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Could the eagles have flown Frodo into Mordor? (2000) (sean-crist.com)
316 points by dbbolton on Mar 7, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 206 comments

One merely has to refer to RFC 1149[1] to determine why this solution is obviously unacceptable:

"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.

[1] http://www.ietf.org/rfc/rfc1149.txt

To be fair, it's not like the ground method had much room for second chances, either.

That's because they separated. It didn't go as planned. If they would enter Mordor as a group they had better chance perhaps?

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.

But is it fitting to apply the findings of trials with real world birds to the sapient Middle-earth eagles?

Are we to believe that these are some sort of magic eagles to which the laws of physics do not apply?

Sentience adds significant value (like far better risk avoidance than instinct can provide) with no magic involved.

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.

I wonder how much of the thematic blindspot had to do with the technology of the day? The books were reportedly started on soon after The Hobbit (1939ish), before flight was the dominant theater for war.

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.

Air power played a prominent role in WW1, with aerial duels frequently making headlines and German airplanes bombing London [1]. Furthermore, in the inter-war period British society was obsessed with the seemingly unstoppable power of flight [2], a concern well substantiated by the Spanish Civil War [3]. Tolkien would have been keenly aware of all this by 1939.

[1] http://www.firstworldwar.com/airwar/bombers_gotha_giant.htm

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_bomber_will_always_get_thro...

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bombing_of_Guernica#Media_repor...

An older brother of mine did a master's thesis on Tolkien. One thing he studied in particular is the role that Tolkien's wartime experiences had on his portrayal in the Lord of the Rings.

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.

"in WW I airplanes could only be used during the day"

Night fighters were used during WW1 by the UK to defend against Zeppelin and Gotha heavy bomber attacks:


Yes but (ugh, sorry for the cliche) you're missing the forest for the trees.

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.

You sure you replied to the right comment? I was merely disagreeing with the assertion by btilly that airplanes were only used during the day in WW1. :-)

Wow, you're right.

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.

>I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, >and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough >to detect its presence. I much prefer history – true or >feigned– with its varied applicability to the thought and >experience of readers. I think that many confuse >applicability with allegory, but the one resides in the >freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed >domination of the author. - Tolkien

That's as may be, but he was still a product of his environment. Whether there was an intended link or no, the influences of his past experiences cannot be easily dismissed, even if they were not consciously intended.

His son Christopher served in the Royal Air Force in the early 1940s. It also seems unlikely JRRT would overlook the importance of air power as the Luftwaffe bombed the British Isles while he worked on the books during the war.

JRRT, in fact, loathed airplanes and forbade his son from flying in one. Numerous quotations on the horrors of modern technology (airplanes foremost among them) can be found in his letters to Christopher.

It's worth noting that aerial battle does occur in Tolkien's work. In the Silmarillion, Earendil the mariner sails on his flying ship to Middle-earth during the War of Wrath, and helps the Valar and eagles defeat Ancalagon, Morgoth's flying dragon.

I'm not convinced. WWI was the debut of wartime aircraft, and he would have been well aware of the role airplanes had in shifting the power of that war. They were mainly used for reconnaissance and some light bombing, but it was widely publicized at the time.

I agree, but I'm not saying that he was unaware or mostly unaware...I'm just saying that his lack of personal experience with the pivotal role of flight (compared to his real experience in ground campaigns in WWI) combined with the relative rarity of flight in the LOTR, might have made it an avenue too exotic in his mindset to be even worth exploring in his fictional universe, even as just a throwaway idea (such as the suggestion of, "Lets just give it to Tom Bombadil"). Flight was often used as an element of escape or last minute intervention, not as a major plot device.

Tolkien used the eagles as his standard deus ex machina.

- 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.

From Unfinished Tales-The Istari:

"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"

And that is a good thematic reason to not use eagles to resolve the challenge of Sauron!

This counterpoint has a counter-counterpoint in the article.

