Dispelling the Myth: Why The Eagles Of Middle-earth Are Not Gandalf’s Personal Taxi Service

One of the biggest debates that comes up (usually in the context of trying to call out a plot hole) is about the Great Eagles of Middle-earth and why they don’t just pick up Frodo and his friends in Rivendell and take them on a nice, relaxing journey to Mt. Doom. There are, in fact, several very logical reasons and I will explain here seven of them.

It might be helpful first to give a very, VERY elementary background of Middle-earth. Arda (the greater world which includes Middle-earth) was created by Eru Iluvatar (God), and he brought in two groups of super-beings to help him color in the details: The Valar (think: Gods of Olympus) and the Maiar (Gandalf, Saruman, and many others).

Side note: Sauron started his existence as a Maiar but was corrupted by Melkor/Morgoth (Who was the O.G. of bad guys in Arda, and originally one of the Valar). *~*~The More You Know.*~*~

In terms of hierarchy of awesomeness: Eru > Valar > Maiar > Eldar (elves)

Much like Zeus and family, the Valar were there to oversee and keep a general sense of order from afar, but anytime they attempted direct help or intervention, all hell broke loose, and shit did not turn out well. So mostly they left everyone in Middle-earth to their own devices.

The Great Eagles were a creation of Manwe (who was basically the Zeus of the Valar) as a manifestation of his love for the winds, air, and clouds. Contrary to what some fans seem to think, they were a beautiful and magnificent race of beings, not the pets of Gandalf.

So, on to the reasons:


  1. The Great Eagles Are Not Gandalf’s Pets– Although it might seem like it, the world does not revolve around Gandalf and the struggles of his tiny little friends. In the grand scheme of things, in fact, it was pretty small potatoes (“boil ‘em, mash ‘em, stick ‘em in a stew”), and even the Valar had kinda shrugged their shoulders for a while and said “meh.” Most of the elves didn’t even give a crap. Gwaihir, and the other eagles, have their own stuff to do. Eagle stuff. Granted, they have an affinity for the Maiar, but they don’t answer to them. Gandalf’s agenda is not theirs, and if Middle-earth falls to Sauron, then they’ll probably just fly to Aman (aka The Undying Lands) and chill there. If they answer to anyone, it is probably Manwe, but he doesn’t command them either. You might say that Gwaihir is “not here for this shit.” In other words…
  1. The Eagles are Not Middle-earth Taxi Service– When you think about it, it’s actually pretty insulting to insinuate that these extremely ancient, respected, free creatures are basically sitting around waiting for someone to call them for a pick-up. They’re also a very proud race. In fact, if you did have the audacity to call them for a pick-up, they’d probably leave you sitting there waiting, just to show you that they are not your bitch.
  1. Arrows Hurt, Okay– As creations of Manwe, they are certainly gifted with longer life and greater resilience, but they are not impervious to harm. They are also flipping huge. Giant-ass birds flying over hundreds of thousands of well-armed orcs sounds like the best way to say “look at me and my pretty, shiny precious!” that I can think of. It also equals a bunch of dead eagles who had better things to do than die in the bowels of Mordor for a bunch of whiny people who couldn’t help themselves. It also sounds like the best way to get the ring back into Sauron’s hands.
  1. Fatass Dwarves Also Hurt, Okay– In The Hobbit, the eagles actually explain that they grow tired easily, and I am sure it doesn’t help that they are toting around fat dwarves.
  1. Orcs and Eagles Are Not Part of the Same Sewing Circle– I know I’ve said that in general the eagles don’t give a shit about anything on Middle-earth, but that is not entirely true. They have a bit of a nasty history with the orcs, who destroyed some of their Eyries, and in turn, the eagles messed some of their stuff up, too. There is no love lost between the races, and flying over orc territory is, in general, not a good idea. Most of Rohan and Gondor (which was a majority of the Fellowship’s journey) was pretty heavy with orcs. They only come into Mordor to help Frodo and Sam after Sauron is vanquished and there is no more danger. On the other hand, the Eagles do love to mess with the orcs if there is very little risk to them, and that seems to be their main motivation for intervening in the crazy tree escape in The Hobbit.
  1. Get Your Shit Together, Ladies– Another misconception here is that Gandalf was there to save the day and fix everything. The truth is that several of the Maiar (Gandalf, Saruman, Radagast, and the two Blue Wizards) were sent to Middle-earth to help guide the race of Men through the treachery of Sauron, but were given explicit instructions not to do the work for them. A Middle-earth example of The Prime Directive, so to speak. Extremely prevalent through all of Tolkien’s work is the importance of Free Will. If the Valar (or the Maiar for that matter) are always coming in and saving the day, what lessons do Men learn, and how can they ever expect to even wipe their own asses, let alone govern themselves? The Elves had taken care of shit for three ages, but their time was coming to an end; the Age of Men was coming… and so far, things were not looking good for that change of hands. Gandalf was said to be there to “kindle hearts,” and inspire greatness and courage in others so that they could find their own way. This is why he left Bilbo halfway through The Hobbit, and why he didn’t just go and take down Sauron himself. For the same reasons, the Eagles (who, as I said before, really have very little vested interest in this) aren’t just going to swoop in whenever someone doesn’t feel like walking anymore (I’m looking at you, Legolas).
  1. Deus Ex What?– If none of those reasons strike you, then think of the simplest explanation: what kind of boring-ass story would it be if they just toted them all the way to Mordor, dropped the ring into Mt. Doom in the most boring drive-by ever, and then took them home?

