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Little Ellen dies of the croup because her mother has neglected to get her shoe repaired.
June 5, 2011 1:32 PM   Subscribe

Many hate her, but she is alive in every fandom. She fences with Methos and Duncan MacLeod; she saves the Enterprise, the Voyager, or the fabric of time and space; she fights with Jim Ellison in defense of Cascade; she battles evil in Sunnydale alongside Buffy Sommers. 150 Years of Mary Sue, by Pat Pflieger, exploring vanity fanfic back to the 19th century. Bonus blackhole of content: TVTropes on Mary Sue.
posted by cortex (155 comments total) 46 users marked this as a favorite

 
I guess because it is cortex and this is interesting I cant say damn you for linking to TVtropes but


damn you
posted by The Whelk at 1:43 PM on June 5, 2011 [12 favorites]


In the future there will be no new fiction, only endless fanservice.
posted by Artw at 1:44 PM on June 5, 2011 [7 favorites]


Lemme guess? Female, Ph.D candidate in English, now a tenured professor. She spelled Buffy's last name wrong. That is just plain wrong that people even GRADUATE from college writing like that, much less get lifetime jobs teaching it.
posted by timsteil at 1:45 PM on June 5, 2011 [6 favorites]


Geez. A little warning on that circa 1988 webpage full o' tiny black text on bright pink, willya? My EYES...
posted by Thorzdad at 1:49 PM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


In the future there will be no new fiction, only endless fanservice.

Even in High School I thought like half of Romantic Lit was faddish wanking.

Or ..The Enlightenment! Everyone was a total Classics Fanboy.
posted by The Whelk at 1:51 PM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


She spelled Buffy's last name wrong. That is just plain wrong that people even GRADUATE from college writing like that, much less get lifetime jobs teaching it.

I agree. How am I supposed to take anything else she says seriously if she can't even spell Buffy's name right?
posted by nooneyouknow at 1:52 PM on June 5, 2011 [13 favorites]


and yes it's Summers and putting a "Basically" right there at the top gives me pause.

But a take-down of the Mary Sue as a trope is in interesting idea. It crosses into a lot of literature i:e Updike novels are largely fanfiction about his dick.
posted by The Whelk at 1:53 PM on June 5, 2011 [14 favorites]


There is some crosstalk here with McCloud in Understanding Comics, that a level of vauge abstraction is needed to allow the reader to inhabit the narrative. So the characters are done in simple lines but the world they're in is detailed: one set of lines to see another set to be, and this works well in stories of broad, general themes. Mythmaking, not reportage.

So a Mary Sue is the failed attempt then? A place holder character who puts the reader off?
posted by The Whelk at 2:02 PM on June 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


The Whelk: "Or ..The Enlightenment! Everyone was a total Classics Fanboy."

Even before that, Petrarch would sit around writing letters to Cicero and Virgil. And obviously the Divine Comedy is just a really long self-insertion Bible/Aeneid crossover fanfic.
posted by Copronymus at 2:04 PM on June 5, 2011 [9 favorites]


An essay on Mary Sue in the 19th century without mentioning Silly Novels By Lady Novelists?

Her eyes and her wit are both dazzling; her nose and her morals are alike free from any tendency to irregularity; she has a superb contralto and a superb intellect; she is perfectly well-dressed and perfectly religious; she dances like a sylph, and reads the Bible in the original tongues. [...] Rakish men either bite their lips in impotent confusion at her repartees, or are touched to penitence by her reproofs, which, on appropriate occasions, rise to a lofty strain of rhetoric; indeed, there is a general propensity in her to make speeches, and to rhapsodize at some length when she retires to her bedroom. In her recorded conversations she is amazingly eloquent, and in her unrecorded conversations, amazingly witty. She is understood to have a depth of insight that looks through and through the shallow theories of philosophers..

Pace George Eliot, the whole ridiculing of Mary Sues thing makes me uncomfortable. Applied to male heroes, this would wipe out D'Artagnan, the Count of Monte Cristo, Sherlock Holmes, Captain Kirk, Odysseus, and a lot of other characters I've found kind of fun.. is it only girls who have to squelch their imaginations about how awesome they could be? The ladies must be modest and humbled, or else despised!
posted by Erasmouse at 2:08 PM on June 5, 2011 [31 favorites]


Well ...yes.

If I was drunk enough I'd point at "The Trojan Women" and then run away.
posted by The Whelk at 2:09 PM on June 5, 2011


I read trashy novel when I fly... on a recent business trip, I read Patriot Games, and it was kind of awesome to see it was really about Mary Sue Clancy hanging out with Prince Charles and kicking some terrorist ass.
posted by COBRA! at 2:11 PM on June 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


Just read Fond Memories of Vagina, which is a neat takedown of the male version of the mary sue. It's definitely a less-ridiculed, although no less ridiculous, literary trope.
posted by restless_nomad at 2:12 PM on June 5, 2011 [10 favorites]


OH

my FAVORITE Silly Novel By Lady Novelist is

A LONG AND FATAL LOVE CHASE

and for HEAVY HANDED SOCIAL COMMENTARY


MUMMY!
posted by The Whelk at 2:12 PM on June 5, 2011


It's definitely a less-ridiculed, although no less ridiculous, literary trope.

There really needs to be a parody of LIBERTARIAN ENGINEER SAVES THE UNIVERSE pretty soon.

I thought the dork in The Stand was a bit that tho, he never got over being teased and low on the pole so he's fodder for the satan stand-in.
posted by The Whelk at 2:14 PM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Fascinating - in fact, if there was a subsite called MetaFilter Suggestions, where we request topics we're interested in, I'd make a post requesting we keep the Bluen updated with any and all "interesting research and studies of fan fiction culture", because I'm fascinated by and interested everything in everything having to do with fan fic, except actually reading it.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 2:17 PM on June 5, 2011 [11 favorites]


We'd be lost without her. Look at all she's done for us!
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:18 PM on June 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


Can the protagonist of an original work be a Mary Sue? Because, yeah, if so, Jack Ryan is a Mary Sue, as is Anita Blake and whatever David Duchovny's character in Californication is called and Sookie Stackhouse and probably James Bond and God knows what else. But I think that's casting our net a little too wide. If we were to count all the stories that are basically The Adventures of Me (If I Were Like This Total Badass and Everyone Wanted to Fuck Me) as Mary Sue stories, all we'd be left with is a bunch of emo self-loathing stuff (The Adventures of Me [If I Were a Sad Piece of Crap Who Couldn't Get Laid on a Dare and Spent All His Time Reminiscing about Cartoons from the 1980s]).
posted by kittens for breakfast at 2:19 PM on June 5, 2011 [13 favorites]


...is it only girls who have to squelch their imaginations about how awesome they could be?

Not at all! Introducing Marty Stu!
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:20 PM on June 5, 2011


Applied to male heroes, this would wipe out D'Artagnan, the Count of Monte Cristo, Sherlock Holmes, Captain Kirk, Odysseus, and a lot of other characters I've found kind of fun.. is it only girls who have to squelch their imaginations about how awesome they could be?

Certainly not. Look, if a character is rubbish, they're rubbish. That applies to everyone.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 2:20 PM on June 5, 2011


I think the trigger is The character has NO FLAWS and EVERYONE LOVES THEM NO MATTER WHAT and they NEVER FAIL.
posted by The Whelk at 2:24 PM on June 5, 2011 [13 favorites]


River Song?

*ducks*
posted by warbaby at 2:26 PM on June 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


Everyone in Star Trek is a Mary Sue. Except the poor fucking Red Shirts.
posted by briank at 2:28 PM on June 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


I don't get the hate. I love Mary A.S.E.A.l.A.P.J. Sue. She's so good at everything!
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 2:29 PM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


If they seriously don't pull out some thing where River Song secretly a double agent and this is all a con I will be kind of upset.

(But this is not the thread for who talking, that is down the page, thank you)

Of Marty Sues I have a fond hatred for it's the colonialist King White Guy. Everything just comes so easy and naturally and you know just how to fix our lazy and primitive ways jake sull-eeeeeeee
posted by The Whelk at 2:30 PM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


What is that opposite of a Mary Sue, where the main character is a depressed stand in for the author. Achewood's Roast Beef might be an example.

