Tom Hillman has spoiled us with another essay, this time on the changing role of the Silmarils in Tolkien’s Legendarium. I’d like to add another contrasting pair. I seem to be on a protracted campaign of sympathy for the devil these days, of which this is another whistle-stop.
Here’s Ungoliant’s attitude toward the Silmarils in the First Age:
‘Dost thou desire all the world for thy belly? I did not vow to give thee that. I am its Lord.’
‘Not so much,’ said Ungoliant. ‘But thou hast a great treasure from Formenos; I will have all that. Yea, with both hands thou shalt give it.’
Then perforce Morgoth surrendered to her the gems that he bore with him, one by one and grudgingly; and she devoured them, and their beauty perished from the world. Huger and darker yet grew Ungoliant, but her lust was unsated. ‘With one hand thou givest,’ she said; ‘with the left only. Open thy right hand.’
In his right hand Morgoth held close the Silmarils…Quenta Silmarillion, IX
And here’s the attitude of her daughter, at the end of the Third Age:
As if [Sam’s] indomitable spirit had set its potency in motion, the glass blazed suddenly like a white torch in his hand. It ﬂamed like a star that leaping from the ﬁrmament sears the dark air with intolerable light. No such terror out of heaven had ever burned in Shelob’s face before. The beams of it entered into her wounded head and scored it with unbearable pain, and the dreadful infection of light spread from eye to eye. She fell back beating the air with her forelegs, her sight blasted by inner lightnings, her mind in agony.
It’s a good thing that Sam had never read the Quenta Silmarillion. A hero of greater lore (Bilbo?) might have recognized Shelob, remembered her mother’s attitude towards the light of the Silmarils, and concluded that showing her the Light was the worst thing he could do. Après Thomas Gray, in that situation it would have been folly to be Wise.