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Why didn't Gandalf use his eagles to fly over Mount Doom and drop the ring? I know he feared what he would do if the ring overpowered him, so why not just give Frodo an eagle? And, if there would be too much risk in flying the ring to Mordor, couldn't the eagles fly them part of the way? Why risk it with such a long walk; far less risky to fly over most of the journey.

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So wait a minute, you mean to tell me that's not how it ended? –  zzzzBov Mar 10 '11 at 5:01
Maybe he didn't have a frequent flyer discount with Eagle Airlines –  JockGit64 Mar 10 '11 at 8:21
One does not simply fly into Mordor. –  Bill the Lizard Mar 16 '11 at 19:18
The Eagles are not servants of Gandalf nor at his beck and call. They help when they choose to. They are a sovereign, noble race. –  TZHX Apr 5 '11 at 9:26
@TZHX: Really? Because I'd say that refusing to help against a foe that threatens to destroy civilizations, knowing it would require an alternate plan that essentially throws the game-breaking artifact directly into the faces of the enemy army, is a pretty stupid thing to do. Sounds like a sovereign, jerkish race to me. –  Jeff Sep 29 '11 at 12:42

17 Answers 17

up vote 166 down vote accepted

In short, the eagles would also be tempted to take the ring. At least, I've always assumed they'd rule Middle Earth with an iron claw.

Here's an excellent rundown of in-universe explanations, and a few real-world ones. It summarizes frequent Usenet discussions in rec.arts.books.tolkien of the so-called "eagle plan" whereby the eagles are used to fly the ring to Mount Doom. It's definitely a popular plot hole to discuss, with many pros and cons outlined there.

I think it would undermine the theme of the story, that it's about normal people taking responsibility for the world, and throwing off the dependence on ancient powers (Gandalf and Sauron included).

Also, it'd be a 10 page story.

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+1 for the last paragraph. Just because it's a popular story doesn't mean it can't have plot holes. –  Billy ONeal Mar 10 '11 at 5:38
"In short, the eagles would also be tempted to take the ring" is false according to your linked article. The fact is: "I think there are two possible explanations: 1) the possibility never occurred to Tolkien, or 2) Tolkien realized he had a problem and opted not to draw attention to it. In either case, the matter should be counted as a hole in the plot." From your linked article –  KronoS Mar 10 '11 at 6:07
+1: for that excellent link –  user296 Mar 10 '11 at 8:19
Err ... the simple reason why this didn't happen is because the eagles would've been spotted from far, and intercepted + the ring recovered by Sauron. The thing about sending two fat hobbits there is that it has no chance of success at all, so there's no way Sauron could plan for it, and that's why Gandalf knows it's the best solution (imo he sees a bit further in the future, knows a lot about Sauron and has a general belief that it will succeed). –  Morg. Oct 6 '11 at 5:59
That link is actually pretty unhelpful as it's written by a guy who is deliberately trying to prove it's a plot hole, rather than offer a fair and balanced point of view. He says at the beginning of the article that, "My contention is that ... it is simply a hole in the plot of an otherwise excellent book that the issue is never brought up." The whole article is written deliberately to try and prove his point. –  Django Reinhardt Jan 24 '12 at 15:48

Giant Eagles with Wizards on their back would have been seen for miles. Even a normal Elf like Legolas could spot small flying birds at some distance, the Eye of Sauron would be looking to keep his borders safe, from above and below. Sauron also had the Nazgul air force after all, and maybe others too :)

Not to mention the fact that they would have been extremely vulnerable in such a position, and likely to be brought down, and if that happened over Mordor, it would have guaranteed that Sauron got his ring back.

In terms of military strategy, it would be more of a "Hail Mary" than a solid plan, with a high risk of catastrophic failure.

With Sauron's combined forces being so strong by the time the Ring was discovered, it meant a full-on attack would be highly unlikely to succeed, and so only a covert mission would do. The point of sending Hobbits on foot was that they had showed resilience to the Ring's corrupting influence, but also that they would be unsuspected, as Hobbits were considered rather unimportant folk.

It's also worth noting that the Giant Eagles, much like the Wizards of Middle Earth, were forbidden in directly helping mortals overcoming problems they could solve themselves. They could only advise or otherwise get tangentially involved.

