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I am just wondering if Gandalf or Aragorn, or possibly even Frodo, was the leader of the Fellowship. During their journey Gandalf was always the first person who took the lead. When Gandalf falls in Moria during his battle with the Balrog, Aragorn takes the lead of the Fellowship. And when the Fellowship was destroyed due to the death of Boromir, the Fellowship gets separated. Is there even a hierarchy in the Fellowship? If so, who is the leader Frodo, Gandalf or Aragorn?

Additional: I was wondering why, if Gandalf is the leader of the Fellowship, Frodo decides to go to Moria, why isn't Gandalf the one who decides where to go?

  • You ask about the leader, but then you say Gandalf is the leader? – Gallifreyan Apr 26 '17 at 8:21
  • Gallifreyan,That is just my opinion – The Witch King of Angmar Apr 26 '17 at 8:37
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    For your question on the hierarchy of the Fellowship: Frodo = Ringbearer. Basically the most important person. The remaining 8 are Companions of the Ringbearer. Gandalf = Guide + Leader from Rivendell to Moria. Aragorn = Advisor + Leader from Moria till the Breaking of the Fellowship. The remaining 6 mainly play supportive roles and advise the guide on the route to take. – Mat Cauthon Apr 26 '17 at 9:19
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    Gandalf is the CEO. Aragorn is the middle-management (promoted to CEO of spin-off company). Frodo is the worker bee. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Apr 26 '17 at 15:37
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    @anakindchosenone05192005 You seem fixated on identifying one particular member of the party as in command of the others. This makes little sense to me. The party has a shared goal: take the ring to Mt. Doom to destroy it and Sauron. Even then, though, some members only intend to go part way because they have other responsibilities. Why do they need to centralize all decision making into a single person? Most are experienced warriors who are wise enough not to cause infighting during a dangerous situation; those that aren't are out of their element and would listen to the Fellowship's council. – jpmc26 Apr 26 '17 at 22:54
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TL;DR Before Gandalf is lost, he is the "leader" of the Fellowship, as appointed by Elrond and so made known by the rest of the companions. After the loss of Gandalf, Aragorn takes up the burden.

After Boromir's death, the Fellowship breaks up. Aragorn leads the three hunters, Merry and Pippin work together, and Frodo leads Sam to the cracks of Mount Doom. After Gandalf reunites the Three Hunters, Merry and Pippin, he continues to lead the Free Peoples of Middle-earth to their defeat of Sauron and aid Frodo in his destruction of the Ring.

A key thing is pointed out by @jpmc26 is that this was a Fellowship more than a leader with some followers.

Before the loss of Gandalf the Grey

It is highly suggested before Gandalf's fall to the Balrog that he is the "leader". Elrond appoints him as the first Member of the Fellowship (Besides Frodo and Sam) and Gandalf takes part in guiding the Fellowship on their way as far as he can (as he was sent to Middle-earth to do). As pointed out in the excellent answer below. None of the other 8 companions had to stay on with Frodo. The road was his alone to follow. However from the following quote, I am of the opinion that this is the culmination of what Gandalf has been sent to Middle-earth to do and it is of utmost importance to him that he guide the ring to it's destruction.

With you and your faithful servant, Gandalf will go; for this shall be his great task, and maybe the end of his labours.
Fellowship of the Ring, Chapter 3 - The Ring Goes South

On the bridge of Khazad-Dûm, Gandalf is described as the leader of the company.

behind Gandalf at the far end of the bridge. The others halted just within the doorway at the hall’s end, and turned, unable to leave their leader to face the enemy alone.
Fellowship of the Ring: Book Two, Chapter 5 - The Bridge of Khazad-Dûm

Frodo's role in all of this is the Ring-bearer. Frodo does not know the way and therefore cannot lead. He however has accepted the burden that is the ring.

I will take the Ring,’ he said, ‘though I do not know the way.

[...]

Do you still hold to your word, Frodo, that you will be the Ring-bearer?’ ‘I do,’ said Frodo. ‘I will go with Sam.
Fellowship of the Ring: Book Two, Chapter 2 - The Council of Elrond

It must be mentioned as the answer below excellently points out, that Gandalf takes up the role of guiding the Fellowship, and although this can be associated with leading, he was sent to Middle-earth to guide.

“now their emissaries were forbidden to reveal themselves in forms of majesty, or to seek to rule the wills of Men or Elves by open display of power, but coming in shapes weak and humble were bidden to advise and persuade Men and Elves to good, and to seek to unite in love and understanding all those whom Sauron, should he come again, would endeavour to dominate and corrupt.
The Unfinished Tales - Essay on the Istari

After Moria

Galardriel as well as Celeborn both call Aragorn the leader of the Fellowship after the loss of Gandalf.

