November 23, 2004

Mary Sue

Courtesy of Eve Tushnet, I've just become acquainted a literary phenomenon called the Mary Sue story. A Mary Sue story is essentially a piece of wish-fulfillment fantasy in which the hero/heroine, a symbolic representation of the author with wildly magnified skills, talents, and characteristics (ahem), gets to show off his or her stuff. The term originates in Star Trek fan-fiction (with a Lieutenant Mary Sue, the youngest graduate of the Star Fleet Academy, natch) but has been found to be generally applicable to amateur fiction of all kinds.

I remember back in the late '80's when I started reading the rec.arts.sf.written Usenet news group. At that time, so much of the traffic on the newsgroup (around 50%, if not more) involved Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series that all such posts were required to have titles beginning with "JORDAN:" so that the rest of us could ignore them. I was a fan of the series at that time, and so dipped into the "JORDAN:" posts a bit, but I soon stopped--and now I know why. Most of them were published by wannabe Mary Sues. (Eventually the Wheel of Timers got their own newsgroup, and there was blessed peace.)

As an amateur novelist, learning about Mary Sue is rather like reading a list of symptoms for some exotic new disease. Yes, I do feel rather tired, and my toes do feel a little achy. And my shins have been itching like mad. Oh, no! I must have Kronenborgowitz's Syndrome! Upon reflection, though, I think I'm OK. It's true that I'm occasionally pedantic and condescending, but other than that I can't see that I resemble Leon Thintwhistle in any way...nor would I want to.

Posted by Will Duquette at November 23, 2004 08:03 AM