Tag Archives: The Lord of the Rings

Why we didn’t take an eagle to fly to Mount Doom

In a discussion about magic systems at Fantasy Faction, I made the argument that the most important thing about writing magic is consistency. Audiences flipp out when characters have a useful ability at one point of a story but for some reason don’t use the ability in other situations when they would be super useful. The most famous example of this is the complaint about The Lord of the Rings, that Gandalf clearly has a way to get the giant eagles to come to his aid and pick up people and fly them around. Just after the Ring is destroyed, the eagles show up and rescue Frodo and Sam from Mount Doom. Right after they completed a foot march of several months! So why didn’t Gandalf call the eagles in the first place to carry him and Frodo to Mount Doom and avoid the whole ordeal?

lotr-eagles-fan-theory-lotr-eagle-plot-hole-plugged-upThis is a justified question. But lots of people simply stop there and complain about bad writing. But in fact there are plenty of reasons why they didn’t try that and why it almost certainly would not have worked at all.

The whole point of the Fellowship is to get the Ring to Mount Doom without Sauron even realizing that anyone has any intention of destroying it. But Sauron does not just have scouts and spies to keep informed what his enemies are doing, he also has the power to see almost any place in Middle-Earth. The only way to stay undetected is to look inconspicious and not worthy of being paid any attention. Flying on eagles towards Mordor might be quick, but Sauron should know that the eagles are allied with the elves and the wizards, and there is very little chance they could even get close without being noticed. They are big, they stand out, they are known enemies.

To make things worse, we also know that the wraiths have flying beasts and at least one of them was scouting the area right outside Mordors front gate. The eagles can’t get into Mordor without being noticed by Sauron and once spotted the wraiths are able to fight them in the air. Could the eagles had slipped through or perhaps defeat the wraiths and flying beasts in battle? Possibly. But if they fail Sauron has the Ring and then it’s instant Game Over.

Yes, the eagles are used twice in the story to carry people. The first time they rescue Gandalf from Isengard, but that’s very far away from Mordor and the flying beast could’t get there in time to stop it, even if Sauron noticed it at all. The other time they rescue Frodo and Sam, after Sauron and the wraits are all destroyed. There was nobody there to either spot them or to intercept them, and even if in the worst possible case orcs with ballistas manage to shot them down, it wouldn’t make any difference in the war anymore. They don’t carry the one thing that must never fall into enemy hands at that time. Had for some reason the eagle at Isengard died, it also wouldn’t have made things any worse than they already were at that point. But there are very good reasons why flying Frodo to Mount Doom very likely wouldn’t have worked and why it would have been too risky to try. Two hobbits sneaking in at the back while making a huge distraction at the front door really was a plan with much better chances.

Humans with pointy ears

In Goethe’s probably most famous and classic play Faust, the honest and properly raised Gretchen falls in love with the dashing and intelligent Doctor Faust, but has some concerns about his pursues of alchemy and astrology and the highly suspicious companion he spends much of his time with. Despite all the trust she places in him, she eventually can no longer dismiss her worries and confronts him for the moment of truth: “How is’t with your religion?”

When it comes to fantasy these days, both literature and games, one of the big Gretchen-Questions appears to be “What do you think about nonhuman characters in fantasy?” No matter how you reply, there will always be lots of people all too happy to tell you why you should reconsider your stance. Some think it’s always a bad idea while others really don’t want to have anything to do with works that limit themselves entirely to humans. When it comes to Sword & Sorcery, a lot of people seem to be especially vehemently entrenched in their oppinion that it can’t really be even considered Sword & Sorcery when there are characters who are not humans in it.

One comment I see very often that appears to go for a middle ground is “I am not entirely against nonhuman characters, but they must be more than humans with pointy ears.” They have to be distinctly nonhuman in their nature and behavior or they could just have been humans in the first place. When you see a comment like that, you usually also see a great number of people who can totally get behind that and very much agree with it. But when you look at actual works of fantasy fiction, how often do you really see nonhuman characters that truely think and act completely different than humans do. Dark Sun had the Thri-kreen, a race of large and intelligent insects; Eberron the Warforged, a mass produced type of golem with human proportions build for warfare; and in sci-fi I could think of the Geth, a collective of trillions of programms that group together into artificial intelligences that control all kinds of robot bodies as fits their current needs. But these are a few exceptions out of hundreds and possibly even thousands of fictional types of people that have been made up in the last 100 years, who pretty much all very much fit the mold of “humans with pointy ears” (or horns, green skin, four eyes, or whatever).

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