Here is the gift of Celeborn and Galadriel to the leader of your Company,’ she said to Aragorn
Fellowship of the Ring: Book Two, Chapter 8 - Farewell to Lórien

Aragorn takes charge of the role as he plans to decide how to get to progress and changes his fate from aiding Gondor to joining Frodo to the Sammath Naur.

His own plan, while Gandalf remained with them, had been to go with Boromir, and with his sword help to deliver Gondor.
[...]
But in Moria the burden of Gandalf had been laid on him; and he knew that he could not now forsake the Ring, if Frodo refused in the end to go with Boromir.
ibid.

After the breaking of the Fellowship, there is no longer a leader. Gandalf the White leads the way as to helping the free peoples of Middle-earth fight against Sauron, and Frodo is the leader of the "Party with the Ring" (as I'm going to call it). With Sam (his trusty servant) and their "guide", Gollum.


To address the question of Moria, this is slightly skewed in the Film and becomes a little more complex in the Book.
Gandalf has no intention of forcing anyone into Moria, however he asks whether people would follow him.

Of course not!’ said Gandalf. ‘Who would? But the question is: who will follow me, if I lead you there?

[...]

I will not go,’ said Boromir; ‘not unless the vote of the whole Company is against me. What do Legolas and the little folk say? The Ring-bearer’s voice surely should be heard?
Fellowship of the Ring, Chapter 4 - A Journey in the Dark

Evidently, it is Boromir who insists on hearing what the Ring Bearer has to say. Boromir's interest in Frodo's answer has two possibilities. Either he looks to the Ring-Bearer to decide as it is his quest and the others are merely companions, or he hopes for the halfling to fear Moria from what he's been told and suggest the Gap of Rohan as a better alternative.

Frodo suggests sleeping on the thought before coming up with a final decision, however due to the attack by the Wargs, the decision is made for them and they flee to Moria to seek refuge.

I beg that there should be no vote, until we have slept on it. Gandalf will get votes easier in the light of the morning than in this cold gloom.

[...]

Need we wait until morning then?’ said Gandalf. ‘It is as I said. The hunt is up!
Fellowship of the Ring, Chapter 4 - A Journey in the Dark

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    Frodo is the ring bearer, he isn't even the leader of his own party. – Schneejäger Apr 26 '17 at 8:29
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    @anakindchosenone05192005 - Gandalf is the leader in the sense that he's the guide, the one who knows what is going on, and everyone listens to. After that horrible incident with the Bane of Durin, Aragorn took on that role. Frodo was the leader of the team who went to Mordor, but when the Fellowship was still intact he was just the Ring-Bearer. It's an important role, but he wasn't the one making the decisions. – Mithrandir Apr 26 '17 at 8:48
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    @anakindchosenone05192005 From my answer Frodo is the leader of the "Party with the Ring" (as I'm going to call it). With Sam his trusty servant and their "guide" Gollum. – Edlothiad Apr 26 '17 at 8:58
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    Elrond explicitly says no member of the Fellowship is required to do anything he doesn't want to do (except for Frodo, who is not allowed to surrender the Ring). When Gimli suggests a formal oath of loyalty, Elrond rejects the idea. Gandalf, and later Aragorn and Frodo, are "leaders" in the sense that others defer to their knowledge and experience; but they do not have the authority to give orders. Anyone in the Fellowship can leave at any time (not that this would be a very good idea in the depths of Moria, but that's a separate issue). – Royal Canadian Bandit Apr 26 '17 at 11:11
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    @Edlothiad: Gandalf was tasked by the Valar to help the free peoples of Middle-Earth. That didn't necessarily mean accompanying Frodo to Mount Doom. When he returned as Gandalf the White, he didn't attempt to find Frodo and Sam, because he felt he could do more good elsewhere. Or as some have more cynically put it, "Frodo assumes his supervisor is dead: in fact, he's simply found a more interesting topic and is working on that instead." – Royal Canadian Bandit Apr 26 '17 at 12:38
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TL;DR Gandalf was the Fellowship's guide, with the help of Aragorn. He "lead", not as an appointed leader, but by the strength of his wisdom and knowledge, plus the honor accorded him by the companions.

**** spoilers ahead ****

The companions were chosen by Elrond, and each was only expected to go that part of the distance that corresponded to their own agenda/quest/path home.

'And I will choose you companions to go with you as far as they will or fortune allows.'

[…]

'With you and your faithful servant, Gandalf will go; for this shall be his great task, and maybe the end of his labours.'

[…]

'Legolas ... and Gimli ... are willing to go at least to the passes of the Mountains, and maybe beyond.'

