Eagles are majestic creatures. Living in the midst of a large bald eagle nesting area is something my wife and I don’t take for granted. Each year we see scores of the graceful raptors courting and then raising their young right here on Hood Canal.
Hood Canal is actually an 80 kilometer long fjord, which lies just to the east of the Olympic National Forest. It features deep blue waters at the foot of an impressive mountain range.
Eagles make a significant impression on nearly everyone fortunate enough to see them. Even though they are birds of prey, they look extremely noble. In light of that fact, it’s no accident many nations include an eagle as part of their coat of arms or national seal. These include: Albania, Armenia, Austria, Germany, Ghana, Iceland, Indonesia, Iraq, Mexico, Moldova, Montenegro, Nigeria, Panama, Russia, the United States and at least ten additional countries.
Eagles have also figured prominently in literature. For example, both of the preeminent Inklings, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, featured eagles as heroes in their fictional classics.
Eagles in the Work of C.S. Lewis
Eagles are among those granted speech by Aslan at the dawn of Narnia’s creation. They reward their Creator’s gift by serving faithfully throughout the entire history of the land. Eagles play a role in virtually every battle that occurs in Narnia. They are always on the side of good.
In addition to fighting in the campaign against the White Witch, eagles are responsible for the rescue of Edmund from her camp. When Aslan calls his army to rush toward the climactic battle in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, he says:
And now! Those who can’t keep up—that is, children, dwarfs, and small animals—must ride on the backs of those who can—that is, lions, centaurs, unicorns, horses, giants and eagles. Those who are good with their noses must come in the front with us lions to smell out where the battle is.
The most noteworthy passages relate to Farsight, who is a prominent eagle during the final days of Narnia. He it is who brings to King Tirian the sad news that Narnia’s capital has fallen.
“Sire,” said the Eagle, “when you have heard my news you will be sorrier of my coming than of the greatest woe that ever befell you.” Tirian’s heart seemed to stop beating at these words, but he set his teeth and said, “Tell on.” “Two sights have I seen,” said Farsight. “One was Cair Paravel filled with dead Narnians and living Calormenes . . . And the other sight, five leagues nearer than Cair Paravel, was Roonwit the Centaur lying dead with a Calormene arrow in his side. I was with him in his last hour and he gave me this message to your Majesty: to remember that all worlds draw to an end and that noble death is a treasure which no one is too poor to buy.” “So,” said the King, after a long silence, “Narnia is no more.” (The Last Battle)
After this sad entrance, and following the “Last Battle,” Farsight is one of the leaders as the victor’s army enters into the foothills of heaven.
. . . the dogs barked, “Faster, faster!” So they ran faster and faster till it was more like flying than running, and even the Eagle overhead was going no faster than they. And they went through winding valley after winding valley and up the steep sides of hills and, faster than ever, down the other side, following the river and sometimes crossing it and skimming across mountain lakes as if they were living speedboats . . . “Further up and further in!” roared the Unicorn, and no one
held back. . . .
Only when they had reached the very top did they slow up; that was because they found themselves facing great golden gates. And for a moment none of them was bold enough to try if the gates would open. . . . “Dare we? Is it right? Can it be meant for us?” But while they were standing thus a great horn, wonderfully loud and sweet, blew from somewhere inside that walled garden and the gates swung open. (The Last Battle)
Eagles in the Work of J.R.R. Tolkien
Similar to Lewis’ distinction between dumb and speaking eagles, Tolkien distinguishes between “common” and Great Eagles. In The Hobbit he writes, “Eagles are not kindly birds. Some are cowardly and cruel. But the ancient race of the northern mountains were the greatest of all birds; they were proud and strong and noble-hearted.”
It is these noble mountain eagles who populate the six books (three volumes) of the Lord of the Rings and Tolkien’s other fiction.
At the end of the First Age, eagles fight alongside the Valar, Elves and Men in the War of Wrath. They especially contend against the dragons of Morgoth as recounted in The Silmarillion. The eagles emerge victorious, destroying most of their enemy during an aerial battle.
Near the end of the Third Age, the eagles from the Misty Mountains rescue Thorin’s troop from goblins and wargs, as related in The Hobbit. Without their aid, the Dwarves, Elves and Humans would likely have met defeat at the Battle of Five Armies.
In The Lord of the Rings (including the cinematic version) the eagles feature prominently. They are even capable of clashing head-to-head with the fearsome Nazgûl-mounted dragons.
And, of course, several of them rescued Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee following the destruction of the One Ring.
Two named eagles should be mentioned. Thorondor was the initial Lord of Eagles and according to The Silmarillion was the “mightiest of all birds that have ever been.”
His descendant Gwaihir is the leader of those who aid Gandalf throughout the events of The Lord of the Rings. Not only does he rescue the wizard from the tower, but he returns him after his “resurrection” which followed the battle with the Balrog.
“Naked I was sent back—for a brief time, until my task is done. And naked I lay upon the mountain-top. . . . I was alone, forgotten, without escape upon the hard horn of the world. . . . And so at the last Gwaihir the Windlord found me again, and he took me up and bore me away. ‘Ever am I fated to be your burden, friend at need,’ I said.”
“A burden you have been,” the Eagle answered, “but not so now. Light as a swan’s feather in my claw you are. The Sun shines through you. Indeed I do not think you need me any more: were I to let you fall, you would float upon the wind.” (The Two Towers)
It may be that for this life we must remain content with seeing only the common and mute eagles that populate this mortal world. But even they, are glorious to behold.
3 thoughts on “Our Eagle Allies”
Although I love C. S. Lewis, what I really like about this post is the first three paragraphs. For just a few moments I have been drawn into the land of eagles. I see them now in my imagination, and they are a magnificent and uplifting sight. Thanks!
We can only imagine for the earth looks from their perspective.
Outstanding post – greatly appreciated
We see eagles rarely where I live. But on those occasions when one appears above the river–it is breathtaking how large they are.
A blog by a friend of mine whose interests coincide with yours–check it out if you have time: