Side Character

Frodo is the main character in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. He is the one who carries the ring; he is the one that has to walk it to the most dangerous place on middle earth. This perilous journey is his to take. And most of what I see out there is messaging that says, “Don’t let anyone make you the side character in the story of your life. Be the main character.” And while I appreciate that sentiment and its meaning, I wonder if there’s another perspective. Frodo and his side character companion Sam are in one of the most challenging stretches of their journey. Things seem overwhelmingly dark and hopeless. And Sam asks Frodo if he thinks people will write about them. He imagines little kids saying, “Tell me again about Frodo, Dad. The bravest and most wonderful hobbit of them all.” But as he imagines this, Frodo says to him:

But you’ve left out one of the chief characters: Samwise, the stouthearted. “I want to hear more about Sam, Dad. Why didn’t they put in more of his talk, Dad? That’s what I like; it makes me laugh. And Frodo wouldn’t have got far without Sam, would he, Dad?”‘

Sam is a side character, yet his role is so incredibly significant that Frodo would never have been able to do what he did without him. We’re not going to be the main character of every story. Because sometimes, the very best thing for a situation is for us to give phenomenal support and encouragement to someone else.

I saw a TikTok recently (yes, a real TikTok, not even an Instagram reel made for people my age who aren’t cool enough for TikTok) where a man was talking about how he was living his life as if he were the main character. He and his wife would go on a trip, and she would handle getting the house ready, booking the flights, arranging for dog care, washing the laundry, all of it. And it would be the day of the trip; he’d pack his things and say, “Ok, I’m ready.” And he said he’d do the same thing even after they had kids. She’d get everything and the kids ready, and then he’d pack his bag and say, “ok, I’m ready.” He realized that being the main character wasn’t what marriage and relationships were about. Being a partner, a side character in the story of his life, was a much better aspiration.

Samwise Gamgee teaches us that being a side character and a partner isn’t consolation work because you don’t have what it takes to be a main character. Instead, side character work is the best because it insists that we do things together.

This week, find someone to be a side character for. Find someone who could use a boost, use someone in their corner, or lifting them up. And do that. Because when we neighbor like Samwise, when we commit ourselves to travel an impossible road for the sake of being present with other people, that’s what great stories are made of.