[…]

'For men you shall have Aragorn son of Arathorn, for the Ring of Isildur concerns him closely.'

'Strider!' cried Frodo.

'Yes,' he said with a smile. 'I ask leave once again to be your companion, Frodo.'

'I would have begged you to come,' said Frodo, 'only I thought you were going to Minas Tirith with Boromir.'

'I am,' said Aragorn. 'And the Sword-that-was-Broken shall be re-forged ere I set out to war. But your road and our road lie together for many hundreds of miles. Therefore Boromir will also be in the Company.

Fellowship of the Ring: Book II - Chapter 3 - The Ring Goes South

(for completeness sake, Merry and Pippin went also, but their plan was to follow their cousin no matter what, but they had no desire or competency to lead)

And Elrond makes it explicit that no charge or responsibility is laid on any Companion either to follow or to lead (The emphasis is mine):

At that moment Elrond came out with Gandalf, and he called the Company to him. 'This is my last word,' he said in a low voice. 'The Ring-bearer is setting out on the Quest of Mount Doom. On him alone is any charge laid; neither to cast away the Ring, nor to deliver it to any servant of the Enemy nor indeed to let any handle it, save members of the Company and the Council, and only then in gravest need. The others go with him as free companions, to help him on his way. You may tarry, or come back, or turn aside into other paths, as chance allows. The further you go, the less easy will it be to withdraw; yet no oath or bond is laid on you to go further than you will. For you do not yet know the strength of your hearts, and you cannot forsee what each may meet upon the road.'

Fellowship of the Ring: Book II - Chapter 3 - The Ring Goes South

So no one is placed under the command of anyone else, but in the time between choosing the companions and their setting out (Again, the emphasis is my own)

Aragorn and Gandalf walked together or sat speaking of their road and the perils they would meet; and they pondered the storied and figured maps and books of lore that were in the house of Elrond. Sometimes Frodo was with them; but he was content to lean on their guidance, and he spent as much time as he could with Bilbo.

Fellowship of the Ring: Book II - Chapter 3 - The Ring Goes South

If the Ring-bearer was content to rely on the guidance of Gandalf, and the companions were there to help where they could, it only made sense for them to follow the guidance of Gandalf as well. Also, we see here how closely Aragorn and Gandalf worked together.

Gandalf walked in front, and with him went Aragorn, who knew this land even in the dark.

Fellowship of the Ring: Book II - Chapter 3 - The Ring Goes South

Gandalf and Aragorn debated quite a bit about their path across the Misty Mountains.

Frodo ... understood that Gandalf and Aragorn were continuing some debate that had begun long before.

[…]

'We must decide before we go further.' answered Gandalf.

'Then let us weigh the matter in our minds, while the others rest and sleep,' said Aragorn.

In the late afternoon, while the others were finishing their breakfast, Gandalf and Aragorn went aside together and stood looking at Caradhras. … Frodo watched them, wondering which way the debate would go. When they returned to the Company Gandalf spoke, and then he knew that it had been decided...

Fellowship of the Ring: Book II - Chapter 3 - The Ring Goes South

It seems that Aragorn won this debate, since they followed his path.

'There is a way that we may attempt,' said Gandalf. 'I thought from the beginning, when first I considered this journey, that we should try it. But it is not a pleasant way, and I have not spoken of it to the Company before. Aragorn was against it, until the pass over the mountains had at least been tried.'

[…]

...said Aragorn heavily. 'You followed my lead almost to disaster in the snow, and have said no word of blame. I will follow your lead now...

Fellowship of the Ring: Book II - Chapter 4 - A Journey in the Dark

The general debate about whether they should take the path through Moria shows that the Fellowship (and Gandalf himself) saw Gandalf as guide and not as the boss.

'...the question is: who will follow me, if I lead you there.'

Fellowship of the Ring: Book II - Chapter 4 - A Journey in the Dark

Even Galadriel didn't refer to him as the leader of their company when she first spoke of his absence, noting only that he was with them.

'Gandalf the Grey set out with the Company, but he did not pass the borders of this land.'

Fellowship of the Ring: Book II - Chapter 7 - The Mirror of Galadriel

Though Frodo does refer to Gandalf as their guide or leader to Galadriel:

'Gandalf was our guide, and he led us through Moria...'

Fellowship of the Ring: Book II - Chapter 7 - The Mirror of Galadriel

and later told Faramir how Aragorn became their guide/leader after they lost Gandalf:

'...Aragorn was forced to lead us. He alone knew the way after Gandalf's fall.'

