The combined stories of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings create a saga of epic scale, where the smallest and most unassuming of people can surmount seemingly impossible odds and stand up against a power far bigger than themselves. It is beautiful and timeless.
Naturally, even the best of tales will have a few holes in the plot, and after several decades people must have found them all.
Unfortunately we also end up with stuff like this:
We’ve all experienced it. You’re discussing the movies with a group of friends and then someone, usually with a fairly smug expression, comes out with “why didn’t they fly the eagles to Mount Doom/Erebor?” and think themselves very clever because of it.
Let me tell you why they’re wrong.
Firstly, let’s look at it from a purely narrative perspective: Both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are all about the journey to their respective hills to do whatever with their respective macguffins, having all sorts of adventures on the way and meeting all sorts of interesting folk.
If Thorin and company had taken the eagles to Erebor then they would have never been to Mirkwood to experience the dubious hospitality of Thranduil, they would never have ridden the barrels, and they would never have been to Lake-Town and met Bard. Similarly, if the Fellowship had flown straight from Rivendell then there would be no visiting Rohan, no seeing the Ents, and no getting caught up in Gondor’s shenanigans.
If none of those things happened because they flew the damn eagles to wherever then the Hobbit would be a few chapters long and the Lord of the Rings would consist of just one volume. Kind of boring, no?
So that’s fair enough, but some people are still seeing it as a problem. Ok then, let’s explore it from a practical point of view:
The eagles are dirty great big birds
The whole point of the Fellowship being so small (instead of, say, an army) was to avoid attracting attention to where they didn’t want it.
You have to remember that Sauron wanted nothing more than to get his shiny back, so he put his spies everywhere. The Ringwraiths were out looking for the ring, humans were bribed, and even regular birds were being controlled for the hunt.
Imagine then, that you mount the company on a bunch of giant eagles that are seldom seen among the majority of Middle-Earth, and send them off on an important quest. That kind of thing would be easy to spot and it would be immediately obvious they are making a direct flight towards Mordor's airspace. With plenty of time to spare, orcs can be assembled to shoot them down and the Nazgûl can pull their fellbeasts out of their kennels to go hunting.
Sauron has the ring because you thought that plan would be a good idea. Happy now?
Well I’m not done yet. I still need to talk to you about this from an ethical perspective, and I don’t mean using hippy-ish animal rights arguments. I’m talking about trying to force a sentient, intelligent race of beings into a clearly dangerous scenario. I touched on this in a previous rant article about the Hobbit movies, so allow me to elaborate.
In a world of trolls, elves, and orcs, the eagles seem a little bit boring in comparison. They’re just birds but bigger, right? That’s a bit of a lazy design choice, isn't it?
These big birds were the creation of Manwë Súlimo, king of the Valar, who for those of you who don’t know, are essentially the gods of Middle-Earth.
Guess who else were creations of the Valar?
That’s right, the Great Eagles are already ranking higher on the scale of divine lineage than even any of the damn wizards or even mister evil-spikes himself, the Dark Lord Sauron
This, naturally, makes them more intelligent than most of the people on the internet and thus rather intolerant of humanity’s bullshit.
What the eagles do in the book of the Hobbit is explain (oh yes, they can talk) that they really, really hate orcs (who sometimes steal their eggs) and that, along with their king, Gwaihir the Windlord, owing Gandalf a favor, was the reason they rescued Thorin’s company. Now that the favor has been repaid, no they will not haul your pudgy Dwarven arses all of the way to Erebor.
Desire to mess with the orcs aside, the Eagles also mention that the men who live in the lands between their eyries and Erebor kind of get a teensy bit upset over innocent things such as stealing their livestock, so try to shoot the Eagles. Would you knowingly try to have someone go where people are looking to kill them?
Yes, you can say that the Eagles came to aid in the Battle of the Five Armies regardless of the threat of shootings, but you have to realize just how much they hate orcs. At that point the journey they had ceased to be a taxi service for a bunch of lazy shortstacks and became one of the best opportunities to really screw over their most bitter enemies.
Let’s move on to the Lord of the Rings, where the argument for a sentient race to get involved in world events is much more compelling. After all, isn’t Sauron planning to subjugate the entire world?
As far as the Eagles are concerned, it isn’t their problem. They have never had any use for the troubles of Men, and are quite content to sit in their nests and let the whole thing sort itself out. After all, what are those damn wizards for?
With that neat segue you may remember that it was an Eagle that rescued Gandalf from the top of Orthanc after Saruman’s betrayal, and from the peak of Celebdil after he defeated the Balrog, died, then got resurrected in order to finish his damn job. That sounds quite a lot like getting involved.
Kind of. When Gandalf needed some avian intervention for a second time, Gwaihir was already on his way over to see Saruman with a message from Radagast the Brown saying that Gollum had escaped from his prison in Mirkwood. Now it admittedly sounds like the King of the Eagles is being used as an errand boy, but remember both he and Radagast are creations of the Valar. It’s basically like asking your cousin for a super-important favor.
Thus, when Gwaihir saw Gandalf locked on the roof, he immediately recognized wizardly shenanigans, rather than a wacky Hangover-style mistake.
What about the third time Gandalf needed his sorry self rescued? This was after the Fellowship had been to Lothlorien and reported his apparent death, so Galadriel sent Gwaihir (man, Gandalf really owes the guy a lot of favors now) to find him and bring him back. Ok, so we can just about get our heads around the “cousin favor” thing but what about doing the bidding of an Elf?
What if that Elf was one of the most famous and powerful of the age? And what if she said your other cousin was lying butt-naked on a mountain and needed rescuing? Might do it then. She probably asked nicely, too.
Ok, so in that bit of ramble we established that the Eagles may be alright with doing favors for Elves. So why didn’t another famous Elf, Mr. Eyebrows himself, Elrond Half-Elven, ask them very nicely to take the ring to Mordor by themselves?
Because he’s not an idiot.
He didn’t even invite them to the meeting to discuss the fate of the ring, even after the success of rescuing Gandalf from Orthanc, because he knew full well that sending them would be suicide. As I mentioned earlier, they’re fairly easy to spot, and though they could probably take on a fellbeast in a fight, Sauron would have received enough advanced warning to cover Mt. Doom in archers.
Even if the Eagles made it to the mountain, they couldn’t just drop it in the caldera. To destroy the ring, they would need to enter the Crack of Doom and throw it into the fires from whence it was made. I doubt that a bird the size of a fighter jet could fit through the entrance.
This could be the end of the argument, but I have to address one more issue: the corrupting powers of the ring itself.
Throughout the books and the movies we are told just how tempting it is to use the power of the ring, and just how easy it is to corrupt. We see Smeagol become Gollum after killing his friend, Boromir almost betray the Fellowship for it, and Galadriel nearly succumbing to the desire to boot.
Even Frodo, supposedly the purest of heart, succumbs to its power at the last second and loses a finger for his trouble.
You may scoff and say “big deal, evil bird”, but as I mentioned, these birds are essentially Maiar (created by the Gods) and thus potentially quite powerful. Oh, guess who else was a Maia before they became corrupted?
Not to mention this guy:
Flying demigods with the power of the One Ring? Sounds great! Just what the world needs!
So after that little rant we can all agree that the Eagles are nobody's bitches and that's probably for the best.