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

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Post by Radaghast on Tue Mar 04, 2014 6:43 pm

I tried to find a thread on this but couldn't. Anyway, here's a good blog post that sums up all the reasons why the Eagles didn't fly the Ring to Mordor:

http://booksnobbery.wordpress.com/2014/02/27/team-go-fuck-yourself-were-eagles/#comment-16981

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Post by Ringdrotten on Tue Mar 04, 2014 7:04 pm

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

lol!

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Post by Radaghast on Tue Mar 04, 2014 7:13 pm

Very Happy

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Post by Eldorion on Tue Mar 04, 2014 7:22 pm

Honestly, I don't think the whole "the Eagles aren't a taxi service" argument is a very strong one.  It seems to be most people's go-to argument (notwithstanding "but there wouldn't be a story otherwise", which isn't an argument at all), but it doesn't really hold up to scrutiny.  The Eagles had no problem helping out by performing surveillance on Sauron's minions at Gandalf and Radagast's requests, or participating directly in the fight against Sauron at the Battle of the Black Gate.  They're clearly not required to be impartial observers.  Sure, they're not going to fly the Ring to Mordor just because someone tells them to, but to imply that they're guaranteed to refuse when the fate of the world is at stake just makes them look like dicks.  And if this is your only argument, then it still doesn't explain why no one at least asked the Eagles just on the off chance that they were in a really good mood that day and said yes.

The real reason is this: http://oglaf.com/ornithology/1/
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Post by Radaghast on Tue Mar 04, 2014 7:27 pm

By itself, it may not be a strong argument, but taken with others it adds weight. Consider what the Eagles told Gandalf in the Hobbit (to paraphrase): "We're happy to rob the orcs of their sport, but that's as far as we're willing to go for you." That basically says right there, "we're not a taxi service."

As far as what aid they did give, I think it's a given, though never explicitly spelled out, that they're beholden to Manwë of the Valar, and whatever help they parcel out is at the Vala's discretion.

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Post by Eldorion on Tue Mar 04, 2014 7:30 pm

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).
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Post by Radaghast on Tue Mar 04, 2014 7:57 pm

Where do they show autonomy, necessarily? Gwaihir tells Gandalf, "I was sent to bear messages, not burdens," implying he was sent. Presumably by Galadriel, but perhaps she has a direct line to the Eagles.

Gandalf himself always seems to find the help of the Eagles an unrequested boon, as if the idea of asking them for help never even occurs to him. "Third time pays for all," he says to Gwaihir at the Black Gate, as if to suggest that any aid they've given him are just favors they're doing him.

As for their aiding in TBo5A and the battle at the Black Gate, I think the implication is, again, that they're being unleashed by higher powers.


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Post by Pettytyrant101 on Tue Mar 04, 2014 8:06 pm

Thats the view I have always taken of it, they are Heralds of Manwe as such are under the same general obligations the Valar seem to be regards direct interference.
Gandalf I seem to remember was specifically chosen by Manwe so it seem fitting that they occasionally help him out, but dont see themselves as owing any duty or obligation to sort out everyone elses problems for them. Indeed the opposite, these sort of problems are all part of the Music and he Big Plan. And the eagles play just their part in that and no more.

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Post by Radaghast on Tue Mar 04, 2014 8:09 pm

Yeah, Gandalf was basically an angel in disguise, prohibited from showing his true power and majesty. So the nutshell answer to the Eagles question is: it wasn't allowed.

Of course, the Valar did give aid, and not only with the Eagles, they just weren't allowed to march into Mordor and defeat Sauron themselves.

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Post by Bluebottle on Tue Mar 04, 2014 8:14 pm

And if you factor in that the eagles were proud and stubborn beings who disliked obedience and bowing to others will too you are begggining to get a reason for their non involvement for the most part.  Shrugging 

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Post by Eldorion on Tue Mar 04, 2014 8:55 pm

Radaghast wrote:Where do they show autonomy, necessarily? Gwaihir tells Gandalf, "I was sent to bear messages, not burdens," implying he was sent. Presumably by Galadriel, but perhaps she has a direct line to the Eagles.

