In Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, in the chapter Shelob’s Lair, there is a rather lengthy description of Shelob, the last remaining child of Ungoliant in Middle-Earth. In this, there is also a description of her relation with Sauron:
And as for Sauron: he knew where she lurked. It pleased him that she should dwell there hungry but unabated in malice, a more sure watch upon that ancient path into his land than any other that his skill could have devised. And Orcs, they were useful slaves, but he had them in plenty. If now and again Shelob caught them to stay her appetite, she was welcome: he could spare them. And sometimes as a man may cast a dainty to his cat (his cat he calls her, but she owns him not) Sauron would send her prisoners that he had no better uses for: he would have them driven to her hole, and report brought back to him of the play she made.
I’ve never understood the bolded bit there. Tolkien is saying that Sauron sometimes sent prisoners to Shelob to keep her less-than-ravenous and in check, in an almost playful way, the way you might throw a dainty to your cat. So clearly Shelob is the cat.
But then why does it say, “but she owns him not”? Surely if she were the pet and Sauron the master, as seems to be the explicitly denied premise, he should own her, not the other way around.
Was Tolkien one of those cat-lovers who say that you never own your cat—your cat owns you? I don’t know why, but I’ve always assumed that was a much later jocular meme. Is there some other logical explanation for this seeming reversal of ownership?