Last Tuesday, as part of a bad-mouthing of Disney’s The Lone Ranger, I touched on our society’s inability to understand the role of the “sidekick.” For those of you who didn’t read it, what I said, in part, was
“The relationship between the Lone Ranger and Tonto is impossible for contemporary audiences to comprehend. Sidekick just doesn’t translate into Oprahspeak. In our relentless adherence to equality, anything less than a bromance between the two men is unacceptable. We refuse to believe that Tonto has any dignity, being the lower man on the scrotum pole, even though it’s clear he does.”
My point is that “sidekick’ is a complicated idea. It takes as its starting point the concept of Master and Man, an abstract which our society refuses to acknowledge. The very words trigger deep prejudices within us, and we invariably rebel against the connotation of inequality, no matter how beneficial it might be. Thus, with no frame of reference, it is impossible to explain the relationship between Tonto and the Lone Ranger (or any other fictional duo) to a 21st century audience. The problem is, however, since the sidekick format is alien to, us we tend to adjust the stories to fit our current perceptions, by either changing the relationship or explaining it away. Unfortunately, this detracts from the original tale, written to rely on the sidekick as an integral part of narrative. In a nutshell, Sherlock Holmes would not exist without Watson, and when we renovate Watson to accommodate our current sensibilities, we inadvertently damage the character of Holmes.
So, rather than trying to explain the concept of the sidekick, here is a list of some of the best Sidekicks in Fiction. They can explain their existence far better than I can. And rather than provoke a future argument, they are in no particular order.
Tonto and the Lone Ranger
Samwise Gamgee and Frodo
The Merrie Men and Robin Hood
The Sundance Kid and Butch Cassidy
Mr. Spock and Captain Kirk
Robin and Batman
Dr. Watson and Sherlock Holmes
Sancho Panza and Don Quixote
Tinkerbell and Peter Pan
Donkey and Shrek