Merry and Pippin fumbling across Middle Earth. Donkey jabbering his way out of trouble with Shrek. Sidekicks abound in fiction. With their success has come an unwritten expectation that great fantasy (and fiction in general) requires sidekicks. Modern culture prizes comedians above serious thinkers, adding to the problem.
While we can relate to the reasons a sidekick can sometimes empower a story, there are also drawbacks we must recognize. Sidekicks provide an easy release of tension in emotionally uncomfortable or charged situations. Their primary function is (often) to provide comic relief in situations that the protagonists are sweating over.
What is the drawback to this? We need to be fully absorbed in the story’s moments, especially with their most uncomfortable moments of tension. We need to sweat with the protagonist, not have some other character insert a distracting jab that attempts to lighten the mood. Surely there is a time and place for that, but often the humor is better left out.
Story is a powerful conductor of thoughts, ideas that motivate, and convictions that make the reader want to change or improve themselves. Humor distracts, makes light of, and de-emphasizes truths that build good character. I have spoken before about not modeling ourselves after the villain… but it is also imperative that we not look to comedians and sidekicks as our role models. Humor is a gift to be used sparingly. Deep thought and consideration of how humble and small we are beneath God should be our focus. Meditation and reflection are more beneficial to our souls than the funniest jokes.
Sidekick characters have trouble taking things seriously. They see humor in every moment. They get so caught up in jesting that they are either slow to mature or miss the opportunity to mature altogether. There is great wisdom in keeping silence. There is vast spiritual reward in learning to think, live, and act in sobriety. “Be sober, be vigilant, for your adversary the Devil walks about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.” (quote from 1 Peter 5:8 The Bible).
It is easier to be foolish than it is to be sober. It is easy to jest especially when it has become the cultural norm. When I look back at some of the great fiction I loved I realize they did not use sidekick characters. Pilgrim’s Progress, Robinson Crusoe, etc.
I do believe sidekick characters serve necessary purposes in some stories, but I do think they are overused. The focus of story most often should be a sober consideration so that we can benefit from the tale we read. The trick when writing in sidekick characters is to not think of them as sidekicks. Let the story guide the character’s evolution so that you (the writer) begin to know their personality. As your understanding of the character deepens you may find opportunity to throw in a little humor, but the beauty of humor is in its spontaneity. Therefore let the sidekick characters be spontaneous and do not drown their story segments in predictable foolishness.
Humor is a gift from God, if used wisely. But used frequently it creates endless foolishness and leads to spiritual decay.
Q: How do you view sidekicks in fiction?
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