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
    Commented Mar 10, 2011 at 5:01
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    Maybe he didn't have a frequent flyer discount with Eagle Airlines
    – JockGit64
    Commented Mar 10, 2011 at 8:21
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    One does not simply fly into Mordor. Commented Mar 16, 2011 at 19:18
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    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
    Commented Apr 5, 2011 at 9:26
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    @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
    Commented Sep 29, 2011 at 12:42

23 Answers 23


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 talon.

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. Commented Mar 10, 2011 at 5:38
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    "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 Commented Mar 10, 2011 at 6:07
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    It would be nice if the rundown had a small summary in your answer :-)
    – Ivo Flipse
    Commented Mar 10, 2011 at 20:21
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    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.
    Commented Oct 6, 2011 at 5:59
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    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. Commented Jan 24, 2012 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 Nazgûl 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.

To sum up: The ring had to stay hidden at all times from Sauron's eye, and on top of an eagle on board up in the air would ruin the cover and could endure death.

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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
    Commented Mar 10, 2011 at 6:29
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    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. Commented Mar 13, 2011 at 19:11
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    This is my favorite answer, since the WHOLE POINT of sending a hobbit on this mission was to not draw attention. Commented Jan 25, 2012 at 17:50
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    "...were forbidden in directly helping mortals..." hey I never knew this... quote or something please? That would explain many things...
    – Aditya M P
    Commented Dec 17, 2012 at 23:01
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    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
    Commented Jul 14, 2013 at 7:10

This is not a plot hole. The Eagles are the representatives of Manwë 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 Manwë, 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.

  • I like this explanation. Manwe didn't come down from Taniquetil to defeat Sauron, but he does lend aid in other ways
    – Andomar
    Commented Mar 27, 2012 at 20:35
  • Another excellent answer. Commented Nov 24, 2012 at 14:41
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    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).
    – user8719
    Commented Jun 9, 2014 at 23:21
  • Also from the Valar point of view: there were various disorders in the world that the Ring acts as a catalyst to set straight: restoring the "rule of Men" with the return of the King/the restoration of order in Rohan, giving Galadriel and the remainder of Noldor a chance to atone for the Doom of the Noldor, Durin's Bane and Shelob were alive etc etc. These events were allowed to play themselves out mostly without divine intervention.
    – Amarth
    Commented Nov 24, 2022 at 17:21

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
    Commented Mar 10, 2011 at 14:06
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    @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
    Commented Mar 10, 2011 at 14:27
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    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
    Commented Mar 10, 2011 at 17:39
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    Gandalf has a sharp sword...he could have just cut the hand off :P
    – Jeff
    Commented Mar 10, 2011 at 22:44
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    Now that would have made a GREAT movie! :)
    – user296
    Commented Mar 12, 2011 at 7:54

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

  • The Nazgûl (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. Commented Nov 24, 2012 at 14:39
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    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
    Commented Feb 9, 2014 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
    Commented Feb 9, 2014 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).


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
    Commented Apr 2, 2012 at 1:31

I'm answering because I think there is an aspect of the use of magic in The Lord of the Rings that I commonly see ignored and is ignored in many of the answers.


One does not simply fly directly into the gaze of the Lidless Eye.

Long Version

Enchantment vs. Magic

I am not a Tolkien expert, but my understanding of Tolkien's use of magic, I believe described in his "On Fairy Stories", distinguishes between a more mechanical kind of magic and a more spiritual "enchantment".

Forgive/Correct me if I'm misusing his use of the words. It's been a long while since I've read it. There are many many examples of this enchantment, but some that spring to my mind are Faramir's description of the character of staves that he gives to Frodo and Sam, and of their experiences with the elven cloaks, rope, boats, etc. No concrete rules of physics are established. Instead, objects seem to vaguely bend the rules of physics in accordance with the atmosphere/nature of the object or their creator. And it's often not completely explained or even explicitly claimed. It is noteworthy that we're never conclusively told whether Sam's rope untied itself at his call or whether his knot was bad when they climb down the cliff at night.

When the party is climbing Caradhras, they discuss whether the "fell voices" they hear are the wind or some creature. Tolkien likes to maintain uncertainty, and it's more about the mood & (spiritual?) atmosphere than the physics of what is occurring. Another example is the way the book describes the wills of Gandalf and the Balrog when they first confront one another on each side of a door, although that is a little more explicit. Also, when the 3 travelers Gimli, Aragorn, and Legolas are chasing the orcs who have captured Merry and Pippin, they talk of a hostile will that is set against them as they journey that is making their trek more wearying.