Yes, the "theme be damned, it should be written the way I want" point. Or, the "why I do not read modern fantasy" point.

Somewhat curiously, the "deus ex machina," usually referred to as cheap trick in contemporary commentary on literature/theatre/film, was an expected and appropriate resolution in classical theatre. One might find in Fortinbras Shakespeare's own descending god, although he presides over a funeral rather than a positive resolution (the preferred outcome of virtually all American theatre).

Actually Aristotle criticized using the "machina" (one of several instruments used in Greek theater) to resolve a plot difficulty:


(search for "deus ex")

I think Aristophanes also made fun of it, but I can't find that reference now.

As long as I'm getting upvotes for Classics stuff on Hacker News...:

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 [1]. 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.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deus_ex_machina

That was what I was referencing, I was just on a phone at the time and didn't have the time or will to write it all out.

I didn't know about the latter example, though, thanks for tracking that all down.

You might look in The Clouds.

You are totally right but, because I love Tolkien, I'm down-voting you. It's unfair but it has to be done. Sorry.

Ironically, it is also totally right that I get downvoted for downvoting you, too. Sigh. What we do for love.

This isn't a coherent point...even if it were relevant, which "side" does your love support more?

As the article points out, it's a question of stealth versus speed, but speed is not necessarily preferable. The powers of Sauron, especially deep within his own domain, are indeed unknown. With even an hour to react, it is quite possible he would be able to conjure up something that would end up in the whole endeavor delivering the ring to him, instead of destroying it. On the other hand, the stealthiness of hobbits is well familiar to Gandalf from his previous experience with having Bilbo as a "burglar", and there are various things that the allied forces can do to further distract Sauron's attention. The power of the eagles is also something that Sauron knows and fears, and that he probably took precautions against; whereas hobbits are creatures that he most likely underestimates.

I agree, but the author's note about the Council of Elrond is extremely convincing. If Tolkien wanted to strike this plan as a possibility, he could easily have added 1-2 lines into the Council talks where they discuss (and refute) every plan they can think of. In the end there's nothing concrete in Tolkien's work that refutes the 'eagle plan' as viable. Suggesting fan-fiction and/or 'the unknown' as proof that it's not possible isn't in the spirit of the article, per this section:

> 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.

I would venture that there were many possible alternate decisions at various points in the plot, and discussing all of them thoroughly was not necessarily a literary enhancement. The "eagles plan" itself is fan fiction, and refusing to accept more "fan fiction" in response to it is a bit disingenuous.

It's more of a plot hole than fan-fiction. The article is an exhaustive look at provable (written) arguments that can refute the eagles as a possibile solution to the Mordor trip. The author is trying to prove that the plot hole is, in fact, a plot hole by nature of it being plausible.

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 do not agree that it is a plot hole, unless every possibly important unanswered question qualifies as a plot hole.

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 fills up spaces that were not covered in the original story. The pros and cons of airborne travel into Mordor are one of those spaces. The author of the article is just as entitled to speculate on this point as anyone who responds to him.

To be a bit more succinct than my previous reply, I think there is a legitimate distinction between "making up content to fill up spaces not covered in the original story" (i.e. fan fiction) and "reasoning out as much as you reliably can about what filled up those spaces, and no more".

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.

Except the evidence in the original story is clearly insufficient, and absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. We know nothing of Sauron's capabilities to detect and confront airborne intrusion into Mordor or about Gandalf's assessment of these capabilities. Assuming Sauron could not see or bring down the eagles and that Gandalf was aware of this fact is, from this point of view, adding new elements to the story and therefore fan fiction.

It may simply not have been addressed because it was obvious to anyone present that it was an infeasible plan.

I understand the point you're making here, and I've certainly seen plenty of "fan fiction" theories taken far too seriously in discussions of Tolkien. But for my own pride's sake, I would attempt to draw a distinction between those "fan theories" and the sort of analysis that we used to do on the Tolkien Usenet newsgroups (including rec.arts.books.tolkien, which inspired this article: I was involved in conversations with the article's author on this topic back in the '90s).

