The Encyclopedia of Arda - an interactive guide to the world of J.R.R. Tolkien
Dates
Renamed Cirith Ungol after the end of the Second Age
Location
In the high Ephel Dúath, on the western borders of Mordor
Settlements
Watched over in later years by the Tower of Cirith Ungol
Pronunciation
ki'rith doo'ath
Meaning
'Cleft of shadows'
Other names

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About this entry:

  • Updated 14 December 2018
  • This entry is complete

Cirith Dúath

The Pass of Shadows

Map of Cirith Dúath

Sauron's Dark Land of Mordor was ringed by defensive mountain ranges. The range that ran down its western side was known as Ephel Dûath, typically translated as 'Mountains of Shadow', but literally the 'fence of shadows'. These mountains protected Mordor's western flank, but within the range was a deep pass that ran through from west to east, and above that pass another, higher and more difficult. This high and narrow pass was historically known, from the name of the mountains it crossed, as Cirith Dúath, the 'cleft of shadows'.

The name Cirith Dúath was an old one, recorded as being used during the War of the Last Alliance at the end of the Second Age. At that time, Isildur had built his city of Minas Ithil to guard the western way to the passes through the Ephel Dúath. As the war went on, Isildur sent his sons Aratan and Ciryon to guard the pass of Cirith Dúath and prevent any possible escape by Sauron through that route.

From their use of the old name at that time, it seems that the Gondorians had not yet become aware of a danger lurking in the steep pass. Near the crest of the pass, the monstrous spider Shelob had created a Lair, and there she would trap unwary travellers passing through the mountains. At some point1 after the War of the Last Alliance, the Dúnedain discovered Shelob, and their name for the pass changed from Cirith Dúath, 'cleft of shadows', to Cirith Ungol, 'pass of the spider'.

Whenever the change of name took place, we know that Shelob remained in her Lair in Cirith Ungol until at least the time of the War of the Ring. During that War, she attempted to trap the Ring-bearer Frodo Baggins and his companion as they crossed over the Ephel Dúath by the old pass. In that attempt she was terribly wounded, but she evidently survived. So at least for some time into the Fourth Age, she remained in her Lair, haunting the old pass that had long ago been known as Cirith Dúath.


Notes

1

We do not know exactly when the Gondorians first became aware of Shelob, and all we can say for sure is that the name had changed from the old Cirith Dúath to Cirith Ungol by the end of the Third Age. One possibility would be the time following the War of the Last Alliance, when the Dúnedain worked to fortify Mordor against any possible return by the Dark Lord. This time of construction in the Ephel Dúath would perhaps be the most likely period during which Shelob would have been found by the Gondorians.

At the very least, we know that some soldiers of Gondor encountered Shelob relatively early in that country's history ('Not the doughtiest soldier of old Gondor...had ever thus endured her...', we're told in The Two Towers IV 10). This does raise the question of why the Dúnedain would allow Shelob to remain in the pass. Surely Gondor at its height had the power to remove a single troublesome spider, however huge and well-armoured. Presumably the pass was simply not considered important enough to expend the effort that would be needed to oust Shelob from her Lair.

Indexes:

About this entry:

  • Updated 14 December 2018
  • This entry is complete

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