Tolkien doesn't usually enumerate the way the different people and objects can manipulate the laws of physics like some other fantasy works of literature (in contrast to the use of the One Power in The Wheel of Time, for example). Instead, Tolkien creates "atmospheres" and "auras", for lack of a better word, around people and objects to give them a sort of personality, a nature, a character. It's part of what makes the conflict between good and evil so epic in the story, I think. Tolkien's use of wizardry and sorcery in LotR is, in my opinion, more along the lines of "enchantment" (as referenced in "On Fairy Stories"), but I consistently see people treating it as a mechanical manipulation of physics. Gandalf is an interesting example, as we can name some specific mechanical feats he can accomplish with fire. But other things he does are more vague and more about who he is than any ability we could name. His power as compared in the story in the eyes of Pippin with Denethor, for example. (This is also why doing things like pitting Gandalf against Darth Vader in a fight don't work well, in my opinion. You have to decide which kind of magic/powers the fight will be composed of, and in my opinion, that determines who will win.) Aragorn is the same way, as is Faramir, Galadriel, and most of the characters in the book.

Sauron's Power is Firstly Enchantment, not Magic

One of the objections I saw raised to the eagle plan was that Sauron could conceivably throw fireballs at Frodo on an eagle, but I think this misses the point of Sauron's power. There is one part of the story where Gandalf says somewhat ominously that he has not yet been tested against Sauron. And Aragorn when he confronts Sauron with the Palantír barely has the strength to overcome him and wrest the stone away. It is mentioned that if the hobbits were captured, there is no doubt that in the end they would tell everything. And I don't think it would be in line with Tolkien to attribute this to merely physical torture. See Pippin's encounter with Sauron through the stone. I think you could attribute parts of this to some mechanical ability, but not all of it.

This is one of the beautiful things about Tolkien's writing that the movies could not or did not fully convey, I don't think.

The Eagle Plan Doesn't Solve the Real Problem of Sauron's Strength

I think the main reason why the eagle plan would not work is that few if any on Middle Earth have any hope of winning the contest of will that would occur in a direct flight straight into the Eye of Sauron, even without considering the draw of the Ring. The strongest good characters in the story are many times described as not certain of their ability to face Sauron's power directly. It's actually a question that comes up a lot, asked about Tom Bombadil, Gandalf, Aragorn, Galadriel, and Denethor, at least. And I don't think all these comparisons are meant to be military, even the talk about Tom Bombadil being overwhelmed as the guardian of the Ring or of Galadriel's contest of wills between her and Dol Guldur. It is not just, or even not primarily, Sauron's military strength that makes him formidable. In the books, his strength is more about force of will & malice & spiritual(?) presence.

Finally, when you add to the eagle flight scenario the Ring, which entices and draws the user according to Sauron's will, it becomes more impossible. Aside from confrontation with Sauron, both Galadriel and Gandalf have hinted that they feel they are not strong enough to be trusted with the Ring. I do not think they would count themselves strong enough to fly directly into the Eye with it unless perhaps they were to claim it for themselves.

Sidenote - Flying Unnoticed

To the argument that they might slip by Sauron's gaze unnoticed, I would first mention that Frodo has to battle against Sauron's gaze/will/power/etc. without even being seen. Also I contest that they would likely be seen in the open sky, because this mysterious "spiritual" nature of Sauron's power applies to his sight especially, aside from any Palantír. (He is called the "Great Eye", after all). There are several examples in the books of characters like Gandalf (after the battle of Pelennor fields) or Aragorn (talking about the King's seat above Rauros), having or discussing experiences of seeing without a Palantír more from a high place than could probably be physically, mechanically seen. I'm not a medieval literature scholar but I would not be surprised if this idea was drawn from older romances and fairy tales. Hurin's imprisonment by Morgoth on a high place while he sees the lives of his children is an example of this as well. Considering Frodo's numerous experiences of being hundreds of miles away and feeling the Eye just moments away from seeing him, I think we can safely say that this is part of the nature/power/aura/enchantment of Sauron. How the palantír adds to this I am not sure, but I think it is more than physical sight. Also, the whole attack on the Black Gate was calculated to draw away his attention from his own lands, so his ability to see all that goes on in Morder is clearly a central concern in the story. For this reason, I think it would be especially risky to fly bare and unconcealed into the open sky into Mordor, even high up. There is a large chance they would be spotted, especially given the nature of the Ring. And once they were spotted, they (hobbit & eagle) would be confronted with the strength of all of Sauron's will and malice as alluded to above.

