Middle Earth has been part of my reality for as long as I can remember. At the pre-school and kindergarten age (not that I went, because I was a hippie kid) we had an album of the Hobbit. I listened to it early and often enough that my understanding of Earth was informed equally by Planet and Middle. When I was 8, I saw the animated movie and it blew my mind. (John Huston is still the definitive Gandalf for me). Finding out there were more books in the series, I eagerly delved into Lord of the Rings that same year.
Somehow, not even the Boxcar children or Roald Dahl had prepared me for escapism this powerful. I was hooked. After I finished Return of the King, I headed back to the library to re-check Fellowship again. From 3rd grade to 8th, I probably read the series 50 times, though I never really kept count.
I still read them every year or three, but now it’s the lyricism of the language that strikes me as much as the world building. As to the movies, I don’t feel they did a good job at all of capturing anything important about the books. That’s another post, though.
Tolkien has become a victim of his own success. I also think that for people who think Dan Brown or Stephanie Meyer are good writers, his prose may be too dense. But the biggest misunderstanding about the trilogy comes from the people who think the Eagles should have flown the Fellowship to Mordor. Those people see this as an oversite on the Professor’s behalf. The thing is, the eagles just wouldn’t do it. It’s an unfeasible idea for many reasons.
Firstly, the Eagles aren’t their servants. They are a proud, free folk. This is clear in all their dealings, but especially when Gandalf recounts his escape from Orthanc.
“‘How far can you bear me?’ I said to Gwaihir.
“‘Many leagues,’ said he, ‘but not to the ends of the earth. I was sent to bear tidings not burdens.’
“‘Then I must have a steed on land,’ I said, ‘and a steed surpassingly swift, for I have never had such need of haste before.’
“‘Then I will bear you to Edoras, where the Lord of Rohan sits in his halls,’ he said, ‘for that is not very far off.’
Maybe they could have convinced an Eagle to fly a hobbit to Mordor, or to take the ring to the volcano itself. But, the Eagles themselves are not above temptation. The ring didn’t have time to work its magic on them when they bore Bilbo out of the Misty Mountains, but it’s much riskier on this longer journey. And this time the ring has every reason to find an owner not eager to destroy it. The ring gives power related to the power of the wearer; Gwaihir would make for a powerful Ringlord.
Thirdly, even if the eagles were incorruptible and willing to be steeds, they would be destroyed by the defenses of Sauron. Mordor was not an easy place to get into. The winged Nazgul and other servants, not to mention Sauron himself, present an obstacle so formidable that the best plan that Gandalf, Elrond, and the Lords of the West could come up with was too sneak in somewhere.
All these are true, but they miss the point a bit as well. Most importantly of all, flying on the eagles would have cheated the Hobbits out of their journey. When they return to Hobbiton in Return of the King, Gandalf says
“I am with you at present,” said Gandalf, “but soon I shall not be. I am not coming to the Shire. You must settle its affairs yourselves; that is what you have been trained for. Do you not yet understand? My time is over: it is no longer my task to set things to rights, nor to help folk to do so. And as for you, my dear friends, you will need no help. You are grown up now. Grown indeed very high; among the great you are, and I have no longer any fear at all for any of you.
It’s really a pivotal moment and it was a shame Jackson admittedly didn’t understand what the point of the scene was. They of course dealt with their problems in the Shire, but they wouldn’t have been able to without the lessons learned from their journey.
No one asks why the Ents didn’t march on Mordor instead of Isengard, because that idea is manifestly nonsensical. The Ents had a grudge against Saruman personally, it was closer, they couldn’t have faced the Dark Lord or his Nazgul, etc. The Eagles flying to Mordor is an equally ridiculous notion and should be retired from discussion of the series.