Copyright 2010 by Gary L. Pullman
From the earliest days, since the time that the theory of the four humours was popular among ancient shrinks, the concept of personality types has been popular with psychiatrists and psychologists, and, indeed, the idea that human beings can be pigeonholed as this, that, or the other type of personality remains attractive to some social scientists even today.
One such personality type, they contend, is the leader, who is said to demonstrate specific character traits, or qualities, among which are intelligence, the ability to adjust, extraversion, conscientiousness, openness to experience, and general self-efficacy (“Leadership,” Wikipedia). Others identify various other traits, among which, according to “Leadership Theories and Summary”), the “central” ones are intelligence, self-confidence, determination, integrity, and sociability. The matter is much more complex, of course (what isn’t?), but this is the gist of it, as leadership theory relates to personality traits.
The protagonist of a horror story, short or long, is typically a leader and, therefore, he or she will, according to psychology, demonstrate the qualities just mentioned. Let’s consider a few examples of horror fiction protagonists. Do they fill the bill?
David Carver is the protagonist of Stephen King’s Desperation. He’s not one’s typical protagonist; he’s chosen by God Himself to lead the ragtag band of survivors and near-survivors against the demon Tak. To me, he seems intelligent, but not overly so. He is certainly able to adjust to changing situations and shifting responsibilities. He doesn’t appear all that extroverted, but, then, on the other hand, he doesn’t seem all that introverted, either. He is definitely conscientious. Open to experience? Nothing suggests that he isn’t, but he doesn’t seem to seek out new experiences, either. Does he demonstrate self-efficacy? Yes and no: he is willing to obey God, but he doesn’t act of his own accord. He does what he is told to do, and he is willing to allow others to take the lead on occasion. His self-confidence ebbs and flows (as whose wouldn’t who is called to face a demon?). He is definitely a determined soul, and he has integrity to spare.
How does Father Damien Karras, of William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist, stand up as a leader? Since he is a priest, the reader must assume that he, too, is called by God, for Catholics believe that one is called to the priesthood: he does not choose, but is chosen. Intelligent? Yes, but not more than average, perhaps. Able to adjust to changing situations and expectations? Pretty much. Extroverted? No. Open to experience? Hard to say. Does he demonstrate self-efficacy? He depends more on his mentor, Father Lankester Merrin, and upon God than he does upon himself, although he does take it upon himself to jump out of Regan MacNeil’s bedroom window, sacrificing his life for hers, at the end of the story, so, to that extent, perhaps he demonstrates some self-efficacy. He appears to have little self-confidence, although he shows determination and integrity, despite his crisis of faith.
Like David Carver, Father Karras seems to have some of the traits that psychologists claim a leader must have, but not others. Nevertheless, God has apparently selected him as a leader.
What about Moses, who, at an advanced age, was called by God to lead the ancient Hebrews out of bondage to the Egyptians? Moses does not seem especially intelligent, although he is certainly not stupid. He sometimes has trouble adapting to change. He may be extroverted (or not). He is usually not open to experience: he does not want to be a leader, and he is angry at his people when they began to worship the golden calf instead of Jehovah. He has little self-efficacy, distrusting even his speaking ability and his other abilities in general because of his advanced age. He does appear, at times, to have a fair degree of self-confidence, as might be expected of a high member of pharaoh’s court. He is definitely determined, refusing to take pharaoh’s “no” for an answer, and he is willing to wander about in the desert for forty years, seeking the Promised Land. He is certainly a man of integrity.
Once again, as in the cases of David Carver and Father Karras, Moses appears to possess some, but not other, leadership qualities, but, even so, he accomplishes his mission, where others would be likely to fail.
Let’s conclude our musings upon the psychological theories of leadership qualities with a consideration of Satan, who some scholars contend is the true hero of John Milton’s Paradise Lost. He seems to possess all the qualities of leadership but integrity (the religious would probably add, as a necessary leadership trait, faith in God, so I likewise include it in my consideration); obviously, Satan lacks this quality as well.
Psychiatrists and psychologists who enjoy playing the personality traits game might argue that one need not possess all of the qualities of leadership to be a leader or, perhaps, that one is a more or less effective leader, depending upon the number of leadership qualities that he or she does possess. Such thinkers usually argue from a secular, rather than a religious, perspective, of course, which is a point of view that does not consider theological alternatives.
The Bible’s stories of heroism tend to suggest that God expects faith, or imputed “righteousness,” and integrity, which may be defined, in this context, as the willingness to obey divine commands, more than He demands any other qualities, being more than able Himself to supply whatever those whom He chooses to lead may lack. Indeed, traditionally, He has chosen the weaker, or even the weakest, vessel as his instrument, pouring His Holy Spirit into them so that, in His name and for His sake, they can work miracles, perhaps to demonstrate that it is He, and not those whom He calls, who actually gets the job done.
If a story features a secular protagonist, he or she should be expected to rely upon him- or herself, and, it may be argued, may be more likely to achieve his or her goals if he or she has more, rather than fewer, of the leadership skills that trait theorists have identified, whereas, if a story features a religious protagonist, he or she may well succeed in spite of not having many of these traits, since it is God, presumably, who is acting within and through such a vessel or instrument.