And of course on top of all this are the risks others have mentioned: Sauron's military might, the arrows of orcs and the strength of the Nazgûl, who themselves have a terrible power of their own.


I just watched "The LEGO Batman Movie". Apparently, you can fly straight into the Eye's gaze if you are Barbara Gordon. But she's a special case.

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    You’re very right about how Tolkien leaves details of magic to the reader, and that this works well if you take it the right way.
    – PJTraill
    Commented Feb 11, 2016 at 10:40

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. Commented Mar 8, 2013 at 16:01
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    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. Commented Mar 8, 2013 at 16:21
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    That answer sounds like these conspiracy theories :D
    – MadTux
    Commented Apr 30, 2013 at 15:46
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    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
    Commented Aug 25, 2014 at 18:47
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    @Zibbobz: Of course he did. The dwarves used ravens as messengers.
    – Joshua
    Commented May 9, 2016 at 2:27

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 ring's power of corruption. Also, it would be unlikely they would agree to a suicide run into Mordor.


@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.

In The Hobbit, Gandalf did request that the Eagles carry them "far away and setting them down well on their journey across the plains below."

The response was:

The Lord of the Eagles would not take them anywhere near where men lived. “They would shoot at us with their great bows of yew,” he said, “for they would think we were after their sheep. And at other times they would be right. No! we are glad to cheat the goblins of their sport, and glad to repay our thanks to you, but we will not risk ourselves for dwarves in the southward plains.”

Similar reasons could be given for trying to fly across a continent while heavily laden with armored warriors (or even with just the hobbits, if they decided to risk sending them with only the eagles for protection). The eagles would need to take frequent rest-stops, and then they would have to take longer stops during which they would need to hunt.

During each of these stops they would need to land. Each of these stops would be potential ambush points (and as has been pointed out many times in these answers, they would not be traveling unseen).

Even without the danger of the Fell-beasts, which the Fellowship did not yet know of, fearing that the Nazgûl mounted on new horses could likely intercept them at the many, many stops they would need to make between Rivendell and Mordor would be quite reasonable.


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.


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 Nazgûl.

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.


They are not his to give.

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


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...

  • 2
    Then again, they helped Frodo escape from Mount Doom after the Ring was destroyed.
    – Cerberus
    Commented Apr 2, 2012 at 1:31

Pure Suicide.

There has been a lot of discussion about using the eagles to fly directly to Mount Doom, and I won't go over it all again. I will point out a few things found in the LotR books that are not often mentioned.

First: the Fellowship of the Ring has to hide on the way up the Misty Mountains (both in the book and in the movie). Why? Because there were thousands of Sauron-aligned evil intelligent birds moving everywhere and looking for enemies of Sauron. Clearly some were servants of Sauron and some were servants of Saruman, but in either case, the distinct sense I get from the book as written is that the air is largely full of enemies for the Fellowship. Why should we assume that it would be so easy to just fly into Mordor if there are possibly millions of evil-aligned flying creatures everywhere? The eagles would have had a long, continuous fight on their hands just to get there.

Later in the books, we see that after their "drowning" while trying to cross the border into Rivendell, the Black Riders have traded up their horses for "fell beasts" that were at least as big as the eagles and perfectly capable of patrolling the airspace over Mordor. It is extremely likely that these beasts were something that Sauron had in Mordor for some period of time, and people like Gandalf and Elrond were likely knowledgeable enough about some of the nasty things there that they would not have even attempted to just fly in. Again, flying in on a group of eagles when you are going to end up in air-to-air combat with ALL 9 riders on their fell beast steeds with no backup? That's even worse than going on foot!

Finally, we know from The Silmarillion and the Hobbit that "drakes" and dragons had often been aligned with Morgoth and his successor Sauron over the course of time. Elrond would have had good reason to think that Sauron might just have a dragon of some kind in his employ. Based on everything we know about Middle-earth dragons, the last place you would ever want to be would be staring one down face to face in the air with nowhere to find cover! If something like Smaug were to encounter the Fellowship of the Ring riding eagles, I wouldn't give them much of a chance, especially if the drake is backed up by 9 ring wraiths riding "fell beasts".

