Irritatingly Perfect - The Mary Sue

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I'm saving the 8th season of Game of Thrones for binge-watching with my husband after the season and series finale. I have only run into two spoilers so far – the Starbucks cup on the table in front of Daenerys in episode 4 and the water bottle by Sam Tarly's feet in the series finale. I promise – no Game of Thrones spoilers in this article. It's not about Game of Thrones anyway. Not directly.

It's about the Mary Sue and her male counterpart, the Gary Stu.

According to unfounded rumor, a bunch of incels (angry men who call themselves involuntary celibates because women won't fuck them) claim that Arya Stark is a Mary Sue because she's too perfect, too lacking in flaws, too strong, and too feminist for their taste. They don't like her. Now, I haven't found any posts from a single incel who actually said this. I found Twitter and Facebook comments from people who heard about it. It's kinda like that line in Ferris Bueller's Day Off – "My best friend's sister's boyfriend's brother's girlfriend heard from this guy who knows this kid who's going with the girl who saw Ferris pass out at 31 Flavors last night."
I wanted to correct the misconception, but those on Twitter and Facebook got it wrong. Yes, Arya is not a Mary Sue, but not because she's who she is. She's not a Mary Sue because she's not a thinly-veiled version of George R. R. Martin.

Wikipedia provided an apt description of this character. Mary Sue (or Gary Stu) "is an idealized and seemingly perfect fictional character. Often, this character is recognized as an author insert or wish fulfillment. They can usually perform better at tasks than should be possible given the amount of training or experience, and usually are able through some means to upstage the main protagonist of an established fictional setting, such as by saving the hero." Some famous examples of Mary Sues are Star Trek's Wesley Crusher (he's really James Roddenberry whose middle name was Wesley) and Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice. Bennet is a thinly-disguised Jane Austen.

Other famous examples of Mary Sues:

Lily Potter
Ginny Weasley
Hermione Granger
Dorothy Gale
Bella Swan
Katniss Everdeen
Beth March

Where did Mary Sue come from? She originated in Star Trek fan fiction. In her 1973 short story A Trekkie's Tale (published in the fanzine Menagerie), Paula Smith created her star character, who was appropriately named Lieutenant Mary Sue, as a means of satirizing unrealistic characters in Trek fan fiction. The editors disliked those kinds of unrealistic characters, describing them as "Mary Sue stories — the adventures of the youngest and smartest ever person to graduate from the academy and ever get a commission at such a tender age. Usually characterized by unprecedented skill in everything from art to zoology, including karate and arm-wrestling. This character can also be found burrowing her way into the good graces/heart/mind of one of the Big Three [Kirk, Spock, and McCoy], if not all three at once. She saves the day by her wit and ability, and, if we are lucky, has the good grace to die at the end, being grieved by the entire ship." Indeed, Lieutenant Mary Sue was the youngest Lieutenant in all of Starfleet. She was only fifteen and a half years old. So the concept of Mary Sue goes back many decades.

I've seen the most egregious examples of Mary Sue's in fan fiction. I used to read Harry Potter fan fiction for kicks since it was so awful but it was like a train wreck. I couldn't resist it! Women and girls wrote the fan fiction I read, and I focused on the Severus Snape stories because I thought they were the most entertaining and my favorite character in the books and movies was Snape. These women and girls injected themselves into the Harry Potter canon as a new female character who is beautiful, talented, magical, kind, sweet, loveable, so perfect she made your teeth hurt – and she becomes Snape's love interest. They married and had children in more than one version. Most often she was an older student or another professor. Some of these stories were quite well-written and they held my interest. The writers were definitely romance fans and were in love with Snape. I recall that when J. K. Rowling heard about the women who took to Snape as a love interest she was like (paraphrased) "Oh my God, why? He's awful!" He was but he was also a very complex, interesting character.

The main reason I wrote this post was to fix the misconception the incels have created when they tried to redefine the Mary Sue and the Gary Stu. Don't let them change the definition! Mary Sues are when authors insert themselves into a story they've created or insert themselves into an existing canon. While some have pulled this off quite well, others are too damned perfect for their own good. And once and for all, Arya Stark is NOT a Mary Sue!


Elizabeth Black writes in a wide variety of genres including erotica, erotic romance, horror, and dark fiction. She lives on the Massachusetts coast with her husband, son, and her two cats.

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