(And tvtropes links should come with a warning... "Clicking this link will lead to you wasting the rest of your day).
posted by drezdn at 2:31 PM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


If Roast Beef is anything he is a restrained look at reality.


Also Chris has said his author stand in is Theodor.
posted by The Whelk at 2:34 PM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


In the future there will be no new fiction, only endless fanservice.

Artw raised his lightsaber in one hand and his wand in the other, pointing them both towards the Vampire King. His massive bosom heaved as he told the King....
posted by furiousxgeorge at 2:34 PM on June 5, 2011 [9 favorites]


To me, there are two kinds of Mary Sues: the kind that appear in original fiction and the kind that appear in fan fiction. They're mostly similar, in that they are characters who are perfect (their flaws are inconsequential if they exist) at the expense of being interesting. That's why Sherlock Holmes isn't one and Bella and Edward both are. The difference is that the kind that appear in fan fiction also have a distorting effect on the pre-existing world, so that the original characters become fawning idiots overcome with lust or jealousy, because their actual interests and personalities are nothing next to the author's need to establish Mary's supremacy in the narrative.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 2:38 PM on June 5, 2011 [21 favorites]


Can the protagonist of an original work be a Mary Sue?

Oh heck yeah. The impressive thing is just that it got published. Google twilight and mary sue for about a bazillion hits, including for example this quickie analysis of Twilight in the context of Pflieger's essay.
posted by cortex at 2:40 PM on June 5, 2011


You could say a successful Mary Sue is a Mary Sue who is interesting despite being basically perfect.
posted by The Whelk at 2:42 PM on June 5, 2011


also yes Cortex's most recent link on the difference between Mary Sue/Self-Insertion
posted by The Whelk at 2:43 PM on June 5, 2011


Although in some cases you can get the Marty Sue self-inserting the Mary HEY YO.


no seriously Heinlein did that like all the time
posted by The Whelk at 2:44 PM on June 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


*douses The Whelk with a bucket of icewater*
posted by loquacious at 2:47 PM on June 5, 2011 [5 favorites]


The often-put-forward-as-the-very-first English novel Pamela revolves around a Mary Sue.

In fact, the character should be called a Pamela rather than a Mary Sue, because a character embodying all positive characteristics is precisely what the originator and popularizer of the name Pamela had in mind:

Sir Philip Sidney invented the name Pamela for a pivotal character in his epic prose work, The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia, written in the late 16th century and published posthumously. It is widely thought that Sidney intended the name to mean "all sweetness" having in mind the Greek words pan ("all") and meli ("honey").[3][2]

The Samuel Richardson novel Pamela in 1740 or 1741 inaugurated the use of Pamela as a given name but it was not in common usage until the 20th century.[2]

posted by jamjam at 2:48 PM on June 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


Can the protagonist of an original work be a Mary Sue?

Harry Potter always struck me as a Marty Stu, cleverly disguised by an impossibly oppressive upbringing. He's the amazing boy with countless informed attributes, who succeeds in everything he does, and to whom ALL of the interesting things happen. I hate him.
posted by ShutterBun at 2:51 PM on June 5, 2011 [7 favorites]


I was actually talking to a friend recently ...about Twilight and Fan Fiction and how so many of these stand-ins are "clumsy"...cause it's the only flaw you can give them that doesn't detract from how WONDERFUL they are.

It's like the garlic salt of flaws.
posted by The Whelk at 2:51 PM on June 5, 2011 [10 favorites]


I eventually read the Harry Potter books and came away with the feeling that Ron and Hermione where the actual protagonists but they had to drag around the mopey Golden Boy and doing all the hard work.
posted by The Whelk at 2:52 PM on June 5, 2011 [17 favorites]


The Mary Sue Litmus Test.

(Fun fact--Paula Smith was one of my fannish mentors, before the concept of "fannish mentor" disappeared, due mostly to the advent of the internet. Oh, internet fandom, when people can say things like "I'm a fannish dinosaur--I've been in fandom since 2000!")
posted by tzikeh at 2:56 PM on June 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Also, side note: How much of the Mary Sueism in fanfiction are readers/viewers trying to fix what they thought of as flaws or mistakes or loose ends in a story? It's an interesting level of involvement and gets into the idea of what do people want vs. what they enjoy and pandering.
posted by The Whelk at 2:56 PM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Harry Potter always struck me as a Marty Stu, cleverly disguised by an impossibly oppressive upbringing. He's the amazing boy with countless informed attributes, who succeeds in everything he does, and to whom ALL of the interesting things happen. I hate him.

Then Luke Skywalker would count too.
posted by Artw at 2:56 PM on June 5, 2011


This is one of the reasons I'm a big fan of a certain show about equine adventures in camaraderie. How often do you get a full cast of female characters who are all heroic in some ways but can also be reduced into a curled up ball of fear and anxiety even while working in their own areas of expertise?
posted by furiousxgeorge at 2:58 PM on June 5, 2011 [10 favorites]


Luke Skywalker totally counts if you don't think chronic, unrelenting whining is a flaw.
posted by The Whelk at 2:59 PM on June 5, 2011 [11 favorites]


(Training was so hard! It took like a whole day!)
posted by The Whelk at 3:00 PM on June 5, 2011 [7 favorites]


There really needs to be a parody of LIBERTARIAN ENGINEER SAVES THE UNIVERSE pretty soon.

I think you already have a title, there.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 3:01 PM on June 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


I dunno. Luke played a lot of second fiddle to Han, got his ass kicked by the bad guy, and was very close to turning to evil or dying for what he believed in if said bad guy didn't save his ass. He was way more complex than Harry even if he wasn't really flawed.

I think his story was about overcoming his flaws though, which was an impatience and immaturity that actually led to serious consequences for him. (lost a hand, got his ass kicked, couldn't help Han)
posted by furiousxgeorge at 3:03 PM on June 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


LIBERTARIAN ENGINEER SAVES SUNNYDALE!
LIBERTARIAN ENGINEER SAVES THE AMERICAN RAILROAD!
LIBERTARIAN ENGINEER SHOWS SUPERMAN HOW IT'S DONE!
LIBERTARIAN ENGINEER HARNESSES THE POWER OF GLOBAL WARMING FOR FREE ENERGY!
LIBERTARIAN ENGINEER TERRAFORMS MARS!

Wow. Those ideas practically write themselves.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 3:05 PM on June 5, 2011 [8 favorites]


Can the protagonist of an original work be a Mary Sue?

I thought Clive Cussler's Dirk Pitt was an obvious one until he wrote himself, Clive Cussler, into one of the books.

It was like watching some guy graduate from subtle rubbing to just whipping it out and masturbating in public.
posted by codswallop at 3:05 PM on June 5, 2011 [9 favorites]


>Look, if a character is rubbish, they're rubbish. That applies to everyone.

Sure.. but I guess I don't see the level of pelting-in-the-stocks for male characters who are too amazing (see: Dr Who vs River Song). And it's so often a stick to beat young authors!

>You could say a successful Mary Sue is a Mary Sue who is interesting despite being basically perfect.

Flaws should be sexy, cute, and/or dangerous (melancholy, clumsiness, high temper.. ). Come to think of it, a good flaw is one that's more forgivable in yourself than in others-- when I'M moody and depressed I'm deep and interesting; when YOU are moody and depressed you're annoying and self-indulgent. When I bump into someone I'm distracted by the complexity of my thoughts, when someone bumps into me they're an oaf. Bad flaws: gaucherie, cowardice, tedium. Nobody congratulates themselves on how tedious they are.
posted by Erasmouse at 3:06 PM on June 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Luke Skywalker has at least 2 things going for him in the non-Stu column:

1. He actually takes time to train and improve his talents
2. Occasionally fails

Other than that, he's definitely got a lot of Stu-ism going on, particularly in Episode IV.

Anakin (in Episode 1) is a lot more Stu-ish, though obviously his eventual turn to Vader would overrule that.
posted by ShutterBun at 3:06 PM on June 5, 2011



Wow. Those ideas practically write themselves.


You're forgetting the harem of ex-prostitutes.

