In many ways sidekick characters are every bit as important to a story as the hero… I mean, can you imagine Harry without Ron and Hermione? Frodo without Sam? Sherlock without Watson? And how boring would ‘Doctor Who’ be if it was just him flying around in the TARDIS on his own?
Sidekicks have so many vital functions, but are also often the beating heart of a story. But what makes a good sidekick character?
Here’s a few of my ideas:
- Makes the hero more complete (and likeable).
One of the things that makes a good hero (as if I haven’t done a post on that, when I’ve already spoken about villains, anti-heroes and now sidekicks!) is that they are believable as an actual person, and having a sidekick is one of the easiest ways to do that.
One of the things that make us humans is our relationships to other people, so having one or more characters who are along for the ride on the hero’s quest shows the hero’s humanity, and makes them more real (if done well, obviously). Whether they irritate each other and spend the whole time bickering, have an adorable ship-worthy friendship, or just have each other’s back when it comes to a fight, seeing a significant relationship between the hero and someone else rounds them out.
Plus their interactions with the sidekick, not to mention who they choose to have tagging along goes on to show us a lot about their character. I mean, what do your friendships say about you?
- Provides contrast to the hero.
In a lot of cases, sidekicks function as the foil to the hero: they will have some similarities and/or key values that are the same, but also some big differences. And not just differences, in many cases: often the sidekick is the complete opposite of the hero, solidifying both their characters through contrast.
Think about Tyrion and Bronn, for example, from ‘Game of Thrones’ (and the ASOIAF books): both have the same warped sense of humour, but Tyrion provides the brains whilst Bronn provides the muscle. Similarly, with Doctor Who and the companion they generally have the same ‘good guy’ mentality, but the companion knows nothing about the many worlds and places they visit, whilst the Doctor knows a lot.
The similarities between the characters are often the reason why they are bonded, but their differences make them a more well-rounded team, and helps characterise the other.
Not to mention the fact that the differences mean that the sidekick will often challenge the hero, and stop them doing stupid things because of their fatal character flaw.
- Function as a minor ‘mentor’ character, steering the hero on his journey.
Another character archetype is the ‘mentor’, who is generally an older and more experienced character who advises the hero, and guides him throughout his quest.
In many ways, the sidekick can partially fulfil this role, as they are along for the journey, and are usually there to help the hero achieve their goal. Whilst they won’t have the experience a mentor character like Gandalf or Dumbledore has, they should have a different skill set, or way of looking at the world that will help achieve the hero’s goal.
Take Hermione for example: she is much clever than Harry, and so often in the books it’s her brains and ability to figure things out that helps Harry. She also tends to stay calm, and often advises caution, guiding Harry along the right path.
- Often provides humour.
Good sidekicks also often (but don’t always) provide comic relief, especially if the hero is a more serious character. Think Ron in Harry Potter, Jesper in Six of Crows or Donkey in ‘Shrek’ (yep, that’s a pretty random mix!). This makes the sidekick incredibly likeable, and often has the same effect on the hero, who can either be in on the banter, or play the straight man to the sidekick’s joker nature.
So what do you think makes a good sidekick character? Who are some of your favourite hero-sidekick combinations?