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Thread: Side Kick Culture

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Could you please explain Faye what do you exactly mean by a "sidekick"? That would help me to answer your question... Thanks!
I think the possible reason some people become attached to the sidekick more than the hero, is because they are often easier to empathise with. Most people are not natural leaders, they feel more comfortable in the role of being a follower. For this reason they cannot see themselves being the fantasy hero, whereas they can perhaps imagine themselves fulfilling the role that the sidekick character plays. If as the sidekick they are then able to do something heroic, such as once in a while saving the hero's life, that gives them an added bonus.

I think the reason we actually need sidekicks in film and books is to have someone normal against whom the hero can shine. If there were no sidekicks, everyone would either be the hero or his arch-nemesis, and as such their abilities would not appear anything out of the ordanary.

As for the oldest sidekick, I haven't got a clue. I guess it would be someone from some ancient Chinese story or a Greek tragedy etc (unless we can count Eve as being Adam's sidekick, in which case she'd have to be the first... there again she was more of a spare rib than a sidekick wasn't she)
The earliest specific example of a sidekick relationship that I can recall would be Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. That's from the 1600's... I'm sure there're probably earlier examples but I don't know what they are. I can't think of any biblical figures that would represent the modern concept of sidekicks.

There's twin brothers Castor and Pollux from Greek mythology. I don't know if one was subordinate to the other so they may not fit the sidekick mold.
I am sure Shakespere used the side kick device in many of his plays. In modern times the sidekick often provides comic relief and I imagine you would find that in the plays of ancient Greece and Rome; however, not being able to read Greek or Latin, I can't point you to any specifics.
I don't know if it is the oldest, but try The Epic of Gilgamesh. It is dated around 2700 BC. His sidekick would have been Enkidu.
notice how Gilgamesh is presented as superhuman, so powerful that the gods create a counterpart to moderate his desires and actions.

Quote taken from:
It has a summary of the Epic, so you don't have to read the whole thing.

My personal favorite Greek tragedy is the ORESTEIA by Aeschylus, although it is not as old as Gilgamesh. It is actually a trilogy of plays. My fav character is the biggest B****, but I really do like her.

Well, I think Gilgamesh is the oldest that I can think of, at the moment. Good luck on your paper
I was thinking of Gilgamesh too - but for some reason I just don't think it fits into "sidekick" dom - I think the story of Hercules and Iolaus fits a little better - since Iolaus acted (aparantly) on his own accord to help Hercules defeat the hydra. (he wasn't compelled or directed to do it).

And I find it interesting that during my interviews for this article that the people who are MORE like sidekicks (relate to them more) like them LESS than the people who relate a little more to the hero. I'm still trying to work out why that would be - sounds more like a psychological study!
But what IS a sidekick? Just a subordinate, or a "funny subordinate", rather silly and naive? Dear PT members, please enlighten a poor non-English sidekick striving so hard to enlarge her limited vocabulary!
According to Encarta online dictionary:

side’kick [ sd k’k ] (plural side’kicks)

companion: an associate or companion who is sometimes considered subordinate ( informal )

[Early 20th century. Back-formation from side-kicker, which was coined by the American writer O. Henry (1862\endash 1910).]

and from

A sidekick is a close companion who assists a partner in a superior position.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term is a back formation from side-kicker, which has the same meaning. Despite appearances, it is not a sports term; neither form has any history outside of the meaning of "companion, buddy, friend".

In fiction, the term sidekick is most commonly referred to assistants to heroes, usually in a crimefighting capacity. The sidekick has the artistic function of playing against the hero, often contrasting in skill, asking the questions the reader would ask, or performing functions not suited to the hero.

Those functions may include being funny. The comic sidekick was a common feature in westerns, where Fuzzy Knight, Al "Fuzzy" St. John, and Andy Devine had longer careers than some of the heroic singing cowboys for whom they took pratfalls.

Famous fictional sidekicks include:

Dr. Watson: Sidekick to Sherlock Holmes. The stories are told as his journals. Watson, an ex-military man, is also Holmes's "muscle", bringing along his service revolver on tough cases.