They always have a harem of ex-prostitutes.
posted by The Whelk at 3:07 PM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Harry Potter is too flawed to be a Gary Stu. He's a lazy student at best, angry with his lot in life (especially in book 5), and often gets in way over his head. Besides, Rowling has stated a few times that if any character is modeled after herself its Hermione, who she made into an obnoxious know-it-all.
posted by Ber at 3:08 PM on June 5, 2011 [6 favorites]


Ma and Pa Engineer are so proud of their little man, they look the other way about the ex-prostitutes.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 3:08 PM on June 5, 2011


Another thing for Luke was that his power wasn't really respected. He could barely use it for most of the movies and his best friend didn't even believe it existed. He was mostly a regular Joe with a destiny.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 3:10 PM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Of course, Ol' Libbo's sidekick is an ex-prostitute who does all the sweaty, difficult, and dangerous stuff; he just draws up the plans and hands 'em to the ex-prostitute sidekick and the team of horny dwarves he liberated from their own desire to own the means of production.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 3:11 PM on June 5, 2011


Another thing for Luke was that his power wasn't really respected.
Totally. Everyone laughs at the idea that he's a Jedi. It'd be like somebody walking into a Mafia don's house and claiming to be a samurai.
And then kicking all of their asses.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 3:13 PM on June 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


often gets in way over his head.

Still, I don't remember him ever really failing at anything.
posted by ShutterBun at 3:14 PM on June 5, 2011


God I hate Destinies - there's a lazy ass handwave to kick of plots and resolve everything in them right there.
posted by Artw at 3:17 PM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Still, I don't remember him ever really failing at anything.
Doesn't he spend like a whole book failing in his secret training with Snape?
posted by Mister Moofoo at 3:20 PM on June 5, 2011


River Song?

*ducks*



Yeah, she's a Mary. A Mary Awesomesauce.
posted by Windigo at 3:20 PM on June 5, 2011 [7 favorites]


is it only girls who have to squelch their imaginations about how awesome they could be?

Not at all. I think there's a big difference between the characters you mentioned -- ones like Sherlock Holmes, say -- who are deeply flawed geniuses and the ones who are just geniuses. Genre conventions also come into play: Miss Marple is no less of a mystery-solving powerhouse than Sherlock Holmes, not really.

The absolute worst Mary Sue characters ever are Rayford Steele and Buck Cameron, the two protagonists of the Left Behind novels. It's painful, and reading even a few chapters feels like an uncomfortable trip inside the authors' un-self-aware fantasies than an actual story. That, I think, is what makes the difference between a Mary Sue and a heroic character. Do I, when reading the book, get te uncomfortable sense that the author is more interested in acting out a fantasy than telling an interesting story?

Someone above mentioned Jack Ryan (and Mr. Clark?) from Tom Clancy's novels. Most Heinlein characters, too.
posted by verb at 3:22 PM on June 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


Still, I don't remember him ever really failing at anything.

He is specifically and directly responsible for the death of his uncle via his impulsive behavior and mistrust of Snape.

Granted, the books are about 90% "Harry blows off his classes and ignores his supersecret magical training" followed by 10% "Harry wins cause Dumbledore gave him the tools to do so." I think he gets pretty close to a Marty, but winds up being a lazy, lucky slacker who is flawed.
posted by billybunny at 3:22 PM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


HP Lovecraft would have to be the number one writer of anti-sues of all time: every protagonist basically a stand in for himself and every one of them doomed by some trait he values.
posted by Artw at 3:22 PM on June 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


LIBERTARIAN ENGINEER SHOWS SUPERMAN HOW IT'S DONE!

Tweak this into "Ron Swanson Fixes [Franchise Name]" and I think you'd really, really have something. Just grumpy, libertarian Ron chewing up and spitting out one Gordian knot after another with ascerbic, unforgiving deconstructions of everything wrong with everybody, after which he would eat a steak at a table for one.

It could be done as one-pagers. It would run in McSweeneys, and it'd be the thing that makes you say "man, I get tired of McSweeneys but this, I gotta admit..."

Perhaps I will write a short story about a brilliant, handsome half-elf internet person named Yeshua M'lard who writes those stories to unanimous critical acclaim before dyng bravely to save the world from some bullshit or other.
posted by cortex at 3:24 PM on June 5, 2011 [10 favorites]


Harry Potter failed at things. I don't really remember the details of Harry Potter, but he fell for that vision about Arthur Weasley being in danger that Voldemort planted in his brain and ended up leading the Death Eaters to the prophecy they wanted AND Sirius to his death (right?). Which was all because he couldn't seem to learn any of that stuff Snape was trying to teach him. If I recall correctly, he couldn't save Buckbeak in the third book. He couldn't save Dumbledore either. Again, it's been awhile, but I have the impression he failed at a good few important things, and many things that he doesn't really care about (school, etc.). I'm not sure where the impression that he's a Gary Sue comes from, honestly. Yes, a suspiciously high number of interesting things happen to him: that's why the books are called "Harry Potter and".

Can't people just say they don't like him?
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 3:26 PM on June 5, 2011


River Song?

*ducks*


I've always thought that both Rose and Amy were closer to Mary Sues--Amy, particularly. Being a fiery redhead is a dead giveaway (but the whole normal-girl elevated thing is another bright, blinking sign).

Back when I used to write X-files fanfic at 13 or so, the existence of a brilliant character with the same first name as me (who was Mulder's college ex!) made writing stealth Mary Sues really easy.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:28 PM on June 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


HP Lovecraft would have to be the number one writer of anti-sues of all time: every protagonist basically a stand in for himself and every one of them doomed by some trait he values.

And actually I think you could summarize everything wrong with Derleth's extentions to the mythos as them all being Lovecraft stories but starring Mary Sues and set in a universe that can support Mary Sues.
posted by Artw at 3:30 PM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


cortex, that's a story about a guy who writes stories about a guy who invades other people's stories?
Jeez. That's... nah, I'm not gonna say it.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 3:30 PM on June 5, 2011


codswallop: "I thought Clive Cussler's Dirk Pitt was an obvious one until he wrote himself, Clive Cussler, into one of the books."

One? I've read maybe four of them (What?! Shut up! Leave me alone!) and seem to recall him popping up in all of them.

Also, in Inca Gold he describes one of the love interests as having an hour-glass figure "with an extra twenty minutes added for good measure." I've always been curious about how those minutes were distributed.
posted by brundlefly at 3:30 PM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, Harry was so wrong about Snape. He was also oblivious to Quirrell's evilness, and to every secret everyone was ever hiding, really.

All the same, billybunny, I certainly wouldn't say he was specifically and directly the cause of Sirius's (who is his godfather btw) death. I would put him well behind Bellatrix, who was actually trying to kill him when she fired the spell that made him stumble behind that veil of death or whatever, not to mention Sirius himself for not staying home as he knew very well he was supposed to do.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 3:32 PM on June 5, 2011


No mention of Dan Brown? Type Dan Brown Gary Stu into a Google search and you'll get 300,000+ results. But still, Anita Blake is the queen of Mary Sues.
posted by Ber at 3:33 PM on June 5, 2011


I thought Clive Cussler's Dirk Pitt was an obvious one until he wrote himself, Clive Cussler, into one of the books.

It was like watching some guy graduate from subtle rubbing to just whipping it out and masturbating in public.


This is how I felt about the Dark Tower series when Stephen King appeared in his own story. Going back and reading The Gunslinger, which was amazingly spare and almost avant-garde, and then seeing how it morphed into a Reading-Rainbow-adventure-through-the-Stephen-King-Universe was depressing.

And Thirty Sue Pileup is the name of my new band.
posted by Existential Dread at 3:37 PM on June 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


In indefensible defense of King, most Mary Sues that get maimed and nearly killed by a stupid chance event in the story aren't basing that on actually getting mained and nearly killed by a stupid chance event in reality.
posted by cortex at 3:40 PM on June 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


Sure.. but I guess I don't see the level of pelting-in-the-stocks for male characters who are too amazing (see: Dr Who vs River Song). And it's so often a stick to beat young authors!

Well, I think part of that is because the Mary Sue is tied to fan fiction, which is a genre written and read largely by women; there are definitely Mary Sues in original works, but Mary Sues are more obvious and tend to be more irritating in fan fiction b/c the whole point of writing such expanding and playing around in this particular fictional world. Inserting an original character in such a way that they don't strain the bonds of the world is always difficult, and it's a particularly easy to fail by making the character an obvious stand-in for the author. It's irritating in the same way as the bossy kid who always insists that he be Batman and you be Robin when you play superheros when you're little is irritating --- their need to star usurps your own enjoyment. I think that's what people don't like about them, more than their perfection; that's why I would never describe Holmes as a Sue despite his amazing ability to disguise himself as a gypsy fortune teller and knock down prize-fighters with one bare-knuckled blow. If, on the other hand, Doyle had written a story in which Watson were to outwit Moriarty using his knowledge of fairy lore and rescue Holmes from his lair, that'd be turning Watson into a Sue, breaking the rules of the fictional world in order to give an author-like character a star turn.

