Flying the Eagles to Mordor: A ‘How-To’ Guide

eagle beeline to orodruinHow the One Ring should have been taken to Mount Doom

 

Even back in the 1950s Tolkien was getting exasperated at fans asking “why didn’t they ride the eagles!?” Our muse, total legend, and literary genius (JRRT) neglected to write an explicable reason why the Fellowship of the Ring didn’t just fly on Eagles to Mount Doom. Perhaps he thought it was self-evident. And sure – there is NO epic fantasy story if the Fellowship rides upon Eagles.

Tolkien hints that the Eagles are aloof dicks, unconcerned by humans and their affairs.

“I was sent to bear tidings not burdens”. Gwaihir says. He is basically telling Gandalf: “I’ll help you out of this tight spot but that’s it, cos I already repaid you for that arrow wound like twice already!”

But that attitude contradicts all the other deus ex machina moments when the Eagles show they do actually care, and turn up to save the day.

Bear in mind Gwaihir is the same Eagle who, at the climactic battle of the Morannon, says to Gandalf “I would bear you… whither you will, even were you made of stone.” WTF!! Make up your mind Mr “I was sent to bear tidings not burdens”!!!

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Tolkien does say The alighting of a Great Eagle of the Misty Mountains in the Shire is absurd” (Letter 210). Um, dude, you have a book with talking trees, hydrophobic wraiths, and Tom Bombadil’s singing, trust me- it ain’t that absurd! Anyways, I wish JRRT had given us a better in-story reason as to why Gwaihir and co are such passive-aggressive douche-bags!

It could have been Gandalf delivering a simple rebuttal to a question by Bilbo, at The Council of Elrond.

“…the Eagles are servants of the Valar and are thus forbidden to directly expedite the salvation of Middle Earth. The free peoples must defeat Sauron themselves, Bilbo Baggins. Which means the ring bearer must be someone sprightly enough to walk to Mt Doom himself…”

Or something more intriguing like…

“As servants of Manwe and descendants of Thorondir, Sauron senses the Eagles all too well. He will know when they overfly his land and will then comprehend their destination and our final stratagem.”

Easy and perhaps a shame ole JRRT didn’t somehow directly nix the Eagle idea in subsequent reprints. Thus we are left pondering, why not use Eagles? Fandom is full of apologists with reasons why the Eagle ploy wouldn’t work (see [i] for comprehensive rebuttals and reasons why the Eagles CAN do it). But without a canon explanation many readers are still left astounded at how much easier the Ring-bearer’s mission would be if he could just fly over all the danger!!

And hence, if the Fellowship were to perform such a mission how would it be done? How would the wise go about it…?

Funny you should ask…

And before we go any further this article is examining how the Fellowship would get to Mordor on Eagles and does not propose that Tolkien ever actually intended them to use the Eagles. THIS ARTICLE IS NOT buying into that cute “Fly You Fools” fan theory: wherein Gandalf the Grey’s last words in Moria were a clue to use the Eagles. The theory involves some convoluted route south through Moria then north back to the Eyries. Gandalf even uses the word ‘fly’ twice on the preceding page to hasten the party over the bridge of Khazad-dûm. As I read it, the book does not hint that this was Gandalf’s plan.

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How would the Council of Elrond get the help of the Eagles?

In the ‘Lord of the Rings’ at least some of the Wise can summon Eagles. Radagast sends Gwaihir with a message to Orthanc. Galadriel commands Gwaihir to search for Gandalf, and soon enough rescues him from the top of the Celebdil.[ii]

Eagles also show up to the Battle of the Five Armies, and to the final confrontation in front of the Black Gate in the Morannon. Both conveniently when Gandalf is there. The great birds just followed the gathering Goblin horde in The Hobbit, and perhaps Galadriel sent them in Return of the King. Or perhaps Gandalf can summon them too: as Gandalf and the Eagles are both servants of Manwe it would make sense you’d think!

