Was Gwaihir the “Great Eagle” in The Hobbit?


On my first few readings of The Hobbit I paid no attention to the possible connection between the Lord of the Eagles, who rescues the Hobbit and the Dwarves from a fiery forest, and Gwaihir, the Eagle who saves Gandalf three times in The Lord of the Rings.

Yet, the more I read the books, the more I found it unquestionable that the creature was one and the same in both stories.

True, Tolkien never really establishes a clear connection between the two, but I seemed to take it pretty much for granted – as well as obvious.

Now, currently in my yearly reading of The Hobbit, this question has resurfaced and made me wonder what was so “obvious” and clear-cut about Gwaihir being that same Great Eagle who came to the Dwarves’ aid.

Well, this post is meant as a mental discussion with myself (as well as all of you out there) to try and give some sort of rational resolution to this mystery.

What’s all the more curious is why Tolkien never actually presented any clear evidence for or against such argument, given how meticulous he was in fleshing out his stories and providing intricate details that connect his works within the same world.

The Eagle in The Hobbit is referred to as the following:

  • The Lord of the Eagles
  • The Lord of the Eagles of the Misty Mountains
  • The eagle-lord
  • The Great Eagle
  • The great Eagle of the Misty Mountains
  • The King of All Birds

He was also acquainted with Gandalf and, after the events in The Hobbit, wore a golden crown presented to him by the Dwarves.

Gwaihir also has a number of titles attributed to him in The Lord of the Rings:

  • The Windlord
  • Swiftest of the Great Eagles
  • Greatest of all the Eagles of the North
  • Mightiest of the descendants of old Thorondor

Now, if you’ve read your Silmarillion, you will know that Thorondor was the greatest of the eagles of the Vala Manwë.

Gwaihir’s titles, although not exactly like those of the Great Eagle in The Hobbit, are nonetheless suggestive, even though the terms “swiftest” and “greatest” do not necessary make him a “lord” or “king”.

Yet, being the “mightiest” of Thorondor’s descendants, who we know was indeed referred to as “Lord of Eagles”, “King of Eagles” and “mightiest of all birds” in The Silmarillion, begs the question:

Surely Gwaihir now claims that title, and is therefore the same Eagle in The Hobbit?

There is still no clear evidence to support this claim, but given that Gwaihir is said to have been the mightiest of descendants of the King of Eagles, this is rather a strong case in favour of the theory that he was indeed the Great Eagle who rescued Thorin & Company.

Perhaps the “Great Eagle” was Gwaihir’s father after all? But what about Gwaihir’s brother, Landroval? He was also referred to as one of the mightiest descendants of Thorondor … so how does he fit into the theory?! …

Share your thoughts, comments, ideas and theories! 😀


7 thoughts on “Was Gwaihir the “Great Eagle” in The Hobbit?

  1. I always thought they were one and the same, sort of like how Thranduil is just the Elvenking in “The Hobbit.” Maybe characters were minor and left unnamed until Tolkien realized he could use them again in other tomes? Gosh, I wish we could ask!! Love your reasoning here!

  2. It would make sense that Gwaihir and the Hobbit’s Eagle-King are one and the same. Several characters in the Hobbit are somewhat different from their LOTR counterparts, or have differing names or titles, but Tolkien obviously tried to connect his earlier, more formative work with his later, more complete work. Per example, the referenced Necromancer and the LOTR’s Sauron… I think these two Eagles are one and the same.

  3. I guess I just assumed he was. I looked up another of my ‘Tolkien websites’ and ‘Ask About Middle Earth’ has a nice little article looking at some of the pros and cons of whether Gwaihir is indeed the Hobbit’s Lord of the Wings.

      1. Hmmm interesting question because if it’s the same Eagle, then at least 70+ years, not to mention the unspecified time before The Hobbit when Gandalf supposedly healed him from an arrow wound.

  4. Late to the game, but thought I’d respond since I came across this post when the same question me to mind during my own semi-annual reading. The only reason I see to doubt that they are one and the same comes in Chapter 4 of Book V in The Return of the King. Gandalf, while being rescued for a third time by Gwaihir, says, “Twice you have borne me, Gwaihir my friends.” Those two times definitely include his post-Balrog throw-down rescue from Zirak-zigil and his rescue from Orthanc. So either (I) Gandalf’s recollection was off by one in RotK for some unexplained reason, (II) it’s a different raffle in The Hobbit, or (III) Tolkien was off by one himself when he wrote LotR. I’m inclined to option III. If you read Douglas Anderson’s annotated Hobbit, he notes a lot of little potential inconsistencies like this one, as well as some fascinating retcons that Tolkien enacted.

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