Saturday, October 15, 2011

On Aliens and Sidekicks

by Kerry Schafer

Every now and then I find myself feeling like an alien from a distant solar system. Oh sure, I speak the same language and I have a passing familiarity with the local customs. Mostly I get by. But every now and then there's a moment where I hit a freeze frame, twitch, and an alarm goes off:

"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?


  1. Great post Kerry.

    Every one of the Word Whores posts this week made me think of the movie Sky High - where the super kids go and those kids whose powers aren't quite up to snuff get shunted off as 'hero support', aka sidekicks. In the end, though, it's the sidekicks who save the day.

    You gals have given me a lot to think about as I rewrite this WIP. Thanks. =o)

  2. I haven't seen the movie, but I'm glad to hear the sidekicks get to save the day. I might have to watch that one.

  3. Being a real-life sidekick for many, many years (hellllloooo, younger sibling here) -- I'd like to think it's not that sidekicks are incapable or less than the hero -- they just can't resist tagging along on whatever adventure the hero leaps/stumbles into.

    They also don't require the aid of the public spotlight to shine. ~cough~ ~glow~ ~cough~

  4. That's right, B.E.! I loved that about Sky High. That was a clever, snarky movie. Secondary powers, indeed.

  5. KAK - I have a really, really difficult time imagining you as a sidekick to anybody. Your sib must be very, very, shiny.

    Jeffe - clever and snarky are the magic words. Definitely looking for Sky High now.