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 ]

Filling gaps is a perfectly fine exercise, and can even lead to consensus when the gap is small and you take years of discussion to fill it. The question of Sauron's anti-air detection and defense capabilities within Mordor, and of the Council of Elrond's confidence in assessing these capabilities, is much larger, vaguer and conducive to controversies. Not to mention that the character most likely to propose using the eagles (Gandalf) was also the most aware of any possible impediments (e.g. Sauron being able to conjure storms and blinding lights at a moment's notice etc.).

Interesting. Here's the FAQ response to the eagle question: http://tolkien.slimy.com/faq/History.html#Eagles

If Tolkien wanted to strike this plan as a possibility, he could easily have added 1-2 lines into the Council talks where they discuss (and refute) every plan they can think of

"What about a catapult?" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_gsgGzdEtDw

I agree with this comment the plan has always been about stealth rather than speed or force. It's an ongoing theme in the book that Sauron is too powerful to assail directly. Sending a Hobbit on eagle back into Mordor seems to fall into the direct category despite how fast they may be and how easy it may be for them to initially get into Mordor.

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.

> it is quite possible he would be able to conjure up something that would end up in the whole endeavor delivering the ring to him, instead of destroying it.

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.

Both the pro- and anti-eagle arguments make assumptions. The pro-eagle argument is built on assumptions about the limits of power.

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.

>Assuming the non-existence of great magical power in the hands of Sauron is just foolishness.

then he should of knew of their plan too. Is it really secret if there is no limit to his power.

Straw man.

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.

Again go back and read the article as the author give many plausible reasonings as to why Sauron wouldn't detect the eagles.

Sauron also had flying troops of his own, so it would be a risky proposition to present for a battle that way.

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?

Is there really a plan, though? I mean the 'Eagle Plan' seems much more viable than the 'Fellowship Plan'. The fellowship was so bad it even included a couple humans who were pre-disposed to the rings affects and, as such, didn't last too long.

The 'Fellowship Plan' was designed by committee, parties with vested interests, etc., what other outcome could be expected?

what other outcome could be expected?

Are you implying that all plans by committee are doomed to failure? :)

Indeed. Gandalf was more interested in guaranteeing the supply of "pipe-weed," an addictive drug transported and sold throughout Middle Earth for great profit. Gandalf is smoking it constantly.

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: http://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/unused-audio-commentary-b...

"How do you think these wizards build gigantic towers and mighty fortresses? Where do they get the money? Keep in mind that I do not especially regard anyone, Saruman included, as an agent for progressivism. But obviously the pipe-weed operation that exists is the dominant influence in Middle Earth. It’s not some ludicrous magical ring."


I would also like to postulate the element of surprise. Sauron would never expect a weak, feeble creature like a Hobbit to be an adversary. But mostly I agree with your points.

Didn't Sauron know that the ring bearer was a hobbit?

Yes he did. Gollum told him so. That's how Sauron knew to look for the Ring in the Shire. After the Shire, almost all of Sauron's forces knew to look for Hobbits and to take them alive for questioning.

Yup. But Sauron did not expect a hobbit to be an adversary. That's a salient difference, in the context of Tolkien works.

They could just fly at night.

Oh wow! That's a lot of reasoning for making a story boring.This is far from the truly interesting analysis you can make about LotR.

[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.

Those letters you link to are fantastic. A book of letters by Tolkien was, indeed, published. I read it 25 years ago, but it seems to still be in print: http://www.amazon.com/Letters-J-R-R-Tolkien-J-R/dp/061805699...

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.

And surely Frodo's failure implies also that the eagle plan could not have worked: it did not include Gollum

I imagine that if the Precious had been aloft on board an eagle, then somehow Gollum would have made his way up there!

