I was looking at Ellen Kushner’s blog, as I sometimes do, and I followed a link to another interesting blog post (by Holly Black) about Mary Sues. Not about identifying Mary Sues in literature – which has become quite the sport lately – but about the sport of identification itself. About the fact that “Mary Sue” is coming to mean “that female character I dislike”.
Dilution of a useful term? Maybe. I’m not that convinced it was a useful term, with any meaning beyond the world of fanfiction and self-insertion fantasies. Not that I’ve never used it in a review. I believe I once called the protagonist of Twilight a Mary Sue, which was probably mean of me. But what Black points out is that some of the “Mary Sue” qualities people rail about in reviews are merely features of being the protagonist. Yes, she’s smart and resourceful and able to save the day: she’s the protagonist. It’s what they do.
Anyway, interesting discussion.