Of Mary Sues and Marty Stus
(Here’s another opinion piece brought to you by the always gracious David Herbert. Enjoy!)
So last week I made an idiot of myself by making a commentary on straw man arguments, while using an inaccurate definition of the term. My apologies. But now we dig into territory that’s a little harder to define since the term tends to be thrown around rather casually, especially on TV Tropes.
By the broadest definition, a Sue/Stu is an idealised version of the author who is universally liked, sometimes even by the antagonists, has powers/abilities far beyond any one else and always comes out on top. However, many protagonists have traits that fall under these categories and yet are never accused of being a Sue/Stu. And there are also many who have these traits but are unfairly labelled as one.
For example, Hermione Granger is a character I feel is unfairly labelled. Now yes, you can point out that JK Rowling has admitted she identifies most with Hermione and we are talking about a witch who can perform magic far beyond what is expected of her, but that doesn’t make her a Sue. (For the record, I’m only going by the books, not the movies). In the first novel, she’s introduced as being somewhat stuck up, a buzz kill, arrogant and these traits have alienated her from the rest of her classmates. She eventually loosens up, but the other characters still find her irritating at times.
The character is shown to be very neurotic; in book 3 she fails a test when the final obstacle, a creature that transforms into a person’s worst fear, appears as the deputy headmistress and informs her she flunked all her exams. She’s also only knowledgeable on textbook subjects, relying on Ron to tell her about wizarding culture as she didn’t grow up with them. And around book 4, she gains some white guilt over the plight of house elves, even going so far as to try and trick them into freeing themselves despite the elves being perfectly happy at Hogwarts, almost in an analogue of Islamic women who hate people campaigning for the banning of burqas. She refuses to accept that though since she’s very narrow minded and is routinely shown as this being a negative quality.
There’s nothing wrong with having a character based on the author, it’s always good to write what you know. And there’s nothing wrong with having a character that can be used as a power fantasy. It really all comes down to, as I said last week, framing and execution. If the character does something bad, are they punished for it? Are we shown or told how great a character is? How do they compare to the people around them?
Let’s take a look at some characters who can be seen as Stu/Sues and see if they fit the bill.
Ethan McManus of Ctrl+Alt+Delete
Now Buckley draws himself and Ethan the same way, so this is a clear author avatar. He’s idealised, to the point of being declared the king of gaming. His friends forgive him for awful things and his pain is usually shown as being of greater concern. However he’s not really supposed to be the superior one, in fact much of the humour comes from his idiocy. But that factor actually strengthens the other claims since he can be that stupid and still that right.
Verdict: Marty Stu
Tom Preston from So… You’re a Cartoonist.
The comic is semi-autobiographical so it’s an author avatar. However he’s not really idealised, he’s never presented as being a great cartoonist, in fact Dobson does mock himself on occasion and people around him tend to not like him. But he usually is presented as being in the right even when he’s being completely arrogant.
Verdict: Designated Hero
Rayne Summers from Least I Could Do
The name is very close to the author’s plus they share the same views and interests. He can pick up any woman he wants and helps run a corporation without any prior qualifications successfully. He wins every argument without allowing the opposition to counter, and is supposedly wise for this. When he does awful things, he’s not the one to blame. His friends tolerate abuse and are shown to find it amusing no matter the subject or even endearing.
Verdict: Marty Stu
Piro from Megatokyo
Named after Fred Gallagher’s username. Not entirely idealised, but is hinted at being a talented artist who doesn’t have enough self-esteem to realise it. Has a teenager fall in love with him. He’s too self-absorbed to realise the bizarre ongoing events around him. However he is called out for being whiny.
Verdict: Designated Hero
I had some more candidates, but it was almost impossible to navigate their archives and find the references I was looking for. Feel free to comment with your own analysis of other characters. I’d love to see what people think of my own characters.
That’s all from me for now. I’ll see you guys in April where we take a look at Sinfest and see if we can determine why people are having issues with it. Take care.