If you haven’t before, watch this:

Admittedly, HiSHE is one of my favorite sites. (Their ending for Superman 1 makes me cry with laughter every time.) However this is a not uncommon complaint about Lord of the Rings [LOTR]. And that is a good question. Is the nonuse of eagles to drop the Ring off an oversight/loose end? (It’s not a plothole.) Some think it’s just something Tolkien forgot, but I don’t think it is. Let’s take a moment to run through the thought process and maybe learn something we can use in the future…

Scene: Everybody’s at the council of Elrond, talking about what they should do with the Ring. Practically every proposal is being brought up and discussed. At last, it seems that the only solution is a daring infiltration of the enemy’s territory to destroy the weapon. “But wait!” cries everybody. “What about the eagles? Fly Frodo and Co in, drop off the Ring, fly out.”

Ah but there’s one problem. Remember what happened before this scene? The Nazgul were washed away by a raging river in trying to catch Frodo. It’s even mentioned that now they have lost their horses, and must be given new steeds upon to ride. Thus, the first and biggest objection to this plan: the Nine Riders/Ringwraiths/Nazgul were in the air at this time as well! Some might say the eagles can handle them, but remember that this is all 9 of them, including the Witch-King (who totally pwned Gandalf). Are there even 9 or more giant eagles for this mission? Would they be able to stand up to the might of all 9 riders (with their king) in a fight? Smart money (especially if they are carrying passengers) is no. If the free peoples try to move the Ring by air, Sauron has it in a few days, everyone is screwed anyway.

But now we have a new problem: the characters didn’t know that the Nazgul were flying. So imagine you’re Tolkien a moment (assuming you’re not all the time anyway). You’ve gone over every solution but one. However, the flaw with that one last solution is unknown to any of the characters at this time. Logically, if it was brought up, everyone would agree and go flying straight into a victory for evil. Really, the only option is to let that solution slide and hope it doesn’t enter the reader’s mind. So what have we learned from this? If you’re working on a rough draft of a story and run into this problem, what are your choices:

1) Finagle things around so that your characters end up with the knowledge needed to prevent this catastrophe. (can be very complicated, only recommended if it requires the most minor changes)
2) Remove the offending plot device and adjust other parts of the story as needed. (recommended if the plot device is minor enough – couldn’t the eagles have been cut out of LOTR?)
3) Let it slide and try slip past this part of the story without bringing the problem up, hope nobody notices. (easier solution – however will fail if you achieve good popularity and/or a legacy)

Now let’s resume the fun part. What other ways may have the LOTR eagle plan failed?

*We sometimes lose sight of it, flying in jets that go mach 1+, but with living creatures that won’t break the sound barrier at cruising speeds, it will still take several days to go from Rivendale to Mordor/Gondor. Not as long as by foot or horseback, but still long enough that Sauron (the eye that never blinks or sleeps) should see them coming.

*1 word: archers. It’d be like trying to fly into Berlin Germany with anti-aircraft guns going off as well as dogfighting. You have only one plane with only one bomb and that bomb has to hit a precise target. If the plane is shot down or the bomb misses, game over. (At this point are you still betting on the good guys?)

*If we assume that the top of Mount Doom is open (it was in the movie but I’m not sure in the story, any scholars able to clear that up for me?), then Frodo and Co have the new problem of inertia. If the eagles are flying along at a good speed and Frodo drops the Ring, that bit of jewelry is going to continue forward as well as down. How would he or any of his friends know about this and calculate out when he needs to drop it in order to hit the mountain (no practice runs)?

**Don’t forget that the size of the target will also be in play. If the eagles fly low enough that a “hit” is guaranteed, they will probably be vulnerable to archers stationed at Mt Doom’s peak. Fly out of arrow range, and the target gets much much smaller and harder to hit.

*Don’t forget the platform inside Mount Doom. Even if Frodo manages to drop the Ring into the mountain, it might still get caught on the walkway above the lava.

*Finally (though I’m sure I’m missing some), the Ring’s power grows the closer it gets to its birthplace and/or lord. Eagles move into the Mordor zipcode, no telling who (maybe even the eagles) is corrupted and puts on the Ring (as Frodo did at the end).

So as you can see, the idea of using the eagles to get the Ring to Mordor is actually the worst idea of any of them, and would have only accomplished a quicker victory for Sauron.

