This is freaking AWESOME and I BOW to the well voiced arguments while shaking pompoms.
Well, all right, then. I think this was the impetus I needed to make my post about Mary Sues, the invocation of the term (almost always by girls and women) and the application of the term to Clary in particular. I hope this can be taken in the spirit of healthy discussion but if not … well, it remains a point that needs to be made.
I’m going to quote from an awesome essay by author Zoe Marriot on this topic. She first observes that there are basically no female protagonists in literature who do not get called Mary Sues these days; that calling female protagonists Mary Sues has become a kind of self-hating girl sport, and that it is at its heart unfeminist and a term that needs re-examination and re-use, pronto.
“When I read reviews, I see the term Mary-Sue used to mean:
1) A female character who is too perfect
2) A female character who kicks too much butt
3) A female character who gets her way too easily
4) A female character who is too powerful
5) A female character who has too many flaws
6) A female character who has the wrong flaws
7) A female character who has no flaws
8) A female character who is annoying or obnoxious
9) A female character who is one dimensional or badly written
10) A female character who is too passive or boring”
Do you see, Dear Readers, how many of these aspects of the commonly used term Mary-Sue are…umm…just a teeny bit contradictory? How can Mary-Sue mean ‘a female character who is too perfect’ when it is also used to mean a female character who is ‘annoying or obnoxious’? How can it mean that a character has ‘too many flaws’ and also ‘no flaws’? How can these people have anything in common? It’s all so confusing!
Except that it isn’t.
Take another look at the list of complaints against so-called Mary-Sues and you will see one thing all of them have in common.
‘A female character.’”
Go, Ms. Marriott. You are awesome. Now more specifically on the topic of Clary being a Mary Sue, I am going to respond to a reaction post I received on my last essay about Clary.
“The thing is, the whole world seems to revolve around this girl. (Clary.)”
Yes, it does. Because TMI is a hero’s journey story, and she is both the hero and the protagonist. But the fact that you have a problem with that is the entire issue in a nutshell.
Mary Sue is a fanfiction term. It is specifically designed to apply to original characters in fanfiction who are written into an existing universe, and the existing universe warps around them. She turns out to be Snape’s long-lost daughter and Ron and Harry befriend her and Draco falls in love with her. The Winchester boys abandon their love for each other and fight over her. Percy dumps Annabeth for her and she’s also the daughter of Zeus and more powerful than anyone else at camp. And so on.
This is obviously problematic stuff because it distorts the balance of the existing story. We don’t want an intruder to replace Hermione, we don’t want to see Angel love someone more than Buffy. Because those universes already exist, with their dynamics already in place. If they begin revolving around a brand new character, the world as it has been built and to which we are attached is broken.
This is not the case with original fiction. Yes, the world revolves, to an extent, around Clary. Just like the world revolves around Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived. Or around Percy Jackson, the son of Poseidon and the object of prophecy. Or around Eragon, the only living dragon rider. Except of course that’s perfectly all right and no one cares or even notices, because they are boys, and they are meant to be the center of the world.
The moment a woman commandeers her own narrative, she is a Mary Sue. The moment she is more important than the corresponding boy characters in her story, she is a Mary Sue. The moment the other characters acknowledge her as either powerful or correct, she’s apparently a Mary Sue. The moment she can find her own ass in the dark with both hands, she’s a Mary Sue.
The world hates competent women. And no one hates them more than other women do.
“And her being the main character isn’t an excuse. It’s kind of like nothing is ever Clary’s fault. She makes mistakes, and I get that, people make mistakes, but she doesn’t really get called out on them. People apologize to her. And she can feel all the guilt she wants, but it feels like no matter what Clary does, it’s always okay. “
Except that isn’t remotely true. She gets called out on her mistakes repeatedly, and frequently criticized or shouted at. In the first book, Alec calls her out; he and Isabelle are angry at her the whole book. Simon yells at her for not noticing his feelings, and he’s correct. In the second book, she agonizes over what happens to Simon, eating herself up with guilt. In the third book, she gets a walluping both from Luke AND Jace, both of whom call her out: Luke for being reckless and risking her life and his, and Jace for much the same. She gets called out by Isabelle for her relationship with Jace. She gets called on the carpet again by Luke in City of Fallen Angels for using her rune to raise the dead. And she apologizes constantly.
