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To who/what are the eagles loyal? And why?

It seems the eagles are loyal (to some extent) to Gandalf and to the men, dwarves and elves. Why? What do they get in return for that? Are there documented battles where the men/dwarves/elves helped the eagles? After all, a coalition is only maintained if every party has benefit from it...

It sometimes looks as if Tolkien uses the eagles as a deus ex machina: a solution in case the war seems totally lost. Is there anything known about what the eagles possibly/probably represented in the real world?

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    I heard that Gandalf has some very incriminating photos of them. – Valorum Jan 18 '15 at 20:10
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    @Richard: I always knew Gandalf was hiding a camera in his staf. That's why it can lighten up the 21st hall... – Willem Van Onsem Jan 18 '15 at 20:14
  • IIRC, in The Hobbit, one of the eagles outright says that they are busy doing their own thing but they don't like goblins and THAT is why they helped Bilbo and the Dwarves. As far as why they keep showing up when Gandalf needs a lift, Darth Satan mentions a quote from The Hobbit about Gandalf having helped the Lord of the Eagles at some point. – geewhiz Jan 19 '15 at 3:35
  • @geewhiz: is there a particular reason why they hate goblins? – Willem Van Onsem Jan 19 '15 at 11:19
  • @CommuSoft: I don't remember. It may have been a one off line in the book or they may have explained it. Either way, I'd need to look it up. – geewhiz Jan 19 '15 at 14:56
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Their loyalty is Manwe, king of the Valar. From the Silmarillion:

"For Manwe to whom all birds are dear, and to whom they bring news upon Taniquetil from Middle-Earth, had sent forth the race of Eagles, commanding them to dwell in the craigs of the North, and to keep watch upon Morgoth;..."

A command specific to the First Age, but shows his authority over them.

Gandalf did save the life of one of them (Gwaihir*) and they give him some help in return. But they mostly stay out of the matters of other races.

*It is strange I can't find anything about this now. I could have sworn there was something somewhere that confirmed Gwaihir was the 'Lord of the Eagles' Gandalf helped. I'm not seeing it in the Hobbit/Lord of the Rings itself, though in Robert Fosters "The Complete Guide to Middle-Earth" (second? edition), the Gwaihir entry includes:

"Lord of the Eagles of the Misty Mountains. Gwaihir befriended Gandalf when the wizard healed him of a poisoned wound".

I did check all the page references and did not find confirmation. Maybe an assumption being made there too between Gwaihir's 'Windlord' name, and friendship with Gandalf.

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    You should amplify this answer! Quotes from the Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, etc. – Lexible Jan 18 '15 at 20:17
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    The quote from the Hobbit is "Gandalf, who had often been in the mountains, had once rendered a service to the eagles and healed their lord from an arrow-wound" but Tolkien never actually confirms that the Lord of the Eagles from the Hobbit is Gwaihir (it's a common and reasonable assumption though, but he could just as easily be Thorondor who is never confirmed to be dead by the Third Age either). – user8719 Jan 19 '15 at 1:15

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