I have noticed that (in fiction) when the protagonists are three children, they normally follow these stereotypes: one is the hero (whose parent is famous), another is a nerd girl (best student in the class) and the last one is a freaky/weird kid (best friend of the hero).

For example:

  • In "Harry Potter": Harry is the hero (son of a famous wizard), Hermione is the nerd girl and Ron is the freaky kid.
  • In "Mucha Lucha": Rikochet is the hero (son of a famous wrestler called "Lone Star), Buena Girl is the nerd girl and The Flea is the weird kid.
  • In "Aaahh!!! Real Monsters": Ickis is the hero (son of Slickis, a famous scarer), Oblina is the nerd girl and Krumm is the weird boy.
  • In "Naruto Shippuden": Naruto is the hero (son of the 4th Kage), Sakura is the nerd girl and Sai is the weird boy.

I assume that this is not a coincidence. So, my questions is: which is the origin of this combination of these three stereotypes?

Is there an ancient and famous book which uses this combination (and that serves as inspiration for later works)?

3 Answers 3


I think the trope is less of a conscious choice than the result of a series of decisions by the author.

First, the author wants the protagonist to have broad appeal. Because he is intended to be a reader-substitute, he cannot be unusual in any way that is not unambiguously positive. He can be smarter, stronger, richer, or better-looking, on the theory that every reader wishes to himself be smarter, stronger, richer, and better-looking, but nothing controversial. He is unlikely to be a follower of an unpopular religion, a minority ethnic group, overweight, noticeably old or young, or odd in any other respect, unless the work is explicitly aimed at people who are themselves already in the same situation.

As a result, the hero tends to be rather bland. He's usually a white, heterosexual male in his twenties or thirties, handsome in an uninteresting way, unexceptional except in his heroic qualities.

So the author finds himself with a dull hero. What to do? I know: a sidekick! A sidekick can be eccentric and unattractive, he can be fat, skinny, cowardly, forgetful, superstitious, foolish, really anything, because he is mostly comic relief. The reader is not supposed to want to be him.

But now we have two males wandering the landscape, alone together. That will strike the more liberal readers as sexist and the more conservative ones as gay. So let's add a female.

But the female cannot be comic relief, that would be sexist or un-gallant. And making her a distaff mirror of the hero would be boring, redundant, and rather obvious.

Leaving us with two choices: either she is the Action Chick, kicking ass and taking names, or she is the Smart Chick, supplying solutions to unsolvable problems as and when the plot demands it.

My advice, for whatever it's worth, is just avoid this whole line of reasoning completely. Don't try to make your protagonists "likeable" or "relatable". Make them unique. Make her an old, fat, racist lesbian with one leg and anxiety issues. Make him a superstitious ailurophobe who exposes himself on the bus and never showers. Something different. Something interesting.


I am not sure there is a certain origin for this specific combination. All three characters draw from typical archetypes/stereotypes, and I guess that this specific composition feels the most balanced.

You can learn more about these typical archetypes in this very interesting undergraduate thesis about Harry Potter:

Sörensen, J. (2013). Archetypes and Stereotypes in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter Series. BA. University of Gothenburg.

The research can be applied to many of the trios you are referring to.


If you think about 'Star Wars' you could find a similar structure. In the first movie (1977) the hero is not the Jedi, but Jan Solo. With him, besides Obi-Wan Kenobi, who is old (but in any case he dies), you have two friends, a boy and a girl (later you will know that they are brother and sister). One time, many years ago, George Lucas talked about it during an interview. He explained that the story was taken from another very ancient book (I don't know what it is called). I think that you can find the interview.

  • The book you're talking about might be Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Commented May 30, 2016 at 16:07

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