Each of these reasons can be explored in far more depth, but in general the idea of the Eagles ushering Frodo and his friends to Mordor makes about as much sense as them stepping through a magical portal in The Prancing Pony in Bree, and coming out in Istanbul. And with that last sentence, your mind is probably blown. You’re welcome.

45 thoughts on “Dispelling the Myth: Why The Eagles Of Middle-earth Are Not Gandalf’s Personal Taxi Service

  1. I have a friend who complains about the eagles. I think I’ve explained to him 3 times now, but he always forgets. But then, he hasn’t read the books; and in fairness to him, the movies don’t go out of their way to explain this; so if you’ve only seen the movies, you could easily get the wrong idea. (On the other hand, even only seeing the movies, it should occur to him that it would be no simple matter to fly past the Nine’s fell beasts and attract all of Sauron’s attention instantly.)

    1. I agree- the movies do insinuate that, so a casual viewer would have no idea. I think it’s a clever use of resources for PJ, honestly, but even including a line in there that the eagles do not always come when called might have helped avoid a lot of the comments from people who simply think it’s a plot hole (especially since, in the books, its a pretty big deal that they actually do come, since they are under the same “prime directive” instructions as the maiar not to go meddling around). All that said, I absolutely love these movies, and other than this small miss of explanation, I think PJ did the best with the time he had.

  2. I truly love your blog.. Pleasant colors & theme.

    Did you make this website yourself? Please reply back as I’m hoping to create my own personal blog and want to know where you got this from or exactly what the theme is named. Thanks!

  3. Ah, I appreciate when someone can discourse intelligently on a topic of fantasy literature with a balance of diligent appreciation and just enough irreverent distance.

    I think in any speculative fiction, you have to be careful of having any kind of being/power/magic/technology that is simply too powerful and, thus, convenient. For example, in Star Trek, if they have transporters and replicators and thus can basically convert matter into energy and vice versa at will, then why should anyone get killed? Couldn’t you just re-assemble their bodies into the same state before being wounded or vaporized? But they don’t do that because, as you have so finely explained, there have to be limits, lest you have a plotless, boring tale.

    Thank you for the follow 🙂

    1. I completely agree…I appreciate an author who covers those loopholes, too, so that the readers aren’t left with only their speculation to fill them. Harry Potter (silly example, but I just finished re-reading the series so its on the brain) does this fairly well…just when you think a character could just use a certain spell to get out of a situation, she creates a reason why its not possible. As a writer, you must think of all possibilities before your readers do…this is why writing fantasy and sci-fi is hard!

      Thanks for the comments! Love your contributions on Lady or Not, so following your blog was a must 🙂

      1. Let me tell you, my LoN contributions are torturous to produce, but I am always proud of the result; writing humor has to be one of the most difficult genres of all.
        Long ago I read “Writing Science Fiction & Fantasy” by Orson Scott Card, and I know one of his mantras is that it’s OK to employ magic or supernatural powers, but they should always have not only limits, but costs. Perhaps using magic literally drains the life out of the user, for example. Omnipotence is boring. That’s my biggest beef (though there are many others) with the Twilight vampires: there’s no way an ordinary mortal human being could so much as scratch, let alone kill one. So why would they even bother living in secret? There’s no logic to it.

