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I'm currently re-reading Lord of the Rings for the umpteenth time, and a question occurred to me.

When Gandalf hears from Faramir that Frodo and Sam were heading for Cirith Ungol, he is shocked. Obviously, he hadn't planned to take them that way if he had survived Moria. So, what was his plan? We know he couldn't have got into Mordor via the Morannon. Is there any clue anywhere of the route he had been planning to take to get to Mount Doom?

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    He plans to simply walk into Mordor. – Jeff Oct 14 '11 at 2:03
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    @Itay Moav - Gandalf explained to Frodo that not even the fire of Ancalagon the Black can destroy the One Ring. – Rex Kerr Oct 14 '11 at 15:35
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    @Rex Kerr - Yep, thought I remember something with Dragon fire. Just not the important detail – Itay Moav -Malimovka Oct 14 '11 at 16:06
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    Note the Morannon and Cirith Ungol are not the only ways into Mordor. The Morgul / Nameless Pass is the main alternate route to the Morannon, Cirith Ungol is just close by. "Far up the northern wall of the Morgul Pass, far above the main roadway, was a steep secondary pass reached by a perilous stairway, and known as Cirith Ungol." en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minor_places_in_Middle-earth#M – tonylo Oct 15 '11 at 18:03
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    Perhaps the safest route of all would have been to hike east around the Ered Lithui and then circle back west and thus enter Mordor from the east. – RobertF Oct 25 '13 at 21:33
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As Others have already answered, there was no distinct plan other than to send the ring off towards Mordor in hopes of destroying it. Elrond specifically calls this out and suggests that the lack of a plan is a virtue in and of itself:

I think that this task is appointed for you, Frodo; and that if you do not find a way, no one will. This is the hour of the Shire-folk, when they arise from their quiet fields to shake the towers and counsels of the Great. Who of all the Wise could have foreseen it? Or, if they are wise, why should they expect to know it, until the hour has struck?

Before the fellowship departs he cautions:

Look not too far ahead!

The Plan, espoused by the Wise is to not hold too dearly to any one course of action. A loosely formulated plan allows the hand of Providence to play a role in its success. Boromir provides an example of a specific plan, influenced by ideology and carried out by force of will, that goes astray. Boromir's singular goal is to bring the ring to Gondor, unable to deviate from this plan he uses coercion and force to further his plan and ultimately is tempted by the Ring to attack Frodo.

Evil, in the Lord of the Rings is often characterized as unyielding uniformity, a Plan; while Good is aligned with natural and organic processes that deal with change rather than trying to control it. So Gandalf's plan allows events to unfold naturally without the domination of his, or anyone else's will.

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    So... Elrond basically said, "Eh, just wing it." – Steam May 13 '13 at 13:44
  • @Steam: And if Boromir complained Elrond could tell him "Hey, it worked for Earendil... " – einpoklum - reinstate Monica Jan 25 '14 at 23:03
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    @Steam Yes, Elrond basically said that. Which isn't all that smart in my opinion. It's one thing for the Wise to say a plan must be flexible, and that the Fellowship must be ready to think on their feet, but a completely different thing to have no plan at all. "Here, take these guns. Go take Berlin. How? I don't know, I'm sure you'll figure it out. Do not think ahead." :P – Andres F. Jan 26 '14 at 0:18
  • Elrond had already messed up his try at getting rid of the Ring. – Oldcat Jul 3 '14 at 19:30
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    @Steam: Keep in mind that we're not talking "realistic fiction" here; we're inside an epic story, and Elrond realizes it's an epic - and there are certain ways in which one acts if one is in an epic. Making detailed plans is not one; perhaps too he realizes that (just as the ownership of the ring by Bilbo and Frodo shows the influence of Iluvatar) much must be left up to Iluvatar. "God will provide, my son." – Matt Gutting Jul 4 '14 at 16:42
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Aragorn was of the opinion that Gandalf didn't have a specific plan beyond Lorien - he was intending to talk to Galadriel and possibly take a gander in her mirror, and see if he could cook up a plan on the way.

Source: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Headscratchers/TheLordOfTheRings

That same page has a couple of other theories but none seem to stem from the source material.

To clarify, the statement above is based on first page of Chapter 8 of Book Two (hat tip Kate Ebneter):

'We have not decided our course,' said Aragorn. 'Beyond Lothlorien I do not know what Gandalf intended to do. Indeed I do not think that even he had any clear purpose.'