Right, but this was never discussed in the book, so as to remove the eagle plot hole. But one could see it that way. Perhaps galdolf never brought it up, because he only had a gut feeling gollum would have a role to play, and that frodo wouldn't be able to rid himself of the ring anyway...?

I don't think galdolf could predict the exact role Gollum would play. It was just a hunch on his part (or at least the book makes it look like it is)

Gandalf's hunch was more of a faith-in-all-people kind of thing, IMO. That it turned out he was right twice (Gollum guided them into Mordor and was instrumental in destroying the Ring) really doesn't count that much in my opinion.

This point is addressed in the article.



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.

It's interesting that almost every point in the other replies is already explained in the article except yours.

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.

Dressed as orcs they probably blend in. If you're a crow patrolling the skies around Mordor, seeing a few extra (small) orc's wandering around on the ground probably isn't anything unusual or even your job to worry about. After all the entire place is ringed with natural defenses with orc's patrolling all the entries that do exist.

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.

By that point Sauron was convinced (among other things, by Pippin and Aragorn's contact with the Palantir) that the Ring was in Gondor.

It is also much easier to spot a flying object from the ground then a ground object from the air. This is why recon is so hard when looking for something from the sky.

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.

Yeah, but assuming X different eagles, with each one a 'dummy' bearer, it would be much more difficult to kill the right one.

Or Sauron could still think that it's Aragorn trying to be a hero and killing him in face-to-face.

Did you read the whole article?

"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)."

Two spies aren't going to do much inside Mordor, in practice they've somehow got to be able to communicate information outside of Mordor, or get out themselves. Either impossible or very very difficult. In terms of being "spies" they are an annoyance, not a huge threat.

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?

> A giant eagle patrolling your skies is the complete opposite

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.

I never really understood this in the books. How could Sauron not know that their intent was to destroy the ring? It is made clear that Sauron can see Frodo's location when he puts on the ring. Frodo puts on the ring at various points throughout the series, each time increasingly close to Mordor. How could Sauron have not considered this to be their intent?

We understand early on that employing the Ring is too hazardous to contemplate, and will simply lead to a different kind of doom, at best.

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 drawbacks of the Ring that we become so intimately familiar with over the course of three books are all perks in Sauron's mind.

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.

Sauron expected the power of the ring to be used against himself in the final battle.

Crows also may be used offensively. They aren't much good against giant eagles, but in quantities of a thousand they may be, especially if the eagles have to worry about transporting a substantial burden of hobbits.

Not just around Mordor, either, the party had to hide from them quite a few times. I think this is the answer.

It might also be that Crows do not recognize the hobbits as at threat to report? Hobbits are less known outside of their own realm and maybe the crows thought of them as just another wild animal?

It's too late for that argument by that point. Sauron (and Saruman) are aware of hobbits and that one of them has the ring -- hence the Nazgul showing up in the Shire even before Frodo gets on the road.

Yes, but you're assuming information flows flawlessly. Crows are pretty cantankerous and mischievous at times. I wonder how hard it would be to get them to sit and listen to descriptions of Hobbits. Also, maybe all humanoids look alike to them?

Balrogs have wings too, right?


Clearly the answer is #11, and there are two ways to see this. First (and most evocatively, I think) is the drug metaphor: the effects of the Ring are cumulative, and they also grow stronger in proximity to Orodruin. We can model the Ring as an involuntary opioid dispenser that is certainly harming Frodo's body cumutively. But, even more sinisterly, it's dosage is increasing in proximity to Mt. Doom. Clearly, if Frodo approaches Orodruin with high velocity, his "dose" of the Ring's power will become very, very high, and he will OD.

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[1] (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.

[1] http://psyserv06.psy.sbg.ac.at:5916/fetch/PDF/10978569.pdf

So you're implying that the strength of the Ring is a function of only distance?

I would say the article more then discusses the fact that it's a function of distance AND time.

