"Avian carriers can provide high delay, low throughput, and low altitude service."
"...only guarantees best effort delivery, loss of a carrier can be tolerated."
"...storms can cause data loss."
"Audit trails are automatically generated, and can often be found on logs and cable trays."
And probably most important:
"Security is not generally a problem in normal operation, but special measures must be taken (such as data encryption) when avian carriers are used in a tactical environment."
The only encryption method available is for the bearer to wear the ring, and Sauron has already cracked the key.
Avian carriers are only appropriate when it is feasible to have "persistent delivery retry, until the carrier drops." They're ruled out for this mission simply because there are no second chances.
I think Mordor had some kind of anti-air defense (watch towers + crossbowmen)? Because if they didn't, it would be a persistent and major attack surface. And 40% of failure wasn't tolerable.
And after they separated, Frodo had no ways to summon eagles.
Moreover, maybe in the middle earth they see such occasions as a battle of strong wills, not firepower. A few heroes outwill a regular strike force. That's all what matters.
The whole point is not that the eagles plan would be foolproof -- just that it would be a hell of a lot smarter than the plan they chose. Hence, plot hole.
Even though the books were not published until after WW2, when aerial warfare became the new front of war, it seems that Tolkien's main experience in war was the hideous ground fighting in WWI, and he himself rebuffed attempts to find parallels to WW2 in the LOTR series.
So while the concept of aerial war was not unknown, it may not have been the dominant thinking in Tolkien's time. And so, the idea that something pivotal could be conducted by just flying in by night was just easy to overlook -- not as in, he didn't think about it at all, just that it wasn't really worth a serious mention. Yes, obviously Tolkien lived through the part of human history in which the A-Bomb was dropped (though the books were on their way to being written at that point). But he's someone with a boots-on-the-ground worldview staging his book in the fantasy world in which flight is often not naturally experienced by the protagonists.
On air power, he explained to me that in WW I airplanes had a great psychological impact, but little practical ones. You see this very clearly in the portrayal of the Nazgul in battle. Where ever you see the Nazgul go, there is great fear and despair. However the flying Nazgul don't actually kill many people or do much damage.
It is also worth noting that in WW I airplanes could only be used during the day, because at night the pilots got disoriented and would hit the ground.
Edit I was wrong about airplanes only being used during the day. They were used at night, albeit with major practical difficulties.
Night fighters were used during WW1 by the UK to defend against Zeppelin and Gotha heavy bomber attacks:
The issue is not that Tolkien didn't know of airplanes or of aerial warfare. But his most indelible memories of World War I was that of ground campaigns, and even though planes were used in WWI and reputations made (such as that of the Red Baron), they were by and large a fringe part of what comes to mind, at least compared to the introduction of mustard gas and machine guns.
The gap between knowing of something and experiencing something can be quite large. If you hired me to write a novel about conquering adversity through sport, I'd probably write something about basketball, a sport I don't really play but watch and keep tabs on on a regular basis. I would never to think to use soccer as a plot point, even though it's apparently the most popular sport in the world and it's not too hard for me to look up stories/information about soccer today. Sometimes you just go with what you know.
And keep in mind there's a decent lag between introduction of technology and the mainstreaming of technology. Before flight became an integral component of war, Tolkien and everyone else had seen and studied war exclusively through the mindset of land and naval warfare.
I threw that in because I knew that it wasn't until 1929 that Doolittle demonstrated instrument flying, that allowed safe flight in the dark, fog, etc.
But I guess that even at night, if conditions were right, you could fly a plane. And people did during WW I. Though the descriptions in http://www.century-of-flight.net/Aviation%20history/airplane... of the practical problems in landing when you didn't know how close the field was are somewhat harrowing.
Live and learn! Thanks.
- Dwarves + Bilbo + Gandalf stuck in burning trees with enemies around? The eagles to the rescue!
- How to wrap up the Battle of the 5 armies when all is lost? The eagles are coming!
- How to rescue Gandalf from Sauruman! The eagles!
- How to rescue Gandalf from the top of a mountain after an epic battle with a balrog? The eagles!
