6

So the eagles in the Lord of the Rings seem to be the starting point for many a question. I understand that they are not regular eagles that are just abnormally large, but rather servants of one of the Valar. I understand why they didn't just carry the fellowship or the ring to Mt. Doom. Most of these questions are addressed one way or another in Tolkien's work. Such as Radagast asking Gwahir to check on Gandalf and Saruman.

But one thing I couldn't find a definitive answer to is why the eagles come to the battle at the Black Gate when they do. I understand why they didn't come earlier, they were probably not aware of the details of the war or were engaged in other battles around Erebor or elsewhere in the North of Middle Earth.

But why do they finally come when they do? I came up with a few possible explanations. Maybe Gandalf somehow got a message to them without it being mentioned in the books, maybe Galadriel got some idea of what was going on and informed them, maybe Radagast did so. Or maybe they just coincidentally finished their own battles at that time. But I'm not aware of any clear evidence for any of these possibilities, and the last one is particularly far-fetched.

2
  • 4
    They are the quintessential definition of a "Deus Ex Machina", so they went to the battle because Tolkien had them go there!? In-universe, they are sentient beings and after they realized what was going on (remember Eagles can see very far away!) they just joined the fight in the side of the good guys.
    – Hans Olo
    Commented Mar 14, 2020 at 20:18
  • 2
    The Eagles ultimately serve Manwe, its not impossible this was his idea. Commented Mar 14, 2020 at 20:38

1 Answer 1

10

The role of the Eagles in Middle-Earth and in LotR is muddy and unclear.

(This may reflect a weakness in JRRT's writing, or it may be another case of his deliberate policy of leaving "mysteries" in the world -- things that can't be summed up in a tidy set of rules -- Tom Bombadil being the biggest in LotR. But let's look for an in-universe explanation.)

The Eagles of Manwe are clearly Manwe's servants, but they are not remote-controlled puppets. For example, in The Hobbit they are pretty wild:

Eagles are not kindly birds. Some are cowardly and cruel. But the ancient race of the northern mountains were the greatest of all birds; they were proud and strong and noble-hearted. They did not love goblins, or fear them. When they took any notice of them at all (which was seldom, for they did not eat such creatures ), they swooped on them and drove them shrieking back to their caves, and stopped whatever wickedness they were doing. The goblins hated the eagles and feared them, but could not reach their lofty seats, or drive them from the mountains.

Tonight the Lord of the Eagles was filled with curiosity to know what was afoot; so he summoned many other eagles to him, and they flew away from the mountains, and slowly circling ever round and round they came down, down, down towards the ring of the wolves and the meeting-place of the goblins.

Apparently, Eagles are usually left to themselves and certainly don't only act as agents of Manwe. In LotR, when Gwaihir rescues Gandalf from Isengard:

For Radagast knew no reason why he should not do as I asked; and he rode away towards Mirkwood where he had many friends of old. And the Eagles of the Mountains went far and wide, and they saw many things: the gathering of wolves and the mustering of Orcs; and the Nine Riders going hither and thither in the lands; and they heard news of the escape of Gollum. And they sent a messenger to bring these tidings to me.

'So it was that when summer waned, there came a night of moon, and Gwaihir the Windlord, swiftest of the Great Eagles, came unlooked-for to Orthanc; and he found me standing on the pinnacle. Then I spoke to him and he bore me away, before Saruman was aware. I was far from Isengard, ere the wolves and orcs issued from the gate to pursue me.

' "How far can you bear me? " I said to Gwaihir.

' "Many leagues," said he, "but not to the ends of the earth. I was sent to bear tidings not burdens."

The Eagles seem to be doing this as a favor for Radagast (and perhaps Gandalf) and not as agents of Manwe. Later when that same Gwaihir rescues Gandalf from the top of Silverlode:

And so at the last Gwaihir the Windlord found me again, and he took me up and bore me away.

' 'Ever am I fated to be your burden, friend at need,' I said.

' 'A burden you have been,' he answered, 'but not so now. Light as a swan's feather in my claw you are. The Sun shines through you. Indeed I do not think you need me any more: were I to let you fall you would float upon the wind.'

' 'Do not let me fall!' I gasped, for I felt life in me again. 'Bear me to Lothlórien!'

' 'That indeed is the command of the Lady Galadriel who sent me to look for you,' he answered.

he is operating at the request of Galadriel, another embodied being and definitely not one who acts as a servant of the Valar.

So who caused the Eagles to come to the final battle at the gates of Mordor? There is simply no information provided. The closest thing to a record of motivation is:

Then Gandalf, leaving all such matters of battle and command to Aragorn and the other lords, stood upon the hill-top and called; and down to him came the great eagle, Gwaihir the Windlord, and stood before him.

'Twice you have borne me, Gwaihir my friend,' said Gandalf. 'Thrice shall pay for all, if you are willing. You will not find me a burden much greater than when you bore me from Zirak-zigil, where my old life burned away.'

'I would bear you,' answered Gwaihir, 'whither you will, even were you made of stone.'

As far as we can tell from the text, it's a favor for Gandalf or perhaps the preference of the Eagles for the side of Gondor over Mordor or maybe some mixture of the two. There is no evidence whatsoever that Manwe sent them.

Bottom line: The Eagles seem to be free creatures who, like the Ents, were created as agents of the Valar and have a generally benevolent character, but, especially in these latter days, both individually and as a species act for their own reasons and, sometimes, act badly.

A lot like humans and Elves and Dwarves, actually.

Finally, Iluvatar, the One, acts in mysterious ways and interjects providence into Middle-Earth, but how he does it is unknown and unknowable.

'Behind that there was something else at work, beyond any design of the Ring-maker. I can put it no plainer than by saying that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker. In which case you also were meant to have it. And that maybe an encouraging thought.'

It's possible that He sent the Eagles, but if so, we'll never be able to prove it. And in LotR, no one even gives us a hint that this is what happened.

3
  • 1
    I half wrote an answer then gave up but as it was so completely different from yours I'll add the gist of it here in the hope you can use it. Firstly, in LOTR there is clearly a divine plan - good triumphs over evil because it's meant to, rather than just being lucky. So, the Eagles may just turn up because they were meant to, rather than told to. How one squares that with free will is a deep theological question. Also, the one quote I would have included is "As if to his eyes...The Eagles are coming! because to my mind this shows Gandalf most clearly as the messenger of Manwe.
    – richardb
    Commented Mar 15, 2020 at 15:21
  • Gandalf, Radaghast and Galadriel are not mortals. Also the evil eagles don't seem to be the same as the Eagles of Manwe.
    – Edlothiad
    Commented Mar 16, 2020 at 11:21
  • That's a very nice summation of the available information, thanks. It's pretty much what I had gathered thus far, though it didn't occur to me that this might have been another intervention of Iluvatar. I suppose it will remain a mystery, which I'm fine with. I just wanted to make sure I wasn't unaware of a decisive answer.
    – Zersetzor
    Commented Mar 16, 2020 at 13:20

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.