A little over three years ago I decided to write an essay in response to one of the questions I most often saw on Tolkien forums: why didn’t the Eagles fly the Ring to Mount Doom? That essay sat quietly on the site for several years while slowly gathering hits and climbing up the Google results for searches about Eagles and The Lord of the Rings. In the past year, however, that one page has accounted for over three-quarters of all traffic to this site, being viewed nearly 14,000 times.
A great deal of this traffic came as a result of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the first film in Peter Jackson’s second Middle-earth trilogy (it still feels weird to say that). The film’s climax prominently features Eagles without presenting any context or explanation for their appearance, which has confused and frustrated many casual viewers who are not familiar with the pedantic ins and outs of Tolkien lore.
I’ve discussed this scene on a couple different forums and in the comments section for the essay, but yesterday I took the opportunity to flesh out my explanation of the scene slightly. Basically, Tolkien provided us with a very reasonable explanation, but this was obscured in the film (which had different and probably better priorities than satisfying nerdy nit-pickers).
A commenter has asked why the Eagles in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey did not simply fly the Company of Dwarves all the way to the Lonely Mountain, particularly since the mountain was visible at the end of the film. The situation in The Hobbit is complicated by certain fairly minor changes made by Peter Jackson to the story. In the original novel, the Eagles agree to help Gandalf as a favor, in return for him having saved the life of their chief before the events of the story. However, they were afraid of the men of the Vales of Anduin, who shot arrows at the Eagles (including the chief whom Gandalf saved) to keep them from stealing livestock. Therefore, the Eagles took the Company only a short distance.
The situation is muddled in the film because the Eagles do not speak at all, which removes the explanation of their motives. (It is possible this will change in the Extended Edition.) The final shot of the Company looking towards the Lonely Mountain is also misleading in its depiction of the distance left before them. The Eagles drop the Dwarves off on top of the Carrock, a large rock in the middle of the River Anduin. The Anduin flowed through a broad valley to the east of the Misty Mountains, placing the Carrock nearly 200 miles away from the Lonely Mountain: a far longer distance than the Eagles were willing to fly simply to repay a favor. The Lonely Mountain would not realistically have been visible from the Carrock, but Peter Jackson chose to show it for dramatic reasons.
Hopefully this brief explanation is able to clear up some confusion about a minor but near-to-my-heart question. Check out the full Eagle page for a discussion of the more famous Mount Doom issue. It’s been fun doing even minor updates to the site again, and knowing how many people read the essay makes the annual domain fee I pay to WordPress seem more than worth it. 🙂