by Kerry Schafer
"Does not compute. Does not compute. Does not compute."
Sidekick week has been like that for me. You tell me that Samwise Gamgee is a sidekick. So is Dr. Watson, and Jeffe Kennedy's wonderful cats, and Laura Bickle's Sparky the Salamander, and even Phineas the Unicorn.
All total news to me.
As I read through progressive posts and comments in which it became clear that these are established norms, I began a mild panic - how am I going to write about this topic, as I obviously know nothing about it? Fortunately I was in Vegas on vacation which was perfect for keeping the panic at bay. Hard to worry too much about blog posts - or even the possibility of being an alien -when you're wandering around Sin City.
Here's my problem. In my head, if there is such a thing as a sidekick, it would be a character like Robin or Tonto - and really only because these characters are frequently referred to as sidekicks. The term, for me, carries a dismissive, derogatory flavor; it refers to a character who is not smart enough, brave enough, well developed enough, to stand on his or her own two feet.
I maintain that Samwise Gamgee is perhaps the bravest character in the entire Lord of the Rings, a true hero who confronts his fears and is willing to give his life up for a friend. He develops and grows. He has a plot arc. Calling him a sidekick seems demeaning to me, a cheapening of his courage, and I find myself wanting to rush to his defense.
But Sam wasn't my only point of confusion this week. I've always thought of the cats and salamanders and unicorns as familiars, highly evolved creatures who choose, for whatever reason, to gift the protagonist with their presence and their assistance. And yes, this includes Chewbacca.
Dr. Watson? Well, maybe he's no Sherlock Holmes, but he's an intelligent, thinking man with some insight into the great doctor. He's the narrator – without him we would have no stories.
So now I find myself asking questions. Is Horatio Hamlet's sidekick, then? In the Biblical stories of David and Jonathan, is that all Jonathan is? What about Lancelot? What about that annoying "behind every successful man stands a good woman" quote? Are the women and men who quietly support their more visible partners nothing more than sidekicks?
I like what Marcella wrote yesterday - the idea that every so-called sidekick is just waiting a turn to be the hero of his or her own tale. I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest the possibility that any character not aspiring to be more than a sidekick belongs in the old comic books and sitcoms and has no place in a novel.
But then, there's this really good possibility that I'm an alien, so what do I know?