In fan fiction, a Mary Sue is an idealized character representing the author.[1]

Etymology Edit

The term "Mary Sue" is from the name of a character created by Paula Smith in 1973 for her parody story "A Trekkie's Tale"[2]:15 published in her fanzine Menagerie #2.[3] The story starred Lieutenant Mary Sue ("the youngest Lieutenant in the fleet — only fifteen and a half years old"), and satirized unrealistic and adolescent wish-fantasy characters in Star Trek fan fiction. Such characters were generally original (non-canon) and female adolescents who had romantic liaisons with established canon adult characters, or in some cases were the younger relatives or protégés of those characters. By 1976 Menagerie's editors stated that they disliked such characters, saying:

Mary Sue stories—the adventures of the youngest and smartest ever person to graduate from the academy and ever get a commission at such a tender age. Usually characterized by unprecedented skill in everything from art to zoology, including karate and arm-wrestling. This character can also be found burrowing her way into the good graces/heart/mind of one of the Big Three [Kirk, Spock, and McCoy], if not all three at once. She saves the day by her wit and ability, and, if we are lucky, has the good grace to die at the end, being grieved by the entire ship.[4]

Today "Mary Sue" carries a connotation of wish-fulfillment and is commonly associated with self-insertion (the writing of oneself into a fictional story). True self-insertion is a literal and generally undisguised representation of the author; most characters described as "Mary Sues" are not, though they are often called "proxies"[5] for the author. The negative connotation comes from this "wish-fulfillment" implication: the "Mary Sue" is judged a poorly developed character, too perfect and lacking in realism to be interesting.[6]

Criticism Edit

The "Mary Sue" concept has drawn criticism from feminists and amateur and professional authors.

In chapter four of her book Enterprising Women,[7] Camille Bacon-Smith includes a subsection on the "Mary Sue" concept. While not denying that such characters exist, with reasonable psychological observations as to why "Mary Sues" exist in the first place, she observes that fear of creating a "Mary Sue" may be restricting and even silencing some writers.

Smith quotes editor Joanna Cantor[8] as identifying "Mary Sue" paranoia as one of the sources for the lack of "believable, competent, and identifiable-with female characters." In this article, Cantor interviews her sister Edith, also an amateur editor, who says she receives stories with cover letters apologizing for the tale as "a Mary Sue", even when the author admits she does not know what a "Mary Sue" is. According to Edith Cantor, while Paula Smith's original "Trekkie's Tale" was only ten paragraphs long, "in terms of their impact on those whom they affect, those words [Mary Sue] have got to rank right up there with the Selective Service Act."[9] At Clippercon 1987 (a Star Trek fan convention held yearly in Baltimore, Maryland), Smith interviewed a panel of female authors who say they do not include female characters in their stories at all. She quoted one as saying "Every time I've tried to put a woman in any story I've ever written, everyone immediately says, this is a Mary Sue." Smith also pointed out that "Participants in a panel discussion in January 1990 noted with growing dismay that any female character created within the community is damned with the term Mary Sue."[10]

However, several other writers quoted by Smith have pointed out that in Star Trek as originally created, James T. Kirk is himself a "Mary Sue," and that the label seems to be used more indiscriminately on female characters who do not behave in accordance with the dominant culture's images and expectations for females as opposed to males.[11] Professional author Ann C. Crispin is quoted as saying: "The term 'Mary Sue' constitutes a put-down, implying that the character so summarily dismissed is not a true character, no matter how well drawn, what sex, species, or degree of individuality."[12]

In an academic paper written for the UC Davis School of Law, Anupam Chander and Madhavi Sunder argue for Mary Sue as a viable character.[13] Rather than a mere exercise in self-indulgence, Chander and Sunder see Mary Sue characters as representing "subaltern critique and empowerment," challenging a "patriarchal, heterosexist, and racially stereotyped cultural landscape" by "valoriz[ing] women and marginalized communities." The paper explores the notion that Mary Sue fan fiction is fair use under copyright law, "a metonym for fair uses that rewrite the popular narrative."

Author, academic and radio host J.M. Frey, who has written several papers exploring fan behavior, analyzes Mary Sue type characters and their possibilities in Water Logged Mona Lisa: Who Is Mary Sue, and Why Do We Need Her? Frey believes that Mary Sue is a self-gratifying, wish-fulfillment device, but argues that they can be transformed into "Meta Sues" who "investigate the self or marginalized subjects in media texts."[14]

See also Edit

References Edit

  1. Segall (2008). Fan Fiction Writing: New Work Based on Favorite Fiction. Rosen Pub.. p. 26. ISBN 1404213562. 
  2. Verba, Joan Marie (2003). Boldly Writing: A Trekker Fan & Zine History, 1967-1987. Minnetonka MN: FTL Publications. ISBN 0-9653575-4-6. 
  3. "SF Citations for OED: Mary Sue". Retrieved 2006-05-20. 
  4. Byrd, Patricia (Spring 1978). "Star Trek Lives: Trekker Slang". American Speech 53 (1): 52–58. doi:10.2307/455340. JSTOR 455340. 
  5. Orr, David (2004-10-03). "The Widening Web of Digital Lit". The New York Times. Retrieved 2006-10-02. 
  6. Milhorn (2006). Writing Genre Fiction: A Guide to the Cr. Lightning Source Incorporated. p. 55. ISBN 1581129181. 
  7. Bacon-Smith, Camille, Enterprising Women, Television Fandom and the Creation of Popular Myth. Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1992.
  8. Joanna Cantor, "Mary Sue, a Short Compendium." In Archives #5, 1980, ed. Joanna Cantor, Yeoman Press, Bronx, NY
  9. Smith, p. 96.
  10. Smith, p. 110. A footnote states this was reported to her by Judy Chien, who attended the panel at MostEastlyCon 1990 in Newark.
  11. Smith, p. 97.
  12. Smith, p. 98.
  13. Everyone's a Superhero: A Cultural Theory of 'Mary Sue' Fan Fiction as Fair Use. Page found 2011-04-20.
  14. Frey, J.M. "Water Logged Mona Lisa: Who Is Mary Sue, and Why Do We Need Her?" (2009 master's degree project). Toronto, Ontario: Ryerson University. 

Further reading Edit