Now that we’ve introduced the sidekick, it’s time to put him to work!
Last week we looked out how Ron Weasley from Harry Potter and Rue from The Hunger Games build trust with the hero.
Today, we’ll see how each sidekick helps the hero along the journey and eventually makes the ultimate sacrifice (of sorts).
[Elements 1 through 7 are posted at Writing the Sidekick Archetype (Part I). This is Part II.]
8. The sidekick and the hero sit quietly with each other.
You know you have a close friend when the silences aren’t awkward anymore. This scene is a peaceful transition between the introduction and the action beginning.
- Harry Potter and Ron Weasley: “While they had been talking, the train had carried them out of London. . . . They were quiet for a time, watching the fields and lanes flick past.” (Ch.6).
- Katniss Everdeen and Rue: “For a while, all conversation stops as we fill our stomachs.” (HG Ch.15).
9. The sidekick teaches the hero all sorts of useful things (aka “a magical guide”).
- Ron explains: that each chocolate frogs comes with a collectable wizard card, the rules of quidditch, how to play wizard chess, and how to approach a wizards dual. (Ch.6, 9, &12).
- Rue shows Katniss how to fix her tracker jacker stings, which berries are safe to eat, how the Careers’ base is set up, and how to use the night vision goggles. (Ch.15 &16).
10. The sidekick and the hero are publicly ranked (and the hero comes out on top).
Everyone knows that the hero is a better competitive athlete than the sidekick after the two are compared against each other in some way.
- Even though Ron is the one who taught Harry about quidditch, it’s Harry who is selected to play on the team. “Ron was so amazed, so impressed, he just sat and gaped at Harry.” (HP Ch.9).
- Katniss and Rue are more formally evaluated. Katniss gets an eleven. “Surprisingly, little Rue comes up with a seven. I don’t know what she showed the judges, but she’s so tiny it must have been impressive.” (HG Ch.8).
11. The sidekick takes preventative measures to protect the hero.
The hero may be eager to shoot from the hip, but the sidekick is better at anticipating danger.
- Ron steps in to protect Harry when Malfoy threatens a dual: “’I’d take you on anytime on my own,’ said Malfoy. . . . What’s the matter? Never heard of a wizard’s duel before, I suppose?’ ‘Of course he has,’ said Ron, wheeling around. ‘I’m his second, who’s yours?'” (HP Ch.9).
- When Katniss hastily climbs a tree, Rue alerts her to a tracker jacker nest on a nearby branch. “Then, without even rustling a leaf, her little hand slides into the open and points to something above my head.” (HG Ch.13).
12. The sidekick is badly hurt while on the hero’s mission.
The plan is for the hero and the sidekick to finish the job together, but only the hero gets to move on to meet the villain at the climax.
- Ron is left behind on the chessboard as Harry goes on to the next task. “He stepped forward, and the white queen pounced. She struck Ron hard across the head with her stone arm, and he crashed to the floor — Hermione screamed but stayed on her square — the white queen dragged Ron to one side. He looked as if he’d been knocked out.” (HP Ch.16).
- Rue is unable to get her last signal fire lit when she is captured in another tribute’s net. “It’s a child’s scream, a young girl’s scream, there’s no one in the arena capable of making that sound except Rue. . . . When I break into the clearing, she’s on the ground, hopelessly entangled in a net. She just has time to reach her hand through the mesh and say my name before the spear enters her body.” (Ch.17).
*Bonus! The sidekick is literally a piece in a game.
Coincidence? Or does this just make explicit the idea that the sidekick is a flat character, here for the hero’s (and the novel’s) convenience?
- “They were standing on the edge of a huge chessboard, behind the black chessmen, which were all taller than they were and carved from what looked like black stone. ‘I think,’ said Ron, “we’re going to have to be chessmen.’” (HP Ch.16).
- “I want to do something, right here, right now, to shame them, to make them accountable, to show the Capitol that whatever they do or force us to do there is a part of every tribute they can’t own. That Rue was more than a piece in their Games. And so am I.” (HG Ch.18).
Why it Works
The sidekick is an enabler. He makes the hero seem better by comparison, and then he also makes the hero actually better, by guiding him through the magical land and anticipating danger. And, to make sure the story isn’t too tragic, the sidekick takes the fall instead of the hero.
Although the sidekick is involved in the journey, he doesn’t distract from it– only the hero experiences real change.
The sidekick also fills a more sentimental purpose: the hero needs a friend, because that’s just the thing that he’s been missing.
Now we have lots of archetypical moments involving the sidekick to place in the master outline: Chapter 6 (introduction, share food, sit quietly), Chapter 7 (sleep next to each other), Chapter 7, 9, & 13 (magical guide), Chapter 11 (athletic comparison), Chapter 12 (protection), Chapter 15 (gift), Chapter 18 (hurt).
What about you– will you write a sidekick as a “piece in the game” or something more?