The most famous of the fictional friendships is The Trusty Sidekick: Holmes and Watson, Sam and Frodo, Batman and Robin, and the list goes on. The trusty sidekick serves many purposes in fiction, they can ask questions on behalf of the reader, offer the lead character support they couldn’t do without, they can fight side-by-side and have each other’s’ backs, they can balance personalities, and be a comic foil.
One of the most famous pairings is Holmes and Watson. In the Sherlock Holmes stories Watson is the reader’s in to the world of Holmes. He asks the questions the reader needs the answers to but Holmes would never think to mention and he gets Holmes’ inner thoughts onto the page, in explaining to Watson, Holmes is also explaining to us. If we didn’t have Watson the stories might’ve been a lot of Holmes striding around appearing to pull information out of the air.
In the case of Sam and Frodo it’s possible Sam is the true hero of the story. Frodo couldn’t have made it to Mount Doom without Sam and in the grimmest moments it’s always Sam who gets them through. Where other characters are seduced by the power of The Ring Sam is never swayed, his only desire is to help Frodo. Now, there’s also a reading of this scenario about class because Sam begins the story as Frodo’s gardener and the class system in the UK did expect undying loyalty from the working class to the upper classes (they didn’t get it but it reoccurs a lot in fiction written by middle and upper class writers, even today). However, the point is that Lord of The Rings would’ve been a very different story without Sam, he was integral to the heroes’ victory.
Depending on which version of Batman we look at the function of Robin varies. There’s Robin the orphan rescued by Batman which shows a vulnerable side of Batman, there’s Robin the hero-in-training Batman’s student/son figure, there’s Robin the comic foil to Batman’s seriousness, there’s even Robin Batman’s equal. Sometimes Robin is more than one of these at once. It depends on the story, the backstory, and sometimes his age which all affect the relationship between these two characters. Do we want to challenge Batman emotionally as a father figure? Do we want to make him the protector/teacher of a young man who aspires to be like him? Do we want to add some humour to the stories? Or do we want a character who challenges Batman toe-to-toe? What story are we telling?
When we think of a sidekick it’s easy to imagine them purely as the character bumbling around at the side of our lead to make them look better but this is rarely the sidekick at their best. The relationship between sidekick and hero is often integral to the story, they work best together and are weaker apart.