Tactician or Leader? The Character Struggles of Xumble and Za’umble

Tactician or Leader? The Character Struggles of Xumble and Za’umble

I thought this week I’d focus on an element of The Legend of Borach that I had a lot of fun putting together. Characters are, of course, nothing if not problematic. “Everyone’s got something” and military leaders, such as Xumble and Za’umble, are no exception.

I’ll start with something so old you may think it’s irrelevant (but it’s really not), it’s called On the Defense of Fortified Locations by Aeneas the Tactician. Aeneas was a fourth century author who extensive military treatises. Unfortunately, the only extant one we have is the above mentioned. It’s fascinating, however, to read because it reveals, in some sense, the mindset of Aenease himself: tactics. Everything to Aeneas was a tactical decision. War was won in the mind of the general just as much as by the bravery of his men. Even his solutions to morale issues, such as sudden attacks in the night, were tactical, with certain practical solutions to stay organized rather than sword waving and screaming to excite your men into a “fury.”

Naturally, someone had to differ. Xenophon, the philosopher/general, was one (His Cyropaedia was a treatise that outlines his views of war, which are more morale based). Tyrtaeus was the other. Since Tyrtaeus was more fun to read I’m just going to start with him. So, Tyrtaeus (that name sounds familiar?), was a Spartan lyric poet who probably lived around the 600s BC. His poetry is rather scattered, but his military elegies are fabulous and supposedly led a Spartan victory by singing songs. Perfect opposite of Aeneas. No thinking needed, just fire. Read this:

“Each man should bear his shield straight at the foremost ranks

and make his heart a thing full of hate, and hold the black flying

spirits of death as dear as he holds the flash of the sun.”


So this is Tyrtaeus: fight. Be angry. Be full of rage. That’s how you win. That’s how an individual soldier should fight and that’s how you win battles. Of course, the structure of the phalanx as a wall of men standing side by side contributes tremendously to the idea of fighting, but regardless, the idea is to inspire your men. Now while you may complain that this is for individual soldiers and not generals, bear this in mind, generals actually took this to heart.

Look at Ceasar in the first book of the Gallic Wars. He ran to the front lines and guided his men against the Helvetii. Same as in the siege of Alesia, he went around flailing his red cloak and his men closed ranks with him. Alexander the Great led all his cavalry charges himself. Hannibal, on the other hand, not so much. He just went around fooling the Romans and kicking some butt. What happened? Victory:


So how does an ancient debate between morale and tactics end up in a fantasy novel?




Characters can embody, or can be symbols, for different sides of an argument. And presenting arguments is one of the key aspects of literature. A literature professor of mine once told me that he believed that the purpose of art was to ask questions, not answer them. So here’s the question: what does a leader do? Should he take up the sword and encourage his men onwards? Or should he stay behind and outthink his opponent? The answer is always a little of both (moderation as Aristotle says, but that doesn’t solve the question. When the pivotal moment comes, where will you be? It questions the very nature of leadership itself, and that is the fascinating part.

That’s why Xumble and Za’umble don’t get along. The former wants to be in the front lines. He’s the champion of the Osthexian goblins. He believes he should be there on the front lines at all times. Za’umble stays behind, tactically analyzing the situation, and wants to hold back Xumble’s talents for when they’re needed and not always just pulling forward. Who’s right? How does it play out in the heat of the fighting? Well, you could always read the book.

If you’re confused at how you can translate the above military situation to your fiction, whether it be fantasy or not, just look at other authors who have similarly utilized characters to embody characteristics. First one to come to mind? Jane Austen.

Three first edition copies of the Austen Masterpiece, Sense and Sensibility

Sense and Sensibility ring a bell? If not, what about Pride and Prejudice? Marianne and Eleanor are exact representatives of the characteristics the novel is named after. Of course, she was probably not the first, and nor likely the last. What I really wanted to emphasize by bringing up an 18th century novelist who was probably not a fan of Aeneas Tacticus is that any conflict, whether it is between emotion and logic, or tactics and morale, can be turned into a conflict between characters by using those characters as symbols of the conflict you want to write about.


So what are you waiting for? Go write.


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