- How to rescue Frodo and Sam from a volcano blowing up? You guessed it! The eagles!
If you read The Silmarillion and other related works, eagles show up several more times in deus ex machinas in the Gondolin stories.
See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eagle_(Middle-earth) for more on eagles in his stories, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Eagle_and_Child for a possible explanation of Tolkien's fondness for eagles.
"Eagles are Manwe’s birds, and they play a much more interventioinst role in the earlier ages because the Valar played a more interevtionist role in earlier ages of ME. The Eagles thus effectively withdraw in the Third Age other than for the intervention at Orthanc and at Mount Doom, as the Valar themselves no longer directly intervene-using instead the Istari, who themselves have strict limtations placed on their powers"
(search for "deus ex")
I think Aristophanes also made fun of it, but I can't find that reference now.
The Greek name for "machina" is μηχανή. It was used for more than just solving knots in a plot. In a way it was one of the earliest "special effects."
I'm not sure what Clouds reference prospero means, but when Socrates first appears, up in a basket examining the heavens, he is probably on a μηχανή. I suspect this is a deliberate allusion to sophists acting like gods. (I think it's rare to find anyone but gods on a μηχανή.)
Wikipedia thinks that in Aristophanes' Thesmophoriazousae (aka Thesmo), Euripides enters a scene on a μηχανή in comic allusion to his frequently resorting to it to solve plot problems . I'm not sure what scene that is, but I'd encourage anyone to read this little-read play, in which Aristophanes stages Euripides trying to infiltrate a conclave of women upset that his plays show women in a bad light (e.g. Medea). During the play Euripides has to keep acting out scenes from his own plays. If you like Euripides, it's a pretty great read.
I didn't know about the latter example, though, thanks for tracking that all down.
> My question is not what fan-fiction we can add to the story to rule out the "eagles" plan; my question is what Tolkien has written which rules it out.
That being said, your thoughts about the Hobbits' stealthiness is agreeable, but again it's more of a matter of what can be proven by excerpts from the books, not what can be guessed/assumed.
Using other possibilities to refute a possibility goes against the spirit of the article, where the author looks for concrete facts that would render the plan implausible.
In the end, there's nothing I know of (or that the author could find) written in the books that disproves it as a possibility. It simply isn't addressed directly in the text, even where there was a prime opportunity to strike it down (Council of Elrond).
I agree that the use of eagles is an unanswered question, that might, to some, seem somewhat surprising that it was never mentioned.
My answer is that Tolkien made the artistic choice to speak of the powers of both Sauron and the Ring in poetic terms only. The last thing he wanted to do is delve into details about Sauron's Anti-craft Aircraft potential when shooting at eagles from throne of Barad-dur, even in a passing comment. He worked very hard to shield our eyes from such details.
Fan fiction is creative writing, more or less by definition: inventing new details is fine unless they conflict with the original story (or even if they do). The author of this article is very explicitly trying to avoid "making up" an answer: he's searching for evidence only within the original story that could constrain the answer to a question relevant to that story. They're both games for fans to play, but at least to my eye the two are worlds apart.
The attitude adopted by much of the r.a.b.t community was a deliberate echo of Tolkien's own: we treated Middle-earth as an independent "sub-created" world (to use Tolkien's term from "On Fairy Stories") which ought to have "the inner consistency of reality". In such a vast imagined history, there are obviously huge gaps in our knowledge where Tolkien never told us what happened or why. But in a few rare cases when those gaps are closely connected with the story that Tolkien did tell, we can make a strong case for a unique consistent way to fill the gap (or at least a "very likely" answer).
One of my favorite examples of this was a longrunning collection of debates related to the blades that the hobbits got from the Barrow Downs and their effects on the Nazgul. I won't say we reached consensus, but after years of related discussions quite a few of us had reached the conclusion that those weapons had some sort of enchantment making them especially dangerous and frightening to the Ringwraiths. And then, unexpectedly, a previously unpublished excerpt from one of Tolkien's essays was quoted in Hammond and Scull's Reader's Companion that explicitly confirmed our conclusion (and much of the related evidence that we had gathered). It felt for all the world as if a scientific theory that I had helped develop had just been confirmed by experiment.
