- John Hearne
Who are the Best Sidekicks in Children’s Fiction?
Pity the poor sidekick, destined to tramp by the hero’s side, taking all the risk but reaping few of the rewards. In reality however, the greatest wingmen and wingwomen tend to become critical to the story – sometimes stealing a little more limelight than perhaps the hero would like…
Let’s start with Sam. Good old faithful Samwise Gamgee. Sent on a terrifying mission just because he happened to eavesdrop on Frodo and Gandalf at Bag End that fateful night.
But Sam grows into the role as the saga progresses, until, by the time we get to the slopes of Mount Doom, he has become as integral to the action as Frodo. The scenes where he comes on Frodo trussed up and seemingly dead following Shelob’s attack are heart-breaking. But it’s this event more than any other that allows the sidekick to step out from his master’s shadow to become the character that many regard as the true hero of the story.
In our less class-based world, Sam’s deference to Mr. Frodo can grate a little. You could argue however that Sam’s earthy wisdom and humility are part of the reason that the ring failed to tempt him as it had the more aristocratic members of the fellowship, Frodo included.
And speaking of aristocracy, Hazel Wong, who plays the Dr. Watson character in Robin Stevens’ Murder Most Unladylike books, is another deferential sidekick in a carefully stratified world. She is also a wonderful narrator. Almost all the humour – and there are lashings of it – arise from Hazel’s beguilingly self-deprecating narration. Her interpretation of Deepdean (the school is nearly a character in its own right) and its social strata is delightful. Though she is in awe of Daisy – the imperious Sherlock Holmes character – she is quietly capable herself, and, in the first book, when the duo close upon the murderer, she finds a determination that manages to exist alongside her obvious trepidation.
In less assured hands, the sidekick serves as no more than a kind of reflection character, there to act as a sounding board for the hero’s thoughts, but like Samwise and Hazel, the very best ones emerge from behind their hero and cut a deeper groove into the story.
It was characters like these that were at the forefront of my mind when I was creating Polly Mole, the quiet genius at Indigo McCloud’s side. She’s his gal-in-the-chair, who uses her computer skills to determine where Indigo’s nemesis – his sister Peaches – will strike next. Polly doesn’t like to leave her room, but I felt I needed to winkle her out of it in order for her to have a moment in the sun. So, when Indigo is bitten by a Harmless Dancing Spider (a vicious species named after Arthur Harmless, who wrote about them in his book Various Animals that Have Tried to Kill Me) Polly dashes to his aid.
I’ve really been surprised by the number of young readers have told me that Polly is actually their favourite character. It only goes to show how important it is for a character, no matter what function they serve, to take the initiative from time to time.
Do Ron and Hermione qualify as sidekicks? Though Harry faces the final battles in each of the books alone, he relies on the other two members of what became known as the Golden Trio to get him to that point. You do have the sense though that Hermione’s brilliance has the effect of demoting Ron still further, so that he perhaps is more the classic sidekick of the piece. Loyal (most of the time), brave (most of the time) and a little gormless, he’s allowed to be brilliant in the first book (playing Wizard’s Chess), but thereafter, he rarely takes the initiative in the fight against Voldemort, and frequently has to be saved himself…And yet we all love Ron, with his hand-me-down robes, dodgy wand and frequent fits of envy. The fact that he unwittingly carried Scabbers around for so long feels, well, fitting. Poor old Ron. Shakes head, smiles indulgently
Tinkerbell would not be happy at anyone deciding that she was a sidekick, but the reality is that this is the role she fulfils in JM Barrie’s strange and enduing 1911 classic Peter Pan. She is prone to fits of murderous rage of course, and comes within an ace of having Wendy taken out (in the Al Pachino sense) by the Lost Boys as soon as she arrives in the Neverland. Like all great sidekicks however, she is devoted to the mercurial hero, and in a climactic scene saves Peter’s life by drinking the poison that Captain Hook had prepared him. Tinkerbell may in fact be the greatest sidekick in children’s literature, since she has become almost as iconic as the hero himself…so there’s that, Tink.