Why Didn’t The Eagles Just Carry Them?  An Explanatory Note

“Just Have the Eagles carry them to Mordor.”  “Just give the Ring to an Eagle to drop into the volcano.”  “Why so much walking?”

This is not how things work.

This is not how things work.

This is a pretty common refrain, one that has been brought up again and again by pundits and hacks.  Even the normally rational How It Should Have Ended lampooned Gandalf’s supposedly awful decision-making skills by bringing it up.  The Fellowship, faced with the long journey to Mordor and the hosts of Orcs and Uruk-Hai aligned against them decide to… walk.  This is despite the fact that we had already seen Gandalf rescued and carried by one of the great Eagles and later see them return in ending 3 (of 12) of Return of the King to rescue Sam and Frodo.  So, the argument goes, Gandalf should have just whistled up some Eagles to carry a couple Fellowshipers to Mount Doom and toss the One Ring into its moulten depths.

On the face of it, I understand the critique.  But it rests on the faulty understanding of Lord of the Rings that you get from Peter Jackson’s “No talking animals” version of the work.  It ignores critical aspects of the Eagles and reduces them to airborne taxis with no will of their own.  These are not the Eagles of Tolkien.

In Tolkien’s work the Eagles are a noble, proud, and intelligent race unto themeselves.  They are the mightiest of birds and created with the spirits of lesser angelic beings.  They don’t rescue Gandalf from Saruman because he whispered to a butterfly and ordered them to come, they rescue him because they are asked to help him and because he is a kindred spirit (being also a lesser angel-type).  And even then they are pretty grumpy about it.  They don’t carry him all the way to Rivendell, they only carry him down off the tower and he has to get himself a horse from a pretty inhospitable King Theoden of Rohan (the old guy that Gandalf makes blonde again in the second movie).  The point is, the Eagles agree to help Gandalf out of a jam but they aren’t at his beck and call, he can’t compel them to do anything.

This guy?  This guy is not at anyone's beck and call.  This is an Eagle that wears a crown.  This guy does whatever he wants to do.

This guy? This guy is not at anyone’s beck and call. This is an Eagle that wears a crown. This guy does whatever he wants to do.

Still, wouldn’t the Eagles have been better off helping destroy the One Ring?  Aren’t they Sauron’s enemies too?

Maybe.  But maybe you shouldn’t be so quick to tell an entire race of beings what is in their own best interest.  That never worked out well you colonialist dick.  The Eagles are more than capable of making their own decisions, and they don’t need you or anyone else to come in and tell them how to manage their own damn affairs.  The Eagles understand the dangers of Sauron as well as anyone else; better than most since they have a long history keeping watch on him and fighting both him and his master Morgoth.  Maybe the last time they listened to Gandalf they ended up fighting a war in which they didn’t actually have much to gain and wound up losing a bunch of their best and aren’t too keen on trusting Gandalf Stormcrow again.

And tactically, let’s not ignore Sauron’s impressive defenses.  The dude had armies of orcs, plenty of them armed with anti-air bows, along with Nazgul (flying ringwraiths) and that giant search tower flaming eyeball of his.  The reason the Fellowship thought they could work out on foot was because they wanted to sneak into Mordor.  A phalanx of giant eagles with wizards on their backs is kind of a lot more obvious than a halfling climbing up a secret mountain path.  I can imagine Gandalf asking Gwaihir the Windlord to fly into Mordor and Gwaihir, looking upon the fastness of Mordor- a place where Sauron raised entire damn mountain chains as part of his defenses– and telling Gandalf to go ‘eff himself.  The Eagles aren’t suicidal and the Fellowship should consider themselves damn lucky that they showed up at the Battle of the Black Gate at all.

So the next time you want to laugh about how silly it was to not use the Eagles, why don’t realize what you’re really saying to humanist bastard.  You don’t use a sentient race just because it might be more convenient for you.  You might be able to make common cause with them, but they aren’t your damn slaves.  The Eagles didn’t exist just to help out the Elves and the Men of the West, they had their own problems and their own decisions to make.  So get out of here with your reductionist malarky trying to treat them as simple beasts of burden or machines.

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