It's that sort of thing that encourages me to think that we were one step more rigorous than fan fiction. [And shameless plug: I still maintain the newsgroups' FAQ site. It doesn't say much about the Eagles question, but here's the full story on the barrow blades that I mentioned: http://tolkien.slimy.com/faq/History.html#BarrowBlades ]
"What about a catapult?" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_gsgGzdEtDw
It seems reasonable to assume that the hobbit plan is more stealth than the giant eagle flying into Mordor plan and point 12 Sauron is an evil Maia with a giant evil domain seems to be the reason why you wouldn't try anything directly especially when he is not distracted.
Also the eagles are not directly under the control of anyone except Manwe, no time in the Silmarillion or the other books does one just say "maybe we should take eagles instead of walking". So the reason they are not brought up as an option is because they simply do not have eagles under their command. Otherwise the same logic can be leveled against every difficult journey in the Silmarillion/hobbit/lotr, e.g. "why didn't they just take eagles".
I can see the conversation being a little bit more like this:
Gandalf: we could ask the eagles if they willing to help us out on this one, maybe Manwe is cool with it now.
Elrond: Sauron will likely see them coming at the least when they enter Mordor.
Gandalf: Maybe he has nothing to stop Eagle's, come on let's take a chance.
Sam: Come on worth a shot look at these flight plans I drew up, will save walking and we will be back in the shire before supper time.
Elrond: No damnit.
Eagle plan is pretty good but I don't see it as being too inconsistent with the world as the article does, e.g. why didn't Manwe just use eagles every time something hard happened in the entire history. The extent of powers of the Maia and Valar are never explained explicitly why should they be for Sauron.
This is the exact argument the article is arguing against. You can only make assumptions based on what is known in the story. The author makes many valid arguments on why Sauron more than likely would not see it coming if it were to happen this way.
>quite possible he would be able to conjure up something
Its quite possible he wouldn't know. Its quite possible .. for anything to happen when you make random assumptions.
We know that Sauron is unequaled in power among the Maia. We know that Sauron built mountain ranges. We know that Saruman easily overcame Gandalf. We know that Gandalf has powers that allowed him to overcome a Balrog.
Tolkien has made the artistic choice to shield our eyes from overt magical power. It is the nature Middle Earth that great magical power is a very real thing. The lack of clear evidence of the exact limits of magic is because Tolkien really did not want to discuss it, and that is not a good argument for simplistic assumptions.
Assuming the non-existence of great magical power in the hands of Sauron is just foolishness. It boils down to whether a guess about the limits of Sauron's power is more believeable than a guess about the potential extent.
I would further note that the Council of Elrond may have no firm knowledge either. In the end, they guess that secrecy is the best hope.
then he should of knew of their plan too. Is it really secret if there is no limit to his power.
As I said, it boils down to guesses about the limits of Sauron's power. Reasonable people can disagree about the best guess. Unreasonable people pretend their guesses are not guesses.
That it is, to some degree, possible to evade Sauron's efforts by means of secrecy was a proven fact, or the Ringbearer would not have been alive to attend Council of Elrond at all.
The guess that someone who can create mountain ranges cannot swat an eagle floating by in plain sight, right in front of his seat of power, is not an obviously correct one.
Similarly, the use of magic is very unclear in Tolkien, but who's to say Sauron can't do something against a flying target himself if it makes a beeline for Mt Doom?
Are you implying that all plans by committee are doomed to failure? :)
The whole ring story is just an imperialist narrative constructed to justify preemptive warfare on the "lesser" races of Mordor by the military-industrial complex in Gondor. Gandalf knows the ring is powerless; it's merely symbolic. After he becomes a Grand Wizard-- sorry, White Wizard, Gandalf feels ready to lead the war on the inferior races who speak the "black speech."