Gwaihir flew to Orthanc to relay intelligence regarding Sauron's forces to Saruman, and he did so at the direction (presumably after a request) of Radagast and his animal spy network (cf. Gandalf's account to the Council of Elrond).  That constitutes direct involvement by the Eagles on one side of the emergent war between Sauron and the Free Peoples, and there is no indication that they required permission from Manwe to get involved (though, to be fair, there's nothing to suggest they didn't telepathically ask him to sign off, either).  However, what I was mainly thinking of in terms of the Eagles showing autonomy is their decision to help Gandalf in The Hobbit -- which is done solely to return a favor they owed him.  Their decision to intervene in the Battle of the Five Armies was also stated to be a result of their own suspicions about the Goblins, with whom they had a personal enmity in the Misty Mountains (the goblins there not being in the service of Sauron in the book).

I'm not trying to be dismissive because I know the theory that the Eagles are bound to impartiality and follow the orders of Manwe is a very popular one, but I really don't think it's supported by anything in The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings.  However, I suspect that the origin of the theory lies in The Silmarillion.  I haven't read that in a while, but I checked all the mentions of Eagles listed in the index.  Thorondor and Turgon have several interactions that are mentioned, and the Valar are not brought up at all except in the phrase "the Eagles of Manwe".  Thorondor and his flock are most certainly not impartial in any of their appearances here, since they are basically Turgon's air force (and there's no indication that they were acting on Manwe's orders when they did this; in fact, since Turgon was an Exile, I would be surprised if that was the case).  However, the only solid statement we have regarding Manwe and the Eagles is that he received news from birds and "had sent forth the race of Eagles, commanding them to dwell in the crags of the North, and to keep watch upon Morgoth; for Manwe still had pity for the exiled Elves."

I am not aware of any statements regarding the Eagles' orders or restrictions in later Ages, and a cursory glance through the Letters does not reveal anything further.  Most of Tolkien's private thoughts on the matter are about the role of the Eagles as a plot element, particularly as they relate to the concept eucatastrophe and their being a "dangerous machine" that can only be used occasionally before ruining the story.  But he doesn't seem to have elaborated much on their internal role as part of his created world.

As for their aiding in TBo5A and the battle at the Black Gate, I think the implication is, again, that they're being unleashed by higher powers.

I'm curious why you say that, as I've never gotten that sense from the books.  Especially not in TH, where I think it's heavily implied that the Eagles made the decision on their own after observing the movements of the orcs who were preparing for their attack on the Lonely Mountain.

EDIT: To be specific, I am referring to the account of the Eagles' involvement given in the penultimate chapter of The Hobbit:

The Return Journey wrote:The Eagles had long had suspicion of the goblins' mustering; from their watchfulness the movements in the mountains could not be altogether hid.  So they too had gathered in great numbers, under the great Eagle of the Misty Mountains; and at length smelling battle from afar they had come speeding down the gale in the nick of time.


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Post by Eldorion on Tue Mar 04, 2014 9:00 pm

Pettytyrant101 wrote:Thats the view I have always taken of it, they are Heralds of Manwe as such are under the same general obligations the Valar seem to be regards direct interference.

To be somewhat pedantic, the Valar chose to withdraw from a more direct role in Middle-earth, but I don't believe it's ever stated that they were obligated to make that decision (or prevented from ever changing their minds).

Gandalf I seem to remember was specifically chosen by Manwe so it seem fitting that they occasionally help him out, but dont see themselves as owing any duty or obligation to sort out everyone elses problems for them. Indeed the opposite, these sort of problems are all part of the Music and he Big Plan. And the eagles play just their part in that and no more.

The restrictions placed on the Istari were only ever put on them specifically, and it was done because their native power as Maiar would have been too great for their intended role as advisors. But the Eagles were not necessarily Maiar (and almost certainly not the ones who lived 6000 years after the species showed up in Middle-earth), so they wouldn't necessarily have had those restrictions (especially since they did not share the specific mission of the Istari).
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Post by Pettytyrant101 on Tue Mar 04, 2014 10:09 pm

I just dont have a problem with the eagles having a duel rational- on the one hand they are servants of Manwe and tend not to overstep their mark in that degree. But at the same time they are like the Istari physical living creature in the world who have to be wary of bow shot and who dont like the goblins massing in their home turf.
I can see how they cold both decide to intervene in the two battles they do, for their own long term good, and yet at the same time are wary and distant from the other races and from directly taking a hand in the destruction of the Ring.
Apart from anything else they are sentient and so presumably as likely to fall to the Ring as any other, possibly more so as we dont know what powers they have the Ring might work on (that was afterall Gandalfs biggest fear in taking it on).