    2. Star Trek is the land (or space if you will) of plot holes though haha

      Usually they are just swept away by technobabble. Tolkien did not have that luxury

      1. It’s so neat to see a new comment on a post from 3.5 years ago! While I get your point– Tolkien invented his own languages. He certainly had the luxury of any “babble” he wanted to employ.

  4. Haha thanks for the explanation. I need it every time I see the movies even though I have read the books. I still find it is a massive plot hole. If the eagles are so reluctant to help, why are they called upon so frequently?

    Main eagle: “hey gandalf, DO NOT call us when you need a lift, we are waaaay too busy”

    Gandalf: “hey eagles, I’m stuck on sarumans roof…..”

    Main eagle: “we’ll have a taxi with you in the next couple of seconds”

    Gandalf: “suckers”

    I’d actually like to see a movie made or story written from the eagles perspectives. Where they are furiously building nests and are constantly getting interrupted by gandalf looking for free flights.

    What do you think?

    1. Only difference is that when Gandalf was imprisoned by Saruman it became also apparent that Saruman was a traitor, hence Manwe probably asked them to aid Gandalf to balance Saruman’s betrayal.

      So no plot-hole.

    1. The eagles helped in the end simply because there was no longer any danger to them to do so. They were involved more in the goings-on in Middle Earth in the First Age, with the elves, but the time of the elves was passing so the outcome of this journey with the ring had little impact on them.

      I’ve had a dozen or so folks ask me about this new theory (which, while imaginative, is unfortunately incorrect), and this was the post I made on another page about it:

      Several people have linked this to me asking for my opinion, so I thought it would be easier to make a post. It’s clever, but unfortunately flies in the face of canon.

      The Eagles are an ancient creation of Manwe (highest ranking of the Valar, and about as high up the pecking order as you can get without being Eru himself), and while they did help the Elves in the early days of Middle Earth (keep in mind, many of the Noldor were as ancient as the Valar), the landscape was different then. With the creation of the orcs (many of whom wielded bird-killing arrows), it changed the military game, and Eagles now had to place their eyrie as far from the battle as possible. By the time Frodo and Sam take off with the ring, orcs have covered most of eastern ME, making air passage hazardous. Even if they wanted to help, it was simply not safe for them to do so. But quite frankly, they had little to gain. Their alliances were with Elves, and the time of the Elves in ME was passing, with most returning home to Valinor. The Eagles, being a creation of the Valar, would not have suffered much from the destruction of Middle Earth, as they also, presumably, had the option of returning to their maker. In the end, the Eagles only intervene once the threat of Sauron (and the orcs) has passed, and they can safely escort the hobbits out. Pretty generous, IMO.

      But even if the Eagles were not afraid of scary arrows, Gandalf’s role was not to play God for this story. As one of the Maiar who were sent to Middle Earth (along with Sauron, Saruman, Radagast, etc.), their role was to be a guide to Man, not to do things for them. They were under the Tolkien version of the Prime Directive, where they could learn and advise, but not interfere. Tolkien put a great deal of importance on the idea of free will, and of letting man govern themselves without always getting bailed out. Gandalf, then, was there to show them the path, but he could not complete the task for them (or cheat and ask the Eagles to).

      And if none of that is compelling enough, remind yourself that Gandalf didn’t need to trek over land to meet with the Eagles face to face. He could have easily sent word in other ways, as he did in The Hobbit.

      Basically, this is fun but inaccurate.

      1. I disagree with your assessment… Once Gandalf informed them of the discovery of the ring of power, the Eagles of the North recognized the threat the ring posed to them as well (since they remembered the terror of Sauron).

        In the Hobbit, the Eagles helped the dwarves twice… Once out of the burning trees (mostly to spite the orcs), but then they helped again at the Battle of the Five Armies (both for the Elves and for Gandalf).

        Obviously Gandalf had established some very positive rapport with the King of the Eagles at that point, since they returned to rescue him from the roof of Isengard. It would only be logical that he would inform his friend the King of the Eagles of the greatest of all threats to Middle Earth.

        Remember, MOST Eagles are selfish and cruel, but not the greatest race of Eagles with which Gandalf has his dealings. You really think the “noble and honorable” Eagles of the North would simply ignore Gandalf’s pleas for help, when they had helped him in the past with more trivial matters?

