This essay was written by Chris Ciolli.
Protagonists are fine and good. Protagonists are necessary. But what happens when, for whatever reason, they’re more than mildly disappointing, not to mention less-than-interesting? If we’re lucky, there’s a supporting character (or a few) around to pick up the slack and keep us interested.
Sometimes, if we’re really lucky, the author comes to the same conclusion as the reader, and the said supporting character eventually moves to the forefront to claim his rightful place as a protagonist in future books. Of course even when these literary sidekicks don’t get their due, they manage to steal the show in a big way, helping heroes and making sure readers stay entertained.
Here are some favorite supporting characters from modern bestsellers and literary classics.
Luna in the Harry Potter Books by J.K. Rowling
Often portrayed as seriously strange and something of a space cadet, over the course of the entire series, Luna is revealed as brave and loyal, not to mention more entertaining and less whiny than the boy wizard himself on many occasions. It seems safe to say that many bookworms would happily devour a book that was all about Luna.
Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
Forget Romeo. He’s rather fickle (he is after all, in love with Rosaline at the beginning of the play) and boringly tragic (or is it tragically boring?). Mercutio, on the other hand, is bawdy, tempestuous and irresponsibly aggressive. If it weren’t for his death at the hands of Tybalt, Juliet’s cousin, Romeo wouldn’t have killed Tybalt, and Romeo and Juliet may have ended up happily married, and where’s the fun in that? Besides, it takes a strong character to carry off a pun as he dies.
Rue in The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Rue is a nice compliment to Katniss’ sometimes sullen cynicism in the first book in Collin’s best-selling series. Young but not innocent or foolishly trusting, Rue is kind, smart, and fast and easier to sympathize with than Katniss and Katniss’ affection for Rue is a big part of what makes Katniss leap off the page as a three-dimensional, compassionate protagonist.
Huckleberry Finn in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
Even Mark Twain understood that Huck was worthy of a book of his own. He’s way more lovable and interesting than spoiled, selfish Tom. Despite his unfortunate circumstances (poverty, an abusive parent) Huck has a strong sense of right and wrong and buckets of common sense, as evidenced by how he saves the Widow Douglas.
Magnus Bane in Clarissa Cray’s Mortal Instruments series
Clary and Jace, Jace and Clary–they’re so conflicted, so tortured, so in love, and part angel besides. Forgive me for preferring Magnus Bane. Who cares if he’s part demon? He’s one of the most entertaining characters in the series and is exceptional in that he’s a strong gay character written into a young adult series. Plus he’s got lots of crazy clothes, amazing magical powers, and even better one-liners – some serious, some sarcastic, but all entertaining.
Phoebe in The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Phoebe is Holden Caulfield’s kid sister. But more than that, she’s someone we can trust in a book where Holden encourages to trust no one. She’s a surprisingly compelling ten-year-old, a heady mixture of kid and grown-up that instinctively knows her big brother needs someone to take care of him.
Leah in the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer
Forget all the other vampires and werewolves, Leah is the only female werewolf, and one of Meyer’s strongest and most believable female characters. She has her heart broken and has to live with it daily, but manages to stick it out to support her family and friends to the best of her ability.
At the end of the series, her love triangle isn’t magically dissolved and the question of what being a female werewolf means for her future is far from resolved, either. Meyer’s written novellas like The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner about supporting characters in the past. Perhaps in the future she’d be up for letting us know in no uncertain terms what happens to Leah.
Chris Ciolli is a Barcelona-based writer and a translator. She’s an unashamed book and coffee addict that travels every chance she gets. She also spends a lot of time playing with kitchen tools and art supplies. Read about her travels at MidwesternerAbroad.com, and check out her art at TriflesandQuirks.com.