The sidekick ought to be the most important person to the hero. There at his side every moment. Loyal. Honest. Obedient.
Sadly, not all heroes have been so blessed.
Normally for these “three book” challenges, we’re directed to choose three individual books. And I’ve played nicely twice so far. Next week I promise to color inside the lines.
But I just can’t bring myself to find two additional books when the first one I thought of is so packed with lousy sidekicks it deserves the spotlight all to itself.
The book? The Odyssey, by Homer. The sidekicks? His crew.
Not until Captain Stubing prowled the seven seas in The Love Boat did a captain have to put up with more hijinks, insubordination and plain uselessness than Odysseus.
Let’s consider a few incidents from his journey.
So Odysseus and his gang are leaving Troy. He decides to make a pit stop at Ismaros, the land of the Cicones:
I stormed the place and killed the men who fought.
Plunder we took, and enslaved the women…
No big deal. Sort of like the ancient world’s equivalent of hitting the Quick-Chek before getting on the interstate during rush hour. The objective here is speed, people. We want to beat the traffic – or in Odysseus’ case, get out before the locals regroup. Simple, right? Not for this guy’s crew. He tells them to get back on the boats, but
My men were mutinous,
fools, on stores of wine. Sheep after sheep
they butchered by the surf, and shambling cattle,
feasting, — while fugitives went inland, running / to call to arms the main force…
So when they finally get back on the road, “six benches were left empty in every ship.” All because this crew didn’t listen.
Good sidekicks know their limits. Robin might have chafed occasionally at playing second fiddle to Batman, but I’m pretty sure the boy wonder didn’t go playing with the equipment in the bat cave. (Correct me if I’m wrong, comic book – excuse me, graphic novel — aficionados).
So after Odysseus stops off to see Aiolos, the King of the Winds, he comes back on the boat with a bag tied shut with silver string.
Then he takes charge of the boat (does Batman let Robin drive the Batmobile?), and sails it nine straight days and nights without sleeping.
But finally Odysseus falls asleep. And what does his crew of jokers do?
You don’t have to be Dennis Connor to know that nine straight days of perfect wind is not normal. Anyone who’s taken a Sunfish out at Club Med can figure this out.
But apparently not Odysseus’ crew:
Hmm. Let’s think about this for a second. We just visited the King of the Winds. He gave our captain a present in a closed bag.
What possible present could the King of the Winds give a sailor?
Gosh, I can’t think of anything. Let’s take a look and see.
Oops. It’s wind. Oh… I get it now! That’s why we’ve been cruising along without incident for nine straight days and nights.
I could go on. Remember Elpenor? Odysseus didn’t – and no reason to. Odysseus describes him as “not very clever.” (Od. 10) That’s an understatement. Kid gets drunk, falls asleep on the roof of Kirke’s house, falls off and breaks his neck. This is why you read ancient literature, folks. Stay off the roof after you’ve had a few. Got it? Apparently someone didn’t.
Granted the crew did have a few good moments. They did get Odysseus past the Sirens. They kept rowing after Scylla snacked on six of the crew. And the slight detour they took into the land of the dead wasn’t exactly a scenic route.
But then they go to the island of the cattle of the sun god.
When you land on an island that happens to be the pasturing ground of the sun god’s cattle, you probably should leave them alone.
But no. The crew can’t even make it without food for a few days before they start eyeing the cattle.
Now, I’m not saying they should have drawn straws to see who got to be lunch. But at least eight men made it home from the wreck of the Essex. The only one to make it home from Odysseus’ crew was the big guy himself.
Of course, this is not to suggest that Odysseus is a bright, shining example for our youth. He did have that whole hubris thing going, most obvious when he taunted the Cyclops. And there’s that whole “guest-host relationship” thing with Kirke and Calypso. I always wonder if Odysseus came clean to Penelope when he did get home.
But his crew? Fugghedaboutem. Useless.
For a great read on sidekicks, check out Patrick Hruby’s hilarious “Celebration of Sidekicks,” featuring among others Paul Shaffer, Ed McMahon and C-3P0 discussing the art of sidekicking. They knew how to do the job.