

No: the offspring of a Maia is not necessarily another Maia.

For example, Luthien was the child of a Maia (Melian), but was not a Maia herself, nor was her child Dior (whose father was Beren), nor were any of their descendants (e.g., Elwing, Elrond, Elros, Isildur, Aragorn, etc.).


It's unclear what Ungoliant is actually. We simply know that Ungoliant was an ally of Melkor and nothing more. The Wikia for Ungoliant states this


Who, what, or where, Ungoliant came from is not clear, and the Eldar and perhaps not even the Valar are sure either. It is said by some that she came from the Darkness itself that lies about Arda and was once an ally of Melkor when he looked down upon the world with envy. Later, she changed her allegiance from him to herself, desiring only to be a mistress of her own insatiable craving to devour all light, to feed her everlasting emptiness.

The Silmarillion has a similar quote from Chapter 8 The Darkening of Valinor

The Eldar knew not whence she came; but some have said that in ages long before she descended from the darkness that lies about Arda, when Melkor first looked down in envy upon the Kingdom of Manwë, and that in the beginning she was one of those that he corrupted to his service.

I believe Ungoliant might actually be considered the opposite of Eru, as posted in this forum:

A person said this, which made sense to me :

There's a crucial point - that she came to the world even before Melkor, and 'out of the darkness'. She certainly wasn't a creature created by him, and this also suggests she wasn't one of the Ainur either or what was she doing there before the others?

There is also a very strong argument that metaphorically she could be an equal and opposite or even a necessary complement to Eru. He is symbolised by Light and in Arda Light is symbolic of Life. Ungoliant on the other hand symbolises more than mere darkness, she is Un-light. Read the following:

Quote: Yet no song or tale could contain all the grief and terror that then befell. The Light failed; but the Darkness that followed was more than loss of light. In that hour was made a Darkness that seemed not lack but a thing with being of its own: for it was indeed made by malice out of Light, and it had power to pierce the eye, and to enter heart and mind, and strangle the very will.

So overall there's no 100% guarantee that Ungoliant is a Maia but in fact there's evidence showing that it's something completely different than any of the other beings.

As far as the possibility if Ungoliant IS a Maia then Shelob would most likely be a Demigod, half mortal and half maian.

In the wikia articles for both Ungoliant and Shelob their races are stated as "Maian" and "Half Great Spider / Half Maian"

Maians in general can assume a mortal form to have offspring.

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    This Answer does not answer the OP's Question Apr 24, 2014 at 13:46
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    The question is Shelob a Maia... the answer is no she's most likely not because it's unspecified if Ungoliant is even a Maia and evidence shows that she's most likely not to begin with. Also edited the answer just to show IF she is maian then Shelob would be a demi god. Apr 24, 2014 at 13:49
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    The question acknowledges that Ungoliant may not be a Maia, but asks that you assume Ungoliant is a Maia for the purposes of the question. The question is roughly equivalent to "Is the child of a Maia also a Maia?"
    – Brian S
    Apr 24, 2014 at 15:22
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    @BrianS - that is an interesting (and good) question, but since we have an obvious clear answer (no, because Lúthien) it probably doesn't need to be asked. However, it's a shame that the OP didn't ask it straight up instead of going into this "let's assume" business...
    – user8719
    Apr 24, 2014 at 16:34

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