Could Frodo and the Fellowship really have flown straight to Mordor on eagles in The Lord of the Rings? In both J. R. R. Tolkien's legendary original novels and the Peter Jackson movies that introduced a whole new generation to the wonders of Middle-earth, The Lord of the Rings tells the story of Frodo Baggins, a seemingly insignificant Hobbit who inherits a weapon of mass destruction from his well-meaning uncle.
Charged with destroying this weapon once and for all - and thereby vanquishing its evil creator, Sauron - Frodo teams up with a ragtag bunch of warriors, wizards and gardeners, embarking on an epic journey across many miles in order to cast the One Ring into the fiery crack of Mordor's Mount Doom, where the trinket was originally forged. As expected, considering the journey takes place over three chunky volumes, this journey is an arduous one, and the Fellowship encounter a great many perils that force them to take separate paths to achieve their original goal.
Strangely, however, Frodo and Sam's return journey is considerably easier, causing some to question whether the entire trek was even necessary. Here's why the Fellowship couldn't have simply flown to Mordor using eagles.
The Lord Of The Rings' Eagles "Plot Hole" Explained
As the hardy duo of Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee begin making their final ascent of Mount Doom, it quickly becomes clear that there will be no return journey, especially after the Ring's destruction renders the landscape little more than a fiery wasteland. Successful in their mission but utterly defeated in body and spirit, Frodo and Sam collapse on a small crag of rock to await their demise but are heroically rescued by Gandalf, who rides in with a trio of eagles who gently lift the two ailing Hobbits in their talons and soar off into the skies.
What was intended as an uplifting end to the Fellowship's journey has instead prompted many fans to question why Gandalf didn't simply ask the eagles to take the Ring-bearing Frodo directly from his hole in Bag End to the infamous Mount Doom, where he could toss the item into the flames without Gollum's interference or an extended period of exposure to the Ring's dark influence. This would've not only saved everyone a lot of time and effort, but would've prevented the deaths of Gandalf, Boromir and many others who fell to Sauron's armies over the course of the trilogy.
Why Flying To Mordor On Eagles Wouldn't Have Worked
It's perhaps telling that despite the eagles rescuing Frodo and Sam in both the book and movie versions of The Lord of the Rings, the plot hole accusations only gained traction after the cinematic version of the scene appeared in 2003, and this is because the two versions of the story present Frodo's journey back to the Shire very differently. In Peter Jackson's movie adaptation, Frodo awakens in Minas Tirith, celebrates Aragorn's coronation and then promptly heads back to the Shire for a seemingly endless series of epilogues. On the written page, however, Frodo's journey home is far less immediate. Although obviously not recounted in as much detail as the first trip, the road from Gondor back to the Shire occurs in several stages and even forces the four leading Hobbits to confront Saruman once again.
This makes the return journey feel like far less of a walk in a park, and the eagle ride like much less of a cheat, compared to the big screen. But this is far from the only reason Frodo couldn't have taken an eagle directly to Mount Doom in the first instance.
Perhaps the most pertinent explanation for this perceived plot hole comes in an exchange from Tolkien's The Fellowship of the Ring, in which Gandalf asks the Great Eagle, Gwaihir the Windlord, "How far can you bear me?" To which the beast replies, "Many leagues, but not to the ends of the earth. I was sent to bear tidings not burdens." While the definition of "many leagues" is certainly open to interpretation, Tolkien's message is clear - the eagles are not designed to take passengers. Supporting this notion, every journey the birds make with a human on their back is relatively short. Even after rescuing Gandalf from Orthanc, Gwaihir only flies as far as Rohan, where the wizard commandeers Shadowfax and makes the rest of his journey by horse.
Even if the Great Eagles were capable of carrying the Fellowship indefinitely, it seems unlikely that they would've been chosen for the task. When the plan to destroy the Ring is first devised at Rivendell, secrecy is the name of the game. This is the main reason Frodo is tasked with carrying the Ring in the first place and also the motivation for Aragorn to lead one final against-all-odds attack on the gates of Mordor - to avoid suspicion, hide from dark forces and keep the gaze of Sauron's massive, fiery eye elsewhere. While flying in on giant eagles would've certainly been quicker than walking, Sauron would've seen the Fellowship coming long before their arrival and rallied his full power in response.
Power that would've undoubtedly been spearheaded by the Nazgûl. After losing their black horses in The Fellowship of the Ring, the Nazgûl, otherwise known as Ringwraiths, take to riding large, winged fell beasts that would've easily been a physical match for any Great Eagle. Shortly before rescuing Frodo and Sam in The Return of the King, Gandalf asks Gwaihir to fly with great speed in order to outpace the Nazgûl, suggesting that the eagles are capable of swifter flight than Sauron's winged beasts. However, this is after the Ring's destruction and Sauron's defeat, when the Nazgûl would've been in a state of disarray. Whether or not a flock of Great Eagles could've outmaneuvered the airborne Nazgûl while Sauron was still commanding them in The Fellowship of the Ring is a point of much contention, especially since the Witch-king of Angmar would've also still been alive at this point, having only met his demise on the battlefield against Éowyn.
Were The Eagles Gandalf's Plan Before He Died?
One popular fan theory that surfaced on Reddit several years ago posits that Gandalf did plan to fly to Mordor using the eagles, but died before he could put his idea into motion. As posted by VulcanDeathGrip, the first leg of the Fellowship's journey saw Gandalf take the group through the Misty Mountains - incidentally the area the Great Eagles call their home. Gandalf may have planned to take Frodo and the others not through the mountains, but to the eagles' nest, where they could make the rest of the journey by air. This could explain why Gandalf was reluctant to pass through Moria, because that path took the Fellowship further south, away from the waiting eagles.
The theory suggests that Gandalf kept this plan a secret from his companions in order to avoid Sauron or Saruman learning his true intentions, and therefore squandering the element of surprise that the eagles would've had on the Nazgûl. After being forced to fight the Balrog, however, Gandalf realized he and the Fellowship would be imminently parting ways and tried to quickly impart his plan to them with the line, "Fly, you fools!" Unfortunately, the group believed he was simply telling them to get out of the mines as quickly as possible.
This theory is a fantastic one and largely plausible within the context of Peter Jackson's movie trilogy. But despite being both creative and intriguing, it does require a few leaps in logic to fully fit into the chronology. The issue of eagles being unable to carry passengers over long distances isn't addressed and after returning as Gandalf the White, the wizard still had an opportunity to take two eagles to Frodo and Sam and fly the rest of the way, if that was indeed his original intention. Instead, Gandalf focused on ensuring the Hobbits had as clear a path to Mount Doom as possible, suggesting this was indeed his original plan.
Amazon's The Lord of the Rings series is currently without a release date. More news as it arrives.