In ‘The Hobbit’ outside the gates of Erebor, Gandalf displays foreknowledge of the coming battle when talking to Bilbo:

“Things are drawing towards the end now unless I am mistaken. There is an unpleasant time just in front of you…there is news brewing that even the ravens have not heard.”

During the Battle of the Five Armies, Gandalf is seen “sitting on the ground as if in deep thought…” just before the Eagles appear. This hints to me that Gandalf knew about the Goblin army, (which only the Eagles and Beorn had detected assembling) and may thus have been communicating with the Eagles before and during the battle. If he can communicate at range with them then perhaps he can call on them too.

 

So to get to Mt Doom either Gandalf summons the Eagles OR, if only Radagast or Galadriel can call the Eagles, then the Fellowship must get to Rhosgobel or Lorien. As Radagast was not home when the Elvish scouts checked a month or so earlier, Lorien is the safe bet. We know Gandalf can telepathically communicate with Galadriel. If Mithrandir can do that at range (from Rivendell to Lorien[iii]) he could get her to send the Eagles to Rivendell. Or Elrond’s scouts simply relay the message to Galadriel in person. Either way we are looking at an aerial expedition out of either of these two major elvish enclaves. None of this “nine walkers for the nine riders” malarkey. We have a Flying Fellowship. “Nine fliers for nine fell beasts” perhaps?

Eagles

The Planned Route

We shall assume the lord of the Eagles arrives at Rivendell and, after many greetings, salutations (and high fiving), some sort of aerial transportation arrangement is made. Thus we are left with the logistics of the operation.

We know that earlier in the story Gwaihir rescues Gandalf from Isengard. He says he can’t bear Gandalf to the ends of the earth.

“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.” (FotR p251)

Gwaihir flies Gandalf close to Edoras in roughly one day[iv]. The distance from Isengard to Edoras is roughly 150 miles. So we can use the 150-miles-a-day as a conservative mounted Eagle flight estimator. I would consider that longer flights are easily possible. Gwaihir even says that Edoras “is not very far off”.  Longer flights would also be possible with spare steeds, lighter passengers (Hobbits!) and situations requiring urgency!

Indeed, Gandalf suggests that Nazgûl could fly from Barad-dur to Orthanc (approx 600 miles) in a few hours. How long is “a few” is anyone’s guess. If a few is 3 hours then we have 200 mph Nazgûl – plainly ridiculous! (for discussion of the speed of Tolkien’s winged creatures see [v]). My guesstimate would be 60-70mph. Eagles seem readily comparable to, if not faster than, Fell Beasts[vi]. Note however the Eagles may be slowed by riders, whereas wraiths may be weightless.

If the Flying Fellowship only travel for a few hours in the dead of night, then 150-miles-a-day allows for all manner of unseen circumstances. Longer flights would not be out of the question. It is possible the Eagles could travel the entire journey without a rest -for all we know they may have done so at the Battle of the Five Armies, and the Battle of the Morannon. This article assumes rest stops will be needed when bearing riders.

eagle beeline
Unsubtle beeline from Rivendell to Mt Doom.

Now a direct flight from Rivendell to Mount Doom is about 725 miles as the Eagle flies. However, this beeline will have few secure roosting or camping locations and will overfly some very unsavoury areas. Such a route would involve a fly-by of Dol Guldur (not a good idea), then tracking down the east side of the Anduin (crawling with Orcs), over the Brown Lands (more Orcs), Dagorlad (Orcs & Easterlings), right over the Black Gate (ditto), Udun (double ditto) and finally Orodruin. It is direct but most of the way it is dangerous to land or rest AND worst of all if word gets to Sauron of this unsubtle flight path he may well figure out what the game plan is and defend Mount Doom!

 

eagle subtle beeline
Slightly subtle beeline.