        Also, remember that after he discovered the nature of the ring and before he did anything else, Gandalf went to Saruman and was captured. This left the Hobbits to fend for themselves to make their way toward Rivendell. There’s no telling what would have happened if Gandalf had met up with Frodo before leaving the Shire… But once Frodo had left it was nearly impossible to track him down again!

      2. Also… I believe that Gandalf’s purpose in this story WAS to be God, except that Tolkein removed him from the plot by creating forces more powerful than he had expected (Saruman and the Balrog). It would have been a much more boring story, but it makes a hell of a lot more sense than walking across Middle Earth on foot. Fortunately Tolkein wove the story in such a way as to leave this “alternate ending” in the story as an, “If only Gandalf had been with them…”

        I also believe that Gandalf had changed his tune from the “aloof guide” in the Hobbit to the strong party leader in the LOTR, simply because he saw himself as a protector of good. The ring was the ultimate enemy of good, so Gandalf would do all in his power to alter the path of Middle Earth and prevent Sauron from returning. Perhaps his transition from The Grey to The White justified his change in perspective. Either way, Gandalf certainly wasn’t following a “prime directive” rule (especially considering his involvement in the battle at Gondor.

      3. I suppose it was flippant for me to say the Eagles didn’t care at all… but they were certainly not going to fly over orc-infested territory, which would have been a suicide mission. The orcs had, more than once, wrought havoc on the Eagles, and self-preservation is always going to come before helping others. Your point about them helping in less-critical matters illustrates this; it is nothing for them to help when they are in no immediate danger themselves, which they were not, in both the case of the tree escape, and Gandalf’s rescue from Orthanc. In the Battle of Five Armies, they were late to arrive. And I still maintain that the Eagles are not limited by landscape… as a creation of Manwe, they would have a home even if Sauron took over ME, because they could go to Aman. But you are correct, in that it was Gandalf’s rapport with Gwaihir that bought him the goodwill at all. Without that, I imagine Frodo and Sam’s story would not have had a happy ending.

        Tolkien has expressed clearly Gandalf’s role was NOT to run interference. He was a guide along the journey, but not the solver of the problem. He is there to inspire, not to take over. This is made very clear in several places in the canon, and is prevalent in all of Tolkien’s stories (man being the author of his own fate). Him using the Eagles to do the job would be in direct conflict with that.

  5. The central Idea of the entire Lord of the Rings Story is that Frodo a Hobbit is resistant to the great Power of the Ring. Gandalf and Gladriel won’t even touch the Ring. In the First movie, because the Ring will Control them. More powerful the being that possess The Ring, the greater Evil it becomes. Ring will simply seduce Eagles and make them Servents of Sauron. Eagles are not just oversized birds, But are Powerful Spirits who can talk (they do in the books). This was the very reason the Fellowship of the Ring was broken, Because the Ring will Seduce all the companions. “One by One they will fall to the power of the Ring” Lady Galadriel

  6. I was told that they only helped because they owed Gandalf a couple of favors after he helped them out at some point in the past, but no one else seems to think that.

  7. Bless you for this post. I literally googled, “how many times do the eagles save their asses in the middle earth series” and this post came up. Your down-to-earth no nonsense approach to these eagles is awesome. BLESS!

  8. Thanks for the post! I’d heard the “Gandalf actually planned to use the eagles” theory that a reader posted above, and on my current re-read decided to really scrutinize the text to see if it supports that theory.

    Not one bit. He very clearly intends to walk the whole way, having confided as much to Aragorn.

    Your essay is a good explanation of why flying wasn’t on the table 🙂

    I also love how people are so doubtful that the eagles would pass on helping when pretty much everyone else passes on directly helping–Elrond and Galadriel, Cirdan in the Grey Havens…pretty much everyone not immediately on Mordor or Isengard’s doorsteps is hesitant to be overtly involved.

    1. Yes, exactly- no one wanted to get involved! Most of the elves were leaving Middle-Earth anyway… it just wasn’t their problem. And imagine being an immortal being, who is leaving for the next stage of their life (in a place without conflict), and someone saying, “hey wanna come do this dangerous thing that will probably get you killed?” Not everyone is willing to lay down and die for what appears, at the outset, to be a lost cause. There’s a lot of talk in the story about how hobbits were the best choice for carrying the ring because they’re essentially harder to corrupt, but it’s also true that they don’t have the age or experience to know what they’re getting themselves into.

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