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    How is that a reliable source? It's just people riffing about problems they had with the books. – user366 Oct 13 '11 at 23:49
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    @Mark - I fail to find any place in my answer where I stated it was a reliable source. However, the quote does sound like it's made on the basis of SOME material ("Aragorn was of the opinion", not "I think"). Could be mis-wording on the part of whoever posted this, or could be based on actual source data. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Oct 14 '11 at 0:04
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    The part about "intending to talk to Galadriel" etc. is inferred, but the part about Aragorn thinking Gandalf had no plan past Lothlorien is straight out of the first page of Chapter 8 of Book Two: "'We have not decided our course,' said Aragorn. 'Beyond Lothlorien I do not know what Gandalf intended to do. Indeed I do not think that even he had any clear purpose.'" – Kate Ebneter Oct 14 '11 at 6:31
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    @Kate - I'll add the quote to the answer if you don't mind. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Oct 14 '11 at 22:55
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I have always considered - largely based on the quote from Aragorn - that Gandalf had no ideas and no plans beyond Lothlorien. I think the evidence suggests that he rarely had any clear and decisive plans about how to do things, even though he had clear plans about what had to be achieved. He had very clear plan to take the ring to Mordor and destroy it in the cracks of doom, but exactly how this was going to be achieved in practice, I doubt he really knew.

I suspect that he may have had some idea not unlike the one he finally carried out, to take a force up to the main gate, distract Sauron, and hope the hobbits could sneak in. But I am sure it was not clearly thought out. He strikes me as more a big picture person that a details person.

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    TL;DR: Gandalf was Senior Management. His was to Set High Goals, not worry about implementations. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Dec 7 '12 at 18:57
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It seems to me that Frodo and Sam could have easily crossed over into Mordor from South Ithilien via the pass at the source of the River Poros. OTOH, they would need to have crossed at least double the distance through the deserts of Mordor. But this would not have been insurmountable since the distance from Cirith Ungol was crossed with only one skin of water with only a couple of refills. If they hadn't gone up the Morgul Vale, they would have had 2 water skins available.

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This link appears to answer the question:

http://m.tickld.com/x/this-guy-just-changed-the-way-we-see-lord-of-the-rings-mind-blown

It seems to be legit. I am just not sure on the routes, but this might be it.

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    Please elaborate on this answer. Maybe add an explanation of what is in the link. – Möoz Aug 6 '14 at 0:47
  • The theory seems to be well and truly debunked: middle-earth.xenite.org/2014/08/07/… – user8719 Aug 17 '14 at 18:52
  • That "debunking" seems well and truly thin. There's no question why the story wasn't written with such a central role for the eagles. The first point, that Gandalf and the eagles were forbidden to act so directly by the Valar, is the only point that actually holds any in-universe weight. All of the rest amounts to "that's not what happened because that's not what happened"... thin. That said, throwing up the eagles as a solid answer to the question of what was planned is no less thin... but I like it as an imaginative exercise. – Jason May 5 '15 at 7:39
  • The Eagle plan was far too direct, and in any case it would not have even crossed Gandalf's mind. The Eagles of the Misty Mountains were the amongst the most noble of the "non-humanoid" species of Middle-earth. Besides, their king Gwaihir was a friend of Gandalf's, who he had known for many years, even prior to the incident involving thirteen dwarves and a Hobbit. – maguirenumber6 Feb 24 '16 at 19:31
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I will try to keep my answer very short.

Firstly, this is an epic story and fictional, the characters play the writers song. So yea, Gandalf’s plans are unknown because Tolkien, as far as I know, never put down all his alternative ideas for the Lord of the rings, like the plan for the Community of the ring. That will be kept a mystery forever unless his son, Christopher discovers some papers in which appear some possible ideas for the Community’s roads.

Secondly, yea if I were Gandalf, I would have also planned something like the eagle plan. I would have asked Radagast, when Saruman uses him to lure Gandalf into Orthanc, to send some friends “eagles” to go around spying the Enemy and also to get them ready and prepared to come into Lorien, when the time comes, or having at least one eagle messenger “Gwairhir” flying between Lorien and the eagles nests. If you remember after defeating the Balrog at the top of Zirak-Zigil Gandalf arrives into Lorien with Gwairhir’s help.

So yea the eagle plan theory basics are totally possible and are correct for me. But don’t use the wrong ideas from the films “butterfly”, like Gandalf casting the eagle spell so freely and cheaply.

And lastly, we should already know that the eagles always appear in key points around Gandalf, when he is in total peril and nothing else could have been written that would have either way broken the logic of the third age marc. I don’t wanted to see for example a Valar saving the day, although the eagles are like sons of Manwë.

Tolkien put the eagles and their home on the Misty Mountains, that’s all.

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