There's a separate problem that every author of a series with a heroic protagonist faces --- call it the McClane connundrum --- where each successive story has to top the previous one, and in the process the hero morph from ordinary guy inventively responding to extraordinary situation to Superman on Crack, but that's not the same as Sue-dom.
posted by Diablevert at 3:41 PM on June 5, 2011 [5 favorites]


I was more offended by how he went back in time and maimed 'Salem's Lot.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 3:42 PM on June 5, 2011


Jojo, sister of the individual posting her stories and at age 7 one of the youngest writers in X-Files fandom, marries Scully to Mulder, makes them the parents of twins, and kills off the female twin, resurrecting her, however, before Mulder and Scully go to Disney World.

That makes more sense than what actually happens in the series.
posted by betweenthebars at 3:44 PM on June 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


Even before that, Petrarch would sit around writing letters to Cicero and Virgil. And obviously the Divine Comedy is just a really long self-insertion Bible/Aeneid crossover fanfic.

I joke about this, but after studying Dante I'm not sure it's really a joke. In real life, Beatrice ignored and mocked Dante. He once fainted when he saw her. In the Divine Comedy he not only has his enemies in Hell but poets he admires praising people he likes in Purgatory. I think he even puts his family members in Heaven.
The imagination is powerful but the Mary Sueness is pretty astounding. You can read The Vita Nuova for his version of 'emo teen writes endless poetry about girls who ignore him'.

I don't mind an ultra-confident protagonist or two. Ernest Becker talks about 'immortality icons', who we project our longing for immortality on. In an unrelated note, we all love Batman and Doctor Who.

As for bad Marty Stues, John Ringo has the 'Ghost' books. Stephen King is interesting, because he writes a version of himself into each book but they can't usually be as successful as he is IRL without breaking the plot.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 3:46 PM on June 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


If you don't beat young authors with sticks how will they learn?
posted by Artw at 3:57 PM on June 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


A Mary Sue (male or female, fanfic or original work) is not just a character who is awesome and badass. Lots of characters in fiction are awesome and badass, because awesome, badass characters are often fun to write and read about.

A true Mary Sue:

1) Should make you at least strongly suspect that this is a person who the author daydreams about being.

2) Is perfect to the point of having either:
a) No discernable flaws at all
b) Only "flaws" which are actually traits ("I am too generous and forgiving!")
c) A single, minor and inconsequential flaw ("clumsy") which is trumped up in the narrative as if it were actually a major obstacle to overcome ("Once again I cursed my clumsiness!") although it never seems to cause any serious difficulties

3) Is talented to the point of being not just the best person in the world at their chosen profession, whatever it may be, but also the best person in the world at any other skill they may ever happen to seriously undertake (up to a few months of training is sometimes allowed before they become the best in the world at a new skill.)

4) Is deeply loved by:
a) Not just the major character of the opposite (or appropriate) gender, but ANY AND ALL non-evil characters of the opposite (or appropriate) gender.
b) (Optional:) Often, also at least one character of the same (or otherwise inappropriate) gender, and/or by the main villain, either in a twisted way or in a way that redeems the villain at the end.

5) Is only disliked by:
a) Characters who are temporarily jealous of the Mary Sue's perfection but are eventually brought around to love them, or
b) Characters who are utterly, contemptibly, inarguably, irredeemably EVIL to the point that they also probably hate puppies and ice cream.
posted by kyrademon at 3:59 PM on June 5, 2011 [8 favorites]


(2b should read "only flaws which are actually POSITIVE traits)
posted by kyrademon at 4:00 PM on June 5, 2011


Writers writing about characters who are also writers should be punishable by a fine or time in the county jail.
posted by maxwelton at 4:13 PM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


A true Mary Sue:

kyrademon has just described Sarah Palin amirite
posted by dhartung at 4:14 PM on June 5, 2011 [3 favorites]


He is specifically and directly responsible for the death of his uncle via his impulsive behavior and mistrust of Snape

Disclaimer: I've only seen the first 5 movies, and read none of the books. It's possible that the creators eventually realized that it would be a lot more interesting / necessary to give Harry something to feel guilty about.

From everything I've seen, though, he's pure "chosen one, can do no wrong, succeeds wildly at everything on (more or less) the first try, and falls ass-backwards into utter victory because it's in the script."

As TVTropes would point out, YMMV.
posted by ShutterBun at 4:16 PM on June 5, 2011


Kay Scarpetta from Patricia Cornwell's thrillers is a classic Mary Sue: A doctor with a law degree, who is fabulously wealthy through clever investing, and a fabulous chef to boot.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 4:20 PM on June 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


Mary Poppins, "Practically perfect in every way", is actually not a Mary Sue.
posted by Artw at 4:28 PM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't really have anything to add except that the name of my Rock Band 3 band is Mary Sue and the Self Insertions.
posted by Strange Interlude at 4:31 PM on June 5, 2011 [16 favorites]


I think JK Rowling has said that Hermoine is her self-insert character, not Harry Potter. Harry isn't that likeable, and though he's powerful and the Chosen One he's also a bit of a jerk, a bit of an asshole jock, and his parents are dead. Hermoine and Ron seem much more well-balanced. Harry has SOME Mary Sue traits, but that's because he's a Chosen One. It comes with the territory.

My favorite 'fanfiction with a budget' is Torchwood. Around the time Captain Jack snogs SPOILERS








Spike from Buffy
/SPOILERS

any doubts are gone.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 4:37 PM on June 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


[The light becomes] a slim, strongly-built young man, with warm eyes, a gentle smile, and a braid of hair falling over one shoulder. ... 'I'm not sure what I'm doing here,' he admits, engagingly. 'I just felt... I felt as if someone needed me, very much. I couldn't stay away.'
                    %%%%%%
                   %%%% = =
                   %%C    >
                    _)' _( .' ,
                 __/ |_/\   " *. o
                /` \_\ \/     %`= '_  .
               /  )   \/|      .^',*. ,
              /' /-   o/       - " % '_
             /\_/     <       = , ^ ~ .
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:39 PM on June 5, 2011 [5 favorites]


Amanda from Highlander is not a Mary Sue. McCloud actually kind of hates her. Well he doesn't hate her, but he certainly addresses her flaws. Methos and her definitely don't see eye to eye. And she's not even that good with a sword. The only thing shes good at is deception and fucking up Macs lovelife. And yes I did just sign in in my phone to post this. I didn't watch the entire highlander tv series on DVD For nothing.
posted by nathancaswell at 4:52 PM on June 5, 2011 [4 favorites]


I was more offended by how he went back in time and maimed 'Salem's Lot.

What's this? I quit after the book with the train that was so annoying it was a catchphrase in the book that the train was annoying. Or the raccoon thing was annoying instead of the train, I don't remember.
posted by Bookhouse at 5:10 PM on June 5, 2011




I was more offended by how he went back in time and maimed 'Salem's Lot.

What's this? I quit after the book with the train that was so annoying it was a catchphrase in the book that the train was annoying. Or the raccoon thing was annoying instead of the train, I don't remember.



Hey! Leave Oy and Blaine the Mono alone! Yes, the self-insert was annoying. Yes, the Harry Potter reference was cringe-worthy. But Oy is cute, and Blaine was both awesome and creepy.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 5:12 PM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't follow fan fiction myself, but I would be curious enough to take a glimpse into the alternate universe where Genvieve Bujold is the Captain of the Starfleet vessel USS Voyager.
posted by ovvl at 5:16 PM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]




I don't follow fan fiction myself, but I would be curious enough to take a glimpse into the alternate universe where Genvieve Bujold is the Captain of the Starfleet vessel USS Voyager.


That reminds me of one of the Star Trek novels written by William Shatner that manages to turn Captain Kirk from a Grade A sexy badass into a Mary Sue. He hooks up with Mirror Universe Janeway, beats Worf in wrestling, out-logics a Vulcan, and does heaps of other improbable things.

