In a recent post here, I used a trope shortcut by naming a character Marysue.
My sister Marysue was not amused. She commented,
Well…this is not the first time ‘Marysue’ has appeared in Barbara’s writing(s). I am her sister, yes, Marysue. I have never met another Marysue in my life. It is just coincidence she uses this moniker ? For the record – I am not an alcoholic. I would NEVER vote for Trump… and I have indeed reproduced.
And that’s when I realized an important truth. Not everybody—even those named Marysue—knows what the Mary Sue trope really is.
She first appeared in fanfiction back in 1973, in a Star Trek parody written by Paula Smith. The fanzine, Menagerie #2, was offset printed ON PAPER even before Al Gore thought he invented the internet.
From there, the Mary Sue is the trope label applied to the female character too perfect to be true. She’s beautiful, everybody loves her, she often masters complex martial arts almost instantly, and usually has green eyes and a smokin’ hot bod. But before you start to hate her, you should know she has a flaw, oh yes indeed. She’s shy and she just can’t understand why all those guys want her. Actually, you can go ahead and hate her.
It is interesting to note that while the Mary Sue label is often gleefully slapped on female characters—take that, Bella!—it is rarely tossed at males with similar attributes. Luke Skywalker and Harry Potter are loved by everyone, master Jedi skills in weeks that took others a lifetime to develop, defeat the Dark Lord from their cradle, and (frequently!) don’t even have green eyes. Yet they are rarely accused of Marty Sue-ness.
But what about OUR Marysue?
What we’re considering here today isn’t whether male characters could rock the trope, but my sister’s objection to having it share her name. This is the sort of thing that has the potential to cause family rifts that eventually end up with grandchildren sneaking off to have sex with those their families have been inexplicably feuding with for generations (or enough generations so they aren’t first cousins at least…)
Wish me luck…I’m going in.
The Mary Sue: the trope
The Marysue: my sister
- √ Perfect Figure: when we were younger, my seven sisters and I were divided into haves and have-nots when it came to our physical er…achievements. I’m a lifelong have-not, but Marysue was a clear overachiever. (Damn her.)
- √ Perfect Hair: well, Marysue has hair. Lots. And while we’re on the subject, I might as well admit it. She’s really pretty. (Double damn her…)
- √ Always Gets the Guy: She only ever wanted one guy, but she got him and still has him.
- √ Super Smart: For decades, Marysue has held a high level, highly technical engineering position in a completely male-dominated STEM sector. You better believe smart!
- √ Can Fly: Satellites. Marysue programs flights of satellites and outer space rockets. I’d like to see some kickass little green-eyed heroine try that one.
- √ Has Telepathy: Marysue has five children, four of them boys. She not only has telepathy, but eyes in the back of her head.
- √ Exotic Eyes/ Exotic Hair Color/ Exotic Saliva: Marysue lives in southern California. At any given time, she could well have any or all of these.
- √ President of the World: Even more important—President of the Parent Teacher Association.
- √ Rich Without Trying: Bought a house in Santa Barbara back in the day. A house with its own water source.
- √ Friends Will Die For Her : So, here’s a true thing and not nearly as creepy then as it would be today. When we were kids, people were ALWAYS trying to get Marysue to come home with them. Not just other kids, either. We’d go to family barbeques, or my father’s Notre Dame Club events, and lovely older friends of my parents would ask if she could come home with them for a while. Or that new family down the street who only spoke Japanese would somehow be able to communicate that she should come for dinner and perhaps adoption.
Yikes! Maybe our Marysue really IS the Mary Sue.
As authors, we’re always advised to create flaws in our characters so they can avoid the Mary Sue label. Luckily, our Marysue is not blessed with the following attributes:
- Χ People who don’t like her at first always like her by the end of the story: Since we never encountered anyone who didn’t like Marysue at first, I can’t really see how this one would apply…
- Χ Has Wings/ Poops Out Gold: With five kids, Marysue has always had enough trouble getting a good night’s sleep so I’m sure she is grateful she didn’t have to contend with either of these uncomfortable sounding physical issues.
- Χ Hidden Secret Powers: You know, I really debated on whether or not to give her this one. On the one hand, she can’t shoot out web-sticky stuff and swing between buildings. But on the other hand, she makes the best cookies and brownies on the planet and NEVER even uses a recipe. Holy Secret Powers, Bake Off!
- Χ Hidden Secret Underpants. No really, there are just some TMI things a sister doesn’t need to know.
And the number one reason I know OUR Marysue isn’t a Mary Sue trope?
- Χ Green Eyes: Nope, nope, nope.