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PostPosted: Sat Jan 03, 2015 4:36 pm 
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of Vinyamar
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I just wrote this in defense of Tolkien on FB after a friend of mine decried the constant tired use of the Eagles as Deus ex Machina in the books and Movies. Thought some of you might be interested. :)

So, the Eagles. Rather than point to one of the many treatises on the subject I'll just give my own brief response. There are, from recollection, four incidences in the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings where the Eagles turn up. The first is when the Dwarves and Hobbit are stuck in the trees when being chased by the goblins and wargs, the second is "high and far off" in the Battle of the Five Armies, the third is when Gwaihir the Windlord rescues Gandalf from the pinnacle of Orthanc and the final time is at the Black Gate, when they join in the fight and are conveniently to hand to bear Gandalf to Mount Doom to save Frodo and Sam from being engulfed in the lava flow following the destruction of the Ring. Of all of these, only the final one could legitimately be considered a Deus ex Machina.

The first event had many other options for resolution. Gandalf's use of the flaming pine cones could have worked, driving the Wargs mad with fear. In fact, this was precisely what was happening until the goblins appeared and used the flames to set the trees alight. Even then, there was no cliff face, no impossible escape. In fact, the reverse is true. Tolkien deliberately writes a scenario that requires the Eagles, because he needs to use them for the next part of the story. Having been "rescued" by the Eagles, Bilbo is not even sure if they are safe or are now prisoners. It turns out, in true Fairy tale fashion, that Gandalf once cured the Lord of the Eagles (unnamed at this point) of an arrow wound. The Eagles drop them at the Carrock in time to meet Beorn, thus safely getting thirteen Dwarves, a Hobbit and a Wizard across the Anduin river without needing boats. (A fact that is conveniently ignored on the return journey).

The second event is mentioned in passing before Bilbo is knocked out and misses the entire Battle of the Five Armies, which is described in a total of two paragraphs and the Eagles are merely another set of combatants, and do not save the day. The tide of the battle is turned rather by the emergence of the Company of Thorin from Erebor falling upon the rearguard of Bolg's army, with Thorin, Kili and Fili all dying in the assault on Bolg. In fact, if there is a Deus ex Machina here, its Beorn, who arrives in Bear form and kills Bolg.

The third event happens as a result of Saruman's contempt of "Radagast the bird tamer, Radagast the fool". Because Saruman ignored Radagast he did not realise that Gandalf had asked Radagast to send word to him in Isengard of any news. Gwaihir the Windlord did not come to rescue Gandalf, but to bear tidings. Saruman's treachery was at that time know to none. When Gwaihir found Gandalf imprisoned alone on the pinnacle of Orthanc he carried him to safety in Rohan. So, again, no Deus ex Machina here.

The final appearance of the Eagles is at the Black Gate, when the armies of Gondor are in an unwinnable battle, sacrificing themselves to allow Frodo and Sam the chance of making it to the Sammauth Naur undetected. There is no victory to be had in this battle. They are vastly outnumbered. The destruction of the Ring causes Barad Dur to fall and Sauron's will to dominate is removed from his armies, which causes them to lose their shape and structure and their confidence. They begin to rout, killing each other in their desperation to get away and the eruption of Orodruin causes earthquakes which open great fissures in the earth across the plain of Gorgoroth where the vast bulk of Saurons armies are still mobilising. Again, the Eagles appear high and far off as Pippin loses consciousness, in a deliberate homage to Bilbo's moment so many years before. Again, the Eagles do not turn the tide of battle. However, they are conveniently to hand to rescue Frodo and Sam from the lava. However, once again, this is by design, not lack of options. There were many ways Tolkien could have rewritten that scene to save Frodo and Sam without needing the Eagles, but he wanted that Epic feel to the final scenes. Is that a flaw in a writer of high fantasy? I don't think so. Its a strength. A writer who knows how to craft a tale of grandeur and myth.

Now, why PJ chose to change every one of those scenes? Thats a subject for a different post!

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PostPosted: Sat Jan 03, 2015 5:17 pm 
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It almost sounds like you're saying the book is more well thought out than the movies. :)

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PostPosted: Sat Jan 03, 2015 5:22 pm 
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I've never denied that! I just am perfectly able to enjoy the movies on their own merits.

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PostPosted: Sat Jan 03, 2015 5:33 pm 
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Hehe, that little jab was more for PJ & co then yourself. :) I expect the Deus ex Machina complaints are much more from movie fans than book fans because as you point out, it's much more well thought out in the book. Only the Frodo-saver feels a little Deus-y whereas in the movie they all kinda do. But I love them anyway. :) (Except in film-BOFA where they felt stupid.)

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PostPosted: Sat Jan 03, 2015 5:37 pm 
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[ot]In another episode of our ongoing "we are from different species," I love the eagles in BotFA, particularly when Thorin looks out and sees them just before collapsing. One of the best and most moving shots in all the films.[/ot]

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PostPosted: Sat Jan 03, 2015 5:49 pm 
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I meant stupid from a Deus ex Machina POV. They are, of course, always gorgeous to see. But "The eagles showed up so we automatically win somehow" is dumb. Specially when you consider that the bats seemed to outnumber the eagles 100 to 1. What, do they have machine guns that aren't shown on screen? :roll:

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PostPosted: Sat Jan 03, 2015 6:01 pm 
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I could easily see each Eagle being 100 times more powerful than each bat. I thought Jackson was quite restrained in the "Eagles save the day" in BotFA, actually. So much so that people complain that they don't understand how the battle was won (not a complaint that I have).

But if we want to talk about this more, it should probably go in the Tolkien Movies forum.