That only covers a few of the flying evil creatures that were hinted at in the books. There are repeated hints of worse and nastier things than were explicitly written about living in Mordor as Frodo makes his way across that land. It is very likely that some significant percent of the nasty creatures that had been drawn to Mordor by Sauron's call could fly!

I might also mention the fact that Saruman was capable of throwing a blizzard at the Fellowship as they tried to cross the mountains. Once more; being very easy to spot, but fast, puts them at risk of having that sort of magic thrown at them while airborne. A highly risky prospect.

Flying in on eagles would have been fast, but it also would have been pure suicide.


They have to do this in secret.

'And I will choose you companions to go with you, as far as they will or fortune allows. The number must be few, since your hope is in speed and secrecy'.

Additionally, Sauron's eye, The Witch King of Angmar and his Nazgûl, The Mouth of Sauron as well as the orcs can easily spot them when they are in Mordor.

As a matter of fact, the video makes sense that this would happen if they brought the Eagles to Mordor.

  • Eagles on earth can fly at an altitude of 12,000 feet; not show that arrows would reach that high Commented Jan 16, 2020 at 15:35
  • That's a lot of arrows that means that there is a possiblity that they will be shot. Commented Jan 20, 2020 at 12:56

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.

  • 4
    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
    Commented Aug 25, 2014 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
    Commented Aug 25, 2014 at 19:49
  • 3
    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
    Commented Aug 25, 2014 at 19:54

Notes from the excellent article, One does not simply fly into Mordor, by Benita J. Prins:

Sure, The Lord of the Rings is a great story, but you have to admit that it does have a huge plot hole. Why didn’t they just fly on the Eagles into Mordor and drop the Ring into Mount Doom? That would’ve been so much easier, as well as quicker!

  1. Lack of stealth and secrecy
    • They would probably have been seen and taken out by archers, or even the Nazgûl themselves
    • Hobbits are known to be stealthy and are therefore the better choice
  2. The ring could not just be dropped from the air
    • The tunnel to the Crack of Doom had to be navigated, one that presumably an eagle could not fit down
    • A humanoid (man/hobbit/elf/dwarf/etc.) would have had to accompany the eagle to finish the job
  3. The eagles may not have complied with "orders"
    • They were free spirits, or free beings
    • They were servants of the Valar and the Valar did not like to meddle in the affairs of Middle Earth
  4. Deus ex machina
    • A [plot] device used to solve an intractable problem
    • The use of which should be kept to a minimum (a bit like the ring itself)

One does not simply fly an eagle to Mordor


I think giant flying eagles flying into Mordor could have easily been spotted by Sauron and intercepted by the Nazgûl. That would have given up the plan for the destruction of the ring in Mount Doom and handed him the ring. If the Eagles won the battle with the Nazgûl in the air, then Sauron would have turned his attention to guarding Mount Doom and foiled the plan. In short, flying giant eagles in would not equate with "sneaking" in and either reveal the plan for the destruction of the ring or have given the ring to Sauron.

However, more fundamental than this: the eagles are essentially giant, wild animals, more aligned with the spirits of the forest such as Ents, Beren and Tom Bombadil. The battles of men and orcs, good and evil, are not part of their world high on the mountain tops in the wild. The "civilized" world of men and orcs is something they seek to avoid at all costs. They don't like creatures who destroy forests and create ugly buildings.

The eagles are definitely not anyone's pet or steed, they are wild, proud, intelligent animals, and have little to do with Gandalf except for the most dire of circumstances. They loathe unnatural things, orcs, Sauron, and the abominations of Morgoth. So flying into Mordor was something they were only prepared to do as a special gift to those who defeated the eventual threat to the natural world that the dominion of Sauron over all of Middle-earth would have represented, and only after the threat of Sauron and the Nazgûl was removed.


The best answer is obvious. I'm going to tell that version of the story to show you why the Eagles didn't take the Ring to Mordor:

"Once upon a time, there was a magical Very Bad Ring. The Very Bad Ring could only be destroyed by the lava inside a certain volcano which was very far away. So the people gave the Very Bad Ring to some giant Eagles. The Eagles flew to the very far away volcano and dropped the Very Bad Ring into the lava. The Very Bad Ring was destroyed, and everyone was so happy that they threw a great big party and the Eagles were the guests of honor. Everyone sang and danced all night long. And they all lived happily ever after. The End."

Would you want to read a three volume, 1,200 page version of that story? I know I wouldn't.