It speaks well of Tolkien's work that such a rigorous analysis is needed to conclude (rightly, I think) that it was simply an overlooked plot hole.

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.

Alternative fan theory that I've always chosen to believe: http://www.reddit.com/r/FanTheories/comments/130it2/lord_of_...

"Fly, you fools"! That explains EVERYTHING!

The Eagles are not bound by earthlings. That is something that the dialogues between Gandalf and Thorondor sets clear.

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.

> Not mentioned is my favorite objection, which is that Gwaihir, the Lord of the Eagles, is ... a being of great power, and as such should not be trusted carrying the One Ring, even indirectly. The corrupting strength of the Ring is clearly stronger as one approaches Mordor--Sam and Frodo both understand that wearing the Ring within Mordor would be catastrophic. In Tolkien's universe, power calls to power, and there is every reason to believe that the Lord of the Eagles would fall completely under the spell of the Ring as he approached Mt. Doom.

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.

Easy objection, Gwaihir could simply not go.

We know nothing of the culture of the giant eagles. It might be dishonorable as their leader for him not to.

I think it would be far more dishonorable to put himself in a position to be seduced by the Ring.

Culture isn't always logical or pragmatic.

I can't believe no one realizes the obvious:

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.


"Summon Eagles" was used 3 times in LotR.

It has three charges that take decades to replenish.

Warning: most of this site is NSFW.

> Even if Sauron can cause Mt. Doom to erupt immediately, we know from the actual story that the eagles are capable of navigating into Mordor and locating and rescuing Frodo and Sam, despite the major eruption which was taking place. Even if Sauron did manage to catch the eagles in the eruption, however, could this melt the Ring? If Sauron does manage to figure out that the eagles are carrying the Ringbearer, he might opt not to cause Mt. Doom to erupt, just for this very reason.

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.

There are a ton of plot holes in the LOTR. Why did Aragorn run off in the dark at Weathertop, when everyone knew they would be besieged? Why does the ring not affect Tom Bombadil? Why does everyone put up with Wormtongue in Rohan? Why don't the orcs in Mordor immediately recognize Frodo and Sam as non-orcs? Why does it matter that Eowyn is a woman not a man? How convenient is it that Boromir showed up just in time for the Council? How convenient is it that Gollum falls over the cliff edge while dancing around? Etc.

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.

Some of these things are there because they exist in the kind of stories that inspired Tolkien in the first place. Characters appear at just the right time by chance or fate, "can't be killed by man" is taken literally, a simple disguise fools everyone.

This isn't set in our world. It's closer to the world of Beowulf, the Eddas, or the Grimm brothers.

Thanks, that is a better way of putting it than what I wrote. It's a mythic tale of a quest, so asking why the Eagles didn't shortcut the quest is kind of missing the point.

> There are a ton of plot holes in the LOTR. .... Why does the ring not affect Tom Bombadil

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...]

The eagles rescued Frodo and Sam from Mordor after Sauron and the ring were destroyed. Thus, we may infer that up until then, the eagles could not have entered Mordor, and/or they could not have carried the ring-bearer there. Precisely why does not matter. When the ring is destroyed, the world changes, and so its constraints also change.

He did say "fly you fools" :P

If you want another imaginary theory, perhaps it would have been too much to ask the eagles to do, too much risk.

I think the fact that this is still a debate is an indication of how Tolkien's works have endured. A minor bug in a program that few people use will go unnoticed possibly forever, but the same minor bug in a popular program will be discussed on messageboards ad nauseum.

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.

I'm sympathetic to the overall point, but I don't think the analogy holds. Minor bugs in popular programs are noticed because programs are tools, means to some other end. Fiction is an end to itself, and so the popularity of a work can actually help to shield it against its own bugs.

I enjoyed the thought and analysis that went into this post. It might not be a satisfying answer, but the conclusion seems to be that Tolkien didn't think about eagles as a likely course of action. And if he did, he didn't bother to address it.

