Ah, Mary Sue. The infamous bane of fan fiction. People are so quick to dismiss fan fiction because of Mary Sue, and you really can’t blame them. Authors who take the time to create a new flawed, complex character to add to their favorite fandom are rarer than rain in the desert. Readers of fan fic have to sift through piles and piles of Sue stories before they can find a true gem, while others genuinely enjoy Sue stories, finding them to be a guilty pleasure. In my personal opinion, Mary Sue does have a place in fiction (fan or not), but there is one particular Sue that I believed should be burned at the stake whenever she rears her ugly head. And that is the True Mary Sue.
The definition of a Mary Sue that people are most familiar with is a fictional character who is too good to be true. She is the most beautiful, talented, wonderful individual you will ever meet. Nothing is too difficult for her, she has no real flaws, she wins the heart of the hero and the villain, and the fate of a universe or two lies in her hands. Boring and self-indulgent as that sounds, I have never wavered on my belief that there is no such thing as a bad idea in storytelling, just a poorly executed one. If done well, a Mary Sue can serve as a harmless guilty pleasure where readers can insert themselves in the Sue’s place since Sues rarely have complex personalities. Also, a character doesn’t have to possess every Sue quality in existence in order to be considered a Sue. I’m not a fan of the Honor Harrington series, but I have heard from fans that Honor Harrington will always come through no matter what thanks to her own abilities, and she is always revered for it. That is a Mary Sue, but from the way the author constructed her, she is the type of Sue the reader can still enjoy and root for.
The same can’t be said for the True Mary Sue. What separates her from the other Sues who do have a place in storytelling is the way she is treated by her fellow characters and more importantly, the story itself. The True Mary Sue is a character that we are meant to side with no matter what they do. No matter how evil, selfish, or pointless her actions are, we the audience are always meant to root for her. I personally don’t read Mary Sue fan fiction since it’s not to my taste, so the two examples of True Mary Sues I will give are actual canon characters of a particular fandom.
The first is Bella Swan from the Twilight series. In New Moon she is devastated by Edward’s abandonment, but remains desperate to hear his voice and feel his presence, which can be best accomplished by putting herself in danger. When she goes out with her friend (and I use that term in the loosest sense) Jessica, she mistakes a stranger for one of the men who tried to gang rape her in Twilight. She tries to provoke him into attacking her…with Jessica WITH HER…and this is the aftermath of that little event.
I was surprised when Jessica stopped the car in front of my house. The ride had not taken long. Short as it seemed, I wouldn’t have thought Jessica could go that long without speaking.
“Thanks for going out with me Jess,” I said as I opened my door.
“Sure,” she muttered.
“I’m sorry about after the movie.”
“Whatever, Bella.” She glared out the windshield instead of looking at me. She seemed to be growing angrier rather than getting over it.
“See you Monday?”
I gave up and shut the door. She drove away without looking at me. I’d forgotten her by the time I was inside.
Pay close attention to the language used here. Bella is completely flippant and uncaring that she not only endangered herself, but that Jessica would have been raped along with her if that man had been who she thought he was. Apparently, Jessica getting hurt or raped is an insignificant price to pay to see Edward again. Bella thinks so and when she forgets Jessica by the time she goes inside, we know the story is in full agreement. Bella is distraught over Edward’s absence, and that justifies anything she does.
The second True Mary Sue is Ahsoka Tano from The Clone Wars cartoon. In the episode “Storm over Ryloth,” she is given command of a squadron of fighters and ordered to clear a path to the battleship that is directing the Separatist blockade of the planet. She does so, but the Separatists spring a trap and several battle cruisers arrive. She, an eleven-year-old Padawan, is then ordered by the admiral to retreat.
(Admiral) “Commander, we’ve been caught in a trap!”
(Ahsoka) “You’re overreacting, Admiral. I can get us through. Blue Squadron, stay the course.”
(Admiral) “I’m ordering you to return to the ship! We’re going to need your help!”
Even Anakin Skywalker, her Jedi Master orders her to return. But she knows better than both of them, proceeds, and here are the consequences: the admiral is injured, she loses half her squadron, and Republic forces are almost wiped out because her squadron wasn’t there to protect them.
Normally, disobedience of this degree coupled with such devastating consequences would result in a court-martial at the very minimum. But what does Anakin say to her after briefly expressing his disappointment?
“It was a trap, Snips. It wasn’t your fault.”
When Anakin gives his report to Mace Windu and Obi-Wan, he covers up for her, mentioning the trap but not her disobedience. This is so Obi-Wan can say, “Anakin, you will need her help if you’re going to get through this.”
And so he does. Anakin devises a plan based on Ahsoka’s ideas, leaves her in charge of the remaining forces despite her blatant insecurities and protests, and puts his life directly in her hands because his plan will also leave him defenseless. And when Ahsoka insists that they continue on despite the apparent hopelessness of the situation, and the admiral who was injured because of her gets up from bed just in time to offer his full agreement. At the end of the episode, the day is saved and the consequences for her disobedience are completely forgotten.
The writers obviously wanted to show how victory can emerge from defeat, but the only thing they succeed in doing is showing how vital Ahsoka is to winning the war, and that any mistakes she makes only serve to build up her later importance. Disobeying her master and an admiral? Getting her squadron killed? Nearly botching the entire mission and dooming the safety of an entire planet? Who cares? She’s sorry, she regrets it, and we can’t survive without her! The next time she’s given command, she’ll save the entire Republic fleet from total annihilation!