Until next time, stay safe from the Nazgul.

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  1. Juniper on 10 February 2009, 10:21 said:

    I actually came close to thinking it was a plothole. Thanks for the explanation.

  2. Apep on 10 February 2009, 14:41 said:

    Good points. I’d like to add my personal favorite answer (not sure where I heard it): The Eagles are not a taxi service.

  3. gum_foil on 10 February 2009, 19:21 said:

    Great! Just wanted to point out: Tolkien couldn’t have cut the eagles out of LOTR. They were in The Hobbit, which was published first.

  4. Asahel on 11 February 2009, 00:58 said:

    “Great! Just wanted to point out: Tolkien couldn’t have cut the eagles out of LOTR. They were in The Hobbit, which was published first.”

    Would like to further add that, even ignoring The Hobbit, the eagles were important in LotR for the fact that they helped Gandalf escape Saruman, and without them Frodo and Sam would’ve most certainly died in Mordor (though, admittedly, after destroying The One Ring).

    Good write-up, by the way.

  5. scary_viking on 11 February 2009, 02:25 said:

    Meh, I thought they DID know that the Nazgul had access to winged beasts, but that they weren’t using them (presumably because it would be a poor use of resources to be obvious like that?).

    Anyhow, some of the arguments you present are more movie-based than book-based. The eye of sauron is NOT an actual physical thingy that sits on Barad Dur staring around all day, it’s more a symbol, if it’s a physical object at all, which has been disputed. Sauron does NOT have a spy sattelite as portrayed in the film.

    I think it’s mostly just a high risk thing though. Too obvious once the eagles come in range and a big risk of interception.

  6. Nate Winchester on 11 February 2009, 09:23 said:

    The eye of sauron is NOT an actual physical thingy that sits on Barad Dur staring around all day, it’s more a symbol, if it’s a physical object at all, which has been disputed. Sauron does NOT have a spy sattelite as portrayed in the film.

    1) Sauron does have a gaze and is watching middle-earth.
    2) He is described as an eye and the “lidless eye” several times in the book.
    3) Return of the King: “one moment only it stared out…as from some great window immeasurably high there stabbed northward a flame of red, the flicker of a piercing Eye… The Eye was not turned on them, it was gazing north…but Frodo at that dreadful glimpse fell as one stricken mortally”
    4) He has a palantír

    To those who mention eagles were in the Hobbit, I point out that so were giants and Beorn, but they weren’t in LotR. (which is a shame, because Beorn could have kicked major ass)

    To Asahel, I know what role the eagles played, however it seems that their presence in LotR has caused no end of grief for Tolkien. (In fact, I largely wrote this article because I was tired of hearing everyone dismiss LotR because of… well they all made the same point as HiSHE up there.)
    From: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eagle_(Middle-earth)#Adaptations_and_influences
    The first scenario for an animated motion-picture of The Lord of the Rings proposed to Tolkien in 1957 was turned down because of several cardinal deviations, among which Humphrey Carpenter recorded that “virtually all walking was dispensed with in the story and the Company of the Ring were transported everywhere on the backs of eagles”.

    It’s also a lesson to us writers. If the master himself is sometimes held back with deus ex machina, the rest of us should be that much more reluctant to use it.

  7. Corsair on 11 February 2009, 13:04 said:

    Also, another rather large problem. Even Gwaihir the Windlord couldn’t haul Gandalf anywhere. He was able to go from Isengard into somewhere inside Rohan before dropping him off, but considering they’re next door neighbors, that isn’t that impressive. Furthermore, the Eagles had no representative at the Council of Elrond.

  8. Nate Winchester on 11 February 2009, 17:07 said:

    I was hoping someone would win the KFC award for pointing out the eagles should have been fried at the end anyway.

    Maybe that’s the secret for why there’s only stew in fantasyland. With no convection, it’s the only thing they can cook.

  9. Artimaeus on 11 February 2009, 20:02 said:

    Well, I’d be a bit more inclined to call plot hole. Having two hobbits walk the width and breath of middle earth, infiltrate the ultimate enemy stronghold, make their way across marshes, around the black gate, through a spider’s den, the mines of moria, and the ork infested interior of mordor, with limited supplies, on foot, dodging ringwraiths all the while, without any guarantee that Frodo will actually be able to let go of the ring in the end isn’t exactly a foolproof plan either. I mean, hell, if gollum hadn’t been there to chomp of Frodo’s ring finger… Well, compared to this, is it really that unreasonable to ask an eagle to dodge a few arrows?