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.

Certainly a very interesting analysis, whenever an author uses a deus ex machina, people are bound to come up with explanations, criticisms and the like. Here though it seems like an attempt to you know explain with an inherent internal logic of the Middle Earth.

Agree totally that it is a very great piece of writing.

Flying mounts are a plot failure almost every time they are brought up in fantastic stories. Most fantastic stories revolve around a perilous journey through harsh environments and monster lairs.

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

According to the actual myth, Pegasus was created when Perseus killed Medusa.

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.

See also: The NeverEnding Story

Heck, that one has a hole in the title, let alone the plot :P

You just hide out in the bathroom before the movie ends, then sneak back into the theater after 15 minutes or so.

You forget one thing: The eagles aren't freaking vehicules, they are living beings with proud minds etc... The kind of "beyond elves" who are just as cool as they're willing to carry you out of trouble, and not into trouble, much like a friend who'd carry you home on his back after you've demonstrate your abilities to decorate a friends house with your own puke. I doubt they would just accept going into a suicidal mission for the sake of it.

Reddit actually had a few good points against it:

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.

One nit-pick: The Peter Jackson film shows Saruman stabbed by Wormtongue before falling to his death from the top of Orthanc.

Furthermore, I believe it is only included in the extended edition of The Two Towers (but I could be wrong on that point).

Yes, sorry, Legolas shot Wormtongue instead. Still wrong though. And yes, it's only included in the extended edition.

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.

I might be misremembering, but I'm pretty sure that Legolas did not return to the Shire with the hobbits. According to Wikipedia, he was shot by "Hobbit archers" from the impromptu militia the four adventurers organized.

You are indeed correct. If memory serves, the actor (Christopher Lee) was upset, even lawsuit upset, about the cut from the theatrical version as its removal reduced his points on compensation.

Furthermore, I believe it is only included in the extended edition of The Two Towers (but I could be wrong on that point).

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." 
To me, things like this discount the use of the term "plot hole". It is unreasonable of us to expect that every single exception or problem must be codified and discounted by the author the moment any plot device is brought up. Yes some discussion is worthy. All things in moderation as they say, but the less the better.

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.

How high are Ered Lithui? Can the eagles fly that high? Even if they can, there's still the question of whether a hobbit can survive at that altitude?

This is the correct answer. Middle earth eagles in this scenario are large, flying a long distance, and under load. They would not be able to survive the high altitudes.

Perhaps Gandalf feared the power the ring would have over the eagles. Not during the trip, as discussed in the article, but at the moment when it needs to be destroyed. If the eagle changed its mind at that point, there would be nothing they could do about it.

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.

It seems that the more powerful the being, the more likely the ring is to corrupt them. I think that the worry would not be that the ring would corrupt the eagles, but their masters, the Valar.

It reminds me a bit of one of the fundamental strategy flaws inherent in the old SPI "War of the Rings" game from 1977:


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.

One does not simply fly into Mordor!

Well, consider the origin of that comment. Dunno if it's in the book, but from the movie: Boromir: One does not simply walk into Mordor. Its black gates are guarded by more than just orcs. There is evil there that does not sleep, and the Great Eye is ever watchful. It is a barren wasteland, riddled with fire and ash and dust, the very air you breathe is a poisonous fume. Not with ten thousand men could you do this. It is folly.

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.

Indeed, it says exactly there in the quote:

> 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.

>As carbon monoxide is lighter than air

Yes, but distance from chimney and lower atmospheric pressure on high altitude matters too:


Nice articulation of what I was thinking but didn't get out.

How about... a catapult?

I'm sensing an Angry Birds type mobile game from that idea...

Hah, I've always wondered about this myself too. The visual of the eagles carrying Frodo away from Mt. Doom makes brings the inconsistency I'm even starker contrast in the final movie.

There is the simple reason that this occurred after Sauron was no longer watching everything.