The Flying Fellowship could tweak the route a bit and rest in the Misty Mountains above the Hollin Ridge, then a comfy break in Lorien (topping up on magic items), another in the Wold, and the last sleep on the edge of Emyn Muil above the Dead Marshes. This just leaves a final perilous ride to Mt Doom. But the problem of detection remains. A squadron of giant Eagles with riders on their backs will stick out like a sore thumb once they emerge from Lorien and head directly south east. Flying wraiths will be patrolling the east bank of the Anduin about now too. If the penny drops, then Sauron will park an army on the volcano such that even Eagles and Gandalf can’t get through.

 

 

eagle minas tirith zoom
Direct fake-out to Minas Tirith, then Orodruin.

A variation on the direct flight path is to make for Lorien then head directly across the plains to Minas Tirith. Detection will still be likely but the flight path won’t give the end game away. Once at Minas Tirith, (assuming Denethor doesn’t blow a gasket and take the Ring), there is only the final hop to be made straight to the volcano. Unfortunately the obvious presence of Eagles may have the Winged Nazgûl put on alert and gathered directly across the river, thus becoming a certain threat to the final mission.

 

 

So to maintain a level of secrecy and hide the ultimate destination, how about following the mountain chains all the way to Minas Tirith? This reduces the chances of detection as few will notice, or care, about the birds in their natural environment amidst the huge ranges. And if Saruman or Sauron do detect them it will seem as if that the Ring is merely heading to Minas Tirith. The route will ensure secure roosts all the way, and allows the Fellowship to travel near or within allied territories like Lorien, Rohan and Gondor.

eagle stealth range run
Stealthy flight path from Rivendell, via the Misty & White Mountains, to Orodruin

Flying from Rivendell to the Gap of Rohan is about 400 miles. The Gap of Rohan along the White Mountains to Minas Tirith is some 430 miles. And Minas Tirith to Orodruin is about 170 miles…thus Rivendell to Orodruin via Mountains is roughly 1000 miles. At a snail’s pace of 150 miles a day that gives us 7 days travel time. Being generous we could double that time to allow for minor detours and a lot of rest stops. Or we could re-interpret the scant evidence and easily suggest that the Eagles can travel further in a day, say 300 miles. Thus making the mountain hugging trip to Mount Doom in about four days. Upon leaving Rivendell Frodo could be standing in the Sammath Naur sometime within four to fourteen days. Even the slowest variant is crazy fast vs walking!

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Logistics and the Plan in Action

After the (new and improved) Council of Elrond, where common sense prevails, there may be a short wait (a week or so) for the Eagles to be summoned and them to consider the major request for aid.warinthenorth2

So who goes south with the Ring? Definitely two Hobbits, a Wizard, and maybe an Elven archer? Or we could add a Man (Aragorn) and a Dwarf (Gimli) so we have one representative of each of the free peoples (except the Onodrim). The Flying Fellowship may need to take double the number of Eagles required for steed changes, security, and to carry some supplies. So either four or six bipeds will be riding and thus either a flight of eight or twelve Eagles. Alternately we send the whole nine walkers and consequently risk the temptation of Boromir, Merry hocking lugies off the Eagle’s back, and Pippin dropping rocks off mountain tops and sneaking peeks at lost and found palantir etc.

Regardless, the Flying Fellowship sets out and cruises south down the Misty Mountains. They fly by night to avoid observation, and nest during the day at altitude for safety and secrecy. The riders will need warm clothes and rope to secure themselves when sleeping and when aloft. Carrying food and water will reduce the need to deviate to hunt, though the Eagles will still need to do so. Birds not carrying riders can hunt for their compatriots.

LoTR-Eagles

Near the southern end of the Misty Mountains they rest, hidden in the peaks, to the north of Methedras. The Fellowship then pass east of Isengard in the dead of night, winging across the Gap of Rohan to the Helm’s Deep area. From here the Ring heads south east along the spine of the White Mountains. Again they camp at altitude, and post extra guards, as they may have heard about winged Nazgûl by now. If Sauron or Saruman happen to spot them, their route towards Minas Tirith should prevent any hint of the ultimate mission being discerned. Crebain and other spies of evil may spot the flight. However, the speed of the Flying Fellowship might keep them ahead of the news.

