From introducing you to house parties, to helping you destroy Horcruxes, the trials and tribulations of the sidekick in coming-of-age entertainment are often overshadowed by the triumph of the protagonist.
As a secondary character, it is the sidekick’s job to help the hero defeat the forces of evil and humbly stand to the side as they save the day. The have often served as a two-dimensional character, contrasting with the more fleshed-out hero. It has long been the duty of the sidekick to provide both comic relief for the audience and prompt growth within the protagonist.
In coming-of-age fiction, however, the role of the sidekick can be somewhat elevated to provide more than just the comic relief of the story. They also serve as an emotional guide for the protagonist’s journey throughout the course of the novel. They themselves can undergo a transition or remain simply as a contrasting character to that of the main character.
In Stephen Chbosky’s seminal coming-of-age novel, The Perks of Being A Wallflower, siblings Sam and Patrick introduce Charlie to a supportive group of friends and by the end of the novel, he has become a participating member of society, with clearly defines personality traits and goals. Sam and Patrick, however, remain unchanged as they both leave Charlie and begin life in college, mostly unchanged by the events of the novel.
In the Harry Potter series, the long-suffering Ron experiences the same progression towards adulthood as Harry. Both face grave danger, explore their sexuality and deal with the loss of loved ones simultaneously throughout the book series. Ron’s character develops throughout, growing from the awkward, cowardly sidekick who stole his father’s flying car to the self-confident, dark lord-defeating wizard, albeit to a lesser extent than Harry (he is the sidekick after all).
Meanwhile, Hermione endures the loss of her parents and, like Ron and Harry, must deal with the loss of a loved one. However, her pre-established drives, which she previously used to help Harry in completing his quest, neither increases nor decreases, and she does not experience much in the terms of character development. This, however, only raises some damning questions concerning gender roles and the patriarchal realm that the sidekick inhabits.
Not all sidekicks are relegated to the role of plot devices, simply there to further the narrative of the main character. In the popular science-fiction series, Doctor Who, many of the Doctor’s companions undergo significant development and reach self-actualisation. It must be noted that Doctor Who does not fall into the category or genre of “coming-of-age”. This is true for the most part, but it does have similar features in its characters for it to be considered as such.
The most notable example is Rose Tyler. Rose both serves as a sidekick to the Doctor, while also developing into a mature woman who defends the Earth on several occasions. When we first meet Rose, she is a seemingly average girl who lives with her mother in a council estate in London and works in a department store.
After meeting the Doctor and experiencing their shared adventures through time and space, she transforms into a fully rounded character, filled with self-confidence, heartbreak, and in possession of an enormous gun to defend the Earth against the Daleks threatening the Earth. Rose, as an accomplice, even manages to challenge the Doctor at various points throughout the series, thus she is seen as equal to him and not merely his sidekick.
No longer just the lesser companion of the protagonist, sidekicks have the capability of being written as well-developed characters in their own right and should be treated as such. One only has to look at Batman’s Jason Todd to see the results of a sidekick who is treated badly and neglected by others in a series.
The sidekick, however an unflattering moniker it may be, plays a vital role in advancing the narrative progress of a story and offers balance and advice to the main character. The importance of sidekicks should no longer be underrated, but celebrated for their importance to the story.