It was really annoying, since Kirk is already awesome and having him make other characters less awesome was lame.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 5:27 PM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Y'know -- I'd like to see a character that's a complete Mary Sue, but the only thing is the One Minor Flaw is that s/he's constantly shitting their pants. But otherwise, every other element of the trope remains.
posted by Rev. Syung Myung Me at 5:44 PM on June 5, 2011 [8 favorites]


It was really annoying, since Kirk is already awesome and having him make other characters less awesome was lame.

A good description, as I understand it, of how Shatner treated the other Star Trek actors IRL.
posted by Celsius1414 at 6:23 PM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


b) Only "flaws" which are actually traits ("I am too generous and forgiving!")

Which is why I don't really think Sherlock Holmes (mentioned somewhere above) is a Mary Sue (although Kirk might be). Holmes isn't really loved by anybody and he's addicted to cocaine.

Also, I think the Red/Green/Blue Mars trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson is kind of an answer to, albeit not a parody of, LIBERTARIAN ENGINEER SAVES THE UNIVERSE. I've only read the first book, but it shows a lot more complex operation of a planet colonization than just "where do we get water WHAAA? FROM SAND? thanks, Mr Wizard!!!". It's like political science fiction (that's [[political science] fiction] not [political [science fiction]]).
posted by DU at 6:25 PM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Everyone in Star Trek is a Mary Sue. Except the poor fucking Red Shirts.

We always called them Franklins, after one got knocked off in "Descent Part 1" and Riker whispered in Picard's ear, "Franklin's dead, sir."

Franklin is dead; long live Franklin.
posted by Beardman at 6:38 PM on June 5, 2011 [6 favorites]


Holmes isn't really loved by anybody ...well maybe Watson. Nudge nudge.
posted by emjaybee at 6:38 PM on June 5, 2011


Sherlock Ho Yay?
posted by ShutterBun at 6:47 PM on June 5, 2011


I think to certain geeks the Sherlock Holmes/Doctor House/Walter Bishop type of eccentric genius is a Mary Sue. I might be an asshole/completely scatterbrained but actually I'm a genius!
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 6:49 PM on June 5, 2011


I'd like to see a character that's a complete Mary Sue, but the only thing is the One Minor Flaw is that s/he's constantly shitting their pants.

jhonen vasquez version of this idea.
posted by ServSci at 7:23 PM on June 5, 2011


What's this? I quit after the book with the train that was so annoying it was a catchphrase in the book that the train was annoying. Or the raccoon thing was annoying instead of the train, I don't remember.

Somewhere in the last few books King brings in Father Callahan from 'Salem's Lot. To me, this was tantamount to George Lucas retroactively CGIing a visible boner onto Chewbacca in Return of the Jedi or whatever it is that always makes people so mad about Lucas tinkering with his old movies. Callahan is given a chilling exit in the original novel, and it's not that leads logically to him crossing paths with the "Everything's Eventual" dudes and Roland and, you know, all that. King crosses the streams, and it diminishes the earlier (and better) work just as surely as it would diminish Close Encounters if Spielberg had decided to have Dreyfus's character return to earth in the last ten minutes of Jurassic Park 2. Really, a lot of things pissed me off about the Dark Tower series from Wizard and Glass onward, but it's not until toward the bitter end that he starts working backwards and also screwing up books he actually did right the first time.

This has even less to do with the topic at hand than does the above, so I am making it very very tiny but I feel it needs to be said, so I am saying it. Tinily. In "The Body," King's narrator includes a story that he (the narrator) wrote as a teenager, and notes that he was tempted to edit it and rework some of the clunkier passages, etc., but didn't because he felt it would be disrespectful to the original author -- himself, but long enough ago that it's as if they were different people. That resonated with me when I first read it, and I have always been hesitant to change trunk stories too much for that very reason. So it's funny to me that King went on to show so few reservations about altering his own work later on, and just about never for the better...I can't imagine that anyone seriously thinks that the monstrously bloated "uncut" The Stand is a better novel than the originally published version, for instance. Anyhow, cool story, bro; I know, I know.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:49 PM on June 5, 2011 [5 favorites]


Wow, a whole thread without Remo Williams.
posted by underflow at 8:05 PM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


To me, this was tantamount to George Lucas retroactively CGIing a visible boner onto Chewbacca in Return of the Jedi

Someone please write a story that recaps the original Star Wars trilogy from the perspective of Chewie's Boner. Title the story "Chewie's Boner".
posted by cortex at 8:08 PM on June 5, 2011 [2 favorites]


kittens for breakfast, I read Salem's Lot after reading that Dark Tower book but it was still pretty annoying. he also didn't put in the fanservice I wanted. No Christine showing up to give Roland a ride. No John Smith, Carrie, and Firestarter psychic super-team!
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 8:26 PM on June 5, 2011


I can't imagine that anyone seriously thinks that the monstrously bloated "uncut" The Stand is a better novel than the originally published version, for instance. Anyhow, cool story, bro; I know, I know.

I haven't read the original but I still devoured the uncut Stand. And even The Body is kinda Mary Sueish. It's explicitly Secret Origins: Stephen King!
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 8:27 PM on June 5, 2011


Callahan is given a chilling exit in the original novel

He certainly is, and not one I'd like to see messed with. Thanks for confirming my plans to never finish the Dark Towers books. King (and I say this as someone who can spot 13 King books on his bookshelves from where he is sitting now) has gone into the permanent had-it/lost-it pile for me. /derail
posted by Bookhouse at 8:27 PM on June 5, 2011


@Rev Syung: "I'd like to see a character that's a complete Mary Sue, but the only thing is the One Minor Flaw is that s/he's constantly shitting their pants. But otherwise, every other element of the trope remains."

You owe me a new keyboard after that splort.

Seriously, though, more interesting article than I expected. Ayla from Clan of the Cave Bear is a pretty dire Mary Sue. But Dan Brown's protagonists are the ones that make me feel uncomfortably like the author is living out a masturbatory fantasy through his writing and feels deeply, deeply insecure about himself.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:30 PM on June 5, 2011


No Christine showing up to give Roland a ride.

Okay, that...would've been pretty cool, actually.

He certainly is, and not one I'd like to see messed with. Thanks for confirming my plans to never finish the Dark Towers books. King (and I say this as someone who can spot 13 King books on his bookshelves from where he is sitting now) has gone into the permanent had-it/lost-it pile for me. /derail

I'd very much recommend much of his work since The Dark Tower wrapped -- Under the Dome is good stuff (and surprisingly sleek stuff, for a 1000-page novel), and a couple of the novellas in Full Dark, No Stars are really great (although I think the general consensus is that the novella is King's best form, so that's probably no real surprise).
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:47 PM on June 5, 2011


But Dan Brown's protagonists are the ones that make me feel uncomfortably like the author is living out a masturbatory fantasy through his writing and feels deeply, deeply insecure about himself.

What's-his-face Bloomkvist from the dragon tattoo bestsellers is a huge one.

Also, I've been reading Dorothy Sayers lately, and for me that's hands down the most epic actual-author Mary Sue I've ever witnessed. In one of the books her main detective attends a murder trial and falls in love with the criminal in the dock as first sight, dedicating himself to saving her neck from the gallows.

The defendant, a murder mystery writer, is accused of having done in her ex-lover; the account of their relationship and break-up bears a number of striking resemblances to one of Sayer's own relationships.

Needless to say, the detective springs the scribe, and the couple then spend the next three books arguing, with the mystery writer resisting the advances of her (wealthy, titled, handsome, charming, brilliant) suitor for fear he doesn't love her true self but rather the image of himself as knight errant and that any relationship between them cannot be one of mutual respect between equals what with his having saved her life and all, and the strength of her feminism will simply not allow her to commence a love affair in moral debt to the other party...for realsies. Three books of this. If the murder plots weaving around this folderol weren't as tricksy as they are you'd be tempted to avert your eyes just from pure embarrassment on Sayer's behalf.
posted by Diablevert at 8:53 PM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


Someone please write a story that recaps the original Star Wars trilogy from the perspective of Chewie's Boner. Title the story "Chewie's Boner".