Chomsky already explained all this:
[spoiler alert just in case]
The one I like the most is the topic of why Frodo fails. When Frodo reaches Mt Doom he finally loses himself to the power of the ring and proclaims himself its master. This is both a product of his character growth and his proximity to Sauron. In the words of Tolkien:
> If you re-read all the passages dealing with Frodo and the Ring, I think you will see that not only was it quite impossible for him to surrender the Ring, in act or will, especially at its point of maximum power, but that this failure was adumbrated from far back.
In the books Gollum falls into the volcano almost by chance, as if there was an invisible (rethorical) hand pushing him. In the movies Jackson just had to add the literal cliffhanger because it's Hollywood. But Gollums fall in the light of Frodo's failure expresses Tolkien's philosophy:
> There exists the possibility of being placed in positions beyond one’s power. In which case (as I believe) salvation from ruin will depend on something apparently unconnected: the general sanctity (and humility and mercy) of the sacrificial person. I did not “arrange” the deliverance in this case: it again follows the logic of the story. (Gollum had had his chance of repentance, and of returning generosity with love; and had fallen off the knife-edge).
You can read Tolkiens letters on the topic here: http://www.sheilaomalley.com/?p=334. I think there's a published book with all his letters to readers.
I don't recall much of the letters now, but they did leave a lasting impression of a mind that was both powerful and deeply concerned with ethical questions. I'm not sure I'd have liked Tolkien, but the letters were a great read.
If crows can be sent into the world to hunt for the ringbearer they can certainly patrol the skies around Mordor. Crows spy the eagles entering Mordor and forces are dispatched to counter them.
I'm surprised the crows didn't spot Frodo as he approached Mordor. It's reasonable to assume they were covering more ground away from Mordor already though.
As a Crow your job is to watch the skies and make sure nothing untoward comes in that way.
It seems incredibly unlikely to me that Sauron is going to protect the borders of Mordor so well and then ignore the sky, especially when he has the perfect agents, the Crows, for the job.
It is even easier to locate object in the air from the air.
So effectively to piggy-back on your suggestion crows in the air would be able to see other avian creatures and report on their location faster than they could spot 2 creatures sneaking through the undergrowth.
In which case speed would no longer be very beneficial because aware of the threat (birds being greater than 2 unseen hobbits), you could then mount an attack on the birds.
When balancing stealth and speed I think you can make a strong argument that stealth in this case would be much more important.
Of course this is assuming you are looking for the birds... most land creatures just don't look up very often.
Or Sauron could still think that it's Aragorn trying to be a hero and killing him in face-to-face.
"After Frodo and Sam entered Mordor thru Cirith Ungol, Sauron had fully ten days to contemplate the purpose of their mission into Mordor, and did not realize that their plan was to destroy the Ring until the last moment. Given that the Mouth of Sauron refers to the intruders as "spies", Sauron's most likely thought would be that the eagles are merely flying over his realm for reconnaisance purposes. Thus, even if Sauron notices the eagles, his response would not necessarily be an appropriate one to prevent the Ring from being destroyed (such as having the Nazgûl fly directly to Mt. Doom to intercept the eagles)."
A giant eagle patrolling your skies is the complete opposite, it can see everything, all your forces, where they're going, what they're doing and it can get that information back out again quickly while it's still relevant.
So if you have the Nazgul, why wouldn't you send them after such a powerful creature the moment it enters your territory?
Not even patrolling. Aimed full speed at Mt Doom in a straight line (according to the proposed map and speed vs stealth hypothesis). It would be reasonable they could be spotted early on, and suddenly the question Sauron has to answer is: "What could a small, fast air force sent directly towards Mt Doom be up to?", to which the answer is obvious. This would make him likely to set up something (interception, barrage...) sufficiently likely to jeopardise the mission. The fact that it is not discussed as a strategy is a much better argument as to why it's a plot hole than any technical point. Still, at that time it is not known what kind of forces stand in Mordor. Besides, the protagonists may not be seeing the task as being so urgent at it looks towards the very end. This makes a prudent approach more reasonable than an all-in decision.
