Sean Crist confronts a problem I didn’t even realize existed, but now sticks in one’s literary craw: Why didn’t the eagles just fly Frodo to Mordor, and skip all that unpleasant trudging about through a medieval hellscape and struggling with a demented jewelry addict bent on his demise?
Essentially, because Tolkien just kind of screwed up by introducing the eagles in the first place:
. . . the strongest argument that there is nothing to rule out the “eagles” plan, and that this is simply a hole in the plot, is that the matter is not discussed at the Council of Elrond. Every possible plan is discussed: sending the Ring to Tom Bombadil to keep, guarding it in Imladris or Lórien or the Havens, sending it across the ocean, dropping it into the ocean, using it, etc. In each instance, there is a good explanation given to rule out the plan; this is the literary device by which Tolkien sets up the quest to Mt. Doom as the direction which the story must take.
In all of this discussion, no mention is made of the possibility that the eagles could help in taking the Ring to Mt. Doom. If Tolkien wanted to rule out the possibility, this would be the perfect opportunity to do it, by inserting dialog such as the following around pages 348-9:
“Then,” said Glorfindel, “let us send messages to the eagles, and then pass by foot and boat to the Brown Lands, and meet there with the eagles, who shall fly with the Ringbearer to Orodruin.”
“Nay,” said Gandalf. “For the Valar have prohibited the eagles from participating so directly in the downfall of the Dark Lord.”
OR: “Nay,” said Gandalf. “For I feel in my heart that the creature Gollum has yet some role to play, and he will not be able to do so if we fly with the eagles into the Dark Land.”
OR: “Nay,” said Gandalf. “For the Dark Lord is capable of throwing fire over many miles, and he would be able to stop the eagles from their flight.”
Since Gandalf had just related his rescue from Orthanc just prior to the discussion of the various possible plans, the eagles would have been in the thought of everybody at the Council of Elrond, and it is very likely that somebody would have brought the possibility up. But they do not, and I think there are two possible explanations: 1) the possibility never occurred to Tolkien, or 2) Tolkien realized he had a problem and opted not to draw attention to it. In either case, the matter should be counted as a hole in the plot.
The entire article is well worth reading for fans of the book. It teaches a lesson that fanatics of all kinds (of authors, series, companies, etc.) can find value in: even awesome things made by awesome people will have meaningful flaws, yet still maintain their essential value. Lord of the Rings is not demoted because the Fellowship didn’t think of the eagle plan. It’s just a reminder that it’s not holy scripture.
UPDATE: My Twitter pal @gwrthryfel, a Tolkien enthusiast if ever there was one, sends me this video, that lays this very idea most pithily.