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Friday, June 10, 2016

Continuum 2016 Begins!

I won't be going till this afternoon, and only because I'm on a panel. It clashes with a theatre ticket; I'd have changed it if I was going on my own, but I'm going with my sister and we have dinner booked afterwards, with our mother and my sister's husband, too much to fiddle with.

This afternoon's panel(after which I'm going straight to the theatre) is on the topic of the Mary Sue. I've offered to be moderator, because I have a feeling that one of us in particular has a lot to say on the matter and it might be simplest just to introduce the panel and throw a few questions at them. One of the other panellists is one of our two GoHs, who writes martial arts fantasies centred around Asian gods and a young woman who would probably dislike, and be disliked by, Buffy. I've only read the first of them, when it first came out. One comment on my review described the heroine as a Mary Sue, so it will be interesting to hear her own thoughts on the matter. People tend to bristle when their heroines are accused of Mary Suedom.

As a collector of fanzines for many years before they all went online, losing their quality filters, I have read the original story that coined the term "Mary Sue", my old pen pal Paula Smith's "A Trekkie's Tale" and found it on line, connected with an interview with Paula by the TV Tropes web site. I do have the zine, but it's too hard to find and just about everything is online these days. If you're a librarian, with the skill of using the right search terms, you can find what you're after. Incidentally, Paula entered the opening line, slightly rewritten, for the Bulwer Lytton competition for dreadful opening lines and won a place in the annual collection of entries, though not the competition itself.

I've read a lot of Mary Sue stories, even written a couple for fun, both in the Robin Of Sherwood universe, back in the days before people were paying me to write, and both were with collaborators. These days there are a lot of people complaining that any competent and strong female character is accused of being a Mary Sue. To some extent, that's true, but not entirely. And there is also complaint that male characters don't get hit with the same accusation. Not quite true; there is even an official name for such males, either Marty or Gary Stu(for many years I called him Mark Sam). But it is true that it doesn't happen as often, and my guess is that it's because mostly women write this stuff and naturally they want to write about female characters. And in my own area of YA fiction, there are quite a few Mary Sues, because the main audience for them is female. The girls I work with might laugh about the love triangles, but they enjoy them. Grab a random book from the YA section of a bookshop and it's likely to be about a girl who saves the world while having to decide between two very attractive boys. 

 Personally, I think Suzanne Collins made the right decision in letting her heroine marry the boy who had suffered along with her instead of the childhood sweetheart, but there are plenty of girls arguing about it and supporting the other one. Does this make Katniss a Mary Sue? Possibly, but not in a derogatory sense. She's not Supergirl. She is just someone who does what she has to do and would really rather not have to do it, and when it's all over, she's not ruling the world or a Queen or a President. 

Can you have a canon Mary Sue? I think so. Think of Miramanee in Star Trek TOS. She fits into a category I'd describe as the Sweet Young Thing. She's a Native American priestess in a society which was set up by a mysterious race called the Preservers, who went around dropping endangered species on other planets to let them survive somewhere else. And she has the misfortune of being Captain Kirk's love interest - even worse, being married to him and pregnant with his child. You might as well hand her a red shirt to wear; she's going to be dead by the end of the episode.  There were a lot like her in fan fiction. 

I know one of our panellists wants to discuss Rey from the latest Star Wars movie, who has been called a Mary Sue. I was surprised to hear that; as far as I'm concerned, she is just the Luke Skywalker of this trilogy, and novpbody, as far as I know, ever called him a Gary Stu/Mark Sam. She's just the protagonist of the Hero's Journey, just like Luke. 

Anyway, we'll see how the panel goes. I'm doing two more on Monday, one on the YA love triangle, the final one on children's fiction. Those should be fun! 


Lexa Cain said...

Well, this is embarrassing... I thought Mary Sue was something else entirely. Some daft little bimbo character with no real talents or abilities and with all the depth of a piece of cardboard. A chess piece the author uses just to get the plot going from point to point. And I was thinking how I never write Mary Sues. But apparently (I read Wiki's article) they're a form of wish fulfillment or author insertion, and I think all my characters are just different sides of me. So now I have no idea if I write them or not. I do think that Kirk sounds like a Gary Stu. But I guess Ender could be thought of as one as well, and I love both of those characters. Troubling. Very troubling...

I hope you enjoy the panel, the dinner and the theater!

Sue Bursztynski said...

That's interesting! I have never heard either Kirk OR Ender described as a Gary Stu! I actually rather like Kirk, because he is, on top of everything else, a con artist. And a former girlfriend, the mother of his son, says to him, in response to the young man's comment about "that Boy Scout you used to go out with," - "Jim Kirk is many things, but he was never a Boy Scout!" It's been a while since I read ender's Game, but I think of him as more of a Chosen One than anything else - and even then, when he realises what he has done unwittingly, he spends the rest of the series trying to make up for it.

Wish fulfilment is certainly a part of the Mary Sue; most authors of such fan fiction grow out of it by the time they leave their teens. I know my sixteen year old niece has already outgrown it - and she was publishing Mary Sue fiction on Wattpad. .

Pamela said...

This is a topic of endless fascination for me. Personally, I don't mind Mary Sues (or Gary Stus) in my fiction as long as they don't have everything handed to them. Some characters do and then I just wonder what the point of the story truly is.

I've actually heard Luke Skywalker called a Gary Stu, and I think a lot of people can't/won't differentiate between the stigma of the Mary Sue, which I would say is that the character isn't the most developed, and an archetype. Star Wars is the quintessential tale of archetypes, and mimics a lot of theatre, particularly Shakespeare. Do people accuse Hamlet of being a Gary Stu because he has father issues?

Sounds like a very fun panel, in any case!

Sue Bursztynski said...

Really? Luke was accused of Mary Suedom? Well, when you see the first three films, you find out that even his father was told he was too old, at about eight, to begin training, which takes years. And Luke masters the basics in about five minutes and the rest of it in what seems to be a few days with Yoda. But those first three films are not generally liked anyway and I think most of us wish they would go away. You're right about the archetypes; that's Campbell's Hero's Journey, and I think he was spot on. When I talked about the Hero's Journey to my Year 8 class one day, they picked it up very quickly, suggesting films and books that fitted. Two of them went off and immediately began to write thir own Hero's Journey tales and very good they were too.

I'll tell you about the panel when I've done it- when I turned up yesterday I was told the panel was today. I spent the hour instead catching up with friends, one who was going off to live in England, two I went to lunch with and one with whom I grabbed a cup of tea. Cons are good like that. ;-)