Here’s Why The Eagles Couldn’t Just Fly The Ring To Mordor, You Fools

“Fly you fools,” shouts Gandalf, moments before he falls into a chasm with the Balrog. If it’s your first time reading or watching the Lord of the Rings, you might think this is the end of our irritable wizard. For slightly more experienced viewers, this is where the conspiracy theories start. For the seasoned readers, it’s where we have to start debunking.

The word “fly” in this sentence does not refer to asking the Eagles for help. If it did, why would Gandalf be so obtuse about it? Why would he risk Caradhras and Moria before asking them himself? But rather than applying basic reasoning to Gandalf’s cry, seemingly thousands of people asked the question, “Well why didn’t the Fellowship use the Eagles to fly the Ring to Mordor?” Those people are dumber than a Morannon Orc, and here’s why.

Firstly, we need to understand the Eagles themselves. They are not just animals like horses or Wargs, but more similar to Treebeard. The Great Eagles are as old as the Ents and even the Dwarves, and are sentient beings in their own right. They have their own conversations, motives, and systems of government, and are not just magic beasts that Gandalf can summon at will.

“But Gandalf does just summon them!” I know, I hear you shouting, yelling, screaming at whatever screen you’re reading this on. Well, he and Gwaihir the Windlord – that’s the Eagle who helps him out on multiple occasions – go way back, and Gwaihir owes him one. Once again, Tolkien’s canon gets a little problematic here, but whether Gandalf had saved Gwaihir’s life or just helped him out of a tight spot, the two short trips Gandalf takes on Gwaihir (from Isengard to Edoras and Zirak-zigil to Lothlorien) are just the Eagle returning the favour. When the Eagles collect Frodo and Sam from Mount Doom, Gandalf explains that this will fully repay the aforementioned debt: “thrice shall pay for all.”

I get how people may misunderstand this. It requires extended reading of Tolkien’s works outside of The Lord of the Rings, and in both The Hobbit and before this point in The Fellowship of the Ring, Gandalf enlists the help of his feathered friends. But you need to think of the Eagles like the Ents: remember how Merry and Pippin had to think outside the box to persuade Treebeard that Saruman was even worth fighting? That’s what Gandalf is doing with Gwaihir, he just has a little extra leverage. The Eagles are old beings, they think themselves above the wars of man and orc, and they ultimately just don’t care enough about the plight of the Ring to risk their lives to destroy it.

However, there’s more than just politics to consider. This is where paying attention to the films is important, even if you haven’t read the books. Gandalf makes it clear from the outset that his plan is to sneak the Ring into Mordor, because it’s the last thing that Sauron would expect. The Great Eagles are big enough to carry grown men – can you imagine their wingspans? If there’s one thing they’re not, it’s subtle.

There’s also another thing to consider. Sauron has an air force. Fell beasts, hell-hawks, Nazgûl-birds, whatever you want to call them, these flying creatures patrol Mordor and further afield, each carrying a Ringwraith atop its back. Sure, the Eagles may win this airborne fight, but they also might not have. Aside from anything else, flying into Mordor carrying the Ring on an Eagle’s back would be a high risk manouevre. The only thing riskier would be giving the Ring to Boromir and letting him wear it and take the fight to Sauron.

Whether it’s due to politics, apathy, or simply being a stupid plan that practically gift wraps Sauron’s most prized and dangerous possession, adds a little bow, and delivers is straight to him, the Eagles flying the Fellowship to Mordor would not have worked. It’s not a plot hole, it’s not as simple as you think, and it’s most certainly not a good idea.

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