The Eagles (And Why They Didn't Fly the Ring All the Way to Mordor)

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Re: The Eagles (And Why They Didn't Fly the Ring All the Way to Mordor)

Post by Radaghast on Wed Mar 05, 2014 2:10 am

In Tolkien's own words:

The Eagles are a dangerous 'machine'. I have used them sparingly, and that is the absolute limit of their credibility or usefulness. The alighting of a Great Eagle of the Misty Mountains in the Shire is absurd; it also makes the later capture of G. [Gandalf] by Saruman incredible, and spoils the account of his escape.

The fact that he thought an Eagle coming to the Shire 'absurd' suggests that his spare use of Eagles was so self-evident to Tolkien as to not hardly merit the effort of explaining.

A modern-day analogy might be: someone has to transport a sensitive document or object to another country and some bad people were looking for that item. The person could fly there but the airports might be closely watched. Or the person could do a mixture of walking, driving, taking the train and taking a boat and have more of a chance of slipping through the net.

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Re: The Eagles (And Why They Didn't Fly the Ring All the Way to Mordor)

Post by halfwise on Wed Mar 05, 2014 2:14 am

If we leave out Eagles being sentient beings for a bit (thought recall that in "Three's Company" we appear to have a sentient fox) nobody would ever think of using the Eagles for anything. It would be like saying "a tiger is fast and strong, let's perch a hobbit on it's back and send it into Mordor." A tiger may pop in and break up a robbery by sheer happenstance, but you can't recruit one to help solve your problems.

I think the giant eagles exist in a sort of mythical dualism in which they are still seen as completely wild beasts, yet are granted some attributes of sentience for story purposes. In general, the wild beast aspect wins out; not suitable for a mission in which history lies in the balance.

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Re: The Eagles (And Why They Didn't Fly the Ring All the Way to Mordor)

Post by Pettytyrant101 on Wed Mar 05, 2014 2:22 am

I agree that there are plenty reasons just within the scope of LotR's without looking elsewhere for reasons why getting the eagles to try to fly it there is a bad one.
Your point Raddy is in my view quite right- Sauron would have seen it coming. And we know the eagles are afraid of the bows of men so thousands of orc archers probably arent a good thing either.
An aerial attack would have been marked long before it got to Mordor- they might have found Sauron waiting in person at Mt Doom for the bearer.
Then there is the issue of the effect of the Ring on them.
And lastly the point Halfy makes above, which fits into what I was saying earlier about how Tolkien sees nature.
The cultivated land of the Shire and the Wild Woods of Fangorn and Mirkwood are the same thing- plant life- but one is ordered and the other is wild.
The eagles are wild creatures and so should be treated in Tolkien as with all his wild things. Not entirely or necessarily safe, and not always comprehensible to other species.

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Re: The Eagles (And Why They Didn't Fly the Ring All the Way to Mordor)

Post by Eldorion on Wed Mar 05, 2014 2:27 am

Radaghast wrote:TS,  page 40: "spirits in the shape of hawks and eagles...brought word to him of well nigh all that passed in Arda; yet some things were hidden from the eyes of Manwë and the servants of Manwë."

Thanks so much for posting that, it wasn't listed under "Eages" (note the capitalization) in the index of my copy of The Silmarillion so I completely missed it when flipping through earlier. That definitely lends credence to the idea that the original Eagles, at least, were Maiar. Though it's stated that they had families and children so we might see a Melian or Ungoliant-type situation where the early Eagles had children either with each other or with regular eagles and their descendants inherited some of their powers.

Also, the implication need not be that they were doing their own thing. But, regardless, that they were "sent forth" suggests pretty strongly that they were sent to help combat Morgoth. Also consider that their role as rescuers and tide-turners (i.e. deus ex machina, which they quite literally are) is established (if retroactively and/or not yet in print) in TS, before the events in TH and LotR, both as rescuers and as tide-turners in battles.

Even if that is the case, though (and I really do appreciate you providing citations to support your argument; you make a good one and the UT quote in particular suggests that the Eagles were still active servants at least well into the Second Age), I'm not sure why the Eagles would have refused to assist the Fellowship if they were asked. It doesn't seem like they were forbidden from doing so. They could just decline out of self-interest, but even the Ents pitched in eventually, and the Eagles have more first-hand experience with the Orcish resurgence in the late Third Age than the Ents did.

