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"I shan't call it the end, till we've cleared up the mess." — Sam
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Darrell Sweet - The Lord of the Eagles.jpg
General Information
MembersThorondor, Great Eagle, Gwaihir, Landroval, Meneldor
GalleryImages of Eagles

The Eagles were birds that served as messengers of Manwë. Among those were the Great Eagles, immense birds who were sentient and capable of speech, and often helped Men, Elves and Wizards in the quests to defeat evil. They were "devised" by Manwë Súlimo, King of the Valar, and were often called the Eagles of Manwë.

They were sent from Valinor to Middle-earth to keep an eye on the exiled Ñoldor, and on their foe the evil Vala Morgoth.



The Great Eagles were messengers of Manwë, the ruler of the sky and Lord of the Valar, being perhaps "spirits in the shape of hawks and eagles" that brought news from Middle-earth to his halls upon Taniquetil.[1]

First Age

Thorondor flies Beren Erchamion and Lúthien Tinúviel over Gondolin.

At a command of Manwë, for a time the Lord of the Eagles, Thorondor, kept his eyries at the top of Thangorodrim, the volcano above Angband itself[2][3]. While they lived there, Thorondor helped Fingon rescue Maedhros. Thorondor's folk later removed their eyries to the Crissaegrim, part of the Echoriad about Gondolin. There they were friends of Turgon, keeping spies off the mountains, bringing him news and keeping spies off the borders. Because of their guardianship, the Orcs were unable to approach either the nearby mountains,[4] or the important ford of Brithiach to the south;[5] their watch had been redoubled after the coming of Tuor,[6] enabling Gondolin to remain undiscovered the longest of all Elven realms. When the city fell at last, the eagles of Thorondor protected the fugitives, driving away the orcs that ambushed them at Cirith Thoronath, the Eagles' Cleft north of Gondolin.[4]

Thorondor wounded Morgoth in the face after Morgoth's battle with Fingolfin, and he carried Fingolfin's corpse to the Echoriath, where he was buried by Fingon.

The Eagles fought alongside the army of the Valar, Elves and Edain during the War of Wrath at the end of the First Age. After the appearance of winged dragons, all the great birds gathered under Thorondor to Eärendil, and destroyed the majority of the dragons.[7]


In the Second Age, a pair of Eagles had an eyrie in the King's House in Armenelos, the capital of Númenor until the time of Tar-Ancalimon, when the Kings of Númenor became hostile to the Valar.

The Númenóreans believed that three eagles, "the Witnesses of Manwë", were sent by Manwë to guard the summit of Meneltarma; these appeared whenever one approached the hallow and staying in the sky during the Three Prayers.

Many eagles lived upon the hills around Sorontil in the north of the island.[8]

Eagle-shaped storm clouds, called the "Eagles of the Lords of the West", were sent by Manwë when he tried to reason or threaten them.[9]

Third Age

"- Farewell! wherever you fare, till your eyries receive you at the journey's end!
- May the wind under your wings bear you where the sun sails and the moon walks.
― Polite way to exchange good-bye with an Eagle

By the end of the Third Age, a colony under the Great Eagle lived in the northern parts of the Misty Mountains who mostly nested upon the eastward slopes not far from the High Pass leading from Rivendell, and thus in the direct vicinity of the Goblin-town beneath; they often afflicted the goblins and disrupted their plans.

These Eagles helped the Elves of Rivendell and Radagast in watching the land and in gathering news about the Orcs.[10][11]. As a result of feeding on the sheep of the local Woodmen of Mirkwood, their relationship was not good and the Eagles were afraid of their bows.

Those rescued Thorin's company from a band of goblins and wargs and carried them to the Carrock[12] and some days later they espied the mustering of goblins all over the Mountains, to be gathered under the Great Eagle in the Battle of Five Armies near Erebor. It was only with their help that the Dwarves, Men and Elves managed to defeat the goblins.[13] The Great Eagle became King of All Birds.

The Eagles appeared in great numbers at the Battle of the Morannon, helping the Host of the West against the Nazgûl. Several of them rescued Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee from Mount Doom after the One Ring had been destroyed.[14]


In Gnomish, one of Tolkien's early conceptions of an Elven language, a word for "eagle" is ioroth (poetic form ior). A cognate of the same meaning in Qenya is the poetic ea(r) or earen. Another Gnomish word for "an eagle" is thorn.[15]


Tolkien's painting of an eagle on a crag appears in some editions of The Hobbit. According to Christopher Tolkien, the author based this picture on a painting by Archibald Thorburn of an immature Golden Eagle, which Christopher found for him in The Birds of the British Isles by T.A. Coward. However, Tolkien's use of this model does not necessarily mean that his birds were ordinary Golden Eagles.

