I got to thinking this afternoon about my favorite books and my favorite characters, to come up with an idea for a blog post, and I realized that a ridiculous number of my favorite characters are not the heroes but the sidekicks. Seriously. Maybe that’s odd, but I usually seem to prefer secondary characters.
- I’ve always loved Hermione Granger more than Harry Potter. She’s just as brave, and smarter than he is. “That girl needs to sort out her priorities,” as Ron says, like I feel I do. Also, she’s a nerd in the same way I am. But My favorite character in the Harry Potter books–and one of my favorites of all-time- is Remus Lupin. One of Harry’s Defense Against the Dark Arts teachers who doesn’t even appear in 3 of the 7 installments.
- As much as I loved Jo in Little Women, Beth March was always my favorite of the sisters. Beth cares so much for others. And there’s something about her that is so introverted, like me. Exactly like me. I love her so much!
- Sam is way better than Frodo Baggins. Not that Frodo isn’t a great character; he is. But something about him having to bear the weight of the ring, and the effect the ring has on him, makes him somehow less human (less “hobbit”?) than Sam. Sam is so selfless in his devotion to his friend!
- In Pride and Prejudice, Jane Bennett is just as much fun for me to read about and root for as Elisabeth is. She’s so kindhearted, and she’s got an innate wisdom that I really admire and wish I possessed.
So now I’m asking myself, why is this? Why do I love these secondary characters so much? What is it about them that’s so appealing, that I could imitate in my own fiction in characters who aren’t my heroes?
I think all of these characters, first of all, are very complex. Even if they aren’t protagonists, they’re always working on more than one level. Level one might be the support they afford the hero. But Hermione, for instance, also has all her insecurities about being muggleborn. Lupin struggles with a horrible sense that he’s worth nothing and is somehow less than human. Sam has never left home before and isn’t quite sure how to respond to what he sees. Jane loves Mr. Bingley but tries to hide her feelings for the good of her sister.
While these characters support their friends, the heroes, they still understand that they, as people, are important as well, and they have their own personal struggles to overcome. Beth’s shyness is a real battle for her. Sam is terrified to leave the Shire. While they’re extremely selfless–and that’s perhaps one of the traits I admire most in people, fictional or otherwise–they also focus on themselves to some degree, and their needs and desires, and that makes them believable.
I think all writers can learn something from how real and how deep these secondary characters are. Maybe I like them because, like some of them, I prefer not to be in the spotlight. Maybe that allows me to connect with them. I’m not really sure.
What do you think? Who are your favorite secondary characters, and why?