Robin: Sidekick to Batman. He shows Batman's softer side. Batman, orphaned by criminals, takes on young Dick Grayson as his ward after his parents were killed by criminals. Batman trains Robin in crime-fighting.

Tonto: Sidekick to The Lone Ranger. His name means "fool" in Spanish. Always described as the "faithful Indian companion", Tonto frequently served as a spy, going into town to find out what was going on.

Kato: Sidekick to The Green Hornet. Kato served as chauffeur and assistant to the Green Hornet.

Note: The Lone Ranger and Green Hornet radio programs were produced by the same organization.

Hope this helps, Eryan. Big Smile Smilie
Here are what I think are the main functions of sidekicks (and I was thinking about the Gilgamesh story too, but I think that was more a God/servant kinda relationship - like Moses and Aaron thing)

Moral support - some sidekicks, like Sam Gamgee, Ron Weasley, are there for moral support - a kinda surrogate brother/ advisor/ best friend rolled into one

Grunt work - some sidekicks, like Robin (Batman), Sam Gamgee do a lot of footwork, gathering information because they can blend in better than their counterpart (even in street clothes Bruce Wayne turns heads) - they do the servants work, cooking, cleaning up - think of the practical needs of the mission.

Brainwork - other sidekicks ARE the brains of the group - like Arthur from the Tick, Scully from X Files - they have to make sure the hero thinks things through at more than an emotional level

Comic relief - It might be too ignoble to have the hero fall on his ass and say the things that WE are thinking as readers, so we have people like Ron Weasley (in HP ) who do it for us. Comedy is vital, and even for the hero it provides an emotional support.

Can you think of other functions I may have left out?

Another observation I have while researching this paper is that people who can relate more to sidekicks (that is people who see themselves more as a Gabrielle than a Xena) absolutely detest the sidekick. Why do you think that is?

RObin, BTW - i found in my research - was created *speicifically* to appeal to Bob Crane's young readers. A direct attachment from the reader to the hero - a young boy who is adpoted by the eccentric millionaire and gets to function as any young boy who is reading the comic would ...
Thanks a lot, Prog, Faye! That was very VERY helpful!!!
I will start by your last question:
people who can relate more to sidekicks (that is people who see themselves more as a Gabrielle than a Xena) absolutely detest the sidekick. Why do you think that is?

My pesonal opinion is that such people detest the sidekick because they yearn to be heroes and/or to be accepted by their heroes: in terms of equality, without that humiliating condescensiion they experienced so often in their own lives.
In contrast, really strong people are fond of the sidekicks because they are strong enough to admit that they themselves have faults and weaknesses. This does not shatter their high self-esteem.
Similarly, really brilliant people seek the simplest words to express their thoughts and feelings, and are ready to explain things to "simpletons" instead of scorning them.
Real heroes want to protect the weak and not to dominate them...
As for other examples of hero-sidekick associations, I would mention the pair Sam Weller-Mr Pickwick. Actually, that dyad always reminded me very very much the dyad Sam Gamgee - Frodo...
I will think more about it, this is a very interesting question, thank you, Faye, for having raised it!

[Edited on 29/11/2002 by Eryan]
Perhaps this is strange, but I guess I've always looked at hero/sidekick pairs as two halves of a single entity. Granted, that doesn't fit with every such pair (Sam and Frodo, for instance) but with duo's like Watson and Holmes or maybe even Batman and Robin. It's hard to imagine one without the other. They are yin and yang, so to speak; one balances the inequities of the other.

Perhaps the hero sidekick combo is a device used by some to avoid making their heroes appear too superhuman.

However, it's clear that Watson's main purpose is to give someone for Holmes to explain things to, for the benefit of the reader much like (as you pointed out, Faye) Robin. But Tolkien's use of Sam as a sidekick is much more complex. Sam is clearly his own Hobbit, even if he is fawning over Frodo most of the time. I wonder if Sam really fits the label of sidekick at all. In my mind, he's basically a second hero.
Very true, Prog! Both in movies and in books we may find very numerous examples of dyads of heroes who are equal partners although they are different (often they belong to different races). Let me name Hawkeye and Uncas from the "Last of the Mohicans", Old Shatterhand and Winnetou for Karl May "Winnetou" books, and so many thriller movies about two policemen (or two criminals), one of them white, and another black (attention, should I use these terms, "white" and "black", or some other terms? Are they correct? I do not want to offend any one!).
There is also a whole spectrum of intermediate possibilities between two extreme situations, hero-sidekick and two equal partners. And I think that the relationship between Frodo and Sam shows a clear evolution from a master-servant relationship to a relationship of two equals.
Wow, it seems a lot has happened since my last visit to this thread. Sorry, the Gilgamesh thing did not work out. The Orestia, is not a good example either, just a great story. I will keep thinking on it for you. this has really turned into a great discussion.