My very personal hunch is that the hobbits (incl. Gollum) are supposed to do this completely by themselves. Many times Gandalf is asked if things will succeed, and many times he worries about their situation and merely hopes they fare well. Still, he refuses to leverage any form of magical or network power to gather any intel — however remote so as not to disclose their location — regarding their progress and simply waits for something to happen. As a plot device, he basically delegates this to Gollum which stands as the guide towards Mt Doom and the Evil that Frodon has to stand against, hence making him stay on the Good side. It is likely that without Gollum, however short the timing (e.g in a supposed fast-flight), Frodon would succumb to the ring.
Sauron is worried that Saruman or Gandalf or Galadriel or Elrond or Aragorn could successfully command the full powers of the Ring, gather together the might of Men, and beat him down to nothingness, so that he must suffer another 3000 years of powerlessness before trying again.
Sauron may suspect that another could not do as much. But how could he know with certainty? He only has fifth hand reports of Isildur's tenure as the bearer of the Ring. The Ring was intended as a powerful tool for Sauron himself -- its nature in the hands of others may be as much a mystery to Sauron as anyone else.
The approach of the Ring is thus the approach of an adversary, using Sauron's own power against him. Sauron was probably wondering why Aragorn didn't brandish the Ring the moment he arrived at the Black Gate to challenge him.
The second way to see this is a physics metaphor. In this case we model the Ring's action as a spring pushing away from Orodruin. Frodo uses his will to compress the spring. Each step he takes requires work. Frodo can only expend energy at a more-or-less fixed rate (which is nicely called will power, and captures the same notion of work-over-time), so, as expected, his progress toward Mt. Doom slows considerably as the opposing force increases. (I would add that consuming nothing but lembas made the final leg of the trip even possible).
So, an eagle ride would have either a) resulted in Frodo overdose, or b) forced Frodo's mind to exceed it's capacity for work, snapping it and either killing him or letting the Ring take over.
I would say the article more then discusses the fact that it's a function of distance AND time.
The most convincing evidence is indeed that discussion of the Eagles was omitted at the Council of Elrond, when numerous other potential courses of action were mooted, some much less plausible.
It is akin to Tom Bombadil's unwillingness to keep the ring and/or defend Middle Earth: in some sense, it is not their problem (as in NMP).
So: they could have done the job but they probably would not have gone to the meetings or accept it because they are above that issue.
Works for me. Humanoids riding on the backs of the eagles would be entirely at their mercy. If Gwaihir were tempted, he could seal the doom of the ringbearer in an instant and claim the ring for himself. The only being capable of destroying the one ring would be a humble creature. As it turns out, even Frodo wasn't humble enough, and the simplicity and purity of an insane idiot was required to get the job done, and by sheer accident at that.
EDIT: Also, the reason why Samwise could carry Frodo, is because there's a very strong bond between the two, and because Sam is even humbler than Frodo. The effect of the ring seems to be inversely proportional to the military/mystical power of the being carrying it.
Gandalf's "Summon Eagles" spell has a very long cooldown, many decades in length. It was still on cooldown from his use in the Hobbit.
The One Ring melting resets all cooldowns, so he decided to use it to pick the hobbits up for a return ride.
This suggests a far better option: Sauron could have cooled down mount doom, and then when the eagles arrived there would be nothing they could do to destroy the ring. Meanwhile a massive army from all over Mordor would be building up around them, and the Nazgul would be on their way to capture the ring before they could get out of Mordor. Of course this does not counter the argument that the option was not even discussed.
My point is that the value of LOTR is not the plot. It's the themes and characters, which the plot exists (with all its holes) to serve.
This isn't set in our world. It's closer to the world of Beowulf, the Eddas, or the Grimm brothers.
Wait, why is that a plot-hole...? Tom Bombadil is explicitly "different" than everything else, outside the normal world, time, moving along a different path, etc. The ring's lack of power over him was shown to help illustrate that.
[I thought Tom Bombadil was one of the most interesting characters in LotR... a shame he shows up so little. Although maybe if he played a bigger part, it would have diminished the sense of something greater and more mysterious, briefly glimpsed, which I guess is much of his appeal...]
If you want another imaginary theory, perhaps it would have been too much to ask the eagles to do, too much risk.
