When Jeremy Marshall and I wrote Captain James Hook and the Curse of Peter Pan, we decided that James Hoodkins (the young Hook) should have someone he is responsible for during his adventures (tragedies?). We did this for a few reasons, but I never thought to explain why sidekicks are so important until now.
First, a definition. A sidekick is a secondary character who furthers the story. Although this is an unequal relationship, the sidekick is not a mindless follower. Sidekicks have goals, dreams, and personalities.
The lazy pick would have been to use Smee. The two are often paired in cartoons and promotions. We went a different way and used Billy Jukes. In Barrie’s Peter Pan, Bill Jukes is a tattooed cutthroat whose past is rumored at best. We took the seeds of that character and made him the son of a close family friend and the younger brother of James’s love interest, Emily. When both children (James was 13 and Jukes was 11) were lost at sea and fell in with pirates, James had a reason to keep looking for a way home.
There are inherent advantages to including a sidekick.
When using a sidekick, readers have an opportunity to identify with him or her. This gives an author a wider range of readership. Some may have found James Hook cold and a little distant, but liked Billy Jukes’s more reckless behavior.
WAIT. WHAT HAPPENED?
If a hero is alone and figures out a solution, then he just does what he needs to do and skips the explanation. If that information is important for the reader to know, you need a second character to draw it out. This is a classic setup and it worked well with Hook and Jukes.
This is an advantage if you are writing from multiple perspectives. Your protagonist can’t see everything. They operate from a single point of view. Writing from a sidekick’s POV is a great way to give new information to the reader that you want to hide from the hero and show how wonderful the hero is without the hero sounding arrogant. We wrote CJH from one POV, but this is a great tool if you decide to use it.
This is my favorite reason. As athletic and strong as Billy Jukes was compared to the sickly James Hoodkins, he was two years younger and a far slower thinker than his genius friend. This made for an interesting brain-and-brawn pairing. James was the clear leader of the two and there was no problem that their combined skill set couldn’t overcome.
Knights have squires.
Sherlock Holmes has Dr. Watson.
Batman has Robin.