Jul 12, 8:48pm
Sorry to have been away for so long, but I have been following this most excellent discussion! I apologize, in advance, for what will probably a lengthy entry, but I have several thoughts on this subject, in no particular order, and in reply to various posts by many others in the thread:
Commanders, Leaders and Heroes
I agree with what seems to be the majority consensus with regards to the definitions of the three roles I have listed in my subject line. In real-world history, we could probably substitute "general" for "commander", someone who must, by necessity, control large armies from the rear, keeping an eye out for the big picture and opportunities to shift resources to take best advantage of changing events. I would put Denethor in this category, but not Theoden. Real-world commanders are usually judged after-the-fact. How successful were they in accomplishing their goals? The examples of Eisenhower and Nimitz, among others listed, are, by most accounts given credit for the successes of their campaign. In American football terms, they are the game-manager quarterbacks, as opposed to charismatic gunslingers like Brett Favre, and the term "competence", already mentioned by others, seems an appropriate description. I think the interesting situation occurs when a commander's results blur the historical narrative. By most accounts, Lee was considered the more brilliant battlefield general, but he still lost to the competent Grant, the latter knowing that he had exploitable advantages at his disposal that Lee did not. Which, then, was actually the better commander?
As opposed to the commander, the leader does seem to have his boots on the ground, and that, as has been pointed out, is where the charisma factor comes into play, but with the following admonition: most people alive in the world today have a hard time with the blurring of history and fiction. Are we remembering Patton the actual WWII leader or the Patton played by George C. Scott? Did Henry V lead from the front, or was that just Kenneth Brannagh? That's where purely fictional characters like Aragorn have the advantage! Their only judges are the readers, and the author can make them into whatever he or she wishes. Real-world leaders, like the commanders, are judged by history. Patton was charismatic (at least George C. was!) and successful. Custer was charismatic and a complete failure. Here's where I would put Theoden, who absolutely lead from the front, was certainly successful, and was, arguably, more charismatic than Aragorn. Other fictional leaders, charismatic and otherwise, who achieved varying degrees of success in their careers: Thorin Oakenshield, Robb Stark, and Darth Vader. I would also classify Gandalf as a leader, rather than a commander, due to his personal involvement in events.
Moving on to heroes, I put them into two, overlapping circles. In fact, this whole exercise might benefit from a large-scale Venn diagram! There are heroes like Turin, Beowulf, Wart from T.H. White's The Sword in the Stone, Luke Skywalker, and Harry Potter. While they may or may not represent a larger constituency and can receive help from other characters along the way, they illustrate the importance of the One. Their successes, or failures, are primarily achieved through individual skill or determination. These characters usually rise from anonymity to great heights. The fact that they usually have some sort of magical weapon never hurts. I could think of no real-world example of the lone hero. Even Alvin York had command of a small number of men. The other circle contains the charismatic leader, and in the area where the two intersect we find Aragorn. Still with the magic blade and the destiny and all that, but both charismatic and competent, inspiring others to succeed.
The example of Achilles was brought up, and I was thinking of his place in the discussion. While he has all the markings of a traditional lone hero (self-confidence to the point of arrogance, magical armor, etc.), let's not forget that he was also a charismatic leader of the Myrmidons, the most feared military unit on the plains of Troy. So much so, that even the armor of Achilles, worn by Patroclus, spurred them to glory and routed every Trojan from the field save another hero: Hector. Turin reminds me quite a bit of Achilles, the tragic hero (more blurring of lines and roles).
For just as there has always been a Richard Webster, so too has there been a Black Scout of the North to greet him at the door on the threshold of the evening and to guard him through his darkest dreams.