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Post by malickfan on Tue Mar 04, 2014 11:28 pm

I was under the impression (partially at least) that the eagles tie into sacrifice/ecutastrophe in the stories, i.e they turn up only after characters have died/sacrifice themselves for the greater good, either deliberately or by accident, or alternatively they symbolize the power of Manwe-wasn't the clouds of doom coming towards Numenor in the shape of an eagle?

Or maybe they are gaint flying taxis...

Maybe I should read the books again...

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Post by Radaghast on Wed Mar 05, 2014 12:19 am

Eldorion wrote:
Radaghast wrote:Where do they show autonomy, necessarily? Gwaihir tells Gandalf, "I was sent to bear messages, not burdens," implying he was sent. Presumably by Galadriel, but perhaps she has a direct line to the Eagles.

Gwaihir flew to Orthanc to relay intelligence regarding Sauron's forces to Saruman, and he did so at the direction (presumably after a request) of Radagast and his animal spy network (cf. Gandalf's account to the Council of Elrond).  That constitutes direct involvement by the Eagles on one side of the emergent war between Sauron and the Free Peoples, and there is no indication that they required permission from Manwe to get involved (though, to be fair, there's nothing to suggest they didn't telepathically ask him to sign off, either).  However, what I was mainly thinking of in terms of the Eagles showing autonomy is their decision to help Gandalf in The Hobbit -- which is done solely to return a favor they owed him.  Their decision to intervene in the Battle of the Five Armies was also stated to be a result of their own suspicions about the Goblins, with whom they had a personal enmity in the Misty Mountains (the goblins there not being in the service of Sauron in the book).
No, of course there is no mention of permission by Manwë (or even Manwë himself, that I recall). It's only if you take the entire legendarium into account that the theory fits.

As far as TH, any exposition about the Valar would have been out of place and probably confusing for young readers, so the simple explanation of the Eagles hating Orcs worked fine. And they may not have been in the service of Sauron in TH, but their ancestors probably were or, if not Sauron, then certainly Morgoth. During the Bot5A, there was a real sense that a large number of Free Peoples would have been wiped out if not for the intervention of the Eagles, in Tolkien's world, a sentient race that would have no particular reason to hate Orcs if they were just regular eagles.

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Post by Eldorion on Wed Mar 05, 2014 12:40 am

I hear what you're saying, Radaghast, but I'm afraid my reservations on the theory have only grown since I started poking around in my books as a result of this thread.  I've been skeptical of the theory for some time but haven't put much thought into it because the idea that the Eagles have Istari-like rules governing their behavior is so ubiquitous that I sort of assumed it was stated somewhere even if I couldn't remember where offhand.  But looking through my books (albeit not exhaustively), I was not able to find a single piece of textual evidence that the Eagles are limited in a similar manner as the Istari.  I would be curious to read any quotes that anyone else might recall, because this is actually sort of bugging me now and I'm wondering how this theory got to be so popular if not for a statement from Tolkien.  The theory does appear to make sense at first glance, but I don't think it holds up for the reasons I outlined above.

Your point about The Hobbit and how out of place it would be for the Valar to be mentioned is well-taken, but that's the problem you get when trying to treat The Hobbit as part of a unified legendarium.  You run into all sorts of early installment weirdness (to borrow a not entirely applicable term from TV Tropes), including anachronisms like Hobbits using matches and such.  Any attempt to construct a complete legendarium can't ignore The Hobbit since it's crucial to LOTR, but some parts are easier to brush under the rug (such as the matches). Unfortunately there is a limit to this sort of thing because eventually we find ourselves just putting our own words into Tolkien's mouth and ignoring any inconsistencies (not that you're doing this, but it's a general risk).