    Also, it’s possible that the eagles might have been able to reach mordor before the ringwraiths got their new mounts (remember, they had to get across the better part of middle earth on foot, and if I remember correctly, they’re blind). So, yea. One of them might have died….

  10. Corsair on 13 February 2009, 15:04 said:

    There’s also the simple fact that a team of Eagles flying in formation would kind of be noticed. Sauron commands a great host, and the Nazgul are not the only flying creatures he has under his command. Their Fellbeast Mounts, for example, are also under his command, and each one is easily a match for any rank and file Eagle of Manwe.

  11. SlyShy on 13 February 2009, 17:05 said:

    But you’ve got to compare the Eagles, as hard pressed as they are against Nazguls, against having two hobbits go on foot, where they can be harassed by flying minions and minions on foot. Further, they are restricted in their paths, and can’t approach Mt. Doom from any direction they please. Presumably, the Eagles could get to Mt. Doom if Gandalf still had the plan of distracting Sauron by marching up to his gates.

    Anyways, this sort of wild speculation isn’t exactly the point of the article. ;)

  12. Corsair on 13 February 2009, 18:09 said:

    The Hobbits weren’t noticed, though. That was the whole idea, a small group of small people can go where the HUGE freaking Eagles would be noticed in about five seconds.

  13. SlyShy on 13 February 2009, 18:21 said:

    If the eagles flew high they wouldn’t really be seen, especially if they can get over cloud cover. Anyways, I’d only be flying by night.

    I think, perhaps the point we can take away from this is that a logical plan doesn’t often create a good story. LotR wouldn’t be compelling if they were doing what I described, instead it’s compelling because of Frodo’s struggle.

  14. Nate Winchester on 13 February 2009, 18:38 said:

    If the eagles flew high they wouldn’t really be seen, especially if they can get over cloud cover. Anyways, I’d only be flying by night.

    SS, you do realize that at that height… the hobbits will probably end up dying from cold/thin air.

    Also… flying at night is a good way to crash or get lost. Like the saying goes, don’t think of horses as motorcycles in fantasy. Neither should you think of large eagles as airplanes. (example: it will still take time to get the eagles to Gondor from the north. even longer if they’re going to have ferry Gandalf and more for a distraction – during which time, Sauron sees them and thinks “hmm…. why should I be concerned with those guys outside my impenetrable wall? Maybe I should pay attention to those things flying over it.”)

  15. SlyShy on 13 February 2009, 22:20 said:

    SS, you do realize that at that height… the hobbits will probably end up dying from cold/thin air.

    Gee, and here I thought the hobbits would probably die from walking into Mordor on foot.

  16. Corsair on 13 February 2009, 22:38 said:

    You do realize that Sauron commands the Fellbeasts along with their mounts? Mordor is not undefended from aerial attacks. The Hobbits were the only method that had any significant chance of working.

  17. Morvius on 13 February 2009, 23:36 said:

    Actually both choices seem fraught with great danger. Both have almost equal amounts of failing. Anyway, if they chose the former option of Eagles, the story would have ended much faster (whether in failure or success). But the second choice obviously served to further the story. But I would not say that it was an easy path either.

  18. Tobias on 18 February 2009, 21:36 said:

    1. You think the hobbits would have survived if the eagles were flying out of archer range? Eagles are not an jet.

    2. If the eagles were facing the fell beast they would likely dropped the hobbits.

    3. The Eagles coulnt be present at the council

    4. Sauron could sent forth a black cloud like he did to his host

    So if it would had been brought up at the council it would had been to risky.

    Another Plot Hole: Why didnt Saruman take the ring of fire from Gandalf when he was Sarumans prisoner.

  19. Nate Winchester on 18 February 2009, 21:45 said:

    Both have almost equal amounts of failing.
    I’ve been arguing that the eagles actually had a greater chance of failing but anyway…

    Another Plot Hole: Why didnt Saruman take the ring of fire from Gandalf when he was Sarumans prisoner.
    Did Saruman even know Gandalf had it?
    We also don’t know if the ring would have done Saruman any good.