That said it may be advisable for the Eagles to have rest days every second or third day. Alternating the Eagles being ridden may also help. It all hinges on the problem that if Gwaihir cannot bear Gandalf for more than a day, is it due to tiredness OR that he has better things to do than being a taxicab? If the former, then we need rest days and alternate carrying duties. If the latter, then no problemo – speed on down to Mordor, drop that ring and Mr Eagle can get on with his supremely important Eagle life.

Ok, so the Flying Fellowship cruises along the White Mountains to Mount Mindolluin and camps on the north-western shoulder away from Minas Tirith – we don’t want any hint of Eagles leaking out, let alone Denethor trying to take the Ring, or accidentally blabbing to Sauron about the real mission. Then, after a rest, the next evening the Eagles head east at speed!

They’ve dropped all excess gear, readied weapons and had a big old drink of water. In the dark of night, the Fellowship by-pass Minas Tirith. They cross the Anduin to the north of Osgiliath, enter the Mountains of Shadow via a cleft north of Cirith Ungol, thus hopefully avoiding the wraiths of Minas Morgul. Gandalf is mounted on the same Eagle as Frodo for security and Ring dropping assistance. The others are formed up as escorts to drive off potential attackers. The Eagles use their superior vision to watch for Orcish archers and Fell Beasts. The closest they will come to the ground is several hundred yards when passing the crest of the Mountains of Shadow – the rest of the way they are at least half a mile up, well out of bow shot.

Eagle final approach
The final flight from Mount Mindolluin, north of the Morgul Vale, to Orodruin.

The Fellowship glide through the mountains sometime after midnight and silently pass over the Morgai ridge. The Eagles then increase their speed, crossing the plateau of Gorgoroth, racing directly towards Mount Doom. Sauron may well be alerted at this stage and scramble his winged Nazgûl to intercept.[vii]

If timed correctly, dawn will be cinematically breaking as the Flying Fellowship arrive above Orodruin. The Nazgûl come zooming in from across Mordor. Legolas will be shooting Fell Beasts, and Gandalf will drive off a squadron of them with his white light spell. Frodo will shake his fist and shout “Elbereth”, even Sam will bounce a rock off the Witch King’s crown. The other Eagles will dogfight the Nazgûl’s fell beasts as Frodo and Gandalf, and later Sam, alight and run into the Sammath Naur. Naturally Frodo can’t easily relinquish the Ring and either Gandalf ‘convinces’ him, chops off his hand, or Sam shoves him in, etc… and by hook or crook the One Ring goes into the Crack of Doom.

The Nazgûl go pop, Barad-Dûr falls, Sauron vaporises and blows away! It’s mop up time: free Theoden, rouse the Ents, smash Isengard, and smoke some more pipe-weed! Oh and try convincing Denethor to yield to Aragorn – good luck with that!

The Haradrim and Easterlings should lose all incentive without the malignant Sauronic over-watch, allied Orcish hordes, and an easy passage across the Anduin. The Corsairs may still invade Lebennin but now the entire might of Gondor can be brought to bear. Rohan, Dale and Erebor may also suffer invasions but otherwise the War of the Ring becomes just a few isolated skirmishes.

And hopefully the exhausted Eagles will give our heroes a final lift back to Gondor.

So, yeah… that is how the Eagles will assist the Wise in destroying the One Ring. The audience will see less of the cultures of Middle Earth and our protagonists will have fewer adversaries to smite. It’s less epic, and less heroic, but more much more sensible, and it does make for a shorter book!

oo000oo

 

Postscript A)

See The Eagles of Middle Earth – Tolkien’s Special Ops for an interesting discussion on JRRT’s use of the Eagles, and why the above article wasn’t never going to happen in the book.

