When Gandalf gets imprisoned in Saruman's tower, Orthanc, a Butterfly/Moth comes to visit him and appears to tell him that something is about to happen. In this case a Giant Eagle comes and saves him. Is there an explanation to this? Does Gandalf give the moth a message to send to the Eagles? Can anyone elaborate on this?

  • 6
    Is that in the film? I can't remember any moths being involved in the book. As far as I remember the eagle had been searching for Gandalf to deliver a message from Radegast. Aug 3, 2014 at 7:40
  • 3
    @JohnRennie Yes, only in the film.
    – Flamma
    Aug 3, 2014 at 12:09
  • It heightens the drama - youtube.com/watch?v=k3n-s6rT_6c ;) Aug 3, 2014 at 22:27

4 Answers 4


The moth just exists in the movies, but a possible source in the books is in Gandalf's parting words to Radagast, as relayed by him at The Council of Elrond:

We shall need your help, and the help of all things that will give it. Send out messages to all the beasts and birds that are your friends. Tell them to bring news of anything that bears on this matter to Saruman and Gandalf. Let messages be sent to Orthanc.

The moth could therefore be one of "the beasts and birds that are your friends" (although the movie omits the Radagast scene).

Of course in the books the Great Eagle comes directly to Orthanc and there is no indication that he was summoned or conjured from a moth in any way:

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.

The moth also appears in the movies during the "Black Gate Opens" scene, where again it presages the Eagles, and likewise in the first Hobbit movie (we can expect the same in the third).

Beyond that there is no indication of what, if any, significance it has other than just being a movie conceit.

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    IIRC, one of the times eagles were involved Galadriel had a hand in sending them
    – The Fallen
    Aug 3, 2014 at 13:17
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    @SSumner - correct; that was after Gandalf fought the Balrog and Gwaihir found him on the mountaintop: "That indeed is the command of the Lady Galadriel who sent me to look for you".
    – user8719
    Aug 3, 2014 at 13:39

In the movie, the moth is just a moth who happened to pass by, and Gandalf deftly captures it (he must have trained with that guy). Then Gandalf "talks" to the moth and releases it. Apparently, Gandalf is a master hypnotist and convinces the moth to transmit a message to the eagles. He does the same again in the Hobbit movie. In the books there is no moth; it is a movie-only element.

You have to admire the moth, though:

  • By itself and before meeting Gandalf, it was already flying up to the top of Orthanc, not a small feat for a moth.
  • The moth then moves swiftly and finds Gwaihir (so either Gwaihir has a well-known address, or the moth has a very good radar).
  • The moth can somehow talk to Gwaihir and deliver a message. Not only the moth can talk a language that Gwaihir understands, but it also is loud enough to grab Gwaihir's attention.
  • The moth comes back to Gandalf and succeeds at reaching him right before Gwaihir shows up. This implies that the moth actually flies faster than "the swiftest of the Great Eagles".
  • The moth could have set out a long time before, but only reached Orthanc shortly before Gwaihir because moths only have tiny little wings. Nov 20, 2016 at 16:42

Gandalf uses the moth to send a message to the eagles.


The Great Eagles are the servants of Manwë

Gandalf is a member of the Isarti - along with Saruman and Radagast - sent by the Valar to aid the inhabitants of Middle Earth against Sauron.

In both appearances of the moth in the Peter Jackson movies, it appears to Gandalf just before before the eagles appear. My interpretation is that the moth is a messenger to Gandalf from Manwë sent to inform him of the imminent arrival of the eagles.

The the novel, Gandalf also receives the direct aid of the Valar when he dies after defeating the Balrog. His spirit is 'sent back for a while', presumably to Valinor, before he is resurrected as Gandalf the White.

  • 3
    Gandalf actually really died and was sent back by Iluvatar to the mountaintop; see Letter 156 and The White Rider.
    – user8719
    Aug 3, 2014 at 16:25

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