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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

question of the day: What are your favorite Mary Sue stories in popular fiction?

Today’s question comes from reader Drave, who says:

I was thinking about my favorite Star Trek book as a kid (“Uhura’s Song”), and I realized that Evan Wilson is one of the most blatant Mary Sue characters I’ve ever seen. (That, plus cat people means the book is not only Mary Sue fanfiction, it’s furry Mary Sue fanfiction! Oh, the shame!) When I was looking for other people discussing this book, I stumbled across an article accusing Steven Moffat of writing Mary Sues in Doctor Who. Now, I do think the Moffat stories from seasons 2-4 are some of the finest hours of television ever filmed, but I see where this person is coming from. Renette, Sally, and River all tread precariously close to Mary Sue territory, so it got me wondering what other great stories fit that label if we try and view them objectively.

For those unfamiliar with the concept of the Mary Sue, she — or he, sometimes called a Marty Stu — is a character who is absolute perfection: brilliant, kind, generous, noble, gorgeous… but not in anyway that’s annoying. Oh no: Everyone falls madly in love with the Mary Sue. The Mary Sue is irresistible. Often the Mary Sue gallantly sacrifices her- or himself in order to save the hero. The term came about because fan fiction writers were inventing new characters for their stories — say, a beautiful, shy, brave, genius ensign newly transferred to the Enterprise, whom Spock has a torrid romance with before she takes a set-to-kill phaser blast for him — that were little more than stand-ins for the writers themselves, and are not particularly interesting as fictional characters. Then the term came to be seen as having a wider application: James Bond is a Marty Stu, for instance. So is Doctor Who’s Rose Tyler. So is The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’s Mikael Blomkvist (though that’s more obvious in the novel than it is in the movie).

So: What are your favorite Mary Sue stories in popular fiction?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)

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