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It's definitely not about the temptation, but as StasM explains. The whole battle that takes place while Frodo sneaks into Mordor is simply to draw Sauron's attention away. –  Oxwivi Mar 10 '11 at 6:29
Yes, there were two different situations, pre and post ring being destroyed –  Marco Mustapic Mar 10 '11 at 9:08
Sauron had a powerful air defence - he could control weather. A storm could immobilise an eagle and force him to land. Then the orcs Nazgûl can finish. –  Maciej Piechotka Mar 13 '11 at 19:11
This is my favorite answer, since the WHOLE POINT of sending a hobbit on this mission was to not draw attention. –  Kevin Laity Jan 25 '12 at 17:50
This answer is by far the best one here. During the Council at Rivendell regarding what to do with the Ring, the eagles are never specifically discussed but the point is made repeatedly that (A) someone lacking power must take the Ring, thus Frodo, and (B) the Fellowship has to travel completely unseen. –  FoxMan2099 Jul 14 '13 at 7:10

This is not a plot hole. The Eagles are the representatives of Manwe in Middle Earth. As mentioned in the link in the accepted answer.

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.

If you look at the involvement of the Eagles it is very similar to the involvement of the Istari. The Istari are Maia sent to Middle Earth as guides and to provide some help in countering the great powers of those who had fallen. They are not allowed to solve the problems of Middle Earth, only to guide and aid those who are solving those problems. The Eagles play a similar role. Both are forces of the Valar -- who, after the first age that destroyed vast swaths of Middle Earth, vowed never again to interfere directly in the affairs of the mortals of Middle Earth -- and both aid those fighting Sauron. But only where the mortals of Middle Earth could not over come the foe on their own.

The ring is a foe that the mortals of Middle Earth could overcome. And in a way, it is the one foe they must overcome on their own. Gandalf guides them to this realization and helps them figure out the "how". But he will not defeat the foe itself.

Gandalf aids them by defeating a peer who had fallen, against which none of them could stand (the Balrog) and by helping to counter the movements of one of the Istari who had fallen. The Eagles aid them by providing some mobility and countering forces of the enemy when they take to the air, the realm of Manwe, which mortals are not truly supposed to enter.

All of these actions are consistent with the way the Valar are willing to aid those of Middle Earth. However, flying the ring bearer to Mordor is not consistent with them. That would be direct involvement and solving the one problem that those of Middle Earth need to solve themselves -- their lust for power at the expense of Middle Earth itself.

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I like this explanation. Manwe didn't come down from Taniquetil to defeat Sauron, but he does lend aid in other ways –  Andomar Mar 27 '12 at 20:35
Another excellent answer. –  Django Reinhardt Nov 24 '12 at 14:41
This to me is the right answer: the Eagles are under the command of Manwe, and the Valar take a non-interventionist role (recognising their earlier mistakes). –  Darth Satan Jun 9 '14 at 23:21

You want an "In Universe" explanation?

Because it couldn't have worked any other way.

The powers knew no one could willingly destroy the ring, therefore they needed the tussle between Frodo and Gollum, and for Gollum to fall for the ring to be destroyed.

If they'd flown on Eagles then Gollum wouldn't have been there, Frodo would have failed to destroy the ring, Sauron would have won and the fourth age would have been one of darkness across the face of Middle Earth.

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Gandalf could have pushed Frodo in, or he could have been carried in the eagle's claws and been dropped if he refused to let go. –  Jeff Mar 10 '11 at 14:06
@Jeff: Damn! I though I had all the bases covered. I don't seem to remember Gandalf being so dispassionate, must have missed that :) –  user296 Mar 10 '11 at 14:27
I think a universe in which Gandalf was willing to sacrifice Frodo would have resulted in Gandalf becoming sure of his power to influence the events of the next age, and he would have become the next Sauron –  NateDSaint Mar 10 '11 at 17:39
Gandalf has a sharp sword...he could have just cut the hand off :P –  Jeff Mar 10 '11 at 22:44
Now that would have made a GREAT movie! :) –  user296 Mar 12 '11 at 7:54

There are several explanations, both in and out of universe:

