Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Why I Love Sidekicks

Many of my favorite characters from books, TV, or film are sidekicks. I prefer Ron over Harry and Wilson over House. I've always been more interested in Bess and George than Nancy Drew, and in YA novels, I usually love the quirky best friend more than the protagonist. I've been thinking lately about why this might be, and I've come up with a few reasons.

Comic relief. 

The humor in a novel, show, or film rarely comes from the hero or heroine. Instead, it is the best friend who comes out with witty one-liners, self-deprecating jokes, and jabs at the hero's flaws. The hero often has to come across as strong, silent, and unshakable, but the sidekick can be a bit warmer, a bit more sympathetic, and a bit more human. Few of us will have the opportunity to solve crime, or save the world, or be the Chosen One, but we can all see ourselves in the role of the sidekick, who comes along for the ride and does the best he or she can to support the real center of attention. I think this is why I appreciate Patrick Ness's The Rest of Us Just Live Here so much. Every character is someone who ordinarily stands in the shadow of a powerful protagonist, but Ness brings them all into the spotlight in their own way.

Colorful personalities. 

Sidekicks also tend to be a lot quirkier than their heroic counterparts. In the Young and Yang series by Kristen Kittscher, for example, the main characters are well-developed,  but pretty mainstream. They have their odd obsession with crime solving to set them apart, but otherwise they are pretty average girls. Their friend, Trista Bottoms, however, is not. Trista has a wonderful larger-than-life personality. She has a booming a voice, an unusual style of dress (complete with cargo vest), and an unusually deep knowledge of science and engineering for a middle school girl. In Sarah Dessen's What Happened to Goodbye, there is a similar character, Deb, who is both an outsider who is excluded by her peers and a joiner who involves herself with many different projects and committees in order to combat her loneliness. Heroes and heroines in books tend to have ordinary personalities that make their unique abilities and circumstances stand out all the more, but sidekicks have the freedom to be a bit more colorful.

Relationship to the hero. 

Finally, I love the way a sidekick's relationship to a hero helps readers learn more about what makes the hero tick. In talking with Sam Gamgee, Frodo Baggins is able to share with the reader his true feelings about carrying the ring to Mordor. House, who is otherwise completely cut off from other human beings, allows Wilson, and therefore the viewers, to see his vulnerabilities, which help make him sympathetic. Even in romance novels, the best friend who only appears twice in the book typically highlights a dimension of the hero or heroine that would otherwise be missing. Heroes and their sidekicks also often have wonderful banter, the cleverness and fast pace of which I always enjoy.

Who are your favorite fictional sidekicks? What do you love about them? 

1 comment:

  1. As I started reading your post, I was thinking of Sam Gamgee. So glad you mentioned him. He is my all-time favorite sidekick. I'm also quite partial to Ron Weasley. In my second grade play I was Annika from Pippi Longstocking, so I identified with sidekicks early on.

    I would add that in addition to giving sidekicks colorful personalities, authors have historically seemed more wiling to give the sidekick greater ethnic and other diversity. Of course there's an argument that this is tokenism, etc., but I prefer to think of it as along the lines that you discussed, about the more colorful personalities.