Some of the greatest characters in literature are not the focus of the plot – yet they stay with us long after the book has ended. We remember them. Often, I find myself remembering minor characters from books as being a major part of the story – only to reread and realize they were barely in it. This week, I’ve made a list of five of these “literary sidekicks.” Did I forget anyone?
5. Dill from To Kill a Mockingbird
Published in 1960, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is Scout’s book. Although, after rereading it many times, I have found that the book also belongs to Boo. And Tom Robinson. And Atticus. Despite having multiple major characters, the book also introduces the reader to an enduring literary sidekick: Dill. Scout and her brother Jem befriend Dill at the novel’s beginning. Recently arrived in Maycomb, Dill is staying with his aunt. Dill completes the group of children and accompanies Scout and Jem as they attempt to encounter the reclusive Boo Radley. Dill has no real home, and his awareness of not being wanted by his own father (he claims not to have one) is juxtaposed against the nurturing relationship that Jem and Scout have with Atticus. There are theories that Harper Lee based the character of Dill on her friend, the writer Truman Capote.
4. Piggy from Lord of the Flies
In Lord of the Flies by William Golding, the main character Ralph would be nothing without his sidekick Piggy. Overweight and wearing glasses, it is Piggy that realizes the importance of organization and a semblance of government and structure. Without organization and management, the boys will degenerate into chaos and animalistic behaviors. Ralph and Piggy are challenged in their views by Jack, who leads the boys into wild and more natural behavior. Piggy is constantly teased and physically assaulted by the boys – Jack even breaks his glasses at one point. Ultimately, as Piggy tries to rally support for Ralph and his views on behavior and order, he is murdered by the opposing tribe of anarchistic schoolboys. Without his sidekick, Ralph must fight for survival on the island.
3. Jordan Baker from The Great Gatsby
Written in the 1920s, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel introduced readers to a female character with a vibrant reputation. Spending most of the book accompanying and helping Nick Carraway on his quest to know the elusive Jay Gatsby, Jordan is known for her ability to stretch the truth and a “loose” relationship with men. Jordan establishes herself as a professional golfer – a predominately male sport. She is Daisy’s best friend, yet her level of sarcasm and aloofness makes her unreliable and the reader never really knows for sure if Jordan even likes Daisy. Jordan has a shady reputation among the social elite, but uses that reputation to help Nick – making her a solid literary sidekick.
2. Horatio from Hamlet
Shakespeare’s famous tragedy contains one of literature’s most often ignored sidekicks – Horatio. Horatio is Hamlet’s close friend and is the only one that Hamlet trusts enough to reveal his plan to fake madness in order to catch his uncle and avenge his father’s murder. Horatio provides Hamlet with rational advice. Like a good sidekick, Horatio remains loyal to Hamlet while remaining calm as the other characters in the play descend into (real) madness and violence. Horatio is one of the few characters that make it out of the play alive and tell Hamlet’s story.
1. Samwise Gamgee from Lord of the Rings
Samwise Gamgee, the unremarkable friend of Frodo Baggins in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Ring‘s trilogy, has only one purpose in the novel. Samwise’s purpose, established early on, is to support Frodo on his quest to destroy the One Ring in the fiery depths of Mordor. Samwise barely hesitates, and remains loyal throughout all three books. Often, like a good sidekick, Samwise has to be strong for Frodo when the quest gets particularly challenging. By the end of the quest, it is Samwise that is the strong one, as he provides the final motivation for Frodo to make it up the mountain and destroy the One Ring. Samwise is rewarded for his work as a literary sidekick, surviving to return home to the Shire, marry the girl of his dreams, and (probably) making a lot of hairy-footed Hobbit babies. We hope.
This was almost a very long list. Those who didn’t make it (but deserve to):
- John Watson from Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
- Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
- Jim from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain