Recently someone asked me if my detective has a sidekick. The answer is, "yes." My main character, Ava Rome, undertakes her adventures with the aid of Moon Ito, a tough guy sidekick who kicks ass when called upon.
Sidekick comes from a 17th century gambling term, side-kicker, meaning a strong card held in reserve. The sidekick’s role is to provide backup for a fictional hero. Although the sidekick assumes a subordinate status, his or her abilities are not necessarily inferior. Often the sidekick is equal to or superior to the main character. Little John was better than Robin Hood in their fight with the staff. Tonto was as good a horseman and shot as the Lone Ranger, and he was a better tracker.
The earliest sidekick in literature might be Hanuman, the monkey god, in Valmiki's Ramayana, the 4th century B.C. Hindu epic. Hanuman is smart and capable with abilities such as leaping over the ocean and lifting mountains. He and his monkey army gave essential help to Rama in rescuing his wife, Sita, from the evil lord Ravana.
In many cases, the sidekick has skills, ability or temperament that complement the main character in some way. Sancho Panza provided realism to counter Don Quixote's idealism. Falstaff was comic relief to Prince Hal's seriousness. In the case of Sherlock Holmes, Watson provides an emotional connection that makes it easier for the reader to get to like Holmes.
Sidekicks are frequently distinguished from the main character by class, ethnicity, culture, or language. They might even be a different species. The alien sidekick is a common feature of science fiction.
The primary bond between the sidekick and the main character is trust and loyalty. Bad guys don't have sidekicks. They have henchmen and minions who are seldom trustworthy.
If the sidekick is a different gender, romantic or sexual tension can wreck the bond of trust and loyalty. The hero seldom has an intimate relationship with a sidekick. Modesty Blaise and Willie Garvin, for example, were completely platonic, even though their adventures brought them into close proximity. On those occasions when Willie sees Modesty naked, he is surprisingly dispassionate. What are we to make of Fiona Glenanne in Burn Notice? She's Michael Westen's ex-girlfriend. Presumably the intimacy has ended. Is she a sidekick? Who would deny anything to a girl with a gun like that?
The sidekick is generally a well-developed character who serves more than one function in the story. He or she might provide information or counsel, but that is not their sole function. In general they perform those tasks that would be inappropriate or difficult for the hero to perform. Often, they are called upon to rescue the hero. Regardless of function, however, the sidekick shares most of the adventure with the hero.
In my stories, Moon Ito watches Ava's back in dangerous situations. His primary occupation is providing VIP security, so he has access to weapons, vehicles, and communication devices if Ava needs them. Because Ava works in a state with stringent gun laws, Moon's ability to obtain guns is very useful to her. He is not a criminal, but he can call on a number of thugs for support. If a criminal act needs to be performed, Moon can get it done.
Like Hawk and Spenser, there is an ethnic and cultural difference between Moon and Ava. Moon is Japanese-American, born in Hawaii while Ava is Caucasian, a haole. Like Willie and Modesty, there is a gender difference between them without a romantic or sexual component. Moon, however, is not as high-minded about it as Willie. He just knows that Ava isn't interested in him. Like Willie Garvin, Moon speaks a non-standard dialect. For Willie, it's Cockney English, for Moon, it's Hawaiian pidgin English.
Does your main character have a sidekick? Tell us about him or her. Also hop over to my Hawaiian-eye blog for my top ten list of favorite sidekicks.