***

"Chewie's Boner"
By Ormond Sacker!
(SW, Original Character, Viewpoint, Het, Slash, M/M, Hurt/comfort)

This story is copyright by me, June 2011. Constructive feedback welcome! *NO FLAMES!!*


Chapter 1:
"A Very Interesting Day"

Huwwaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrr! Hurf! Hurf! Eruurrrghh!!!...
posted by ormondsacker at 8:58 PM on June 5, 2011 [16 favorites]


So, there's an equivalent for males in books and films, right? The kind of macho tough guy personified by Schwartzenegger? Actually I think he's the best choice for this category: bland good looks, huge muscles, rather limited acting range, scary looking, but for all that somehow very appealing and very watchable. Is it because he's kind of bland?

As for books, I think Lee Child has perfected this with the Jack Reacher series. Reacher is a cypher, a totally rootless man and seemingly unfazed by anything, ready to dole out ruthless violence if needed, but also smarter than everyone else and a master detective as well. He's also bland to a fault but I guess that's what the reader can latch onto. Female readers as well--my wife is a Jack Reacher fan as well.
posted by zardoz at 9:33 PM on June 5, 2011


Ormond, I demand that you crosspost that to the foreskin thread.
posted by fleetmouse at 9:59 PM on June 5, 2011


Over 100 comments and noone's mentioned The Name Of The Wind yet?
posted by aspo at 10:25 PM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


So, there's an equivalent for males in books and films, right?

Yes.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 10:31 PM on June 5, 2011


Also, I've been reading Dorothy Sayers lately, and for me that's hands down the most epic actual-author Mary Sue I've ever witnessed.

::ahem::

I have a feeling Sayers knew what she was doing there. Not that Harriet Vane isn't Mary Sue through and through, but that Sayers did it on purpose, for fun. Vane not only provided the wish-fulfillment that made up for the problems Sayers had in her own love-life, she gave Sayers a way to comment on the structure of detective novels from within them. The bit in Busman's Honeymoon where Vane and Wimsey talk about how it doesn't matter what the motive is if there's no means (and that Vane constructs her narratives means-first) is a great clue to look again at the setting and timing of the murder if you want to figure it out before Wimsey does.

Although the wedding night does make me feel a bit sorry for Sayers. It just seems like her idea of wish-fulfilment sex isn't for anything more than a moderately attractive lover who actually attends to her needs.

Sayers was also heavily involved in a Sherlock Holmes fan club that came up with stories for in-between events that would explain the complete lack of continuity in the stories. I bet she'd have loved fan-fiction.
posted by harriet vane at 12:13 AM on June 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


Argh, edit-window! My kingdom for an edit-window!

Sayers also intended to have Wimsey win over Vane in the very next book then stop the series, possibly by having him retire or get killed off. But when she went to write it, both Vane and Wimsey were too two-dimensional to really get a decent love plot going. So she wrote another one with just Wimsey to fill her contract, another one to get him to grow up, one with both of them exploring why they don't get along, and then finally let them sort themselves out. Vane grows a bit as a character as she goes along, but Wimsey grows more I think. And those books are the best in the series, adding subtle characterisation to the interesting puzzles.
posted by harriet vane at 12:19 AM on June 6, 2011


The absolute worst Mary Sue characters ever are Rayford Steele and Buck Cameron, the two protagonists of the Left Behind novels.

OH GOD. Yes, the best, crowning moment of this was when the trim, fit, world-hopping adventure journalist is completely exhausted by the punishing trial of walking two miles.

And Cortex is just writing House Of Leaves fanfiction now.
posted by The Whelk at 12:33 AM on June 6, 2011


Over 100 comments and noone's mentioned The Name Of The Wind yet?

Yeah, the book flirts with some of the worst aspects of Mary Suedom, with Kvothe (sigh) being good at pretty much everything, smarter than most everyone, better looking, more talented, more "deep" because of his tragic past, etc. His "flaw" is smirking impulsiveness that pretty much always works out in his favor. He does have a "nice guy" attraction to a magical pixie girl that is absolutely nauseating--definitely a flaw, but I don't know it is intended as such. And yet somehow the book is still a pretty darn good read. Probably because the world and characters around the ridiculous protagonist are interesting, flawed, and well realized.

The second book is even worse, upping the ante in Kvothe's awesomeness all around, but the writing rescues it like the first. I'd recommend skipping the rather lengthy section where he trains martial arts with the Sioux/Aiel/Na'vi/Fremen stand-ins, though.

I do think there is a very good chance the third book will suck, and suck hard, though. Rothfuss is flirting with disaster.
posted by Theodore Sign at 12:48 AM on June 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


I bet Dean Koontz has a dog named Mary Sue. A golden retriever. With silky fur and an endearing goofy doggy grin. Who fights crime with bravery, loyalty, and an unerring instinct for sniffing out the liberal elites despoiling our God-fearing nation.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 1:44 AM on June 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


Kvothe is one of the most irritating Mary Sue characters I've come across in some time. I felt like hurling Name of the Wind across the room when I was finished with it.

I wouldn't put Harriet Vane in the same category, though -- while she's pretty clearly a self insertion character, she becomes quite three dimensional and interesting by the time you hit "Gaudy Night".

But possibly I just like Sayers more than Rothfuss. It is possible for a work to transcend Mary Sue-ness through straight out good writing otherwise. Francis Crawford of Lymond, in Dorothy Dunnett's books, is Awesome At Everything, but I found myself not minding all that much. Miyaka in Fushigi Yuugi is inexplicably Loved By Everyone, but the story as a whole is still kind of addictive.

But ... pinning your story on a Mary Sue means that if you can't handle it, when the story falls down it falls down HARD.
posted by kyrademon at 3:05 AM on June 6, 2011


What is that opposite of a Mary Sue, where the main character is a depressed stand in for the author.

Hamlet. Emma Bovary.

My favourite book ever - Wuthering Heights - has a Mary Sue at the heart of it. The genius of Emily Bronte was to invent a narrator that hated her and kill her off half way through.

And of course all of Charlotte Bronte's main protagonists were total Mary Sues, with the Mary Sueishness of them tempered by the fact they were plain and humble.
posted by Summer at 3:39 AM on June 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Other signs that a character may be a Mary Sue (these are all optional, but tend to be indicative when they are present):

1) Other characters (or sometimes the author-as-narrator) frequently laud them as having virtues which do not seem evident in the story. (Example: The character who constantly leads the others into traps an 8-year-old could spot is the leader by dint of being "so clever".)

2) Unusual eye color (violet, silver, paisley, what have you)

3) Exactly ONE other character *may* be allowed to be better than this character at exactly ONE skill. The other character will be the love interest and their skill will prove that they are worthy. (At crucial moments, however, the Mary-Sue may turn out to be just as good, if not better, at that one skill anyway.)

4) In multi-part series, the Mary-Sue may acquire one or more of the following in each part:
a) A new magic/psychic/physical/etc power
b) A new significant other (previous significant others need not necessarily be discarded for this)
c) A new country (city, planet, solar system, etc) that has been saved from peril by the Mary Sue and now considers the Mary Sue a godlike hero
posted by kyrademon at 4:29 AM on June 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


And of course all of Charlotte Bronte's main protagonists were total Mary Sues, with the Mary Sueishness of them tempered by the fact they were plain and humble.

I think we're just talking about authorial insertion at this point, not 'Mary Sues.' The distinctive characteristics of the Mary Sue phenomenon are primarily issues with how the insertion is handled, not that it occurs at all...

There's also a difference between simple wish fulfillment and Mary Sue; really, the Mary Sue might be the intersection of the two. Just pointing out one aspect probably isn't enough for a diagnosis.
posted by verb at 5:14 AM on June 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


So, there's an equivalent for males in books and films, right?

Three words: Eugene Wesley Roddenberry
posted by Herodios at 6:16 AM on June 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


no seriously Heinlein did that like all the time

Hah!

Heinlein: "I am Wesley, and so is my wife!"
posted by Herodios at 6:17 AM on June 6, 2011


I'd like to propose a different interpretation of Harry Potter, since I find it hard to see him as a Mary Sue - unlike most Sues, he isn't good at everything, attractive to everyone or always wiser than everybody. He has some physical quirks, but they are pretty tightly connected to his role in the plot, and he never seemed to me to have the sense of entitlement that would justify calling him an "asshole jock" - he just happens to be very good at a rather peculiar sport.

This involves mild SPOILERS.

