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By John R. White – Contributing Columnist,
Author: Airship Neverland series.

Note: The opinions expressed in this editorial are those of the author and may not necessarily represent the views of SCIFI.radio or its editorial staff.


“The most improper job of any man, even saints (who at any rate were at least unwilling to take it on), is bossing other men. Not one in a million is fit for it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity.”

—  J.R.R. Tolkien, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien

The great tragedy of humanity is that humanity must be led. Were that is was possible that we could live in a land of fairness and harmony without the need for government; since this is not the case throughout our long history we have been led by men and women of wisdom, strength and dignity – but also ignorance, folly, cowardice and power-seeking.

J.R.R.Tolkien was a man not unfamiliar with leaders of many forms. Tolkien was not born in England but in the Bloemfontein, Orange Free State – now South Africa. Born under a President, he would go onto serve under Nobles, Prime Ministers, officers and university deans – just to name a few.

To understand Tolkien’s writings in The Lord of The Rings is to understand leadership; here we will specifically look at why a solid understanding of lessons that could have, and could serve our leaders in their positions of authority. This will examine current world leaders, as well as those in the recent past. None of the examples below will be in any way perfect, as all human beings are flawed and products of their time.

It can be argued that Frodo never saw himself as a leader, but more of a servant. He did not desire authority, but when called upon to step up he did so. His leadership was never executed by edicts, orders or fiat – far from it. Frodo’s leadership was recognized by that it was he alone that could accomplish a singular task. Because of his humility and selflessness, he drew followers.

There are very few leaders like this in the world today. The closest example that comes to my mind may be Mother Theresa. The Catholic nun’s sole purpose was to help the poor, and she never viewed herself as much more than a Missionary. Caring for others, she would spend her days attempting to alleviate suffering.

Samwise would spend the remainder of his life’s purpose in service, and then, as Frodo and Bilbo before him, depart to Valinor – Tolkien’s metaphor for the divine world.

With Samwise, here again, we have someone who leads a life of quiet service and courage. While he is the Baggins’s servant gardener, he would still share the hardships of the Fellowship because of his loyalty to Frodo. Once home he continues to aid with the purging of Sharkey’s Ruffians, alongside Merry, Pippin and Frodo. After all his adventures we then see that Samwise would go onto becoming Mayor of the Shire. He served seven terms, and in his retirement would join Frodo in the West.

 A close comparison here maybe Nelson Mandela who was asked after Apartheid fell to serve as the first president of Modern South Africa. Nelson fought, was jailed, and only after fighting for liberation from long darkness was elevated to leadership.

Nelson Mandela

If we take a look at the case of Aragorn, here we can see that some individuals called to be leaders often flee responsibility deeming themselves unworthy of the positions, or perhaps fearing the weight of such a burden.  In Tolkien’s story, we see that Aragorn does eventually assume the position and becomes the great king that he was meant to be. However, in real life, such callings are very rare.

Take Denethor – his role was to hold power temporarily as Steward – a position of place holding. In modern government rarely has this task been successfully executed for men and women are loathe to relinquish such authority. Denethor as the Steward of Gondor was to manage the affairs of Gondor until the true king arose. However, once power assumed is too great a temptation.  Often in world leadership, we have seen that those that lead revolutions or coup d’états promise to be a temporary government, but become fixed in place. 

 Where once Monarchs governed the vast majority of the known world, we see that hereditary rulers are extremely rare, with some well-known exceptions such as Saudi Arabia.

Constitutional governments, where the agreement between the people and leadership is normally spelt out resulting in well-regulated and controlled leadership, have proved to be fairly stable. Those that abuse their powers are generally removed from power by parliaments, congresses or other balancing leadership positions; in the United States, this is called impeachment and has happened twice, and is now undergoing a third.

When we look at the Sovereigns in the Lord of the Rings we see that the vast majority of them begin badly; Aragorn is fearful, Elrond is an isolationist, Denethor has been corrupted and is failing his task as Steward and Théoden has been, due to sorrow and age relegated to being a puppet controlled by Grima and Saruman.

Each of these examples shows how easy it is that sovereigns can be manipulated, some by their insecurities, grudges, and thirst for power. The starkest example of this is Théoden.

Théoden commands are great land with a powerful army, his land is well respected and his people noble at heart. However, when Théoden cedes his authority to Grima, we see how evil consul can grow. Théoden’s kingdom slowly disintegrates and even his own family suffers. Moreover, we can see that weak leaders are easily manipulated by nefarious outside powers. According to Unfinished Tales, Théoden is slowly being weakened by poison from Grima.

It is that poison that destroys most leadership. In modern times many well-intended leaders have been, and are, betrayed by their staffs by destructive words, ideologies and distractions.

Presidents like Andrew Johnson, Harding, Nixon, Reagan, and Clinton may have accomplished a great deal but had their legacies highly damaged by scandals.  We can see that our Current leader has been inundated by scandals, some even starting before he took office.

With Théoden we see that his redemption is caused by Gandalf who knows his friend’s true person and his capability for greatness. Théoden is restored, and quickly takes control of his throne back. This shows that wise consul, and trusted associates we can often be pulled back from failure.

If politicians and businessmen today desire to be good and moral leaders, it may do them well to peruse and study Tolkien’s works. In doing so they would see that far from being just a good story or a simple fantasy, Tolkien shows that he had an excellent grasp on managerial styles and leadership skills.

 But there is more to this, because power always comes from the people.

We see that some people, though simple and honest folk like the occupants of the Shire who have lived mostly at peace can still be upended by such as Lotho Baggins – who is being manipulated by outside forces. He has used his wealth to secure power; a fair accomplishment. But clearly, this was not enough for him. Using thugs and hooligans sent from Sauron, he proclaims himself ‘Chief’.  To undo this fiat, it will take an armed uprising to remove him.

And so it is we, the citizens, which must stand guard over those who seek power. As leaders emerge from us because after all, they are just people, to begin with, any tyranny or fascism can be stopped at the grassroots. Standing guard and being active would have assured that the heart of corruption, the One Ring if Elrond simply would have stepped up and forced Isildur to cast the ring in Mount Doom. This demonstrates the truth that it is we who hold our power and must not be afraid to stand up and be ready to defend our own destiny.

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John White
John White

John R. White is a USAF veteran, and has served as Art Director for the Honor Flight Network, and Honor Flight Northwest Ohio. He is most well known as the Author of ‘The Tales of the Airship Neverland’ steampunk series, and the author and designer of the ‘Airship Neverland’ Roleplaying game.

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