The problem isn’t that Clary doesn’t get frequently called out for her mistakes or that she doesn’t apologize. The problem is that 1) she forges ahead anyway —she has to, of course, she’s a heroine, she can’t just stopbeing the protagonist because of criticism, though she does take it on board and she does apologize, in fact at least once in each book 2) very little satisfies the readerly desire to see powerful women shamed, punished, humiliated, and apologizing. It is not enough that they apologize. It is not enough that they get yelled at. They need to suffer. I refer you to this.
Other things I dislike about the way she’s written:
Jace falls in love at first sight (which is the least interesting and impressive way for a relationship to develop, at least for me).
That I disagree with on two points. First, Jace falls in fascination with Clary at first sight. He doesn’t love her at first sight. He grows to love her over time, which we know, because he literally describes the process of falling in love with her in City of Glass.
“And then I met you. You were a mundane. Weak. Not a fighter. Never trained. And then I saw how much you loved your mother, loved Simon, and how you’d walk into hell to save them. You did walk into that vampire hotel. Shadowhunters with a decade of experience wouldn’t have tried that. Love didn’t make you weak, it made you stronger than anyone I’d ever met.”
That isn’t love at first sight; that’s love that develops over time because of admiration. Jace admires, specifically, Clary’s loyalty and capacity to love, and her bravery. We know this because he says so, and because we can actually see the change in his behavior toward her as he goes from being interested and attracted to actually being in love.
Even if it were true (that he fell in love with her at first sight) this would be a problem with the way Jace was written, not the way Clary was written. That the impulse is to blame the female character for the way other characters feel about her is telling, and something I’ve addressed before and will again.
Her harsh words nearly get Alec killed, and he apologizes to her for being a dick. What.
Again, this is a classic example of blaming the female character for the way other characters behave, specifically male ones. “Her harsh words nearly get Alec killed”? No, Alec’s job being a demonhunteris what nearly gets Alec killed. Whatever Clary said, Alec is responsible for his own feelings and his own actions. Even if you wanted to argue the debatable point that Alec threw himself at a powerful demon because Clary called him cowardly (after he called her a reckless bitch who was borderline responsible for possible murder) — what is Alec, nine years old? He’s a trained career warrior and he doesn’t have the maturity not to respond to schoolyard taunting, and that’s Clary’s fault?
Again, the girl is blamed for the behavior of a boy. Girls are not just responsible for their own behavior, they are held responsible for the way boys react to them, for boys’ feelings and behavior. At its absolute worst extension, this argument becomes “she deserved it for wearing a short skirt.”
People never really stay mad at her. Actually, people don’t really get mad at her either.
Yes. They do. Again: Alec and Simon are both angry at her in Bones. Luke yells at her in Glass.
“He told you there are wards up around the city that prevent Portaling into it. It’s not his fault you decided to play around with magic you just barely understand. Just because you have power doesn’t mean you know how to use it…Of course you didn’t know. You don’t know anything about Idris. You don’t even care about Idris. You were just upset about being left behind, like a child, and you had a tantrum. And now we’re here.”
Jace yells at her in Glass. Isabelle takes her to task in Glass. (Of course Sebastian, Valentine, and the Consul repeatedly yell at her, but they are villains, so I will leave that aside.) Luke yells at her in Angels. Isabelle reprimands her as well, as does Simon. And as I sit here making this list of People Who Have Yelled At Clary, I feel ridiculous doing it, because it is exactly the sort of list I should not have to be making. Do I have to make a list of People Who Have Called Harry Potter on the Carpet? People Who Have Been Fucked Off At Percy Jackson? No, because no one wants or needs to see them screamed at, because they are boys.
She’s an unstoppable mary-sue, honestly. (see above reasons + like a bajillion more)
To quote again the lovely Ms. Marriot:
“And yet I see the term Mary-Sue applied to characters who bear no resemblance to this definition at all. I see it applied to such diverse people as Hermione Grainger from Harry Potter, Mae from The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan, Clary from the Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare, Alanna from The Song of the Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce, and Katsa from Graceling by Kristin Cashore. These guys, honestly, couldn’t be much more different from each other. The only thing they have in common is that they’re all girls.”
And that is why I am making this post — because I think people need to rethink the term Mary Sue and their use of it. So far all the post I’m responding to has done is argue that Clary is the protagonist, and that she is insufficiently screamed at by other members of the cast. Dare I suggest that perhaps the other members of the cast do not spend all their time screaming at Clary because they recognize, actually, that while she makes mistakes (as all well-rounded characters do) she is basically an extremely useful member of their team, a brave girl who repeatedly comes through in a crisis, a human being with solid morals and good ethics, someone who loves and cares about the people they love and care about, and someone who’s saved oh, all their lives, often more than once? And that that is okay and in fact expected behavior from the hero of a story?
Though I think the term Mary Sue is basically across the board inaccurate when applied in original fiction, and certainly at least should be used sparingly — we all actually do know a Mary Sue when we see one. She’s loved by everyone, skilled without ever having to try or work for it, no one hates her except the villains, everything gets handed to her on a plate, she’s always right and never makes mistakes, and if she does, she never has to face the consequences.
Except that doesn’t describe Clary in even the tiniest particular. Everyone doesn’t love her on sight. Neither Alec or Isabelle like her and she has to work hard to earn their trust over several books. She doesn’t get handed everything on a plate. She does have special powers but she has to work hard to find out what they are, and she has to train hard to even begin to acquire fighting skills. She isn’t always right. She’s often wrong. She takes risks and while they often pay out, sometimes they don’t. She does have to face consequences. She raised Jace from the dead and the entire plot of the last three books looks to be about facing the consequences of that decision. (“The balance of life and death is a delicate one. You have upset it.”)
And yet she gets called a Mary Sue anyway. So why is that?
The thing is, none of these statements attack Clary directly. The things that annoy me are more focused on how the MI world reacts to her.
Which is the argument of those who want to call female characters a Mary Sue. In fanfiction, what people hate is an already existing world that warps itself to make someone who was never a part of that world the most important character in it. In the TMI world, Clary is the most important character — because she is the protagonist. The world does center around her. Her powers do save the world. The idea that a girl would be the center of a story, that she would be the one who saves the world, is one that engenders harsh responses. Jace gets himself stabbed to death and Clary is all that’s left; her cleverness saves all the Shadowhunters’ lives and destroys Valentine and the response to that from her bashers is deep, deep discomfort and a desire to tear her down so that the challenge of dealing with a story where the heroic boy dies and the heroic girl saves the day won’t have to be faced.
As for Clary herself…I guess she’s okay. Ish. She’s better than some heroines out there, but stereotypical. Doesn’t know she’s pretty (totally doesn’t get why people stare at her when she dresses up)
What is interesting here is that the baseline problem with an actual Mary Sue is that she’s not realistic. A fifteen year old girl not realizing she’s pretty (Clary describes herself as “cute” and young-looking) is quite realistic. There is a difference between stereotype and a trope that comes up often because it reflects reality. (No one, of course, minds the scene in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire where the previously plain Hermione dresses up and is suddenly wow!pretty because Hermione isn’t the protagonist. Hermione knows her place — not at the center of the story — so her makeover isn’t a problem.)
, totally oblivious to Simon’s love, fixated on her soulmate (though not AS much as other YA heroines out there at least), “awkward” (still goes to clubs and dances), “shy” (yet she slaps Jace, yells at Alec, etc), clumsy (no quotes here, obviously. But isn’t it adorable, how she’s so clumsy and Jace has to catch her and stuff…). But I guess all of this is personal taste. Idk, some people like these traits.
Wow, this is some puzzling stuff. People are a bundle of contradictions. Sometimes people are shy or dance awkwardly at clubs, and those same people can be the life of the party at other times. People can be skilled in one area (Clary’s a good artist) and terrible in another (apparently not a good dancer.) People can be shy and still have bad tempers. People are complicated and characters are complicated. The above list of apparently contradictory qualities reads like an indictment of Clary for being a well-rounded, realisticcharacter instead of the stereotype being falsely invoked. To take this apart: Clary is “awkward” and therefore shouldn’t be allowed to go to clubs and dance? Clary is clumsy? When is she ever described by herself, the text, or anyone else as clumsy? Is this an inference from the fact that in City of Fallen Angels, when Jace cuts through the rope holding her up, she falls on him? She’s clumsy because gravity applies to her? She’s oblivious to Simon’s love for her and that makes her bad? Or stereotypical? Harry staggers through five or six books totally unaware Ginny loves him despite the fact that Ginny actually sent him a love letter. Percy is dopily unaware Annabeth likes him until the last book. But this is adorable, because they are boys. When Clary doesn’t notice Simon loves her, she’s a stereotype.
Oh, and she’s pretty inconsistent as a character. And…she doesn’t notice that Simon’s in love with her, but she magically knows that Alec is gay after knowing for…less than a few days, I think. She sees everything! She notices Alec discreetly fumbling with his key to Magnus’ apartment. And a bunch of other stuff in the book that shows her being so observant or perceptive.
