The variety of reader perspectives is the major obstacle to writing adorable or comedic sidekick characters. What some people find funny, others will find offensive. Things that are endearing to one group will likely be annoying to another. If the author properly manages the risks, however, the characterization of a sidekick character with these traits can make the story much richer. As an example of this, I look to Oberon the hound, one of the most beloved characters in Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles.
The first lesson I learned from Hearne is that audience perception of characters is often defined by their relationships. In Shattered, Hearne’s latest installment, Atticus explains that he adopted Oberon because he needed someone to help keep him young in mind and spirit, someone to make him laugh and bring joy to his life. Atticus' love for his dog, and the love that Oberon returns, is apparent and powerful. This sort of interaction works for Hearne in three major ways. First, a character who loves and values someone else is easier to empathize with. Secondly, it gives Hearne a leaver through which he can manage tension via comic relief or the endangerment of Oberon. Finally, the relationship between the two serves as the baseline for Atticus’ other relationships.
The second role of a sidekick is to serve as a foil for the protagonist. When Atticus is moping, Oberon raises his spirits with cleverness. Oberon’s loyalty, bravery, and kindness balance out Atticus’ hubris, occasional brutality and cruelty. Unlike Atticus, Oberon doesn't take himself too seriously, and though occasionally hostile, he is never malicious. This allows Atticus, and the reader, to laugh with him, not at him.
The third reason for Oberon’s success as a sidekick is his delivery upon our expectations. As a dog magically gifted with speech, his thoughts and attitudes mirror his canine nature and appeal to the dog lovers amongst the readers. Obsessed with his stomach and the joys of eating, especially with regards to sausage, Oberon will often try to charm his way into a meal. He is unabashed about his baser desires and in his joy at seeing his favorite people. His enthusiasm, attitudes and unconditional love remind me of my positive experiences with dogs, and the love I hold for my deceased pets, transferring those good feelings to the character.
Kevin Hearne wrote Oberon as comic relief, but his love for and loyalty to the series’ protagonists endear us to him. He reminds us of our favorite dogs, making some part of us wish that we had an Oberon of our own. It is the characterization, in the end, that allows him to hold a special place in many fans’ hearts and makes him an excellent sidekick.Tags: Sequence 04: On the Shoulders of Giants