Try this site, it is short and won't take long to read, but interesting.

[Edited on 1/12/2002 by MelliotSandybanks]
I think people like side kicks because they tend to be the more human of the two, the one that we can relate to the most.
That article reads a little bit like my own:

Tag-a-longs, third-wheel, odd-man-out, excess baggage, friend, partner, companion; whatever you call them, sidekicks are the staple of storytelling.

The history of sidekicks finds its root, like many stories do, in mythology and religion. When Moses went to Pharaoh, he brought his brother Aaron along. Moses complained often of being slow of speech and tongue, so when the time came to prove to Pharaoh whose God was the stronger, Moses had Aaron acting as his mouth, his hands and his go-between. In this function, Aaron may have well qualified as the worlds’ first recorded sidekick. He was, as many sidekicks to follow, someone who filled in the short comings of his superior.

The sidekick evolved into a separate being who didn’t need the direction of the hero to take action. In Greek mythology, Heracles, in order to gain forgiveness of past crimes, was bid to perform several feats. One of these feats was to kill the hydra. The only problem for Heracles, who had the gift of brute strength but not of any apparent great wisdom, was whenever he chopped one of the hydras heads, two more would appear in its place. Fortunately for Heracles, he had brought along Iolaus, his nephew, who seeing the difficulty multiplying by his uncles actions, decided to take action. Iolaus took a torch and each time Heracles would chop off a head of the hydra, Iolaus would burn the end, so that no other could grow.

As stories evolved, hero’s became more complex and so did sidekicks. Their roles expanded from a simple helper to a vital tie from the reader to the hero.

In Cervantes Don Quixote, Sancho Paza not only reminds Quixote of reality, even while he will not listen, but he continues to serve him and give him some small attachment to the real world. Sidekicks like Sancho, Robin in Batman and Tanto in the Lone Ranger served as the ears and eyes ’ someone who was dependable, less abrasive and more apt to melt into society without being noticed as well as someone who could perform the more menial tasks that the were too below the hero. In this function the sidekick is more like we are ’ an average Joe ’ and a link from hero to reader, as well as from hero to reality (especially in Don Quixote’s case).

With the evolution sidekick also came the decision of how best to deal with difficult situations; humor. Unfortunately for the sidekick, though perhaps fortunate for the reader, it has meant that the sidekick has had to endure what an postAuthorID was not willing to put his hero through. Slap-stick and physical comedy became as much a part of sidekick culture as the clever ’one liners’ that were on the edge of every readers and viewer loves.

Ron Weasley, the comedic companion of Harry Potter in JK Rowling’s popular series with the same name, is the character who endures such humiliations as vomiting slugs and regularly suggests (as if voicing the readers mind): ’Let’s get out of here!’ In the movies his character provides immeasurable comic relief in physical and verbal humor. But Ron’s most valuable function is the sidekick’s most basic function ’ a tie from reader to hero. Not many of us can relate to being a world famous boy wizard, but most of us can relate to his very normal (even if he is a wizard too) friend.

Some sidekicks have all of the characteristics mentioned rolled into one neat package. In ’Lord of the Rings’ Frodo is the ward / nephew of an eccentric weathy uncle, not unlike Dick Grayson and Bruce Wayne. Frodo is well bred, well read and well educated. His companion through the series was Samwise Gamgee ’ his gardener. It was poignant for Tolkien to make his sidekick so down to earth that he actually worked in it. Sam embodied all characteristics of a side kick; the loyalty, hardworking, dependability, occasionally called upon to be witty, often funny and many times called upon to be brawn. Yet, the readers are always clear that Sam is not the hero of the story, his glory will never match that of his Master Frodo Baggins. This is how many of us relate to the story, and indeed to the world around us. We wish we could be a hero, but relating to the struggling sidekick, we realize that our function is no less important, while it may be considerably less glamorous.

However they have evolved, a side kick culture has appeared. You can hardly name a popular series or novel that does not have one. Even the stranded ’Castaway’ in the film by the same name invented a sidekick from a volleyball he called ’Wilson.’ Even in the most basic of entertainment venues we find sidekicks. We can’t imagine Katie Courick without Matt Lauer

Websites, fan clubs and spin off series dedicated to minor characters and ’b’ actors have almost as much a cult following as any headliner. Has our society come to acknowledged the fact that same sex relationships are as vital to our psychological well being as opposite sex relationships are? The prevalence of the sidekick culture, as evidenced by the plethora of sidekicks in our entertainment media tells us the answer is yes.

The (1) Merriam Webster dictionary defines sidekick as: NOUN: a person closely associated with another as subordinate or partner. A sidekick can be an equal - like Scully on X-Files to her partner Mulder ’ or a subordinate ’ like Robin to Batman in Bob Cranes famous DC Comic.

Batman could stand on his own and still fight crime in Gotham. Harry Potter could probably carry the weight of his burdens without his friend Ron, though Frodo would have certainly perished without Sam. Mulder would still be looking for the truth without Scully. Sherlock Holmes would have solved each mystery without Watson. But it is undeniably more interesting to witness our hero’s interaction with their sidekicks than without them.

The reason we love the odd-man-out is the same reason we smile more in company that when alone. Everything is more enjoyable with a friend and that is the key and the staying power of the sidekick culture

[Edited on 12/3/2002 by swampfaye]
Well done Swampfaye, let us know what grade we received. Elf Winking Smilie
I would only like to add that the phenomenon of hero/sidekick associations is not limied to literature nor even to social biology of us humans! It is also widespread in animal kingdom, where males often cooperate closely in the conquest of territory and/or female(s). Often such males are brothers and/or kin but not necessarily so. Such "brother-in-arms" friendship ties are known, among others, in lions, in marine mammals and in chimpanzees.
oh, I just noticed my avatar is MINE - it's my artwork - and wanted to drop a "thanks Taz"
Well done, Swamfaye. Thanks for sharing it with us. I enjoyed reading it.
Thank you Swampfaye, for bringing up the topic and for your wonderful essay! I really enjoyed reading this whole thread, I especially liked what Val said about many of us not being able to imagine ourselves in the heroes role. That is just what I always feel whenever I read fantasy books, you really nailed that one, my friend. Eryan and Prog, great observations!
Regarding famous sidekicks, I can think of a few (though too late for your essay, sorry, Faye): Wiglaf and Beowulf, though Wiglaf does sort of take over the story after Beowulfs death. Rama and Lakshman, or Hanuman, from the Indian epic the Ramayana. Another interesting feature in Hindu mythology is that each of the major dieties, Vishnu, Siva, and Brahma, are always accompanied by a consort. This person is also a diety, and is sometimes described as their wife (Siva and Parvati), or the other half of their personality. They can serve as the dieties companions when incarnated on earth (as Laskshmi became Sita, Rama's wife) as well. I don't know if this really fits the definition of sidekick, but thought I'd throw it out there anyway. Wink Smilie
Now that I have been doing some research for follow up essays on sidekicks, I'm amazed at how misunderstood and misconcieved they are. SOme people don't even know what a sidekick is! On one board that compared heros in LOTR and Harry Potter - they named Harry's sidekick as Hagrid and Frodo's sidekick as Sam - well they got Sam right - but Hagrid????

This just goes to further my point that sidekicks are not only unappreciated, but sometimes not even recognized! My poor little redheaded sidekick doesn't even get a nod from the "experts" on Harry Potter!

Hagrid is just an auxillary character - a staple adult / father figure, but he never takes part of the adventure of the trio (Harry , Hermoine and Ron ) so why name him as a sidekick? What is so hard to comprehend about sidekicks and their function?