Totally agree, it pulls me out of the movie every time.

Also, put the Ring on a lock to which Sam has the key.

A few nitpicks:

> 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.

> Isn't Sam basically immune to the ring anyway? He's not necessarily a good canary for this test.

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.

Answer: The story is not "Rose could have saved Jack", the story is "Jack dies in the end", no matter how big or small the plank needs to be.

If the eagles had flown Frodo to Mordor to destroy the ring, it would NOT have been destroyed as Gollum would not be there to bring a serendipitous end to the events. It seems reasonable to imagine that Gandalf suspected more about Gollum's ultimate role than he let on, or had some idea or hunch even that things needed to play out more organically.

By the time he had walked to Mt. Doom, Frodo was exhausted, weak, malnourished, and had carried the burden of the ring for a long time. These all contributed to him succumbing to its power.

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.

I'm pretty sure it's explicitly written somewhere that nobody in Middle-earth had the willpower to destroy the ring. So, basically, Frodo couldn't have done it whether he walked or flew into Mordor.

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.

But as the author of the OP argues, Frodo may have become even better at resisting the ring as he made his way. The proximity to Sauron could have easily been the deciding factor rather than the hardships he faced which may have even strengthened him.

That's a good point. However, is there much textual evidence that Frodo specifically built up resistance to the ring, and not just strength of character?

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
It's probably impossible to know exactly how much each factor contributed, but still good material for fun debates.

I have for many years speculated that Gandalf's plan could have been to get everyone to Gondor and allow Sauron to besiege the combined forces of "the west" and then fly the ring to mount doom at the last moment. If this had been Gandalf's plan from the start, and if there were some hint of this in the book, then the rescue from mount doom would not seem like such an egregious plot device.

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.

"Fly, you fools!"

No, because, the eagles would have been possessed by the ring.

I think this is the most valid response, as it doesn't even require that the head eagle necessarily be so easily corruptible. The whole plan could have been ruled out by Gandalf simply because he was worried the head eagle might be tempted by the ring.

What if you don't tell the eagles on the mission what's up? Even if corruptible, it would take at least some time for them to figure out what's going on and which of the hobbitses they are carrying has the ring.

The Eagles seem very picky about when they help and who they're helping. I highly doubt they would do such a deed without Gandalf letting them in on the full story.

Well, you can tell some Eagles that "there is a very important mission to go on with Gandalf, and we need some eagles who don't know why we're going on the mission."

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.

Care to elaborate? That possibility is discussed in the article, why do you think OP is wrong?

Ok, I'm sorry, you got me, I cannot give an as detailed analysis as the article's author. I just didn't want the books to become irrelevant by making the journey pointless :'(

Wasn't Boromir influenced by just being around the ring?

How does a giant eagle physically put on a tiny ring

The ring resizes to fit its bearer's finger.

A flight of Eagles over the Ered Lithui would be pretty dang obvious to Sauron's forces. I imagine the Nazgul with their flying beasts could do some serious damage, and I would think that would put the ring at great risk of falling into the hands of the Nazgul.

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 think the answer is rather straightforward and is hinted in other encounters - eagles are getting involved as a last resort, to maintain the balance of good and evil. They are seen as the open messengers of the divine power, and aren't getting involved when the balance can be maintained by other means. So since there was a way to bring the ring to Mordor (even though an extremely hard one), eagles didn't interfere.

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.

Interesting theory, however, is there any example where the eagles come to the last minute rescue of Sauron's forces in order to maintain the balance of power?

Eagles are seen only as messengers of good. In general that would be a question only from the perspective of dualism, but I don't think this is the case with the Tolkien's view on his world. The world appears predominantly evil, but in essence Tolkien maintains the view of the ultimate good (i.e. hidden), as an intention of Eru. So tipping the balance into the good side usually doesn't disrupt it as much. However extreme shifts still can have serious consequences. Valars getting involved in banishing Morgoth destroyed Beleriand altogether. The fall of Sauron diminished the Elven presence and so on.