I think Harry works best if you think of him in parallel with Snape. Harry and Snape are both very much alike: emotional, sensitive, suicidally brave, good at potions and (defence against) the dark arts, with a knack for sniping at people (Harry tends to feel aggressed on in confrontations but he almost always gives as good as he gets).

The books reread quite well as the story of two very similar people tragically misunderstanding each other. Snape assumes that Harry must be like his father - who was indeed an aggressive entitled jock. Harry reacts to Snape the way that Snape reacts to the people who persecuted him.

When you see the pattern of the whole books - an emotionally retarded adult persecuting an emotionally damaged but basically nice child who ironically enough is very like him - then it doesn't feel so much like a simple wish fulfilment fantasy. It's really about a huge missed chance for connection.
posted by lucien_reeve at 6:28 AM on June 6, 2011 [7 favorites]


I'll come in again. . .

no seriously Heinlein did that like all the time

Hah!

Heinlein: "I am Mary Sue, and so is my wife!"
posted by Herodios at 6:38 AM on June 6, 2011


Ah, Clan of the Cave Bear. Ayla was probably not the first Mary Sue I ever read (Elnora in Girl of the Limberlost), but she was the first one I recognised as one. I felt really smart for noticing it, though I did not have the term Mary Sue then.


Back to Harry Potter:

I seem to recall that in one of the books, Harry notices how Draco's bullying of him is very similar to his father's bullying of Snape, and at some point in maybe the last book Harry mentions that he, Snape and Tom Riddle all had similar childhoods that led to them all considering Hogwarts their real home. I think this was mentioned but glossed over, and is one of the failings in the series. (There are lots. But I love it anyhow.)

If anyone in that series is a Mary Sue, it's Ginny, but she's too secondary a character to really be one.
posted by jeather at 6:43 AM on June 6, 2011


Kvothe is one of the most irritating Mary Sue characters I've come across in some time. I felt like hurling Name of the Wind across the room when I was finished with it.

One thing to keep in mind is that Kvothe is explicitly telling his own story to other characters, and is intentionally doing so to make himself look as good as possible, possibly stretching the truth a little along the way. In other words, Kvothe isn't a Mary Sue for Rothfuss in The Name of the Wind (or The Wise Man's Fear); Kvothe is a Mary Sue for himself in the story he tells to the Chronicler. And Kvothe as he exists in the frame story (Kote the inkeeper) is clearly not a Mary Sue for anyone.
posted by Dr. Eigenvariable at 7:10 AM on June 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yes, it was a story a character within the book is telling, Dr. Eigenvariable, but that made the book even more annoying to me.

If it had just been a book about a 15 year old who doesn't realize what a total git he was being, I might have given the rest of the series a chance. Instead, it was a book that featured an older man blathering on for hundreds of pages about how the total git he was at 15 was the most WONDERFUL PERSON EVEREST EVER. The complete and (in my opinion) unintentional narcissism, immaturity, and lack of growth of the older storyteller made the character a double Mary-Sue to me -- a character who is not only a Mary-Sue, but who is such a Mary-Sue that he literally spends an entire book *explaining* his Mary-Sueness in the most Mary-Sue way possible.

As to Kvothe in the frame story not being a Mary Sue for anyone ... the book is so wrapped up in the idea of the main character's perfection that his PRETENDING TO BE AN ORDINARY PERSON IS LITERALLY KILLING HIM. I'm not sure how much more Mary Sue something can get.
posted by kyrademon at 7:32 AM on June 6, 2011


I'm just now reading the Harry Potter books to my daughter. It's her first exposure to the story line, and my second, and although there's a lot to find obnoxious about how obviously the text positions Harry as The Most Important Person, Like, Ever, I don't think the problem is that the character is a Mary Sue. I genuinely do not get a sense that Rowling identifies personally with Harry at the expense of the other character in the book.

Instead, I think she's (in the early volumes) a novice writer striving mightily to create a character that her target audience will identify with. This explains both the horrible, horrible home like that Harry is saddled with, and the fact that every one outside of that home life who isn't an actual villain thinks he's so fuckin' awesome. It's because every kid of Harry age at the start of the narrative thinks their parents are totally mean and stuff, and believes that once they get out into the world everyone will see their obvious merit immediately, because it's obvious, isn't it?

In her defense: she does come up with an actual plot to justify an eleven year old having huge social status in a small community. It's not a great plot, nor a terribly original one, but it works well enough as an adventure delivery mechanism. Harry's composition as a character balances awesomeness and lack of personality just enough to encourage reader identification. And that's sufficient. Rowling's real character accomplishment is Snape, anyway.
posted by Ipsifendus at 7:53 AM on June 6, 2011


Joss makes a pretty funny nod to the Mary Sue idea in a Buffy episode called "Superstar", where Jonathan, a character known primarily (at that point) for being completely overlooked by everyone, becomes the star of the show. All the girls are in love with him, all the boys want to be him, he's better at slaying evil than Buffy, etc. They even did special credits with the opening song that showed him doing a bunch of amazing stuff instead of the usual Buffy badassery. It's quite hilarious.
posted by ashirys at 8:06 AM on June 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


Holmes isn't really loved by anybody ...well maybe Watson. Nudge nudge.

But in the recent Robert Downey Jr. film, Watson was engaged (no Holmes, yo)
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 8:39 AM on June 6, 2011


Everyone always seems to forget that the plot of the very first Sherlock Holmes story was essentially "Dr. Watson, kickass adventurer, befriends a kind of creepy but superintelligent loner and together they solve a mystery and Watson gets the girl." Watson was very much the main character to begin with -- only later on did he transform into more of a Boswell to Holmes' Johnson.
posted by kyrademon at 8:53 AM on June 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


One thing to keep in mind is that Kvothe is explicitly telling his own story to other characters, and is intentionally doing so to make himself look as good as possible, possibly stretching the truth a little along the way.

That thinking is what got me through about 2/3rds of the book. I kept waiting for it to become clear that, oh my, this guy wasn't gods gift to mankind and was really a conniving little shit who takes credit for way more than he deserves. But it became clearer and clearer that wasn't the intention, and no, he was just someone who was so awesome that one of the worst things you could do was not treat him as sufficiently awesome. It was when he had to buy a horse and somehow was The Best Horse Trader Ever that I realized my life it soo short to continue read this crap.

No, I'm not angry that far too many people insisted I read that book, why do you ask?
posted by aspo at 8:57 AM on June 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


A few years ago a friend and I created a fansite for a fake band. Since I knew some might accuse me of being a Mary Sue, when it came time to choose a name for my superfan alter ego, I called her Marie Siu.
posted by shannonm at 9:14 AM on June 6, 2011


ShutterBun: "
Harry Potter always struck me as a Marty Stu, cleverly disguised by an impossibly oppressive upbringing. He's the amazing boy with countless informed attributes, who succeeds in everything he does, and to whom ALL of the interesting things happen. I hate him.
"

I always thought that the list of one-line uncomfortable movie plot summaries had it best:
HARRY POTTER: Celebrity Jock thinks rules don’t apply to him, is right.
posted by schmod at 9:23 AM on June 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


HARRY POTTER: Celebrity Jock thinks rules don’t apply to him, is right.

I think this is closer:

HARRY POTTER: Teenager learns that in a free market meritocracy you can grow up to achieve anything you put your mind to -- if you happen to have been born rich a wizard.
posted by Herodios at 11:22 AM on June 6, 2011


Yea, The very first Holmes book is "Watson, dashing war hero and ladies man takes up with unlikable eccentric."


Joss makes a pretty funny nod to the Mary Sue idea in a Buffy episode called "Superstar"

That episode had so many wonderful touches, the mural Willow and Tara make, the way they slowly realize the reality of the world makes no sense, comically dense Buffy, and "Are we sure we want to live in a world without Jonathan?"

Wasn't it expressly written as a parody of fan fiction? I seem to remember a reference to that.
posted by The Whelk at 11:46 AM on June 6, 2011


James Bond's not really a Mary Sue. Escapist fiction, sure, but some rough shit happens to him in the books.

Harry Potter's not much of a Sue, either. Part of the point of the books was pretty clearly that he wasn't that important (indeed, JK made a pretty clear point that it could just as easily have been Neville in his place).
posted by Eideteker at 1:14 PM on June 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


HARRY POTTER: Teenager learns that in a free market meritocracy you can grow up to achieve anything you put your mind to -- if you happen to have been born rich a wizard."

