If we look at some of the prominent figures in Middle-earth at the time of the War of the Ring:

  • Théoden
  • Denethor
  • Aragorn
  • Elrond
  • Gandalf

All of these are 'leaders' of one form or another, but some are more effective than others. Of course there are various aspects of leadership: charisma, inspiring others to follow you, decisiveness, impartiality, and so on. How many of these characters could be described as alpha males?

What has Tolkien said about the leadership skills of these characters?

Is there any sort of commentary in his notes or letters, or anything to suggest clearly how he rated them all as leaders?

  • 1
    One thing Tolkien always got right in my opinion is that his main protagonists were always leading for the benefit of someone else. I notice Frodo and Sam didn't make that list? Surely they are the leaders of Middle Earth in their own troubles and quest To destroy the most evil object in their world ON THEIR OWN. However in terms of your question, Aragorn leads everyone. As he is set up to. He is the only character who commands respect from Every single leader of men and other people, even the dead, it was written that Esildor's heir would lead the fight against Sauron and so it ends up being. Commented Mar 28, 2016 at 5:24
  • This doesn't seem to say anything about what Tolkein said about the leaders... Commented Mar 28, 2016 at 5:34
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    It wasn't designed to. The novel is very unspecific about who is deemed a leader outside of the standard rhetoric of 'King' or other such titles, and yet the real leaders seem to come from the lowest of places I.e Hobbiton and a loner Ranger who renounced his titles. That was more my point. The real leaders are outside of the standard definition and need to be highlighted as to not fall into the category of 'typical heroes' Commented Mar 28, 2016 at 6:03
  • But the question was "what did Tolkein say..." Commented Mar 28, 2016 at 6:08
  • Apart from Gandalf I'm pretty sure the characters u mention inherited a lot of their ancestors strengths,e.g Aragon closely resembling Isildur who was a great leader,Theoden comes from a once mighty race even Denethor was embued with a lot of his ancestors power,.Im not sure if Sauron would be classed as an "alpha male" but he appears to have been a pretty capable leader under Morgoth in the 1st age,being his lieutenant & Morgoth had many maia & powerful beings under him.
    – turinsbane
    Commented Apr 27, 2016 at 11:14

1 Answer 1


The closest thing to 'Gorilla vs. Shark' 'Elrond vs. Aragorn' in Tolkien's writings is the answer to the question 'Who would have the ability to beat Sauron with the One Ring?'

Here I rely on Stan Brown's excellent FAQ of the Rings, and the answer is Gandalf the White, with Aragorn coming up second. (Of course, any Ring-aided victory would have been a defeat for Middle-earth). All the relevant speculation is contained within Letter #246.

Yet the question tends to characterize Middle-earth's leaders by the moniker 'alpha males'.

Tolkien's leaders are anything but alpha males. They don't rule for greed, nor preferential access to females. They do what is right.

The alpha male stereotype is what some of Tolkien's villains conform to:

  • Ar-Pharazôn (usurped the throne, wedded his cousin against her will)
  • Celegorm (became a de facto ruler at Nargothrond, intended to marry Lúthien against her will)
  • Brodda and Lorgan the Easterlings

In short, Tolkien's rightful monarchs are patently different from the politicians of our age (JFK, Berlusconi, Putin, Bill Clinton etc.)

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    Thanks - this is interesting, but seems to be more about their power (either personal power with the Ring, or military power with their armies) than their leadership skills. Re 'alpha male', it's not a term I would have used ordinarily, but I've heard it said that Tolkien himself used it in discussion of some of his characters (specifically Denethor?)
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Mar 28, 2016 at 11:24
  • @Randal'Thor - haven't found the ref to 'alpha male' so far. The Ring amplifies personal leadership/intimidation skills, which is a great part of the job requirement list. Commented Mar 28, 2016 at 11:36
  • @DeerHunter Saruman.
    – Spencer
    Commented Feb 3, 2022 at 0:36
  • Double points (if only I could!) for the "Gorilla vs. Shark" comment. Tolkien was a far better writer than the writers of D&D-inspired adventures and knew better than to ask (or answer) such things. Note that winning in Middle earth sometimes depends on personal leadership, sometimes on brute strength, and sometimes on humility, pity and the dogged determination of the powerless in the face of imminent failure.
    – Mark Olson
    Commented Aug 1, 2022 at 12:30

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