The goblin allegiance thing, however, I maintain is a crucial part of the story and one that is fully consistent with Tolkien's other writings.  On the surface it might make sense to have the goblins be servants of Sauron, as PJ has done.  But as Tolkien famously complained in his critique of BBC radio dramatization of LOTR (1955-56), "[c]annot people imagine things hostile to men and hobbits who prey on them without being in league with the Devil!" (Letter 175).  The orcs of the Misty Mountains, regardless of their heritage, were independent actors in the late Third Age. The Eagles enmity might have its roots in older "ancestral" conflicts, but it was driven largely by the fact that they both lived in the mountains and were rivals for power there.  (And the Eagles were certainly not "regular" birds, being a sentient race.)
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Post by Pettytyrant101 on Wed Mar 05, 2014 12:47 am

I think the Manwe thing comes from putting a variety of things together- starting with the eagles were heralds of Manwe.
The Valar had withdrawn from direct intervention in events, so it 'follows' that the eagles would not directly interfere either in the 'big events' of the Time (at least not on behalf of the Valar or one of their number).
But at the same time as living creatures of ME they have a stake in things- not least in keeping their home free of orcs.
So they dot step up to directly effect the bigger issues, but they still defend their own and look after their own best interests.
When Gwahir rescues Gandalf and Gandalf tells him about Saruman the eagle replies that he will bear Gandalf only because he doesnt want to come under the rule of Saruman- its self serving basically.

There is also the issue of if they can be trusted, are they reliable allies- I would say no- they act out of their own interests, not other peoples.
This fits with how Tolkien portrays nature in general, as on one hand a thing of beauty and with a genuine right to exist in and of itself, but also potentially dangerous and unknowable to mortal minds.
Hi trees are a good example of this- sometimes beautiful sometimes like Old Man Willow.

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Post by Radaghast on Wed Mar 05, 2014 12:53 am

Eldo is right, there is nothing concrete in TH or LotR about the Eagles' relation to higher powers. But other sources, like TS, make it all too clear (I think TS even states they are Maiar). Again, it's only in light of the whole mythos that the theory is workable. Otherwise, they're just deus ex machina.

Here's another view:

http://www.examiner.com/article/tolkien-101-why-doesn-t-frodo-just-ride-an-eagle-to-mount-doom

It raises many of the same points but introduces some interesting points as well, particularly the proposed film treatment from 1958.

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Post by Radaghast on Wed Mar 05, 2014 12:57 am

As far as the orcs being their own agents in TH, that is certainly the case and their HQ was in Gundabad which, I think, was pretty far away from either Angband or Mordor. But they were still a lingering effect of Morgoth on Middle-earth. Their hatreds were his hatreds. In the larger scheme of things they were still fighting Morgoth's fight.

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Post by Eldorion on Wed Mar 05, 2014 1:24 am

Pettytyrant101 wrote:I think the Manwe thing comes from putting a variety of things together- starting with the eagles were heralds of Manwe.

The Valar had withdrawn from direct intervention in events, so it 'follows' that the eagles would not directly interfere either in the 'big events' of the Time (at least not on behalf of the Valar or one of their number).

Radaghast wrote:Eldo is right, there is nothing concrete in TH or LotR about the Eagles' relation to higher powers. But other sources, like TS, make it all too clear (I think TS even states they are Maiar). Again, it's only in light of the whole mythos that the theory is workable. Otherwise, they're just deus ex machina.

I'm not trying to be an asshole or anything, but do you guys have any quotes or citations for these statements?  I don't recall the Eagles being described as "heralds of Manwe" even in the First Age (that title was reserved for Eonwe as far as I can recall), and the only statement in The SIlmarillion on this subject that I could find states only that Manwe had told them to watch over Morgoth, with the implication that they were otherwise doing their own thing (and that mission would have long been over by the Third Age).  Again, I'm not trying to go after you guys, but this theory strikes me as one of those things that "everyone knows" and thus all sorts of tangential and circumstantial evidence is interpreted through a strict viewpoint that backs up the theory even if other interpretations might make more sense.  I could certainly be wrong, though, which is why I'm curious to read the passages you guys are thinking of. Smile