  • The Nazghul (more specifically their fell beasts) would have been able to take them out.
  • Anything flying into Mordor, especially a rarely-seen giant eagle, would be quickly spotted by Sauron, who would immediately muster every force he had around and in Mount Doom. Frodo and Sam were specifically trying to avoid the Eye's gaze.
  • If the eagle (or whomever was riding it) missed dropping/throwing the Ring directly into the fires of Mount Doom, they'd be handing the Ring directly to Sauron's forces.
  • Tolkien mentioned in notes and conversations that he did not want the eagles to be seen as "Middle Earth taxis". They thus intervene directly only in times of great need, as the last option.
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This seems like the best, and most logical, answer to me. As Sauron was actively searching for the ring, and as giant eagles with wizards on their back were a relatively rare sight, it's highly likely Sauron would have sent the Nazghul after them. In short, they wouldn't have stood a chance. It would have been far too risky: One mistake and the ring would definitely be in Sauron's hands. –  Django Reinhardt Nov 24 '12 at 14:39
I like this answer as well, except for the last point. 1) They're worse than "taxi's", they're deus ex machina "a seemingly unsolvable problem is suddenly and abruptly resolved by the contrived and unexpected intervention of some new event, character, ability or object." As @DanielBingham's quote lists, they're involved in rescuing six (!!) other seemingly impossible situations. 2) If destroying the One Ring and Sauron with it doesn't strike you as a time of great need, then you haven't been paying attention. –  Dacio Feb 9 '14 at 18:36
You also say, "as the last option." This reinforces the characterization of the eagles as deus ex machina, in my opinion. The fact that the eagles weren't involved in, considered or even mentioned in the formation of the Fellowship at the Council of Elrond shows that Tolkein treats them not as characters, but just as a plot device. –  Dacio Feb 9 '14 at 18:41

All that plus the eagles weren't available at the time the Ring set out on its journey from Rivendell, a journey meant to be made in secret so as to not reveal to Sauron that the Ring was on the move and to what end (to the very end Sauron was under the impression that the Ring, after having been found, would appear on the hand of one of his enemies to be wielded as a weapon of war, rather than being sent to its doom in the forges where it was created).

Sending in an eagle bearing a hobbit on its back, the hobbit bearing the ring (the presence of which Sauron could detect at some distance) would have attracted too much attention, revealed to Sauron that things are not as they seem (most likely he assumed either Gandalf or the lords of Minas Tirith would unveil the Ring in the battle at the gates of Mordor).

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Personally, I think something is only a plot-hole if there aren't plausible in-universe explanations, regardless of whether the author actually enumerates those explanations.

In this case, I always assumed that while there were just nine Nazgûl, there were a lot more than nine of the "fell beasts" that they flew around on--there's no indication that these creatures were made especially for the Nazgûl, or that there's some kind of limited supply of them.

Sauron raising a bunch of flying creatures in Mordor makes it a lot more risky for the eagles to fly there, let alone to fly there with the one ring. After the ring is destroyed, though, it makes sense that the beasts' handlers have scattered and that it's safer to mount an airborne rescue mission than it was before Sauron's defeat.

That's my "extrapolated from the given information" reasoning, at least.

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Good point about something's being a plot hole only if no plausible in-universe explanations can be found (unless the book totally skips on explaining the reason in a passage where one would certainly expect it to do so). –  Cerberus Apr 2 '12 at 1:31

There are some compelling reasons:

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My understanding was the eagles have a will of their own. After all, Gandalf asked for permission to ride on their backs. Given this assumption, trusting them as companions to the ring bearer would not have been a good idea since they would be vulnerable to the rings power of corruption. Also, it would be unlikely they would agree to a suicide run into Mordor.

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There's a new theory as to why the eagles weren't used here, which seems plausible.


Gandalf did intend to take the ring to the eagles, but kept the plan to himself so that word couldn't get to Sauron. He tried to tell the Fellowship about the plan when he fell to the Balrog -- that's what he meant by "Fly, you fools".

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It seems pretty clear that "Fly" in this context is merely a synonym for "flee". Especially since there are no eagles present and this scene is usually depicted as being underground without access to open air. Though I guess this theory could totally be in jest, which kind of invalidates it as an actual answer. –  Mark Rogers Mar 8 '13 at 16:01
Though I guess after rereading some details on the bridge of Khazad-dûm, it's not necessarily underground. Though it still seems pretty clear that Gandalf was telling his companions to run for their lives as he knew he was about to be taken out of the conflict. –  Mark Rogers Mar 8 '13 at 16:21
Actually nevermind, according to Glyphweb's article on the Second Hall, the bridge is located underground in the hall itself, so there would be no access to open air. –  Mark Rogers Mar 8 '13 at 16:25
That answer sounds like these conspiracy theories :D –  MadTux Apr 30 '13 at 15:46
And who would've told the Eagles after Gandalf was removed from the picture? Hm? Did Gimli pick up a little bit of "Bird" when he was a lad? –  Zibbobz Aug 25 '14 at 18:47

@user296 hints at a possible reason but doesn't elaborate much.

