Literary Side-kicks to rival Chewbacca
Literature is full of great supporting characters, the men and women that our heroes and heroines could not do without. They take on pivotal roles and provide essential assistance. I am talking, of course, about side-kicks. And while their name sounds diminutive, and their merits can be overlooked, all the following literary side-kicks are indispensable. Just as Han Solo would be nothing without Chewbacca by his side, so the books featuring these supporting characters would not be the same without them:
Sam Clay in The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
Taking its cue from graphic novels, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is a study of power, in all its forms – the strength it takes to survive, the power that comes with freedom, and the intensity of the effect one person can have on another. Sam Clay is changed forever when his cousin Joe Kavalier appears in his life, and like so many side-kicks, Sam is in awe. Kavalier has all the exceptional natural talent that Sam lacks - as well as courage and unerring ambition too. Subsumed within this narrative is the history of comic books, their writers and their art workers; it is a fascinating, postmodern masterpiece about why artists and writers create characters. There is a wonderful moment in the book when both characters need to enter a building, Sam watches ineptly as Kavalier deftly scales a fire escape: a small, heroic act but one that is so lovingly described, it introduces the notion that all writers are their protagonists’ side-kicks. The writing suggests that Kavalier is the person Michael Chabon, the writer, wishes he could be too.
Jeeves in Jeeves and Wooster
Unlike Sam Clay to Kavalier, Jeeves is actually superior to Bertie Wooster in every way. He is suave, intelligent, duplicitous and astute: all the attributes Bertie foolishly believes he possesses. Jeeves is the man on the sidelines, allowing his ‘hero’ to get further and further into trouble before he steps in and extricates his ‘master’ in what is typically an elegant, sleight of hand. In many ways Jeeves is the antithesis of Sam Clay. He is type of supporting character that is, in fact, our hero in disguise.
Sarah or Bert in The Hustler
This is the book on which the Paul Newman film was based - needless to say it is 100 times the films superior. It is a cool, nocturnal tale set in smoky pool halls. And while it follows the ‘sports novel’ structure - it begins when our protagonist, Eddie Felson, realises he has talent, clash after clash ensues, the protagonist learns a little more each time, until the story reaches its climax in a final ‘showdown’ - it is so much more than that. It is meditation on the idea that no one makes it alone. Everyone needs someone to balance them out: a partner, a sounding board, a side-kick. Sarah is an alcoholic, both damaged and sad, but she functions as a mirror, in Eddie’s weakest moments, and a cautionary tale, when he tries to pick himself up again; without her, it could be argued, Eddie would not find the resolve to continue following his ambitions. And without Bert’s backing, he would never have had the means to keep going either. What makes the book tragic is that Eddie cannot fully accept his reliance on these two supporting characters; in trying to go it alone, we know he will ultimately fail.
Dean Moriarty in On The Road
Dean Moriarty is a lot like Jeeves in that he is a side-kick that outstrips the main character effortlessly. Based on Neal Cassidy, whose charms were notoriously irresistible, Dean Moriarty is far more of a ‘hepcat’ than protagonist Sal Paradise – edgier, more impulsive, more charismatic and unfettered. The notion of a ‘side-kick’ becomes a fluid one in On The Road, it shifts between Sal and Dean, calling the whole concept into question. Who is more powerful is a question that emerges in every twosome, literary or otherwise. But as Sal Paradise is a writer-narrator, the writer is again seen as the true side-kick in his own fictional narrative. Without Moriarty/Cassidy, there is little story – likewise, writers are nothing without their characters.
Nora Charles in The Thin Man
Nora is no domestic goddess – she is a mean, strong, femme-fatale with serious crime-solving skills. Without her, her husband Nick would be lost. They are a glamorous couple and the story is essentially a slick romance. But when it comes to the murder-mystery element of the narrative, Nick could not have done it without his partner, Nora. (Feel free to invert the protagonist/side-kick roles here too).
Tinkerbell in Peter Pan
Yup, I am going to skip some of the more obvious choices and plump for Tinkerbell as my final fascinating sidekick. Maybe Christmas has made me go soft – but I love the idea of her backstory. Seen typically as just a bit feisty and jealous, Tinkerbell is an intriguing character. Where did she come from? What was her relationship with Peter? Has she alwasy 'helped' him? How much has Peter relied on her over the years?! And the thing is – to be fair to her - she really did see Peter first.