Other versions of the legendarium

For some time Tolkien considered the Eagles as bird-shaped Maiar,[16] as he felt it unlikely Ilúvatar would grant fëar to animals. However, the notion of a "Maia" like Thorondor having descendants contradicted later concepts and Tolkien later decided that the Great Eagles (like Roäc and the Thrush of The Hobbit) were common animals that had been "taught language by the Valar, and raised to a higher level — but without fëar."[17]

Flying the Ring to Mount Doom

"The Eagles are a dangerous 'machine'. I have used them sparingly, and that is the absolute limit of their credibility or usefulness. "
Letter 210, J.R.R. Tolkien
File:Steve Notley - Bob the Angry Flower's Lord of the Ringz.gif
Parody comic strip by Steve Notley which shows Bob the Angry Flower flying the Ring to Mordor on an Eagle.

Many sceptical readers have wondered why the Eagles simply didn't carry Frodo and the One Ring into Mordor and drop the Ring in Mount Doom. At first glance this seems incredibly easy compared to the alternative (and it would have made a boring book).

Particularly, on the writer-director DVD commentary track, Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh repeat this statement and begin joking around about it; writing partner Philippa Boyens then bursts out and angrily declares "Why does everyone always say that?! The flying Nazgûl on their Fell Beasts would have stopped them! How more obvious does that need to be?! Mordor has flying creatures too!" As a consequence, Jackson and Walsh fall silent, then quietly admit that her explanation entirely makes sense.

Several explanations have been given as internal story-wise reasons; some of them are:

  • The Eagles coming from the air would have been fairly obvious and defensless to Sauron; the Fell beasts and/or archers would most likely have stopped the attempt. The Eagles expressed fear in The Hobbit about going into the Lands of Men because of their bows. However this danger perhaps could possibly have been countered with a parallel divertive battle plan, more or less like the Battle of Morannon begun to help Frodo (see External links for such a discussion).
  • The Eagles would most likely have become corrupted by the power of the Ring and would have most likely attempted to prevent the destruction of the Ring. Gandalf already knew that anyone might and would refuse to throw in the Ring but the Eagles, as Maiar, could have been more dangerous.
  • The Eagles would have refused to aid the Fellowship because they, being emissaries of the Valar like Gandalf, were not allowed to go on the offensive against evil. Flying the Ring to Mordor could have been the Fellowship's first priority but maybe they were unable to contact the Eagles in time.

The Eagles not being mentioned at all during the Council of Elrond is considered a logical plot hole by itself. Although many flawed proposals are made during it (destroy the Ring, sending it to the West, giving it to Tom Bombadil), none of the participants thought to propose this quite obvious solution, especially since it was not long after Gandalf described his escape with Gwaihir; even if the Eagle plan was to be countered or dismissed implausible later for some reason (such the ones above), it would be only logical to be mentioned.

If the Eagles could not have flown the Ring to Mordor, Gandalf might still have arranged with Gwaihir for them to fly the Fellowship across the Misty Mountains, avoiding the Redhorn Gate and Moria.

The party of Tolkienists that accepts this as a plot hole usually respond that in any book there are usually plot holes. In a larger, far more detailed and realistic book we expect fewer (if any) plot holes, when in reality there is a far greater chance.

External links


  1. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Silmarillion, "Quenta Silmarillion: Of the Beginning of Days"
  2. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Silmarillion, "Quenta Silmarillion: Of the Noldor in Beleriand"
  3. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Silmarillion, "Quenta Silmarillion: Of the Ruin of Beleriand and the Fall of Fingolfin"
  4. 4.0 4.1 J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Silmarillion, "Quenta Silmarillion: Of Tuor and the Fall of Gondolin"
  5. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Unfinished Tales, "Of Tuor and his Coming to Gondolin"
  6. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Silmarillion, "Quenta Silmarillion: Of the Ruin of Doriath"
  7. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Silmarillion, "Quenta Silmarillion: Of the Voyage of Eärendil and the War of Wrath"
  8. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Unfinished Tales, "A Description of the Island of Númenor"
  9. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Silmarillion, "Akallabêth: The Downfall of Númenor"
  10. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "The Council of Elrond"
  11. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "The Ring Goes South"
  12. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, "Queer Lodgings"
  13. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, "The Return Journey"
  14. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, "The Field of Cormallen"
  15. J.R.R. Tolkien, "I-Lam na-Ngoldathon: The Grammar and Lexicon of the Gnomish Tongue", in Parma Eldalamberon XI (edited by Christopher Gilson, Arden R. Smith, and Patrick H. Wynne), pp. 51, 73
  16. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Morgoth's Ring, "Part Two. The Annals of Aman" p. 138
  17. J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Morgoth's Ring, "Part Five. Myths Transformed" pp. 409-11