Who’s got your back?

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“Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.” – Albert Camus

The role of the companion, friend, consort, sidekick, is an extremely powerful one in fiction. Many films, books and tv series have left me wondering who the real ‘heroes’ were. Quite often I would argue that it was the sidekicks, the support crew who facilitate the heroes success. The unsung heroes of the day.

I did some digging into this. And the role of ‘companion’ is hidden away half way through a seemingly never-ending list of literary archetypes. Archetypes were conceived of originally by Plato, and later built on by Carl Jung and it’s quite a fascinating area of study. Archetype means “first moulded” and it refers to a universally understood concept, behaviour or symbol that can be built on and copied. It is essentially a stereotype and as such an extremely useful literary tool.

Companions provide some sort of assistance to the main protagonist. They are usually weaker in some ways than the hero but often bring complementary, rather than competing qualities to the relationship. They are normally extremely loyal and long suffering with the ability to keep the hero on the straight and narrow. Of course, this also means that they are particularly well placed to turn on their friend and become the Villain.

I’ve put together a short list of some of the companions who have entertained me over the years. This is most definitely not an exhaustive list!

My rules for this list are:

  • No (overt) love interest
  • No equal partners at least not on the surface
  • No ‘jester’ sidekicks

1) Harry, Hermione and Ron – Harry Potter – Books and Movies

Could Harry really have won all those battle without Hermione and Ron? Hermione’s research and magical skills get the three out of more than a few scrapes and Ron seems to stumble into the role of perfect backup.

2) Buffy and Willow – Buffy the Vampire Slayer – TV Series

Swotty, nerdy Willow grows over the series to become a powerfully strong ally, so much so that she tips over into ‘enemy’ at one dark point, proving herself every bit Buffy’s equal. But the friendship prevales, loyalty wins out and in the end we see Willow return to her position beside, and (crucially) one step behind, Buffy.

3) Frodo and Samwise – Lord of the Rings – The movies (I’ve not read the books! Sorry)

This relationship fascinates me. Samwise is reliable and loyal under the most extreme conditions and in spite (or perhaps because of) Frodo’s emotional roller coaster. Throughout the story their relationship blossoms and grows in a way reminiscent of the friendships formed in the trenches of the first World War I. In his deeds and confidences Samwise is every bit Frodo’s equal, yet he is rarely presented as more than a manservant. He knows his place and sees no need to challenge it. Perhaps indicative of the upper middle-class male life and friendships at the time, that your closest companion would be your man servant?

4) Sherlock and Watson – Sherlock Holmes – ‘The myth’.

Brilliant but insane Sherlock, unable to function in the ‘real’ world is perfectly counterpoised by Watson’s calm, steady and methodical approach. Watson may not be as exceptional as his colleague, but he could likely give the criminals a run for their money, yet he never steps out from Holme’s shadow.

5) Robin Hood and Little John – Robin Hood – Ballads and Stories

Little John famously barred Robin Hood’s way on a narrow bridge, finally knocking Robin into the river. Despite this he joined Robin’s band and went on to become one of Robin’s closest confident. As seems to be a theme in such relationships Little John leaves Robin after being attacked by him, but returns to lead the rescue of Robin when he’s captured.

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2 responses »

  1. Robin Hood fanatic, here. Saw the pic of Robin and Little John and HAD to check out the blog piece. (:
    So many main characters would crash and burn (or, in the cases of some, crash and burn *sooner*) without the support of one or more really good friends. Good of you to take a minute out and give the unsung heroes their song.

    • Thanks for the comment, glad you liked the picture, found it on Wikipedia and thought I had to use it! 🙂 I think the support crew rarely get the recognition they deserve. I was quite frankly very surprised by how little seems to be written about the companion role when it seems, to me, to be a pretty important, and common one!

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