Radaghast wrote:In Tolkien's own words:

The fact that he thought an Eagle coming to the Shire 'absurd' suggests that his spare use of Eagles was so self-evident to Tolkien as to not hardly merit the effort of explaining.

That's a discussion of the role of the Eagles as a plot element though, not as part of the Secondary World.
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Re: The Eagles (And Why They Didn't Fly the Ring All the Way to Mordor)

Post by Pettytyrant101 on Wed Mar 05, 2014 2:32 am

I think its simpler than you are making it Eldo- they werent asked to help the Fellowship because it would never have worked, they might not have agreed anyway as they seem quite self interested - even Gwahir only takes Gandalf as far as Rohan to get a horse, he doesnt offer to carry him back to the Shire to help Frodo and he even complains that he was sent to bear tidings and not burdens (which means that from an eagle perspective being asked to carry even an emissary of Manwe about is seen as a 'burden'), and the Ring effect on them was unknown and they are wild creatures and so not predictable.
All perfectly good reasons in and of themselves without the need to even bring the greater scope of them as servants of Manwe or as animal form Maia into it (although doing so only adds more reasons for why they did not get directly involved).

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Re: The Eagles (And Why They Didn't Fly the Ring All the Way to Mordor)

Post by Eldorion on Wed Mar 05, 2014 2:43 am

I agree about that Petty -- I posted the link to my essay about the Eagles which makes basically the same argument as your first sentence and doesn't even touch on the question of whether the Eagles would have agreed or not.  But I find the question of whether they'd help or not to be an interesting one since it is a common assumption that they wouldn't and I'm not entirely sure where that comes from.
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Re: The Eagles (And Why They Didn't Fly the Ring All the Way to Mordor)

Post by Pettytyrant101 on Wed Mar 05, 2014 2:46 am

I take it from what they say in the scenes we have them in- in TH they are afraid of the bows of men, which is perfectly reasonable- there'd be good eating on a giant eagle and think of how enormous the headress you could make out of it would be!.
And in LotR's we get complaints about bearing burdens and a strong sense the eagle was happy enough to convey a message but was not bargaining on doing more than that and is not to happy about having too.
As presented by Tolkien they dont come across as over keen to do more than they choose to.

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Re: The Eagles (And Why They Didn't Fly the Ring All the Way to Mordor)

Post by Radaghast on Wed Mar 05, 2014 2:52 am

Eldorion wrote:
Radaghast wrote:TS,  page 40: "spirits in the shape of hawks and eagles...brought word to him of well nigh all that passed in Arda; yet some things were hidden from the eyes of Manwë and the servants of Manwë."

Thanks so much for posting that, it wasn't listed under "Eages" (note the capitalization) in the index of my copy of The Silmarillion so I completely missed it when flipping through earlier.  That definitely lends credence to the idea that the original Eagles, at least, were Maiar.  Though it's stated that they had families and children so we might see a Melian or Ungoliant-type situation where the early Eagles had children either with each other or with regular eagles and their descendants inherited some of their powers.
I think Tolkien struggled with their nature (the Maiar angle had to be discarded), but it seems pretty clear that they were agents of Manwë, whatever was decided.

Also, the implication need not be that they were doing their own thing. But, regardless, that they were "sent forth" suggests pretty strongly that they were sent to help combat Morgoth. Also consider that their role as rescuers and tide-turners (i.e. deus ex machina, which they quite literally are) is established (if retroactively and/or not yet in print) in TS, before the events in TH and LotR, both as rescuers and as tide-turners in battles.

Even if that is the case, though (and I really do appreciate you providing citations to support your argument; you make a good one and the UT quote in particular suggests that the Eagles were still active servants at least well into the Second Age), I'm not sure why the Eagles would have refused to assist the Fellowship if they were asked.  It doesn't seem like they were forbidden from doing so.  They could just decline out of self-interest, but even the Ents pitched in eventually, and the Eagles have more first-hand experience with the Orcish resurgence in the late Third Age than the Ents did.
Well, if the Istari were strictly forbidden to use their full power, except in dire need, why would the Eagles be given free reign? That would go against the point of shackling the Istari.

Examples of dire need would be having to fight the Balrog and scaring off the Ringwraiths when they threatened Faramir's flight into Minas Tirith. Similarly the Eagles pitched in to save Gandalf from Orthanc and the Misty Mountains after he'd defeated the Balrog.