The books also make it very clear that he was very wealthy. The books also depict a somewhat entrenched society -- despite being fairly successful in their careers, the Weasley family always remained very poor.
posted by schmod at 2:23 PM on June 6, 2011


Not that Harriet Vane isn't Mary Sue through and through, but that Sayers did it on purpose, for fun. Vane not only provided the wish-fulfillment that made up for the problems Sayers had in her own love-life, she gave Sayers a way to comment on the structure of detective novels from within them.

Sayers is far too bright a spark not to have known that she was setting up a doppleganger --- you make a good point about her using the character to comment on the action. But for my money there are definitely large swaths of twaddle which could be excised from several of the books without ill-effect. While I agree that Sayers does deepen the characters somewhat over the course of the books which track the relationship between Vane and Whimsy, she also transforms Whimsy from a somewhat more competent, slightly more eccentric Bertie Wooster type into Capt. Dreamy --- that whole Harlequin business in Murder Must Advertise is redonk, most especially the 50ft swan dive into six inches of water around a marble fountain, and IIRC Whimsy is usefully shoved offstage for much of Gaudy Night because the Home Office urgently requires his services to deal with a little situation in Mesopotamia, or something along those lines. Making him a man worthy of Vane seems to require making him damn near the limit of human perfection, or a least perfection as conceived by a Tory Bluestocking circa 1930.

But then, I don't know if there's a thing she could have done that would have un-bunched my panties given the way they're introduced --- having the hero of your books fall in love with a character very much like you while killing off a character very much like your ex-boyfriend is not made less embarrassing by the fact that you know you're doing it at the time. If anything it's worse, especially given the whole sub-plot where Whimsy is the only one who understands Vane and her principled stance to dump her lover when he asks her to become his wife...

(If it cheers you up at all, you may have already had your revenge --- just picked up Busman's Holiday yesterday, but haven't read it yet.)
posted by Diablevert at 3:25 PM on June 6, 2011


One thing to keep in mind is that Kvothe is explicitly telling his own story to other characters, and is intentionally doing so to make himself look as good as possible, possibly stretching the truth a little along the way. In other words, Kvothe isn't a Mary Sue for Rothfuss in The Name of the Wind (or The Wise Man's Fear); Kvothe is a Mary Sue for himself in the story he tells to the Chronicler. And Kvothe as he exists in the frame story (Kote the inkeeper) is clearly not a Mary Sue for anyone.

Yeah, but that is just a framing device. A nice one, granted. The vast bulk of the novel IS the story the narrator is telling, and the character that the reader is actually spending time with is the Mary Sue. And in any case, Kvothe as inkeeper STILL has these aspects, though they are scaled down to his current situation: he is the most worldly-wise, has seen the most, understands all the townsfolk better than they understand themselves, is hardworking and competent at his mundane job to a fault, has an otherworldly, powerful sidekick who does nothing but tell the chronicler how awesome Kvothe is/was/will be again.

Now, if in the third volume all of this is exploded somehow, and Kvothe is exposed or the framing device becomes the focus of the story, that will be different. I hold some hope for this.
posted by Theodore Sign at 4:16 PM on June 6, 2011


Harry is a Mary Sue is kind of unfair, it's more Harry Is Kind Of Dumb, if you ask me. Also Ron is just downright unlikable for like ..the last two books. Am I wrong in this? I read all of them in a weekend binge so I could be missing things but he seems like a total shit by the end. Like everyone else come has to come up with decent plans for infiltrating and waging warfare and Harry just goes along with it. It's not Mary Sue, but it is weird, and it's what made me think like, oh wait he's not REALLY the protagonist, he's just the mcguffin, the actual main characters are OVER HERE.
posted by The Whelk at 4:28 PM on June 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Atticus Finch.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 4:34 PM on June 6, 2011


Oh you just HAD TO.
posted by The Whelk at 4:37 PM on June 6, 2011


What does that make people who name their kid Atticus so everybody knows they read Animal Farm?

What? No, he was a finch, not a mockingbird.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 6:07 PM on June 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


What does that make people who name their kid Atticus so everybody knows they read Animal Farm?

You named your kid after an emo clothing line?
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 6:12 PM on June 6, 2011


Thank god someone shares my aggravation about Kvothe. He's presented as so perfect and so talented and so smart. And moral! The bit with the tar heroin and the dragon drove me nuts. He finds a huge stash of the stuff, and uses it all to defeat the dragon, even though just pocketing a baseball-sized ball of it to sell at the school would've solved his financial problems, his CONSTANT financial problems. But no, that would make him too human, Kvothe has to be above it all. So he uses all of it on the dragon, but taking that bit wouldn't have made a difference in killing the dragon anyway. Just so Kvothe can be even more awesome.

I don't care much for the Harry Potter character, either (though to be fair I've only seen/read up to the fourth book or so). Harry is so goddamn passive, and initiates nothing. He only reacts to things that are thrown in his lap. The one movie (#4?), he spent most of the time playing a victim. Some other character did something bad, everyone was led to believe it was Harry that did the bad thing, and he spent the whole movie whining about it. "It wasn't me! Leave me alone!" I'm not the manliest man, more like the opposite, but Harry can be rather pathetic at times.
posted by zardoz at 9:18 PM on June 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


Elves, the Mary Sue race.
posted by The Whelk at 7:39 AM on June 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


that whole Harlequin business in Murder Must Advertise is redonk

Absolutely. The drug-bust plot is pretty flimsy too. But Murder Must Advertise is the contractual-obligation book, written in a hurry once she realised that the one where she was marrying them off wasn't working out. That's also why it's set in an advertising agency and Wimsey's job is the exact one she had - it was easier than making up something else. I tend to ignore that book in my own personal canon :)

I honestly think she was tired of writing him when Strong Poison came around. She just wanted to be done with it, chucked herself and her (secret) love affair in for her own amusement, and moved on. It was only the challenge of figuring out how to make them better characters that led to her continuing them at all.
posted by harriet vane at 11:35 PM on June 7, 2011


Other signs that a character may be a Mary Sue (these are all optional, but tend to be indicative when they are present):

1) Other characters (or sometimes the author-as-narrator) frequently laud them as having virtues which do not seem evident in the story.


2. Ever character that is, except of course for Mary Sue's parents, who somehow can't see how wonderful their daughter is.

Seriously: I recall one anime fanfic where these two complete badass stone killer type antiheroes started discussing the insert teenage girl character, and how wonderful she is, and how terrible it was that her parents didn't recognize her wonderful qualities. Seriously- it was like Riddick and the Man with no Name got together to sing the praises of one teenage girl.
posted by happyroach at 6:29 PM on June 8, 2011


Elves, the Mary Sue race.

the Whelk, that deserves its own FPP
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 10:06 PM on June 8, 2011


I seem to recall that in one of the books, Harry notices how Draco's bullying of him is very similar to his father's bullying of Snape, and at some point in maybe the last book Harry mentions that he, Snape and Tom Riddle all had similar childhoods that led to them all considering Hogwarts their real home. I think this was mentioned but glossed over, and is one of the failings in the series. (There are lots. But I love it anyhow.)

I think that it was made pretty clear - and that this is one of the reasons why the series is a lot more intelligent than people here are giving it credit for being. Another thing I find rather pleasing about it is that not everything is solved at the end: despite the Sorting Hat quite explicitly telling everyone that dividing children up into houses is wrong, in the epilogue the houses still exist. A recurring theme is the inability of each new generation to learn all the lessons of the previous one.

Harry doesn't solve every problem and isn't good at everything - but then again, he isn't stupid or talentless either. He copes pretty well with a bizarre and almost impossibly demanding situation. It's just that the other characters contribute - and that seems to me much more emotionally healthy and reasonable than the profoundly irritating norm in most fantasy (and crime fiction) where one character is always right and the others exist to be saved, destroyed, lectured on the author's pet political theories etc.

Speaking of which: after reading a bit of The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man's Fear - and this excellent review here - I am actually ashamed to be a fantasy fan. This pretentious, horribly badly written adolescent fantasy is just... excruciating. It's like late David Eddings as written by a pathological narcissist.
posted by lucien_reeve at 7:08 AM on June 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


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