Two Towers: Book IV - Chapter 5 - The Window on the West

Aragorn was clearly following Gandalf's guidance, but his words to Frodo at Parth Galen imply that ultimately, it was Gandalf's advice they were following and not his orders. (I have added emphasis)

'In this matter I cannot advise you. I am not Gandalf, and though I have tried to bear his part, I do not know what design or hope he had for this hour, if indeed he had any. Most likely it seems that if he were here now the choice would still wait on you. Such is your fate.'

Fellowship of the Ring: Book II - Chapter 10 - The Breaking of the Fellowship

We know that none of the Fellowship was compelled to follow anybody, but we can see that the Fellowship saw Gandalf as their guide, as the wisest member of their company. It just didn't make sense to bring the wisest person in all Middle Earth with you, and not use him. The companions did disagree with him at times, however. Aragorn even prevailed upon him to turn from the path he wanted to follow. Certainly Aragorn was very important in his leadership role in the company, both before and especially after Gandalf's fall.

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    +1, I don't think this disagrees in substance with the highly upvoted existing answer, but it has more relevant quotes. Nice work. – DCShannon Apr 26 '17 at 22:59
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The short answer is: there was no leader.

There was the ring-bearer and he had a mission. All others were his companions and they went on their own accord to help. There couldn't be a leader because nobody knew what was the best course of action. They would find ways as they went.

Gandalf is initially the guide of the whole group because he intended to seek help and further guidance in Lórien. He expected to have new ideas along the way and since he had been to Lórien before and knew how to get there, he led the way. After he died, Aragorn led the group because he was the only one acquainted with the region and everyone agreed to stick to Gandalf's plan to reach Lórien anyway (it was the best route at that moment). After that, Aragorn postponed the decision further because they still had no idea what the best plan was. Boromir decided to return to Gondor, but that could be problematic. After Boromir's temptation and death however, each member was forced to make a decision: Frodo decided it was safer to continue by himself, but he allowed Sam to come with him, which proved to be a good decision, for Sam saved Frodo from the orcs and kept the ring safe.

Aragorn realised what Frodo did and decided to help Merry and Pippin and decide later what to do next. Legolas and Gimli decided to follow him. Gandalf the white turned up with a plan to help in the war effort by helping Rohan and taking the only opportunity they had to keep Sauron busy and giving Frodo a chance to go unnoticed. At this point the fellowship was these individuals in different places doing whatever they could to help Frodo complete his mission. They were not necessarily led by anyone, they simply did whatever they could. Merry and Pippin felt helpless, so eventually Merry decided he could help by serving Théoden. Pippin felt that he owed Boromir, so he thought by serving Denethor he would do an honourable thing.

You see, no one told them what to do. They had different ideas at different times and they improvised and did their best effort.

Boromir did what he thought was right and he died, but died a hero, with honour. Pippin and Merry did what they thought was right, and they managed to do great things like saving Faramir and killing the Witch King. Legolas and Gimli did what they thought was best and they followed Aragorn in all his tasks. Gandalf did what he thought was best by trying to stop Saruman from harassing the Rohirrin and allowing them to help Gondor. Sam did what he thought was best by keeping (and using) the ring when he thought Frodo was dead.

I believe that's a strong theme in the books. Do whatever you can and you think is right and it can make a big difference in the end.

Also remember that in this story there is a lot of effort going into saving Minas Tirith. They need help, so members of the fellowship help Rohan first, then Aragorn amasses a Gondorian army in the south and all these soldiers converge to Minas Tirith. The mission was essential, but saving Gondor was not only a tool in itself, it was essential to have something to save.

  • Apollo, Since the fellowship is a group therefore it should have a leader. – The Witch King of Angmar Apr 27 '17 at 12:37
  • anakindchosenone05192005, that is simply not true. The definition of group, according to the Oxford dictionary is "A number of people or things that are located, gathered, or classed together". Leaders are not implied. Please remove the downvote, I don't see why my answer deserves less merit than any other. – Apollo May 10 '17 at 10:38
  • Why will I obey you? In fact,I disagree on what you said.I've studied Sociology and we discuss Groups.My teacher says that every group has a leader. – The Witch King of Angmar May 10 '17 at 18:59
  • anakindchosenone05192005, It is not a matter of obeying, it's a matter of cooperating, furthering a common goal. Groups do not require necessarily a leader. Take for example similar animals like horses and zebras. They are both social types of animals. Now, horses follow a complex family hierarchy while zebras do not. That's why it is easier to tame a horse than a zebra. Certainly there is a school of thought that will argue that a group requires a leader, but one can argue that's not an absolute truth. Several peers can share dominance and the group won't need to fall into disarray. – Apollo May 16 '17 at 16:10

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