All the in-universe answers are purely speculative in nature. This out-of-universe answer is the only one you need. The story would have been incredibly stupid and no one would want to read it - big birds flying to a volcano and dropping something into it just isn't an interesting story. There is no conflict, no tension, no drama. It would be the worst book ever written.


I don't know much about vulcanology or what Tolkien knew about Vulcanology, but a volcano does not have a open vertical straight shaft going down to the magma all of the time. The vertical shaft is usually open only when lava is coming out, and then the flow of lava is upwards which would keep the Ring above the magma chamber. And when the eruption is over the lava in the shaft cools and solidifies and blocks the shaft.

And many volcanoes have non vertical twisting shafts.

And the Ring could only be destroyed in the Cracks of Doom inside the mountain because of the mystical magical need to destroy it where it was made.

So their goal was not to drop the ring in the crater at the top of Mount Doom and hope that would work, but to find the doors leading to the Crack of Doom, enter them, and throw the ring into the fires there, which for mystical reasons were the only place in the entire mountain where the Ring could be destroyed.

And if the eagles and their passengers were detected headed for Mount Doom, Sauron might use his control over the Mountain's fires to stop their plan. Sauron might turn off the fires in the Crack of Doom, so that tossing the ring in there would not melt it, and later retrieve the Ring before turning the fires back on. Or Sauron might make the mountain erupt furiously, spewing forth a miles-wide cloud of poison gas that kills the eagles and their passengers before they can land on the mountain.

So add that to the many other reasons, both correct and incorrect, that have been given as reasons why the Eagle Plan might have been a bad idea, reasons that Tolkien might have had someone mention in the Council if he had thought of the Eagle Plan.

Added 02-098-2023.

Here is my answer from: which partially overlaps this one. One very practical answer is that Volcanos often plug themselves up with solidified magma and ash.

So possibly the conspicuous giant eagles might have to wait for around for days or weeks waiting for an eruption to clear the path down to the magma chambers. And Sauron might send forces to attack the waiting eagles.

And once Mount Doom was erupting and its throat was clear, the eagles could have been killed by the eruption while still rather far away from the crater and its throat. Thus the ring would have fallen on the outer slopes of Mount Doom.

I don't know how much Tolkien knew about volcanoes but he might have known that dropping something into a crater wasn't enough to be certain that object would reach a magma chamber.

Furthermore, everyone seems to assume that the Ring could only be destroyed in the magma of Mount doom, which was the only substance on Middle-earth hot enough to melt the One Ring. But maybe the temperature of the magma wasn't important. Maybe the Ring could only be destroyed in the place where it was made. That would be a fairly reasonable magical assumption.

And that would mean that the Ring only be destroyed in the specific magma chamber where it was forged, and not in any other chambers or channels full of magma which might inside Mount Doom.

So dropping the ring into the crater might cause it to land in some magma, but not the right magma. And maybe landing in the wrong magma wouldn't destroy the ring for magical reasons, no matter how hot that wrong magma was. So maybe the ring had to be carried into Mount Doom via Sauron's tunnels to the Crack of Doom and thrown in there and only there to be destroyed.

And there is the problem that the giant eagles would be quite conspicuous and might be seen by watchers and guards, and might also be too big to fit into Sauron's tunnels - I doubt Gandalf or anyone knew the width the tunnels. So the eagles might have to let off a few person at the mouth of the tunnels who might have to fight their way past whatever guards who might be in the tunnels. The tunnel turned out to be unguarded, but how could anyone have known that ahead of time.

And of course there was the problem with the Ring possibly corrupting the eagles on the way to Mount Doom. The eagles were fierce predators who were large enough to catch and eat people like Hobbits, Dwarves, Orcs, Elves, and Men. I don't know if they ever did eat people, but that is a possibility. And they seem to have been friendly with Gandalf and Radagast, and Galadrial. So they were probably more opposed to Sauron than opposed to the Free Peoples.

That doesn't mean they were very good, merely that they were good enough to oppose Sauron and his followers sometimes. And it seems that nobody could resist the temptation of the Ring enough to destroy it once they reached the Crack of Doom, but Hobbits had the most resistance and the best chance to do so. And it is quite possible that Elrond and Gandalf had enough knowledge of the eagles to predict that the eagles had less resistance to the temptation of the Ring than Hobbits or Men or Elves.

And those are some reasons why I don't think that not using the plan of riding the eagles into Mordor was a plot hole by Tolkien or a mistake by the characters.

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