I think that even though Gandalf can't see the future, he knows Gollum has a part to play:

even the very wise cannot see all ends. ... he is bound up with the fate of the Ring. My heart tells me that he has some part to play yet, for good or ill, before the end; and when that comes, the pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many – yours not least.

(Fellowship of the Ring)

I think Gandalf knows more than he lets on. When Sam and Frodo fight about killing or abandoning Gollum we are again reminded that he has a part to play. Its kind of assumed that the part Gollum plays is leading them into Mordor. But I suspect that the real part he plays is in getting rid of the ring, and Gandalf knows this.

We know that it is near impossible to give up the ring. Only three times does the ring-bearer give up the ring:

  1. Bilbo, who doesn't expect it to be destroyed.
  2. Tom Bombadil, who is obviously "special".
  3. Sam, who isn't so close to Mount Doom to be totally overrun by its power.

So Gandalf suspects that the only way the ring can be destroyed is on accident. In other words there has to be some accident at Mount Doom to destroy the ring. He says somewhere that no one is powerful enough to destroy it. If the Eagles just drop Frodo off with the ring, there's a lot of evidence that he won't be able to destroy it.

  1. It is always seeking its master, not trying to be destroyed
  2. When he does get near to destroying it, Frodo hesitates
  3. Isildur was in the same position and didn't destroy it.
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The eagles don't owe allegiance to anyone they helped Gandalf escape Saruman because he saved the life of their king, see the Hobbit. Nursing him back to health after an unfortunate incident with a hunters spear. Whether that help advanced to a suicide run into Mordor is another thing entirely...

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Then again, they helped Frodo escape from Mount Doom after the Ring was destroyed. –  Cerberus Apr 2 '12 at 1:31

Who can say with any confidence that Gandalf didn't intend to use the Eagles, even if just for a section of the total journey?

After Gandalf dies, the members of the Fellowship are frustrated time and again that Gandalf did not reveal his master plan for getting the Ring to Mount Doom before his death. Strider in particular is repeatedly frustrated over the impossible decisions that keep arising on the journey and laments several times that his decisions were wrong in retrospect (from his limited perspective at the time, but not from the grand perspective of the story).

I don't think it's a stretch to theorize that Gandalf may have intended to make use of the Eagles in some way or for some segment of the journey; but, as others have mentioned, there's just NO WAY a giant bird is going to (A) sneak into Mordor and, further, to Mount Doom (keep in mind that it's a good ways into Mordor, just look at any decent map), and (B) get to Mount Doom without any risk of losing the Ring to Sauron right there in his own kingdom.

So, I can't believe the Eagle flying the Ring to Mordor would work at all, it's just not a viable option, but we don't know the entirety of Gandalf's original designs.

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They are not his to give.

Eagles are a race capable of their own actions and thoughts. The Eagles are not middle-earth taxis.

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Here is a variant on the "Eagles would take the Ring for their own" theory. It has been argued that since powerful beings like Gandalf and Aragorn accompanied Frodo for months without trying to seize the Ring, an Eagle could do the same for the short time it would take to fly from the borders of Mordor to Mount Doom.

However the Ring has a will of its own. Tolkien makes it very clear that this is the case. For example, the Ring betrayed Isildur by slipping off his finger as he swam. Later, Gandalf observes that the Ring corrupted Gollum, but then abandoned him in order to escape from his cave under the Misty Mountains.

Now, let's take this concept and run with it. We can assume that the Ring's priorities are to survive and get back to Sauron. It can't understand spoken language, but it has some ability to sense the spirit world. Most of the time it is quite patient, for example spending several centuries with Gollum, but it can act more urgently if it so wishes.

During the journey of the Fellowship, the Ring was biding its time. It did not understand that it was in any particular danger. It may have been hoping to fall into the hands of Boromir, or some evil being such as an orc, the Balrog, or one of the Nazgul.

If someone takes it to the Cracks of Doom, the Ring is in a very different situation. It senses that it is in immediate danger of destruction, and will do whatever it can to survive. When Isildur first acquired it, Elrond advised him to throw it into the fire. Even though Isildur had only possessed it for a few minutes or hours, the Ring swayed his will and prevented him from destroying it. When Frodo approached the fire, he, too, was unable to bring himself to destroy the Ring. It was finally destroyed only because Gollum slipped and fell into the fire while holding it.

Now, suppose that an Eagle takes Frodo to Mount Doom. The Ring will exert all its power to save itself. It will call out to the Eagle, and there is a very good chance that the Eagle will answer, overpower Frodo, and seize the Ring for its own.

