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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.
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.
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. 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, or the important ford of Brithiach to the south; their watch had been redoubled after the coming of Tuor, 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.
Thorondor wounded Morgoth in the face after Morgoth's battle with Fingolfin, and he carried Fingolfin's body 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.
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.
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.
- "- 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.. 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 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. 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.
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.
The Thornhoth was the name for the eagle-folk in the earliest legends.
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
In the earliest version of the fall of Gondolin, the king of the eagles, Thorndor (later Thorondor), had no love for Melko (later Melkor) because he had caught many eagles and tortured them for the magic words that would enable him to fly (in order to challenge Manwë for command of the air). When the eagles refused to reveal the magic words Melko cut off their wings in order to fashion a pair form himself, "but it availed not".
For some time Tolkien considered the Eagles as bird-shaped Maiar, 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."
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
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, or at least aid the Fellowship at some part of the journey, such as helping them avoiding the Redhorn Gate and Moria.
At first glance this seems incredibly easy compared to what actually happened (and it would have made a boring book).
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.
Considering the Eagles
Strangely, the possibility of using the Eagles has not been mentioned at all during the Council of Elrond. Although many flawed proposals are made during it (destroy the Ring, guard it, send it to the West, give it to Tom Bombadil), none of the participants thought to propose this seemingly obvious solution, especially after Gandalf described his escape with Gwaihir; even if the Eagle plan was to be countered or dismissed implausible later for some reason (like the ones above), it would be only logical to be mentioned.
On the other hand, the Council was seen deciding the fate of the Ring, not the manner; this was left to the discretion of the Fellowship. Indeed, during its existence, the Fellowship had not even decided whether they should go directly to Mordor or to seek aid from Gondor, let alone the manner to do so, before decisively been broken at Amon Hen. If Gandalf ever considered requesting the help of the Eagles after some point (eg. after passing the Misty Mountains) it's not mentioned in the narrative.
Official explanation to the problem
It seems that nobody noticed this alleged plot-hole during Tolkien's lifetime, as there is no surviving letter where Tolkien is inquired so. It is unknown whether Tolkien ever was aware of the issue while writing the book or later.
Tolkien's only relevant mention is concerning a possible adaptation of the Lord of the Rings into a movie, where he simply mentions that the Eagles should be used carefully as a plot device and was self-aware whenever he used them.
Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh joke around the issue on the writer-director DVD commentary track; writing partner Philippa Boyens then bursts out and angrily declares one of the common explanations: "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!"
- 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.
- This often cited argument could possibly have been countered with a parallel divertive battle plan, more or less like the Battle of the Morannon begun to help Frodo.
- The Eagles could have possibly become corrupted by the power of the Ring and would have most likely attempted to prevent the destruction. Gandalf himself not only knew that anyone might and would refuse to throw in the Ring, but he was also afraid of it; the Eagles, as Maiar, could have been corruptive and dangerous.
- Although Tolkien does not mention anything about it, it's possible that the Eagles were somehow limited in how they acted and participated, similar to how the Wizards were prohibited to directly fight Sauron by physical or supernatural force. The Eagles are seen to aid the free peoples and even participate in battles, but it's possible that for affairs of greater scope (such as Sauron and the Ring) they were either afraid, unwilling, incapable, or not allowed to take any part.
- The Eagles's availability and power must have been limited. Gwaihir only arrives at Isengard because he is sent by Radagast. Once he rescues Gandalf, the Wizard asks him how far he can bear him, to which the Eagle replies "...not to the ends of the earth. I was sent to bear tidings not burdens." He took Gandalf just to Edoras, so he could find a horse to ride, and then departed.
- ↑ J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Silmarillion, "Quenta Silmarillion: Of the Beginning of Days"
- ↑ J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Silmarillion, "Quenta Silmarillion: Of the Noldor in Beleriand"
- ↑ J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Silmarillion, "Quenta Silmarillion: Of the Ruin of Beleriand and the Fall of Fingolfin"
- ↑ 4.0 4.1 J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Silmarillion, "Quenta Silmarillion: Of Tuor and the Fall of Gondolin"
- ↑ J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Unfinished Tales, "Of Tuor and his Coming to Gondolin"
- ↑ J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Silmarillion, "Quenta Silmarillion: Of the Ruin of Doriath"
- ↑ J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Silmarillion, "Quenta Silmarillion: Of the Voyage of Eärendil and the War of Wrath"
- ↑ J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Unfinished Tales, "A Description of the Island of Númenor"
- ↑ J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Silmarillion, "Akallabêth: The Downfall of Númenor"
- ↑ J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "The Council of Elrond"
- ↑ J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, "The Ring Goes South"
- ↑ J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, "Queer Lodgings"
- ↑ J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, "The Return Journey"
- ↑ J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, "The Field of Cormallen"
- ↑ 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
- ↑ J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Lost Road and Other Writings, "Part Three: The Etymologies"
- ↑ 17.0 17.1 J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Book of Lost Tales Part Two, "The Fall of Gondolin", p. 103
- ↑ J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Morgoth's Ring, "Part Two. The Annals of Aman" p. 138
- ↑ J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien (ed.), Morgoth's Ring, "Part Five. Myths Transformed" pp. 409-11
- ↑ J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, Book II
- ↑ J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 210, (undated, written June 1958)
- ↑ Tolkien FAQ
- ↑ Could the eagles have flown Frodo into Mordor?
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