As for the Ents, they would seem to be the equivalent of Elves (as Treebeard said, Trolls were to Ents as Orcs were to Elves) and they certainly weren't forbidden from action.

Radaghast wrote:
The fact that he thought an Eagle coming to the Shire 'absurd' suggests that his spare use of Eagles was so self-evident to Tolkien as to not hardly merit the effort of explaining.

That's a discussion of the role of the Eagles as a plot element though, not as part of the Secondary World.
True, but there is also the sense of Eagles being lofty and majestic and the idea of them coming to the Shire and/or taxiing a person or persons to Mordor would seem to make them something mean and unremarkable, which is what I think Tolkien was hinting at being the thing he wanted to avoid.

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Re: The Eagles (And Why They Didn't Fly the Ring All the Way to Mordor)

Post by Radaghast on Wed Mar 05, 2014 3:00 am

Pettytyrant101 wrote:I take it from what they say in the scenes we have them in- in TH they are afraid of the bows of men, which is perfectly reasonable- there'd be good eating on a giant eagle and think of how enormous the headress you could make out of it would be!.
And in LotR's we get complaints about bearing burdens and a strong sense the eagle was happy enough to convey a message but was not bargaining on doing more than that and is not to happy about having too.
As presented by Tolkien they dont come across as over keen to do more than they choose to.
Though it's fair to mention that, when Gandalf asks Gwaihir to fetch Frodo and Sam, and mentions that he weighs rather more than when Gwaihir last bore him, the Eagle replies that he would take Gandalf if he were made of stone.

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Re: The Eagles (And Why They Didn't Fly the Ring All the Way to Mordor)

Post by Radaghast on Wed Mar 05, 2014 3:04 am

Another angle worth considering, perhaps, is Bilbo's reaction to flying on the back of an Eagle. He seemed to like it little more than hanging from a dwarf's legs. Yeah, flying on the back of an Eagle would seem preferable than a miserable trek through a toxic desert, but all the same, I don't think a hobbit (or anyone unaccustomed to such a thing) would just blithely ride an Eagle.

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Re: The Eagles (And Why They Didn't Fly the Ring All the Way to Mordor)

Post by Mrs Figg on Wed Mar 05, 2014 12:26 pm

I think asking an Eagle to fly over Mordor with the Ring would be as impossible as asking Tom to keep the Ring, for whatever mysterious reason of their own, they can't, won't, or dont even contemplate interfering with the Ring. Perhaps if the Whole of Middle Earth was on the brink of extinction, and their eeries and Goldberrys river was being poisoned and choked with death, perhaps only then would they act in extremis, or perhaps not, maybe they would let their time end, there is no 'reason' and you cant pigeon hole Beings like that, their thoughts are their own, mysterious, we should never know the answer to these questions, never dig too deep to find solutions, its like seeing the peaks of a snow capped mountain in the distance calling to you, and longing to know whats there, you arrive and its a letdown, the mystery is gone.
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Re: The Eagles (And Why They Didn't Fly the Ring All the Way to Mordor)

Post by Eldorion on Tue Aug 05, 2014 8:21 pm

I linked to the Eagles page on my website earlier in this thread; it does very well in Google rankings, for its content, but today I noticed a massive spike in views (2300 extra views out of fucking nowhere) so I did a bit of poking around and it appears the Eagles are back in the spotlight thanks to this intriguing fan theory.

Source from a year ago: this random redditor

Why it's popular right now: this BuzzFeed wannabe site (made the whole thing a giant image for easier sharing)

[b]TL;DR (I don't blame you) Gandalf secretly planned on taking the fellowship to where the eagles live and having the eagles fly them to Mordor. The eagles lived on the other side of the Misty Mountains but all the routes for crossing them were too dangerous and difficult, and Gandalf (along with his secret plan) ends up falling down a chasm in a battle with the Balrog. Just before falling with the Balrog he tries to surreptitiously tell them the secret plan but was too surreptitious and they didn't understand. When he came back as Gandalf the White he had forgotten many things, including the plan to meet the eagles.

