[LMB] OT: Judging a Mary Sue

John Lennard john.c.lennard at gmail.com
Fri Sep 20 12:32:16 BST 2013

Thanks for the various replies (though I watched them spin away from the
particular question I asked into the swamp of definition and the putative
toxicity of the concept with eyebrows steadily rising).

I see entirely what Heather and Beatrice Otter were saying, and I'm
inclined to agree with Beatrice (a) that the term has become so vague in
much usage as to mean little more than 'a character the labeller doesn't
like', and (b) that it has acquired some real gender toxicity. But it did
use to mean something, and perhaps still can.

One element missing from the gender discussion, though, re Gary Sue, is
that Mary Sue has become a unisex form -- i.e. I've heard it applied to
male characters and would do so myself, in the senses (a) a blatant
self-insertion or (b) a character whose unique abilities are unearned or
unexplained and appear to have no cost -- i.e. a blatant wish-fulfilment,
masturbatory glamour posing as character and/or plot.

What interested me in the test case I mentioned, though, was that the usual
implication of Mary Sue as a lable is of self-aggrandising self-insertion
-- all that unearned beauty, popularity, talent &c. -- a heavily airbrushed
not to say pimped up self-insertion, as it were. But in the test-case it
was in a visibly disabling condition that the putative Mary Sue-ness
resided (though it was a male OC, as it happens) as a form of
self-insertion, and one could well argue that such a self-insertion has a
moral purpose utterly distinct from anything usually attending the label.
The fic writer's and the OC's wish would be *not* to suffer from the
disabling/limiting condition, and the purpose of the (partial)
self-insertion to expose and defuse prejudicial responses to it.

A Mary Sue in harness, perhaps.

John Lennard, MA DPhil. (Oxon.), MA (WU)

General editor, Humanities-E-Books Genre Fiction Sightlines and Monographs

*Talking Sense About 'Fifty Shades of Grey', or Fanfiction, Feminism, and
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