In the same way, the fact that we're even having this debate is a testament to the staying power of these tales and this world he has created.
This is why, as a Tolkien fan, I don't get offended at all by this essay. I'm just happy to hear people, in the year two thousand and thirteen, debating this matter still.
It's funny to think that we'd never have this conversation if there had been a line like, "for Sauron can sense the great power of the eagles as they approach Mordor." The fact that fans long for "canonical" answers when there are none is a testament to great writing.
Agree totally that it is a very great piece of writing.
This happens in a good number of movies such as Clash of the Titans where they journey to get the medusa's head, but return on flying pegasus. This also happens in Dungeons & Dragons (2000).
Morale : Do not add flying mounts to your scenario, or have your characters fly all the time, otherwise it makes no sense
Of course, you can't expect Hollywood to not somehow totally fuck up even a 3000 year old story, it's kinda what they do.
1) Flying Nazguls, first and most obvious - and Sauron would know they are coming, being unoccupied with war with Gondor.
2) By skipping Rohan and successively Gondor, Aragorn never becomes a king, kingdom of humans still most likely falls.
3) Nobody solves the Saruman threat, so in the meantime he becomes more and more powerful - probably crafts his own ring or in any case gets so much power he is unstoppable, even if The One Ring is destroyed. Films don't mention this, but in the book he escaped Orthank(and wasn't shot by Legolas like in the film) and took over Shire which he ruled for quite a while - he still had lots of magical power,even after destruction of the Ring. Remember that he was like demigod.
4) Boromir never dies, so he would probably succumb to the power of the ring eventually and took it from Frodo if this plan was not implemented very very quickly, which is unlikely.
In any case, it shows how brilliant Tolkien was.
Furthermore, I believe it is only included in the extended edition of The Two Towers (but I could be wrong on that point).
And that vision Sam sees in Galardiela's mirror is actually true - in the book, Shire WAS burning in the end, because Saruman almost destroyed it.
You're right if you s/The Two Towers/Return of the King/
12. "Sauron is a powerful Maia, and it's reasonable to
assume that he has powers which we aren't told about
which he could use against the eagles."
In my opinion, there is no plot hole if there is no contradiction in terms the story has presented.
If it is possible for the author to come back and add in a line about why "such and such" wouldn't work, without introducing a contradiction somewhere else in the story, then it is not a plot hole.
He did not even trust himself with the ring. The ring corrupting a powerful being would be far more devastating than the corruption of a hobbit or man so perhaps he thought that the less involved such beings were in the actual destruction the better.
It's a pity Tolkien isn't around because he must have thought that the reason was trivial enough not to warrant an explanation.
Basically the issue was that the person playing as Sauron's forces only had to entrench around Mt. Doom instead of wasting time going out and trying to locate the ring-bearer. The only way for the ring-bearer team to win, was to get to Mt. Doom, so Sauron knew where he was eventually going to be. It didn't matter were he happened to be at any one time.
High-profile entry is dismissed as impractical/unlikely/impossible. Sauron has, without doubt, considered and mitigated the obvious - including, we may presume, the obvious threats of Eagles entering for various purposes. Considering various obvious options for a few days will surely be inadequate against someone of immense power having considered defenses against assault for centuries. (Akin to my problem with people who think, with a mere few minutes of untrained thought, they can outwit teams of experienced professionals operating on near-unlimited budgets.) Just because a sold reason for "it can't happen" can't be imagined in a short time doesn't mean there isn't a reason. The defending force has capabilities beyond what is known (even to omniscient readers), the risk of failing to discern and mitigate a flaw in the plan is substantial, and the cost of failure is extreme. A flying attack (which taking The Ring to Mt Doom in effect is) is just too obvious for Sauron to have not considered and prepared against.
Frodo is chosen precisely because he is as low-profile as possible: a nobody, barely 3 feet high, moving at a paltry pace, not strong enough to wield the ring.
"Well, we can't think of a good reason not to, so let's do it" is not a winning strategy. If you can't qualify & quantify the risk, you don't take it. They could evaluate the risks with Frodo, and chose to engage in asymmetric warfare.