Do I buy it?  Well, we don't know what exactly Gandalf was planning to do before he bought it in Moria, so it's possible.  I don't think it entirely holds up to scrutiny, though.  Even if we accept that Gandalf didn't trust Elrond or Aragorn to withstand torture (which I don't buy), the stated reason for avoiding the High Pass isn't very sound.  The pass was getting more dangerous, but the Beornings were fighting to keep it open and many of the people at the Council of Elrond had passed through it.  Even if it was being watched, it would be simple enough for Gandalf and co. to disguise themselves as merchants or something (perhaps travelling with the Dwarves who had come to the Council with Gloin) before slipping off to rendezvous with the Eagles.

Also, Tolkien uses "fly" to mean fleeing/running at several other points in his writings, so I don't buy that it was an Eagle reference, though that did make me laugh. Smile

Of course, none of this changes the various logistical problems with the Eagle plan, and the fact that it goes against the tactic of secrecy and stealth that was the keystone of the plan devised at the Council of Elrond.  If you're gonna have an Eagle plan, I think it would make more sense to rendezvous with the Eagles closer to Mordor, as Sean Crist famously proposed.

http://www.sean-crist.com/personal/pages/eagles/

But at the end of the day, I still stand by my position on my site, that the Eagle plan was not considered (or was dismissed off-screen by Gandalf and Elrond without consulting the others) because it was incompatible with the overall strategy then had in mind.
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Re: The Eagles (And Why They Didn't Fly the Ring All the Way to Mordor)

Post by bungobaggins on Tue Aug 05, 2014 8:42 pm

I saw that reddit post this morning and rolled my eyes so hard. Then, for the millionth time, I questioned why I still go to that website.

I think his "theory" is a load of bunk that "film-only-ers" would buy into. All of this stems from Jackson not addressing the issue directly in the film.
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Re: The Eagles (And Why They Didn't Fly the Ring All the Way to Mordor)

Post by Eldorion on Tue Aug 05, 2014 8:44 pm

Well the issue isn't addressed directly in the book, either. Part of the reason why the Eagle thing never dies is that there isn't a simple answer one can point to. You have to do a fair bit of theorizing and explaining and to a lot of people (especially more casual readers/viewers) that looks like ass-covering.
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Re: The Eagles (And Why They Didn't Fly the Ring All the Way to Mordor)

Post by bungobaggins on Tue Aug 05, 2014 8:46 pm

Well, they explain it pretty clearly in The Hobbit. Shrugging
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Re: The Eagles (And Why They Didn't Fly the Ring All the Way to Mordor)

Post by Eldorion on Tue Aug 05, 2014 8:47 pm

Ah, I see what you mean.  I was thinking of LOTR when I said that.  You're right, PJ's changes did create a lot of confusion with the Eagles in TH, some of which I've been trying to alleviate in the comments section on my site. Razz
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Re: The Eagles (And Why They Didn't Fly the Ring All the Way to Mordor)

Post by bungobaggins on Tue Aug 05, 2014 8:50 pm

I think a lot of the theorizing can get extremely ridiculous.

Where would the adventure be if they just took the eagles? Fuck, where would the story be? Is it weird that I'm willing to just accept the story as it is?
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Re: The Eagles (And Why They Didn't Fly the Ring All the Way to Mordor)

Post by Eldorion on Tue Aug 05, 2014 8:52 pm

Not at all.  I end up in that position ("it is what it is") with a lot of the stories I love.  I think that LOTR is somewhat unique in how singularly well-crafted it is, though, that there are very few plot holes you can pick in it that don't have reasonable explanations.  The movies, of course, have a ton of plot holes; because when you start messing with a finely-tuned machine, your changes have sometimes unexpected implications.

Tolkien's own explanation of the Eagles in the Letters is pretty close to "there wouldn't be a story otherwise", and that's good enough for a lot of people (including Tolkien).  Other people consider that a cop-out though and demand story-internal reasons for why the Eagle plan couldn't have worked.  Having spent as much time studying the inner workings of Middle-earth (even more so than approaching it as a work of literature), I'm sympathetic to that group.
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Re: The Eagles (And Why They Didn't Fly the Ring All the Way to Mordor)

Post by Eldorion on Tue Aug 05, 2014 8:55 pm

J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 160 wrote:I now wish that no appendices had been promised! For I think their appearance in truncated and compressed form will satisfy nobody: certainly not me; clearly from the (appalling mass of) letters I receive not those people who like that kind of thing – astonishingly many; while those who enjoy the book as an 'heroic romance' only, and find 'unexplained vistas' part of the literary effect, will neglect the appendices, very properly.