 

Postscript B)

A few alternate Eagle routes to Mount Doom…

Rhovanion Run: Eagles go directly east, across to the eastern edge of Mirkwood and beyond the River Running, then turn south. Their approach to Mordor will be over the vast (and unwatched?) plains of Rhovanion. Coming in out of the north, straight over the Ash Mountains and hopefully to an unprepared Mt Doom.

Decoy Recce: Assuming the Ring is delivered to the vicinity of Minas Tirith, a wing of three Eagles zoom up the Morgul Vale, pop out near the tower of Cirith Ungol, then turn north along the Morgai towards Udûn. For all intents and purposes they seem like a reconnaissance mission but are really an attempt to lure out any Winged Nazgûl. Ideally they will draw the wraiths well away from the planned infiltration route of the Ring-bearer squadron which is inbound and only an hour behind.

Dance of the Vampires Tolkien Style: I’m thinking NATO vs USSR air wing manoeuvres in the ‘Dance of the Vampires’ chapter from Tom Clancy’s Red Storm Rising. The Eagles spread out, in a vast arc from Rhûn through the fringe of Southern Mirkwood, the edge of Fangorn, the White Mountains near Dunharrow, and down to the Isle of Tolfalas. On the sunset of D-DAY minus one, they all take flight and head directly towards Mount Doom, timing their arrival for dawn. Sauron launches his Nazgûl to intercept and as the aerial battle unfolds, Gandalf (riding in the Vanguard) communicates the enemy dispositions back to Minas Tirith where the final squadron angles in and punches through the scattered defence to sink the carrier, capture the flag, pop the Crack of Doom’s cherry with a scorching Ring sting!

 

 

FOOTNOTES

 

[i] Rebuttals to why riding the Eagles to Mount Doom wouldn’t work.

They’d be shot by arrows. Sure the Eagles are arrow shy, but not shy enough to avoid joining in the Battle of the Five Armies or the Battle of the Morannon! As for getting the Ring to Mordor, there is an easy solution versus arrows – FLY HIGH!! Arrows are not Surface to Air Missiles. Fly any higher than 500 metres and you are out of range. There are not archery platforms all along the top of the mountains of Mordor either.

There’s not enough oxygen to breathe if you fly over mountains. We are unsure of the actual height of the mountains around Mordor but there is no snow so they aren’t as tall as the White Mountains. Cirith Ungol is only about 3000 feet high so flying another 1000 feet higher won’t hurt. Altitude sickness only starts at about 8000 feet, and humans have summit-ed Everest’s 29000 feet without oxygen tanks. The Eagles just fly between the upper peaks if in doubt.

Eagles can’t carry a ring and/or accurately drop it in the volcano. Duh! Well get a Hobbit to carry the Ring, ride on the Eagle and run into the entrance to the Crack of Doom! Not exactly rocket science.

Eagles find the Ring weighs too much. Nope -Sam carries Frodo some way up Mount Doom and doesn’t find him any heavier than normal.

Eagles would succumb to the temptation of the Ring. Maybe. Eagles are servants of Manwe and, like Gandalf, are probably resistant to the temptation, or at least of similar resistance as the rest of the Fellowship. Also they are only in proximity to it for a few days, not for months on end. The presence of their lord Gwaihir, and the Maia Gandalf, may temper any fits of possessiveness. They don’t have a culture of using tools or wielding (magic) items of any kind. Just picking the Ring up and putting on such a small object will also present problems for a giant Eagle.

The Eagles would be seen coming. Yes, but not with enough warning as to their destination, unless they made a beeline for Mt Doom, or until they crossed into Mordor and even then they may be dismissed as being on a recce. If the Eagles travel within the Misty and White Mountain ranges they are less likely to be seen and any observers may just shrug and ignore them. “Eagles seen in Mountains. In other news, water is wet.”