> riddled with fire and ash and dust, the very air you breathe is a poisonous fume
As carbon monoxide is lighter than air, orcs and other creatures on the ground are less affected and probably more adapted to the poisonous atmosphere of Mordor; whereas the eagles flying high and accustomed to the clean air of Middle Earth would simply succumb to the prolonged exposure to CO. Of course, the destruction of Mt. Doom and subsequent paralysis of Sauron's military capabilities allow the eagles to fly in at much lower altitudes in the end.
Yes, but distance from chimney and lower atmospheric pressure on high altitude matters too:
> it is simply a hole in the plot of an otherwise excellent book that the issue is never brought up. This is not to say that LoTR is in any way a bad book
In a small way, it does say that.
> When Sam carries Frodo on his back, he is surprised that Frodo is unexpectedly light: "...he had expected to share in the dreadful dragging weight of the accursed Ring. But it was not so." (III, 268). At least with regard to weight, the Ring affects the Ringbearer much more than the one carrying the Ringbearer. It is not unreasonable to speculate that this is true not only of mere weight, but also of the degree to which the Ring affects the will.
Isn't Sam basically immune to the ring anyway? He's not necessarily a good canary for this test.
> If the eagles had carried Frodo in, he would not have had time to build up the strength of will to destroy the ring.
Frodo didn't have the strength of will to destroy the ring. A steelman objection would be "...the council would have expected that Frodo would not have time to build up...", but the council could use roughly the same reasoning as this article to dismiss it.
Nope. When he put the Ring on, it gave him what he desired: being a mighty hero with a sharp sword and booming voice.
Frodo bent under the burden because he had to fight his desire constantly. It wasn't the Ring poisoning him, not directly. It was his refusal of putting the Ring on that did.
If the eagles had flown him, none of those factors would be at play. Frodo could have still had the strength to overcome the ring's power and throw it into the fires.
My understanding has always been that Gandalf alone understood this and necessarily was hushed about it or otherwise it would have totally destroyed morale. He let others believe it was possible to willfully destroy the ring when in fact it was not.
Gandalf was said to be the wisest of all of the Maiar. So if he had a feeling that Gollum would have a role to play, it was probably worthwhile allowing Gollum to play that role. I have no doubt that Gandalf knew that Frodo would falter at the end.
I guess it comes down to the following factors that might have an effect on ring-resistance:
- strength of character/will
- strength of body
- proximity to Sauron
As it is, the story makes no sense unless one assumes that Gandalf simply figured all this out and said nothing (after all Frodo's disappearance after Boromir's lapse rendered the plan obsolete, and Gandalf wasn't there anyway). Again, if such a plan existed, there's no evidence Gandalf confided it to Aragorn. Indeed, a simple hurried exchange between Gandalf and Aragorn before Gandalf confronts the balrog could have foreshadowed the eagles and solved LOTR's biggest plot hole.
Like, you could have the Army move a box of stuff for you, and tell the army, but still have none of the soldiers know what's in the box.
Also, the Eagles didn't fly into Mordor until after the Ring had been destroyed, which means the Nazgul wouldn't have been a factor anymore.
The article's conjecture that Eagles could fly undetected over the Ered Lithui grossly underestimates the effectiveness of even a moderately skilled wilderness scout, which I must assume Sauron would have many.
I'm not sure if Tolkien had all this in mind, but considering that Tolkien fought in WWI, which was the first war where air power started to come into its own, I wouldn't be surprised if he took some of this into account.
I.e. it can be seen as a way to preserve the potential for choice between good and evil. Open and obvious involvement of the divine diminishes such potential, so it happens only when really necessary.
Now, for a truly interesting question, how was it that the First Foundation was completely unable to figure out that the Second Foundation's home was on Trantor -- because no one on Terminus was able to recall the phrase, "All roads lead to Trantor, and that is where all stars end."?
In my mind I thought that any direct approach (flying eagles) would get spotted by Sauron instantly and he could bring his power to bear on them directly
I am surprised that this argument comes up as often as it does, because I am aware of no textual support for this idea. The eagles quite frequently involve themselves in the fight against Sauron (or against evil in general):
They rescue Bilbo, Thorin, & Co. from the orcs and wolves.
