Six Damn Fine Degrees #80: One Does Not Simply Fly Into Mordor

Welcome to Six Damn Fine Degrees. These instalments will be inspired by the idea of six degrees of separation in the loosest sense. The only rule: it connects – in some way – to the previous instalment. So come join us on our weekly foray into interconnectedness!

“Mount Doom” by Pete McKinstry

“Why didn’t they just send the Eagles to drop the Ring into Mount Doom?”

This, it seems, is a line about The Lord Of The Rings that is never going to go away. I remember reading it years ago, in the Before Jackson times, when critics sneering about the insanely popular books felt the need to assert they had spotted a plot hole. And with the release of the films, the line got a whole new lease of life. Mainly because Jackson couldn’t resist the cinematic power of the image of the Eagles saving the Hobbits at the very last minute, when on the brink of being overwhelmed by lava.

Young Me reacted to the assertion that this was a “plot hole” with all the frustrated and riled fury that an angry nerd could muster. Age has not mellowed me on this. “No,” I arrogantly declare whenever this cliche gets trotted out, “They could not have just sent the Ring to Mount Doom with the Eagles. Have you not been following the story at all?, you numbskull.” Or rather I want to declare. But never do. Because I’ve learnt that getting vocally angry and offensive over petty geeky points is not a good look. I mean, have you seen The Internet?

Gwaihir the Eagle by Ted Naismith

So, in the interests of calmness and to provide a place where I can politely point people to in future so as to address the argument. Here are the reasons why they can’t simply just get the Eagles to chuck the Ring in Mount Doom.

Point One: The Ring is corrupting to powerful beings.

This is the reason why Gandalf doesn’t just do the job himself. If he took the Ring, he’d be tempted to use it to do the right thing. And so would be lost. Chuck the Ring at Gwaihir, the swiftest of all Eagles, and Middle Earth would soon be under the sway of the Dark Eagle King and his petty avian whims.

Point Two: Mount Doom is deep in the heart of Enemy Territory.

I mean, why do you think they put the Maps in all the Tolkien books? For Fun!?!

There is a ring of guarded and dangerous Mountains surrounding the Dark Lord’s territory. And we know Sauron has flying servants. Eagles intending to cross this way would be attacked and brought down in no time. I mean, the Volcano is right next to the Ultimate Bad Guy’s Big Evil Castle by design. There’s no way an Eagle can traverse it during hostile times. The place, and I cannot stress this enough, is just jam-packed with Evil.

Point Three: It’s A Story About a Secret Mission

This, I think, is the killer. The whole thrust of Frodo and Sam’s brave mission is that it is two reluctan t heroes travelling in secret. That’s a great plotline and one of the reasons they story is so memorable. If you have a problem with this in The Lord Of The Rings do you also sit through Bond film’s going “Why is he sneaking into the Enemy’s base, why not just get the army to nuke it?” When unexpected heroes emerge through bravery in films, do you just tut loudly and add “Why didn’t they just get someone trained to do this in?” Let’s just skip all this, and get the Eagles to do, rendering the whole trilogy into little more than a cloud-centric pamphlet?

I could go on and, indeed, there is something strangely appropriate when addressing such issues in a Tolkien novel that, in doing so, you could easily end up writing further Appendices for the thing. But I probably overreact on this because the “Eagles could do it” plot line would erase one of my favourite aspects of the story. You can find a lot of influences from Tolkien’s own service in WWI in his masterpiece, indeed I don’t think its a stretch to define the whole epic as an artistic legacy of the Great War. But in two friends, from a simply happy life, suddenly finding themselves cast into literal Hell I think you have a powerful fantastical reimagining of a real wartime experience. As they’re forced to sneak around a burnt, dark and unforgiving landscape, evading capture while the world becomes increasingly bleak, its hard not to see the parallels. Especially as, most tragic of all, like so many soldiers back then, they both survive but only one really “comes back”. The other lost to the physical and mental wounds they have suffered that there can be no real going home.

That’s probably why I overreact to the “Eagles” line. I don’t want this plot line dismissed. And, as you’ve just experienced, I’m nerdy enough that if you come at me with a plot hole in something I love, I’m going to relish the excuse to explain, in quite unnecessary detail, how, actually, its not a plot hole at all!

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