Evolution of a Sidekick

Yesterday I found out an article I had written more than ten years ago (when I was still wet behind the ears trying to be a writer) had been used as source material for the Wikipedia entry on Sidekicks.  I got a good giggle out of being right next to a well known LA Times writer, Mary Macnamara, since at the time I was still going to college and honing my skilz.

I am thinking of writing an article along the same lines, my favorite subject: sidekicks.  Meanwhile, here’s the article below in all it’s greenish writerness (formatting errors and all):

Tag-a-longs, third-wheel, odd-man-out, excess baggage, friend, partner, companion; whatever you call them, sidekicks are the staple of storytelling.

The history of sidekicks finds its root, like many stories do, in mythology and religion.  When Moses went to Pharaoh, he brought his brother Aaron along.  Moses complained often of being slow of speech and tongue, so when the time came to prove to Pharaoh whose God was the stronger, Moses had Aaron acting as his mouth, his hands and his go-between.  In this function, Aaron may have well qualified as the worlds first recorded sidekick.  He was, as many sidekicks to follow,  someone who filled in the short comings of his superior.

The sidekick evolved into a separate being who didnt need the direction of the hero to take action.  In Greek mythology, Heracles, in order to gain forgiveness of past crimes, was bid to perform several feats.  One of these feats was to kill the hydra.  The only problem for Heracles, who had the gift of brute strength but not of any apparent great wisdom, was whenever he chopped one of the hydras heads, two more would appear in its place.  Fortunately for Heracles, he had brought along Iolaus, his nephew, who seeing the difficulty multiplying by his uncles actions, decided to take action.  Iolaus took a torch and each time Heracles would chop off a head of the hydra, Iolaus would burn the end, so that no other could grow.

As stories evolved, heros became more complex and so did sidekicks.  Their roles expanded from a simple helper to a vital tie from the reader to the hero.

In Cervantes Don Quixote, Sancho Paza not only reminds Quixote of reality, even while he will not listen, but he continues to serve him and give him some small attachment to the real world.  Sidekicks like Sancho, Robin in Batman and Tanto in the Lone Ranger served as the ears and eyes  someone who was dependable, less abrasive and more apt to melt into society without being noticed as well as someone who could perform the more menial tasks that the were too below the hero.  In this function the sidekick is more like we are  an average Joe  and a link from hero to reader, as well as from hero to reality (especially in Don Quixotes case).

With the evolution sidekick also came the decision of how best to deal with difficult situations; humor.  Unfortunately for the sidekick, though perhaps fortunate for the reader, it has meant that the sidekick has had to endure what an author was not willing to put his hero through.  Slap-stick and physical comedy became as much a part of sidekick culture as the clever  one liners that were on the edge of every readers and viewer loves.

Ron Weasley, the comedic companion of Harry Potter in JK Rowlings popular series with the same name, is the character who endures such humiliations as vomiting slugs and regularly suggests (as if voicing the readers mind): Lets get out of here!  In the movies his character provides immeasurable comic relief in physical and verbal humor.  But Rons most valuable function is the sidekicks most basic function  a tie from reader to hero.  Not many of us can relate to being a world famous boy wizard, but most of us can relate to his very normal (even if he is a wizard too) friend.

Some sidekicks have all of the characteristics mentioned rolled into one neat package.  In Lord of the Rings Frodo is the ward / nephew of an eccentric weathy uncle, not unlike Dick Grayson and Bruce Wayne.  Frodo is well bred, well read and well educated.  His companion through the series was Samwise Gamgee  his gardener.   It was poignant for Tolkien to make his sidekick so down to earth that he actually worked in it.  Sam embodied all characteristics of a side kick; the loyalty, hardworking, dependability, occasionally called upon to be witty, often funny and many times called upon to be brawn.  Yet, the readers are always clear that Sam is not the hero of the story, his glory will never match that of his Master Frodo Baggins.  This is how many of us relate to the story, and indeed to the world around us.  We wish we could be a hero, but relating to the struggling sidekick, we realize that our function is no less important, while it may be considerably less glamorous.

However they have evolved, a side kick culture has appeared.  You can hardly name a popular series or novel that does not have one.  Even the stranded Castaway in the film by the same name invented a sidekick from a volleyball he called Wilson.  Even in the most basic of entertainment venues we find sidekicks.  We cant  imagine Katie Courick without Matt Lauer.

Websites, fan clubs and spin off series dedicated to minor characters and  b actors have almost as much a cult following as any headliner.  Has our society come to acknowledged the fact that same sex relationships are as vital to our psychological well being as opposite sex relationships are?  The prevalence of the sidekick culture, as evidenced by the plethora of sidekicks in our entertainment media tells us the answer is yes.

The (1) Merriam Webster dictionary defines sidekick as:  NOUN:  a person closely associated with another as subordinate or partner.  A sidekick can be an equal – like Scully on X-Files to her partner Mulder  or a subordinate  like Robin to Batman in Bob Cranes famous DC Comic.

Batman could stand on his own and still fight crime in Gotham.  Harry Potter could probably carry the weight of his burdens without his friend Ron, though Frodo would have certainly perished without Sam.  Mulder would still be looking for the truth without Scully.  Sherlock Holmes would have solved each mystery without Watson.  But it is undeniably more interesting to witness our heros interaction with their sidekicks than without them.

The reason we love the odd-man-out is the same reason we smile more in company than when alone.  Everything is more enjoyable with a friend and that is the key and the staying power of the sidekick culture.

You can find the article at SFF World at: http://www.sffworld.com/authors/h/hay_noelle/articles/evolutionofsidekick1.html under my previous name, Noelle Hay, and can poke fun at all my green writer freshness :)

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