They participate in the Battle of Five Armies.
They rescue Gandalf from Orthanc.
They rescue Gandalf again from Zirak-Zigil.
They directly attack the flying Nazgûl during the last battle.
They fly into Mordor to rescue Frodo and Sam.
The only support I can see for this argument is very indirect: namely, that the eagles are said to be the representatives of Manwë, and in the Third Age, Manwë is maintaining a policy of the Valar not intervening directly in the affairs of Middle-Earth. But the eagles do often intervene in the struggles of Middle-Earth, and there's no indication that they were under some restriction in this case. If the eagles were prohibited from being involved directly in the struggle against Sauron, we might expect that they would have withdrawn to Valinor long ago rather than remain in Middle-Earth.
This is the actual reason, but there is more evidence to support it than the OP gives, but like most things Tolkien, you need to read outside the usual narrative to find it. The best explanation for this is how the rules of Manwe govern the wizards, particularly Gandalf:
Emissaries they were from Lords of the West, the Valar, who still took counsel for the governance of Middle-earth, and when the shadow of Sauron began first to stir again took this means of resisting him. For with the consent of Eru they sent members of their own high order, but clad in bodies of as of Men, real and not feigned, but subject to the fears and pains and weariness of earth, able to hunger and thirst and be slain; though because of their noble spirits they did not die, and aged only by the cares and labours of many long years. And this the Valar did, desiring to amend the errors of old, especially that they had attempted to guard and seclude the Eldar by their own might and glory fully revealed; whereas now their emissaries were forbidden to reveal themselves in forms of majesty, or to seek to rule the wills of Men and Elves by open display of power, but coming in shapes weak and humble were bidden to advise and persuade Men and Elves to good, and to seek to unite in love and understanding all those whom Sauron, should he come again, would endeavour to dominate and corrupt. Unfinished Tales, Ballantine paperback, p. 406.
The Valar are allowed to send the the wizards to Middle Earth with the consent of Eru, with constraints on what the wizards are allowed to do. This implies that Eru, the overarching God of Tolkien's universe, has a plan for events in Middle Earth, and that he doesn't want the higher powers (the Valar) to interfere directly.
The eagles are also servants of the Valar, and are not permitted to directly interfere with events. Discounting the events of The Hobbit, the eagles only show up to help when everyone has already made the right decision informed by faith and hope. When the eagle finds Gandalf on Zirak-Zigil, he had just sacrificed himself to defeat the balrog and he had been returned to Middle Earth (clear Deus ex Machina there too). When they attack the Nazgul in the last battle, it was after Aragorn and the other leaders had committed their armies to a "hopeless" last stand. When they flew into Mordor to rescue Frodo and Sam, it was after they had finished the quest.
There are multiple times where the intervention of Eru in the events of Middle Earth are implied. Gandalf hints that Bilbo was meant to find the ring. Gollum steals the ring and falls into the fire. A wind out of the West blows away the smoke cloud that appears when Barad-Dur crumbles (and the smaller smoke cloud that appears when Saruman is killed). So the prohibition against direct Valar action in Middle Earth is no small thing.
Would it have been nice if the eagles were discussed more in the book? Probably, but it was pretty long already.
If you are interested in this sort of stuff, I recommend listening to the Tolkien Professor podcast.
Backs away slowly...
I recommend basically all the 'How It Should Have Ended' videos.
Frodo and Sam and Gollum are able to sneak in on the ground. If they were flying in on an Eagle it would be obvious and easily spotted and instead of sneaking into Mt Doom you'd be having a battle on the steps of Mt Doom with only the eagles + whomever they could carry vs. all the forces of Mordor.
Anyone who brings this up as a serious flaw in LotR is being silly. The novel has flaws (and yes all 6 books are one novel) but failing to use the eagles is not one of them.
He brings up the idea that they'd be spotted and doesn't have a good response to it, he's basically just dismissive of it. "Oh well Sauron wouldn't be able to react in time." Ridiculous.