A Series on Tropes #3: The Sidekick

Welcome back to my series on the importance of character tropes in stories! This article is about the necessity of the sidekick, a character that is of importance for both the hero and the story itself.

Photo Credits: Maryna Khomenko

Sidekicks have a bad reputation. Unfortunately, they have often been depicted as the less mature, less capable, and less willing counterpart to the hero. Often, they are just limited to being witty comic-relief characters that occasionally make consequential choices that either make or break their relationship with the hero.

Despite this, they are known to be the support system the hero so desperately needs. They never doubt in the hero’s sometimes-misguided intentions and they rarely stick up for anyone other than the hero. Occasionally, there will be blowout arguments between them, but they are always quickly resolved (which goes to prove that the hero can’t live without them!).

However, the sidekick is so so so important, if only because of their ability to make the hero see through the darkened lens of intensity and chaos that comes with saving the world. They humanize both the hero and the story. It doesn’t make any sense for a hero to never have the relief that sidekicks provide.

Without a sidekick, the hero would be so driven and so exhausting to read that the reader would put down the book without a second thought. Even the most serious books have some humor, some respite, or some peacefulness to them. The sidekick’s faith to the hero reminds them of the intention with which they went about doing the task at hand.

The sidekick empowers the hero as a reminder of who they are and what their destiny is, which is so infinitely important. Every hero is reminded at some point that they are walking on thin ice with their abilities. The sidekick reminds them to splay their weight out so that the ice doesn’t crack.

However, the sidekick isn’t useless. The most glaring example I can think of is the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan. Annabeth isn’t a sidekick. Grover isn’t a sidekick. They are characters of infinite necessity. Yes, they consistently remind Percy that he is both good and strong enough, but they also serve a greater purpose.

Annabeth’s wit and brains are often more useful than Percy is, even though she would never go about admitting it. In calling her Wise Girl, Percy gives her a purpose. Her knowledge about the Greek ways isn’t a simple map to be rolled up and stashed in a pack every time Percy doesn’t need it—no, Annabeth herself is the guide to Percy’s well-being and success in dealing with the gods.

Similarly, Grover’s obsession with Pan isn’t just to humanize him and give him a motive other than food. No, his obsession with Pan drives the story for Sea of Monsters.

Good authors know that sidekicks are more important than what they are assumed to be; great authors act upon that knowledge to create 3D, diverse characters that drive the story.

Without a sidekick, your hero would be inhuman. An inhuman hero is a hero without flaws, and a hero without flaws defeats the purpose of the story.

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