(Edit: As Frodo enters Mount Doom, it is mentioned that the Phial of Galadriel does not light his way, because all powers other than Sauron's are weakened. We can suppose that the Ring is correspondingly strengthened; although it is vulnerable there, it is also at its most powerful. This would make it more likely to be able to corrupt a nearby Eagle.)

I don't think this occurred to Tolkien. Otherwise, as the linked article points out, it would have been a good thing to mention at the Council of Elrond. But as a post hoc explanation for the plot hole, I think it makes sense within the rules of Tolkien's world.

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If the Eagles could have taken the hobbits to Mt. Doom, they could have also delivered the dwarves to Smaug's lair, and though he was not a threat in the same way Sauron was, he weighed heavily on Gandalf's mind. So why did he only use the Eagles as a mode of rescue in dire situations, and as allies in a battle against dark forces?

Because Gandalf is a Maia, and is not supposed to directly interfere with the struggles of man and the creatures of Middle Earth.

In dire situations, where dark forces threatened to end such a quest, Gandalf may have called upon the Eagles, and in fact he did during his imprisonment atop the tower, and when the journey to end the threat of Smaug was threatened.

But Gandalf is the only one among the council who could have asked for the Eagles' help, and it was not his place to directly intervene. Even as he emerges as Gandalf the White, though he rode into battle and rescued the men of Helm's Deep, and was at the forefront of the final battle with Sauron, he was still acting only as a guide.

To have called upon the Eagles to carry the burden of the Ring would have been a gross abuse of his power as a Maia, and no matter how 'convenient' it would have been, he would not ever consider doing such a thing. And since no one else has the power to call upon the Eagles for aid, they wouldn't have considered it either.

Had he carried on with the Fellowship, instead of falling into battle with the Balrog, he may have called upon them once or twice for aid in desperation, but never as a final solution.

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In the books, Gandalf never summons the Eagles himself. They arrive at the Black Gate and the Battle of Five Armies (and also save Thorin & Co from goblins) on their own accord. Gwaihir rescues Gandalf from Orthanc purely by chance - he was sent to deliver a message from Radagast. When Gandalf is also rescued from Zirakzigil, Gwaihir was this time sent by Galadriel. –  ssell Aug 25 '14 at 19:40
@ssell Well, that shoots my theory down...but raises another question: How do people expect them to call on the Eagles in the first place? –  Zibbobz Aug 25 '14 at 19:49
I believe this question stems more from people who have seen the movies but are not super well-versed in the literature. It is clear that Gandalf had the ability to summon the Eagles (as Radagast and Galadriel were able to do so), but the key point of the Lord of the Rings is that it is the beginning of the Age of Man, and that Men (including Hobbits) must usher in the new age themselves. Sending in the Eagles (servants of Manwë) to do it all would defeat the point of the story. This is why the Istari were explicitly forbidden to match their power against Sauron's. –  ssell Aug 25 '14 at 19:54

It's important to realise that Gandaulf is wise and smart, but he isn't universally followed by many of the older creatures and powers of Middle Earth. He can't just walk up and command elves and ents.

In addition the Eagles are not like they are in the films (I was greatly disappointed that they didn't get a talking scene in the second hobbit film). They are not simply a "summon eagles" spell. They have minds of their own - goals of their own and values of their own.

Indeed much like the ents many of these affairs are those of men not of eagles. The wilds of Middle Earth are huge so the Eagles likely suspect that dark times for man are not so much a threat to them (Ents thought this too for the most part till Sarumon started slashing through vast swathes of the forests).

The potential of the One Ring corrupting and Eagle is also a factor, also being so high up if the Ring wished falling, or causing Frodo to fall, or expanding to fall are all things it could have done. Remember the closer to its master it gets the more powerful its influence - in addition if its Master were to focus upon the Ring chances are its influence would be too great even for a Hobbit to overcome.

Eagles are fast and can go over terrain, that's really the only thing they have going for them. Speed is also not always essential - Gandalf wanted to follow the ring; to make sure it got there and on the way unite as many of Middle Earth's people as he could. Because even if Sauron fell - if he fell fast at the height of the orcs power and organisation chances are they would have still mobilized and attacked. Rohan was almost broken and Gondor only just held out to a vast siege (and only then with significant reinforcements).

One could also argue that Gandalf is opposed to speedy action. A failing of his character potentially, or a result of his longlevity and simply that he views things at a slower pace than man.

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