It took me a little while to parse this out as it’s jumbled, but I think I did. I think the idea here is that Clary is “inconsistent” (which has, sigh, nothing to do with being a Mary Sue) because she notices Alec is gay (something that everyone else in Alec’s life has also noticed, so I am not sure this is blinding perception beyond the norm) but doesn’t notice Simon’s in love with her.
Except that the fact is that it is completely normal, human and realistic that we notice things about other people’s lives that we do not notice about our own. The readers see the moment in the diner when Clary realizes Alec is in love with Jace: when Jace comes in and Alec perks up at his presence. Clary, who likes Jace and is aware Alec hates her guts, draws the obvious conclusion. Yes, this is perceptive (I am not sure why we would be holding out for more dim, unperceptive YA heroines) but not unnaturally psychic. That Clary does not notice how Simon feels about her is a whole other ballpark. We are often blind to things about ourselves and our own lives that we can clearly see about other people’s. That is why it is much easier to give other people advice than it is to see our own paths. If this makes Clary inconsistent, then so are most people actually alive on the planet.
It’s a Clary world out there, and I don’t like it.
It is a Clary world. Clary’s the main character. The books are her journey. I believe I’m quoting the author here, but I don’t need to be: it’s obvious from the structure of the way the books are written. It’s a monomyth story — the Call to Adventure, the Journey Into the Underworld, the Return, it’s all there.
There is no book — none — that I have seen that revolves around a female character and her adventures where that character is not called a Mary Sue. And that is bothersome and upsetting for various reasons.
It is bothersome because what it says is: “Girls, you cannot be awesome. Do not expect stories in which you are awesome, because stories about awesome girls are dismissed as wish-fulfilment and the girls in them as Mary Sues. Don’t get your hopes up about stories in which girls are awesome but also have flaws, either, because in that case the readers will fixate on the flaws of the characters and exaggerate them vastly out of proportion in order to explain why they dislike the heroine — why, in theory, they would love books with more strong female protagonists, only this strong female protagonist is just not good enough. If you are a young girl and you dream of being at the center of a heroic story like the story of Harry Potter or Frodo Baggins, you need to set your sights lower. You can be a Hermione Granger and be a great girl character — who plays second fiddle to a boy. You can love Eowyn — who isn’t the protagonist, or even in the Fellowship. You can be smart like Annabeth — who isn’t our main character either. You can be a cipher like Ginny Weasley, and be the hero’s love interest but have no actual goals of your own. But if you want to be awesome, if you want to take charge and kick butt, if you want to be reckless and brave and celebrated for it, then prepare to be told you are selfish and brace yourself for being called a Mary Sue.
Because in the end of things, what a Mary-Sue is is a wish-fulfilment character. And what the hatred of Mary Sues, or perceived Mary Sues, is, is a declaration that it is not okay, if you are a girl, to wish to for the story to be about you.
The other characters deserve to shine more too…or at least, I find them a whole lot more interesting than Clary. Clary, everything about her and her story has been done to death anyway, four books and counting too. Isabelle, on the other hand…XD
You know, it’s fine if you find the other characters more interesting than Clary. I’ve said before that Clary (somewhat like Harry Potter, actually) is something of a windowpane character: she serves as a viewpoint by which we view the world of the Mortal Instruments so the other characters can come off as more vibrant because of it. I think it’s a little odd to say her story’s been “done to death” at four books considering that there are oh, five books about Eragon, seven about Harry Potter, seven and counting about Percy Jackson … but there’s always more to say about boys, isn’t there? But that doesn’t give you a pass to use the term Mary-Sue.
As for “giving the other characters a chance to shine” — well, given that the villain of the first books was Clary’s father and the villain of the second series looks set to be her brother, it would be a little odd to tell the majority of the story from the point of view of someone who is way less central to the action than Clary is, less emotionally invested, less responsible for the chain of events that’s playing out, and less interesting to the villains. (Again: protagonist.) I like the side characters as well, but I strongly suspect that a lot of the people who talk about their love of the side characters love them precisely because they are side characters and if they were suddenly the protagonists, they’d be singing a very different tune. It’s easy to say you love Isabelle. She’s not the main character. Isabelle — a confident, beautiful girl who knows she’s beautiful, who uses boys and tosses them aside, who is very prickly and doesn’t like other girls much, and who has grown up being a very special girl (the best Shadowhunter around besides Jace) surrounded by gorgeous boys who love her — well, if she were the protag, it would take about five seconds for the Mary Sue guns to come out mercilessly.
I guarantee it.