The easiest explanation is that Tolkein had crafted a very complex work -- with a chapter on the elvish language IIRC -- that while being uber-geek, was bound to have holes.

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."?

Another big hole is that best Ringbearer would be a Dwarf not Halfling. Dwarfs take decades to be affected and they never turn into specters and enter the spirit realm. So the best combo would be eagles carrying Gimli with the ring, which he would have no trouble throwing into the volcano.

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

The strength of hobbits is their innocence, simpleness, and their lack of desire for power. Only a halfling could carry the ring. Dwarves on the other hand are known for hoarding treasures!

Isn't the Third Age of Middle Earth the Age of Men? The Elves weren't intervening in a significant way, so why should the Eagles? I always figured that Gandalf chose this way (though he may not have allowed it to be viewed as him choosing it) because it really was the responsibility of Man (presumably Hobbits are thrown in with that lot) to resolve the issue.

Actually, I think the answer is to be found in the Silmarillion. All of the events in LOTR unfold according the music of the Ainur. Events unfolded as they did, because they could not have unfolded any other way. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ainulindal%C3%AB

Certain Goblins had patented the idea of dumping things from sky via birds. Obviously Gandalf could not risk getting sued.

Actually, that patent was held by Trolls.

We're ruling out that the ring effects people around it. I don't think we were ever told whether the eagles could resist its evil. Also, Frodo had to leave the company before this plan would have worked, since he started to realize the ring was corrupting the people around him.

Also, How It Should Have Ended already beat OP to this concept - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1yqVD0swvWU

Simple answer: The eagles refused to fly towards Mordor while it was emanating Sauron's unnatural aura.

What about from The Shire to the Misty Mountains? No need for both the Hobbit and Lotr trilogy.

In case you just can't get enough of the craziness, there is only one site that really matters for things like this: http://www.lotrplaza.com/forum.php

Also read: http://hpmor.com/chapter/64 (scroll to "LORD OF THE RATIONALITY")

Pen testing is for servers, not novels ;3

I still ask myself why Elrond didn't just push to the lava the human king when he refused to drop the ring. Knowing the pain, the evil of the matter, letting him go freely with the ring just made this story a bit silly.

If he only had a lightsaber to chop off his hand right then.

It was his blood relative, for one. Two, they did not necessarily know the full power of the Ring. Third, Elves don't go around killing people without cause.

#Ahem# Aqualonde #ahem#.

If you are referring to the Kin-Slaying as the Noldor left the lands of the Valar, yes, that is precisely what he would have been trying to avoid.

It's called politic.

Philadelphia Eagles? Maybe when they had Cunningham...

could they anesthetize the ringbearer, fly him over in one of those super secret nighthawk choppers, and give him the ol heave ho into the chasm?

Were they African or European eagles?

Pen testing is for servers, not novels ;#

8. "The Valar would prohibit the eagles from such a direct intervention against Sauron."

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.
Given all this heavy involvement, it would be extremely surprising if the Valar specifically prohibited the eagles from flying the Ringbearer into Mordor. Tolkien nowhere mentions such a prohibition.

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.

Looks around him.

Backs away slowly...


Of course, here's the "LoTR alternate ending : Eagle version" ; )


How it should have ended - LOTR


I recommend basically all the 'How It Should Have Ended' videos.

This is always the idea that people bring up but it's pretty obvious it wouldn't work.

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.

Did you even read the article?

I did and it was terrible.

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.

News for hackers.

No. The whole point of their approach was to remain undetected. Sauron would have detected the eagles presence in Mordor and converged a massive force on the location of Frodo (even 50 or 100 enemies, some nazgul etc, would have been enough to block the ability of Frodo to deposit the ring into the lava).

Please read the OP. he addresses this exact point.

This point is covered in the article.

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