Every so often, a post comes up about how this or that character is a ‘Mary Sue’. I’m sure Rey from Star Wars: The Force Awakens was one of these unfortunate female characters, who certain viewers regard as being too good at things to be believed.
Allow me a moment of rocking in my chair on the porch. I was around when the term Mary Sue was localized to fandom, and in fandom – I think – it had a useful purpose. You see, the thing about fan fiction is that people read it hoping for more of the characters they loved from [whatever the canon is.] If they’re Aragorn fans, they want to see more fic about Aragorn, in which they can revel in how cool he is, feel sorrow for his sorrow and happiness for his joy, etc.
In a situation like that, I think it’s perfectly valid to resent the introduction of a female character who wasn’t even in the canon stories, who inserts herself into the universe and immediately becomes the focus of the story. Especially when she outshines Aragorn by being better than him at everything, by advising him against the bad choices he makes, being wiser than him about his moments of self doubt, more beloved than him by the good guys and more hated than him by the bad. That wasn’t what you were looking for when you went looking for Aragorn fan fic. It claimed to be Aragorn fanfic, but it was actually Legolas’s-Sister-the-real-heir-of-Lorien fanfic.
As the story misguided you as to who it was actually about, you had every reason to resent it.
However, when you take the female character who is good at everything – who outshines all the other characters, has a cool name and a destiny, who is chosen and favoured and successful – out of fanfic, I think she ceases to be a Mary Sue.
Mary Sue doesn’t just mean ‘a female character who is implausibly good at things.’ Because you know who else can be defined as ‘a character who is implausibly good at things’? The hero. That’s who. The hero, by definition, tends to be that character who always comes through in the end, and often does it by being better than everyone else.
Outside of fanfiction, there are plenty of male characters who are handsome and devastatingly sexy and dangerous and destined for greatness. Or if they’re not destined, they fight their way to greatness anyway.
It’s a classic superhero trope isn’t it? Young man finds himself in some hidden valley/ancient temple/bat-cave and is taught to be a superhero by a secret society who only exist to give him the tools to be great. Then he goes off and fights crime and dazzles high society with his wealth and debonair attitude, while carrying the fate of the world on his shoulders.
No one seems to call James Bond a Mary Sue. We’re just happy to go along with him for a wild ride of a power fantasy in which we vicariously enjoy being awesome.
So, outside fan fiction, I don’t see why you can’t also have a female hero who exists entirely to be badass and better than anyone else. A female character who gets openly admired for that.
In fact, I thought that sounded rather fun. And so Aurora Campos from the Cygnus Five series was born. I wanted her to be the kind of unstoppable force of nature that Hornblower or Jack Aubrey are, but in space. I wanted her to be the kind of person who, when she’s abandoned on a hostile world by her venal bosses, who hope she’ll be murdered and thus be no more embarrassment to them, would go “No. I’m Aurora Campos. You should be afraid of me.” And then take over that world and make it happen.
I suspect she’s a direct descendent of Susan Ivanova from Babylon Five, who initiates a war from the bridge of her battlecruiser with a speech that still makes me want to punch the air. I get to the end of this speech and I have chills even now, so very many years since I saw this first.
“I am Death Incarnate. I am the last living thing you will ever see. God sent me.”
How often do we get to see this? When do we ever get to see women have this kind of crowning moment of awesome? It’s so rare.
And that’s how Aurora came to be. I wanted her to be the kind of character who could pull off a speech like this, because she has the force of will, intelligence and strength to follow through on it.
She’s still not a Mary Sue, for the reasons I’ve given above. She’s a hero. And writing her was such a blast. Such a relief. I hope if you read her, she’ll come as a vicariously enjoyable power fantasy for you too, and that you too will find that something of a breaking of mental chains.
Mirrored from Alex Beecroft - Author of Gay Historical and Fantasy Fiction.