Edit: I looked over the Examiner piece, and I have a couple of issues with its treatment of the Eagles as servants of God angle. First, it makes no distinction between the role of the Valar and the role of Eru, which I think this is an important one (and one of the few that distinguishes Tolkien's cosmology from pure Bible/Paradise Lost fanfic). Second, it makes an (admittedly common) assumption about the Eagles; ie, because they were affiliated with Manwe and he was responsible for their presence in Middle-earth, they continued to be nothing but his messengers thousands of years later. I suppose this is plausible, but neither the Dwarves nor the Ents remained purely servants of their Valarian patrons despite being even more beholden to them initially than the Eagles were to Manwe. I'm also uncertain if it was ever stated that the Eagles were Maiar; I'm 99% sure it's not said in the 1977 Silmarillion but there might be something in HOME.
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Post by Pettytyrant101 on Wed Mar 05, 2014 1:34 am

The Sil states that the eagles were the 'messengers and spies of the King of Arda' (Manwe)

They were later given the task of watching over Thangdorim and they fough tin the War of Wrath in the FA (when the Valar were still directly interfering)

Three eagles also lived on Numenor to watch over them (presumably n behalf of Manwe) and when it all went tits up on Numenor the Valar sent storm clouds in the shape of eagle as warning.
This to me indicates that the people associated the eagles with the Valar, and probably Manwe in particular and is why the clouds were in that shape- a symbol everyone would recognise the sender of. Which strengthens the notion the eagles work in accordance with the Valar.

Further to this Tolkien speculated that the eagles (and by extension all the talking birds of ME) were in fact Maiar spirits in animal form- on the basis that Eru would not grant fear to animals.

So taken as a whole we have a race of possible spirits in animal forms, who have a close historic link with the Valar and Manwe in particular.

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Post by Eldorion on Wed Mar 05, 2014 1:46 am

Pettytyrant101 wrote:The Sil states that the eagles were the 'messengers and spies of the King of Arda' (Manwe)

I don't recognize that quote and a Google search turns up only something from the LOTR Wikia.  Do you know which chapter that comes from?  I'd like to read the statement in context.

Further to this Tolkien speculated that the eagles (and by extension all the talking birds of ME) were in fact Maiar spirits in animal form- on the basis that Eru would not grant fear to animals.

Do you know where that speculation was from?  I'm pretty sure I've heard this before and it's probably in the HOME somewhere but I can't recall which volume (much less chapter) it was.  pale 

Anyway, Eagles were definitely the symbol of Manwe, and they had been given a mission by him in the First Age, but I'm not sure that still held true in the Third Age.  But even if it did, I don't think it means that the Eagles would have refused to help destroy the Ring because they were forbidden from doing so (to try to get back to the original thread topic in a round-about fashion).  They were willing to help in many ways and, for that matter, the Istari themselves were active parts of the anti-Sauron mission despite their restrictions.
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Post by Pettytyrant101 on Wed Mar 05, 2014 1:53 am

Quotes I will have to dig around for- perhaps Elthir can help- Im running largely off memory here.

As I said earlier I dont have a problem with the Eagle having more than one reasons for their actions.
For me they are both in league if you like with the Valar and so dont get directly involved but they are also autonomous living creatures who make decisions that are best for themselves- so it was in their own interests to interfere where they did, but they did not cross the line of taking responsibility for the Ring away from mortal kind.

Also if they are maiar then the Ring is as big a risk to them in taking it as it is to Gandalf.
There is no guarantee an eagle who took it would destroy it.

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Post by Eldorion on Wed Mar 05, 2014 1:56 am

I forgot to mention this earlier since you brought it up in an earlier post, but the question of how safe it would be for an Eagle to be that near the Ring does interest me. The Ring can only be destroyed inside the Sammath Naur, so the Eagles would need to bring a humanoid rider who can carry it inside for the final stage of the journey. But would the Eagles be tempted/corrupted enough to turn on the Ringbearer by the time they landed? Would an Eagle even be able to wear the Ring on its talon?

Then there's also the problem that no one could have destroyed the Ring at the end, and with no Gollum to steal it and then "accidentally" fall in the Quest would have been doomed, but there's no way the characters could have known that.
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Post by Radaghast on Wed Mar 05, 2014 2:05 am

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."

UT, page 174: "They were called the Witnesses of Manwë, and they were believed to be sent by him from Aman to keep watch upon the holy mountain and all the land."

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.

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