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PostPosted: Sat Jan 03, 2015 6:19 pm 
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Um, unless the bats are made of tissue paper or the eagles are made of steel, I disagree. He was "restrained" because if you actually tried to show that it wouldn't make any sense and I suspect he knew it. They're just big eagles, it's not like they have magic powers. It's relevant to this thread because it's stuff like that that makes many people feel they're Deus ex Machinas. In the movies, they have a much stronger case than in the book.

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PostPosted: Sat Jan 03, 2015 6:55 pm 
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Nicely done, Al.

I don't have any problems with how Jackson presented the eagles in BotFA, particularly since made sense that the eagles had an equal foe to deal with in the bats. It's the whole "Dial-a-Moth" taxi service started with the Orthanc rescue and perpetuated unnecessarily in AUJ that causes such misunderstanding and derision.

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PostPosted: Sat Jan 03, 2015 7:09 pm 
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I've had two or three people ask me "why didn't the eagles kill Azog?" after seeing AUJ. And I don't really have an answer besides "uh, they were scared of him I guess."


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PostPosted: Sat Jan 03, 2015 7:23 pm 
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There was also Gwaihir picking Gandalf up from Durin's tower after his battle with Balrog and delivering him to Lothlórien. Apparently, the Eagles were in communication with Galadriel as well as the wizards/moths.

But yeah, I agree with Al here. In the books, at least, Tolkien did not write himself into a corner to the point that the aerial rescue was the only option. The possible exception is the battle at the Black Gate, and even there it's a deliberate choice - the armies of Gondor and Rohan just need to last "long enough" for the Ring to be destroyed, and Tolkien could have timed the fall of Barad-dûr to resolve that battle without the Eagles. By then, I think, the conception of the Eagles changed from "big birds, steal sheep" to messengers of Manwë, so that their appearance signified direct divine intervention on the side of Elessar.

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PostPosted: Sat Jan 03, 2015 9:00 pm 
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yovargas wrote:
Um, unless the bats are made of tissue paper or the eagles are made of steel, I disagree. He was "restrained" because if you actually tried to show that it wouldn't make any sense and I suspect he knew it. They're just big eagles, it's not like they have magic powers. It's relevant to this thread because it's stuff like that that makes many people feel they're Deus ex Machinas. In the movies, they have a much stronger case than in the book.


The Eagles, of course, are not "just big eagles." They are powerful spirits sent by Manwë, something which I think the films do a remarkably good job capturing, considering how amorphous a concept it is. Actually, I can forgive Peter Jackson much in exchange for what he has done with the Eagles, almost all of whose appearances in his films are not only some of my favorite moments in his Middle-earth films, but also in any films.

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PostPosted: Sat Jan 03, 2015 10:28 pm 
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The Eagle rescue in AUJ has some of the best visuals of all six movies.


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PostPosted: Sun Jan 04, 2015 12:08 am 
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It does. But BotFA is better. And Bilbo trying to tell Thorin that the Eagles were coming while he was dying/dead is one of the most moving things I have ever seen. The screenplays for these films certainly have some down points, but in scenes like that (and the acorn scene, and others) they show their quality.

Sorry to osgiliate your thread, Al.

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PostPosted: Sun Jan 04, 2015 3:03 am 
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You beat me to it, Al - I was going to discuss the Eagles as deus ex machina in my critical commentary thread ;).

That said, I think it is interesting that it is hard to think of a case where the Eagles could have appeared and saved the day where they didn't, outside of acting as an air taxi service, which I get the impression wasn't their thing. If anything, Tolkien could have made them seem like less of a get out of jail free card if he used them more.


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PostPosted: Sun Jan 11, 2015 7:49 pm 
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Well said, Al. These are the reasons I'll use the next time someone challenges me on it! Unless they're copyrighted, of course. In which case I'm willing to pay.


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PostPosted: Tue Jan 13, 2015 11:14 am 
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Nice post Alatar, I quite agree.

And I very much agree with Elen on the films.
I don't have a problem with the moth as a messenger device in FotR (actually I love that scene), I don't know why. It just seems quite natural and evocative.
I also love the eagles at the Black Gate. Didn't really occurred to me as a deux ex-machina, because no matter what they were going to lose the head-on battle anyway. Also because Gandalf and the eagles coming to save Frodo and Sam from the slopes of Orodruin is one of my favorite scenes in the sextet.
I do have a very large problem with their introduction in AUJ though. But I think that might be a result of adaptation.
Eagles saving 15 guys atop a tree doesn't sound as serious as them saving a harshly beaten
Gandalf imprisoned upon Barad-dûr or saving the battle at the Black Gate or the Battle of Five Armies. If anything, Gandalf uses the Moth far too quickly in AUJ than he should have.

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PostPosted: Tue Jan 13, 2015 2:04 pm 
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Smaug's voice wrote:
If anything, Gandalf uses the Moth far too quickly in AUJ than he should have.


Yes, you have to feel for Dori and Ori hanging from Gandalf's staff for sooooo long! Unfortunately I think that must have been due to the insertion of the Thorin-Azog showdown to provide a climax to the reworked film 1 ending...otherwise the eagles would have arrived sooner!

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PostPosted: Tue Jan 13, 2015 6:12 pm 
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SV,

Quote:
Also because Gandalf and the eagles coming to save Frodo and Sam from the slopes of Orodruin is one of my favorite scenes in the sextet.


Agreed. A visually (and thematically) sublime scene. One of Jackson's best.


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PostPosted: Tue Jan 13, 2015 7:12 pm 
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One of the few things that I think we can all agree on.

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