I am not now at all sure that the tendency to treat the whole thing as a kind of vast game is really good – cert. not for me, who find that kind of thing only too fatally attractive. It is, I suppose, a tribute to the curious effect that story has, when based on very elaborate and detailed workings of geography, chronology, and language, that so many should clamour for sheer 'information', or 'lore'. But the demands such people make would again require a book, at least the size of Vol. I.

Or to put it more simply.

Gandalf wrote:He that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom.

But Tolkien fans have been ignoring that since day one. Laughing
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Re: The Eagles (And Why They Didn't Fly the Ring All the Way to Mordor)

Post by bungobaggins on Tue Aug 05, 2014 8:59 pm

Glad to see I'm in the same boat as the Prof. Smile Laughing
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Re: The Eagles (And Why They Didn't Fly the Ring All the Way to Mordor)

Post by leelee on Mon Oct 06, 2014 7:21 am

Eldorion wrote:Well in The Hobbit the Eagles are mainly just doing Gandalf a favor, so it makes sense that there's a limit to what they'll do (ie, they won't put themselves in harm's way by flying near the bowmen of the Vale of Anduin).  The situation in LOTR is a little different since they're helping fight against the most powerful evil being since Morgoth himself.

The Eagles are servants of Manwe, yes, but they appear to have a fair amount of autonomy.  I've talked to a number of people who argue that the Eagles were forbidden from interfering in the affairs of Middle-earth, but I don't think this is born out by their actions in either TH or LOTR.

That said, I don't think the Eagles are a plot hole either, for reasons I have outlined before (that page is based in part on posts I've made on this forum).

I wish theywould have.  But I am sure Illuvatar wanted to work something out nd put all the music right,  just as  Gandalph could not interfere in the affair of man , elves and Hobbits except as ws told him by the council, they might hve been told that too \even Gladrial told Frodo that when he needed help in his extremity the vial was their for Him and Gandalf said the ring came to him for a reason. It did not seem that the wisest or most courageous or strongest were chosen for a lot, but the most common of folk. But it would have saved the reader much grief.
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Re: The Eagles (And Why They Didn't Fly the Ring All the Way to Mordor)

Post by Eldorion on Fri Jun 12, 2015 6:42 am

I hope you'll forgive the self-aggrandizement, but I just noticed (while working on an update to the "Where in the world is Forumshire?" map) that as of yesterday (June 11), my posts about the Eagles on my blog have been viewed more than 100,000 times.  Considering that it's just a polished version of a post I made on TORn five years ago and has never been officially promoted by myself or anyone else, I'm rather proud of its views and its prominent Google (and Bing) ranking for a myriad of Eagle related searches.

http://eldorion.com/lore/eagles/
http://eldorion.com/2013/06/24/why-didnt-the-eagles-fly-the-dwarves-to-the-lonely-mountain/

That said, it's really weird to think that that post is probably my single most enduring contribution to the world of Tolkien fandom, especially since I originally made that site as a home for my essays on purism, which have languished in (probably deserved) obscurity.  Of course, Foumshire as a whole utterly dwarfs my blog in terms of traffic, which is only proper since I never update that thing. Razz
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Re: The Eagles (And Why They Didn't Fly the Ring All the Way to Mordor)

Post by halfwise on Fri Jun 12, 2015 12:08 pm

I think the question of secrecy has never been broached by anyone else writing about the eagles; very good point.

Seeing Jackson's Eagle rescue scene reminds me just how unrealistic he made it appear. Annoying.

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Re: The Eagles (And Why They Didn't Fly the Ring All the Way to Mordor)

Post by Pettytyrant101 on Fri Jun 12, 2015 1:04 pm

Been awhile since I checked your blog Edlo- you got a link to Forumshre on it? As it occurs that anyone responding on Tolkien matters on a blog might be just the sort to find somewhere like Forumshire worth a visit Nod

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Re: The Eagles (And Why They Didn't Fly the Ring All the Way to Mordor)

Post by Tinuviel on Fri Jun 12, 2015 5:00 pm

Well congrats Eldo! That's cool that so many people have gone to you to have that infamous question answered Thumbs Up

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