Sunday, October 9, 2011

Just for Sidekicks

I've been watching Castle lately. I know, I know - I'm not the TV girl, but I am Netflix girl and sister Word-Whore KAK got me watching the show. It's really kind of irresistible for a writer, even if Rick Castle doesn't spend all that much time actually writing. I understand. It makes for slow screen time.

Anyway, in the episode last night, thriller writer Castle is trying to cheer up homicide Detective Beckett by reeling off a list of fictional detectives and asking her what they all had in common and she says "a plucky sidekick?" The answer he's going for is that they all made major breakthroughs after getting thrown off a case, but that's neither here nor there. What it does is lead into a running theme for the episode of whether Castle is Beckett's plucky sidekick or a partner.

She points out that the plucky sidekick always gets killed.

The Word Detective, one of my favorite etymologists, says here (you have to scroll down) that "sidekick" is a term that "first appeared in the slang of the criminal underworld about 1906, and originally meant a close confederate or accomplice in crime" and that

The specialized slang of pickpockets may supply some clues. To a pickpocket, a "kick" is a pair of trousers, and, more specifically, the trouser pockets. "Kick" in this "pocket" sense first appeared in the mid-1800s, and to this day "kick" is used as slang for a roll of bills or other stash of cash. The side pockets of a man's trousers have long been known, logically enough, as the "side-kicks," and it seems plausible that this term eventually came to be applied to a criminal confederate who was as close to the speaker as the pockets in his pants.

So, it's really the storytellers who picked up sidekick as a literary device. The slightly lesser-status assistant to the protagonist. Forever Tonto, never the Lone Ranger. Dramatically unfair.

I notice in my own stories that the sidekicks are nearly always animals. In OBSIDIAN, he's a cat named Darling, with a distinctly un-darling personality. I think this comes naturally to me. Cats have always been a part of my life, always nearby, weaving through my days. Like any good sidekick, they're always secondary characters in my personal drama. There for comfort, for comic relief, to show me where the best patches of sun are.

I bet they'd make excellent pickpocketing accomplices, too.


  1. Three cheers for Fillion Fans!

    P.S. dogs are totally better sidekicks than cats ~said with complete bias~

  2. You can make your case on Thursday, KAK! (personally, I can't stand to be followed about)

  3. I fear that if the cats find out you think of them as sidekicks, there will be retribution.

  4. Our cats are modest and amiable - perfect sidekicks.

  5. I think that I am the cats' sidekick. Sigh.

  6. Better figure out what their heroic tale is then, Laura!

  7. Wow, those are some big, beautiful furbabies you have. And I thought I had big cats. They aren't my sidekicks, though. I'm their slave. I'm with Kerry - watch out for retribution from the large furry overlords.

  8. O.k., first, how big of a geek do you have to be to have a favorite etymologist?

    Then, as paths to publishing go, I think the books "written" by a character from a T.V. show is one of the most amusing. Our boy Steve is a big Castle fan, and we just had to get him a copy of "Dead Heat" when it came out.

    He's on his own for the rest of them.

  9. I have a thing for sidekicks. I tend to get more attached to them than the mc.

  10. They're Maine coon cats, BE - they specialize in big and beautiful!

    Yeah, I'm guessing pretty major geek, Kev? And how funny - what was the verdict on "Dead Heat"? (and I wonder who they got to write it)

    I know what you mean, Linda! Salamanders anyone?