Why didn’t the Eagles fly the Dwarves to the Lonely Mountain?

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. 🙂


7 Responses to Why didn’t the Eagles fly the Dwarves to the Lonely Mountain?

  1. Matthew Rave says:

    You *may* be able to see a mountain 200 miles away…it depends on the curvature of the planet you’re on. I’m not sure if Middle Earth is known to be “round” but if it is, there’s no reason to suppose it is the same size as our planet. If Middle Earth is flat, then you could thousands of miles as long as the air was clear.

    • Hi Matthew, thanks for your feedback. Tolkien went through a number of his conceptions of the cosmology of his world, but a consistent theme is that Middle-earth is in fact our own world in the distant (fictional) past and he tried to preserve a feeling of realism by consciously basing many of the physical facts of his setting on the Old World of our own planet.

      It’s worth noting, however, that many versions of The Silmarillion contained the idea that the world was originally flat and later made round, though later in his life Tolkien played around with the idea that this was just an in-universe human myth and the world had in fact always been round.

  2. Matt Hollard says:

    Just thought I would point out that, in Tolkien’s Arda, The Lonely Mountain (Erebor) is visible from the Misty Mountains and thus the Carrock.

    At the end of the Chapter: The Return Journey…

    “At last they came up the long road, and reached the very pass where the goblins had captured them before. But they came to that high point at morning, and looking backward they saw a white sun shining over the outstretched lands. There behind lay Mirkwood, blue in the distance, and darkly green at the nearer edge even in the spring. There far away was the Lonely Mountain on the edge of eyesight. On it’s highest peak snow yet unmelted was gleaming pale”

    • Thanks for commenting, Matt. You raise a good point, but I don’t think that the Lonely Mountain would have been visible from the Carrock as well as the Misty Mountains. The quote from “The Return Journey” notes that the mountain pass which Erebor is visible from is a “high point”, and in fact it is referred to as the High Pass in The Lord of the Rings. So, being in the mountains at a high elevation, Bilbo can see quite far. But the Carrock is an island in the middle of a river valley (the Vales of Anduin). I have always imagined the hill of the Carrock to be much smaller than it is shown in the film, but even assuming a larger size, it is still both smaller and at a lower base elevation than the Misty Mountains.

      • Matt Hollard says:

        I wholeheartedly agree. Erebor would not be visible from the Carrock in the book as I always pictured it, much the same way you did from the sounds of it, a lonely isle pinnacle in the Vales of the Great River. But given the fact that Peter Jackson and company have changed the layout of locations with in the Film version of Arda, as can be seen http://www.theonering.net/torwp/2013/11/20/82812-journey-through-middle-earth-on-your-computer-tablet-and-phone/ (Erebor seems to have moved south a fair way in the movies). It would stand to reason that Erebor could easily be visible from the ‘cinematic Carrock’ as it is much higher in elevation and closer to the mountains where it can be seen in the book. Haha my first comment didn’t convey my meaning to well.

  3. Kienen says:

    Years later I’m glad to have someone explain this to me because I don’t want to admit I haven’t seen the movie before now.

  4. It’s a lame explanation. To me its like ducks walking across a busy road when you can just fly over it. I think he should’ve just removed the Eagles all together. It does leave the viewer feeling like an idiot because they have this obvious solution to their problems of getting to the mountain, speedily and they don’t use it or explain why they don’t. Best to remove the stupidity of them in the movie.

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