Nazgûl would stop them. Maybe. Eagles may fly faster (think birds vs bats) and may still be a match for Fell Beasts in combat. They readily engage the winged Nazgûl at Darktowerthe Battle of the Morannon. There are only 9 Nazgûl, so bring more Eagles. Nazgûl can throw darts but Elves (ie Legolas) can shoot down Fell Beasts. Gandalf can project a holy white light that deters the winged Nazgul, and he can incinerate arrows as required. Nazgûl also have to see the Eagles coming to stop them in time. The Nazgûl are probably spread out in locations like Dol Guldur, Barad-dûr and Minas Morgul, not concentrated in force like our hypothetical Eagle squadron. I would be more worried about Sauron getting off his couch, jumping on a Fell Beast and personally intervening. His powers exceed that of Gandalf and he won’t be shy about using them either!  Barad-dûr is about 50 miles away, so it will be a race to the mountain.

Sauron would cause Mt. Doom to erupt: Yeah OK, along with an alerted flying Sauron, this could be an in–story problem with the Eagle mission. Some arguments insist that the Ring must be destroyed in the Crack of Doom in the Sammath Naur where it was made – NOT in the main lava vent of Orodruin. In this case a massive eruption could destroy the Crack and technically make the ring indestructible. It all depends on whether or not the Ring needs specifically go into the Crack of Doom, and if Sauron can make Orodruin erupt in the short time (an hour or less?) he has left before the Eagles are at the volcano. Note that Sauron seems to have made Mt Doom spew out smoke but it is uncertain if he can do more. The ability to cause an eruption may take a long time to manifest (hours/days?) again allowing Frodo et al time to complete the mission. The fact that the mountain didn’t erupt immediately once Sauron became aware of Frodo indicates that either such a hypothetical ability takes at least some minutes, or may have been avoided as it would just hasten the Ring’s destruction.

See Could the eagles have flown Frodo into Mordor for an excellent discussion as to why the Eagles could have been used.

My only quibble with the article is the suggestion of an Eagle rendezvous in Dagorlad…

Such a location is fraught with danger as it is a watched land. Orc maggot holes in the Ash Mountains indicate a large Goblin presence north of the range. Easterlings may also be travelling through this area, and patrolling Winged Nazgûl will present severe difficulties. Getting to this location will have all the usual hazards, and timing the pick-up requires telepathy or choosing a date in the future that has to allow for all manner of contingencies. The Fellowship would NOT want to be waiting around there for any length of time. Perhaps just getting the Ring to Minas Tirith would be a safer option for a pick up location at least?

 

[ii] Galadriel seems to be able to command the eagles:

“Do not let me fall!” I gasped, for I felt life in me again. “Bear me to Lothlórien!”

“That is indeed the command of the Lady Galadriel who sent me to look for you, he answered.” (TT p92)

 

 

[iii] If Gwaihir nests at the Eyrie west of the Carrock, then Galadriel presumably communicated at a similar range in order to get him to search for Gandalf. However why didn’t Gandalf use telepathy to warn of his imprisonment at Isengard and Saruman’s treachery? Either he couldn’t use it at that range, or Saruman had cancelled his telepathic wi-fi privileges via some kind of magic.

 

 

[iv] Gandalf escapes from Orthanc in the early hours of September 18 and comes to Edoras as a beggar on the 19th (RotK. appendix B, p339).  Presumably it either takes a full day to fly there OR more likely Gwaihir dropped Gandalf off somewhere just within walking distance of Edoras but not so close as to risk being shot at.

Notably Gwaihir had just flown from the Carrock area to Isengard, roughly 500+ miles, which is pretty much the same distance as Isengard to the Shire. Now sure, that’s without a man-sized wizard on his back, but sheesh Gwaihir, it’s hardly the ends of the earth if you’ve flown that distance yourself just to relay a message! If Mr Lazy Eagle had decided to be a bit more helpful, Gandalf could’ve been having an ale with Frodo and Strider at The Prancing Pony before the Nazgûl even reach Sarn Ford, let alone the Shire.

eagle gwaihirs errand
Gwaihir’s errand for Radagast, presumably from the Eyrie to Isengard, is roughly three times the distance from Isengard to Edoras. Outer circle is equivalent Eyrie-to-Isengard distance. Inner circle is equivalent Isengard-to-Edoras distance.