  20. Addie on 18 February 2009, 21:49 said:

    I don’t think he knew he had it.

  21. OverlordDan on 24 February 2009, 07:57 said:

    Did Sauron always have the Fell-Beasts? I always assumed that he had magiked a few of them up to help the Nazgul. That always explained to me why they had never just flown over to hobbit-land whilst Gandalf was away for a few months.

    That, and I never really got the impression that the Fell-Beasts where all that impressive, combat-wise. Tolkien describes what amounts to a bald, leathery parrot, quite a large parrot, mind you, but it wasn’t there to kick ass, it was there to ferry around Nazgul (who implemented the afor mentioned ass kick-ery).

    In my opinion, even if Sauron had a screaming horde of these flying monstrosities, they would do little except throw their misshapen bodies against the eagles in an attempt to knock them out of the skies.

  22. Snow White Queen on 24 February 2009, 20:03 said:

    Plus, Eowyn kills the fell beast with a single stroke. Granted, Eowyn’s a good warrior and all that…

    I love that video, (I’ve seen it before), and this article was very entertaining for me. As is this discussion.

  23. Cera on 23 May 2009, 04:51 said:

    As I remember, the Rings of Power were able to disguise themselves to people who were not consciously shown the Rings. That would explain why no one seemed to realize that Elrond had a Ring, and why Sam thought Galadriel’s Ring was just a star shining between her fingers, even though she was consciously showing it to the only other person present. And Saruman didn’t have a ring himself. Only other Ringbearers could see Rings without being shown.

    Totally different thought…wonder if the Nazgul could see Gandalf’s ring? Or if it was just the Elven Rings and the One Ring that could see each other without help?

  24. Leah on 23 June 2009, 10:04 said:

    I guess no one else has heard Tolkien’s reasoning for this then:

    The eagles didn’t want to.

  25. The Armourer on 6 July 2009, 14:00 said:

    The eagles didn’t want to.
    That Sums it up.
    :-) My first comment.

  26. whitelighter491 on 9 November 2009, 00:24 said:

    I agree with Artimaeus. Regardless of whether the Eagles plan would have worked, there was no safe way into Mordor by land either so I think it would have been brought up at the Council, especially since Gandalf had just told how he’d been rescued by the Eagle.
    I mean think about it, when Frodo got to the Black Gate, he was like “Ok, so how the **** am I supposed to get past that?” And it wasn’t clear whether Gandalf had had a plan for this or not. And Cirith Ungol nearly proved disastrous – they got through that by the skin of their teeth.
    Therefore, I’m afraid I have to call it a plot-hole.

  27. MegaHeroes16 on 14 July 2010, 17:06 said:

    I guess you might call this ‘Alternate Scene Thinking’. The outcome can always be different. That’s why there are Alternative universes. So, there is the possibility the eagle-thing might work or would absolutely fail as you said. Tolkien’s ‘version’ of LOTR is one of those ‘versions’ where the heroes have accomplished their goal; throwing the ring in the volcano.

  28. Deborah on 4 November 2010, 10:09 said:

    Also, remember that the eagles aren’t Taxi Service of Middle Earth. If the heroes have [i]absolutely[/i] no other way to go, that’s the time when they come. And they are at least as intelligent as humans and other races, and you can’t just call on them whenever it would be convenient.
    This always irritated me. BIG EAGLES IN THE SKY= NOT SUBTLE. And who’s to say that they wouldn’t succumb to the Ring’s temptations?

  29. swenson on 4 November 2010, 10:22 said:

    That’s a good point. The Hobbit makes it particularly, obviously, undeniably clear that the Eagles are perfectly intelligent creatures (Manwe’s Manwë‘s Eagles, if you’d like to know, which hints they could even be Maiar) who undoubtedly have no particular desire to be used, as Deborah says, as a taxi service. The odds of them even being able to get there in the first place is pretty low, because they’re GIANT EAGLES FLYING INTO MORDOR. The whole point of the Fellowship was that a small group could sneak into Mordor undetected, because otherwise they would all be killed. GIANT EAGLES FLYING INTO MORDOR would have a pretty hard time going undetected!

  30. Deborah on 28 July 2011, 17:20 said:

    Also, flying over the volcano would not work, because there would be too many fumes, and birds have very sensitive lungs.