Sting was a magical weapon used by Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit. Bilbo found it in a troll-hoard along with the swords Glamdring and Orcrist. Sting was probably forged by the elves of Gondolin in the First Age. Although it was only a dagger by the standard of Men or Elves, it made a handy short sword for a hobbit. Bilbo gave Sting to Frodo Baggins before the Fellowship of the Ring set off from Rivendell. When Frodo was betrayed at the pass of Cirith Ungol, Samwise Gamgee took Sting to prevent it from falling into enemy hands, but later returned it to Frodo. Following the end of the War of the Ring, Frodo gave Sting and all of his other possessions to Sam before departing for the Undying Lands.
Bilbo named the blade after fighting giant spiders in Mirkwood. The spiders themselves referred to it as his "sting."
Sting had the magical ability to detect orcs or goblins nearby. When orcs or goblins were present, it glowed blue, as it did when the Fellowship encountered orcs in the mines of Moria. This was a common property of First Age Elf blades, particularly those forged in Gondolin.
Sting was exceptionally sharp. Bilbo managed to thrust it without effort deep into a wooden beam at Rivendell. Frodo also wounded a troll in Moria, after Boromir notched his own sword with his attempt. Sting was useful in Shelob's Lair when it cut through Shelob's webs with ease, and also stabbed Shelob, being the first blade to ever do so. Considering that giant spiders were a menace in the mountains south of Gondolin, it is possible that a weapon from there could be enchanted/designed to cut spider webs.
Gollum, who disliked anything made by Elves, was afraid of Sting. This fear helped Bilbo when he confronted Gollum under the Misty Mountains in The Hobbit. It also helped Frodo to tame Gollum temporarily in The Lord of the Rings.
Bilbo blades in Europe
In real Europe, a bilbo blade (sometimes spelled "bilbow") was an exceptionally fine blade, named after the city of Bilbao where such blades were made. It is possible that Bilbo's name and his acquisition of this sharp blade were connected in the author's mind.
In Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit film adaptations, Sting is depicted as vaguely leaf-shaped, with gentle curving edges. Engraved on the blade and cross-guard are letters in Sindarin that read phonetically, Maegnas aen estar nin dagnir in yngyl im. Translated into English, they read, "Maegnas is my name, I am the spider's bane." According to the Appendix of The Silmarillion, the element maeg in Sindarin means "sharp" or "piercing". The film version of Sting is 23 inches long (24 while in scabbard) and 3 inches wide at the hilt. Its scabbard is made of brown leather and reinforced with metal. In The Hobbit trilogy, Sting does not have this inscription.
- Henry Gee (2004), The Science of Middle-Earth, Cold Spring Press, p. 236, ISBN 978-1-59360-023-5
- John Rateliff (2010), "The Hobbitonian Anthology of Articles on JRR Tolkien and His Legendarium", Tolkien Studies 7: 330–335, doi:10.1353/tks.0.0066, ISSN 1547-3163,
I would suggest that it's far more likely Bilbo gains Sting because Tolkien became aware of the 'bilbow blade = sword' entry in the OED than that the character was given the name with the idea of his becoming a sword-wielder already in mind. However, as there was a Count Frodo and a Bishop Bilbo in the Frankish Kingdom of the middle ages as well as another noble named Fredegar it is more likely that these Hobbit names were mined from Frankish history.
- Smith, Chris (2003). The Lord of the Rings Weapons and Warfare. London: HarperCollins. ISBN 0-00-717201-X.