If 150 miles is “not far” and doable in less than a day, then three times that IS far, but still not the ends of the earth. Gwaihir just flew that distance to deliver a mere message, and now that the fate of Middle Earth hangs in the balance (eg. the Nine are abroad looking for “Baggins and Shire”!!) you’d think feather-brain Eagle lord, who owes Gandalf a solid (curing a poisoned arrow wound), could drop him in the Shire. It’s only the same distance you just flew for another wizard!! This is the same Eagle who at the final battle of the Third Age says to Gandalf “I would bear you… whither you will, even were you made of stone.”

Map distance calculations (these will vary slightly from map to map)

On horse the Gap of Rohan to Tharbad ~300 miles, Tharbad to Hobbiton ~250 miles. So Gap of Rohan to Hobbiton is roughly 550 miles.

Now as the eagle flies: Isengard to Edoras= ~150 miles. And Isengard to the South Farthing in the Shire = ~450 miles, about 3 times that of Isengard to Edoras.)

 

 

[v] The only other indication of flying creatures speed in LotR is a quote of Gandalf on the road with Pippin to Minas Tirith…

“It is two hundred leagues or more in straight flight from Barad-dûr to Orthanc, and even a Nazgûl would take a few hours to fly between them.” (TT p181)

300 leagues equate to 600 miles. We could interpret that if a “few hours” equals ‘three hours’ then Nazgûl can fly at about 200mph; or if a “few hours” mean ‘six hours’ then they fly at 100mph (for six hours straight!). Either of these speeds is totally bitchin’ for a winged animal. Peregrine Falcons’ dive at up to 200mph; the Great Snipe averages 60mph whilst migrating non-stop for 4000+miles; the Spine Tailed Swift and the Frigate Bird have both been clocked at about 100mph flying level (duration and tail winds unknown).

Recent studies suggest that: “Birds do not obey aerodynamic ‘scaling’ rules, that speed should increase with body mass and wing loading.” Flight speeds among bird species

See also this article for general information on bird speeds… https://web.stanford.edu/group/stanfordbirds/text/essays/How_Fast.html

So, for animals the size of Tolkien’s Fell Beasts and Great Eagles, these speeds seem way too fast to sustain. In the absence of any further information from JRRT one can only guesstimate: thus a reasonable cruising speed of 60 mph is suggested (making Gandalf’s “a few hours” more like 10 hours). “African or European Swallow” anyone?

It seems likely that Gwaihir’s 150-mile jaunt to Edoras would be much shorter than a full day’s travel. He probably dropped Gandalf well away from any dwellings, leaving a fair old walk for the Grey Pilgrim to Meduseld. The 150-mile journey probably was done within 6 hours at most. And thus the timings for our Flying Fellowship can no doubt be accelerated. Instead of 150-miles-per-day I would suggest 300-miles-per-day for mounted eagles, travelling at a sensible pace.

 

 

[vi] “Then come, and let your brother go with us, and some other of your folk who is most swift! For we have need of speed greater than any wind, outmatching the wings of the Nazgûl.” (RotK, p200.)

 

 

[vii] This pass just north of the Morgul Vale is dangerously close to Minas Morgul and the Tower of Cirith Ungol. To avoid advance warning reaching Minas Morgul or Barad- Dûr from Watchers or Morgul Wraiths, then perhaps the Upper Arnen Saddle (as discussed in Gandalf’s Plan) could be considered?

Eagle final approach2
Alternate Eagle flight path from Mount Mindolluin, via the Upper Arnen Saddle, to Orodruin, giving Minas Morgul a wide berth.
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