Canon Sue

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Synonyms: Author insert, Author Avatar, Willow-Sue
See also: Mary Sue, Gary Stu, Marty Stu, Suethor
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Several types of characters are often called a Canon Sue.

One type of Canon Sue is the protagonist of a published work of fiction who is perceived to be the author's Mary Sue: an example might be an extremely attractive, witty character who is always right about everything, has numerous love interests and even more numerous superpowers or skills, and who is universally beloved by her friends and feared by her enemies. Or a protagonist who is not perfect -- in fact sometimes oh-so charmingly imperfect -- but despite being an ordinary girl (or sometimes boy) manages to win the admiration and affection of all around her and hog all the action or plot of the narrative in a Sue-ish fashion.

Another type of Canon Sue is a character who may not actually have Sue-ish attributes in canon, but who is repeatedly transformed into a Sue in fanfiction by authors who self-identify with the character to a great degree, and use the character as an authorial insert in stories that they write.

Kate Bolin attributes the popularity of Willow stories on the Buffy the Vampire Slayer listserv UCSL to the "Willow Sue" phenomenon. [1] (For instance, a hypothetical Canon Sue story featuring Willow might tell the tale of how she becomes the most powerful witch in the world, with all the other characters either expressing their love and/or respect for her, or else experiencing overwhelming regret for any time they treated her with less than sincere reverence.) Other frequently Willow-Sued characters include Chloe Sullivan from Smallville and Cally from Blake's 7.[2]

Some fans refer to their own indulgence in self-insertion with canon characters by saying that a particular character "is my Mary Sue."

A third type of Canon Sue is a character in canon that, if appearing in fanfic, would be a Mary Sue. In the Starsky and Hutch episode, "Starsky's Lady," the character, "Terry" is an example. She is understanding, pretty, perfect, funny, loves Hutch almost as much as Starsky does, has a wonderful job, and of course, is killed by the end of the episode.

Pro Authors' and Creators' Sues

Several characters from professional canon, such profic and television series, are considered to embody aspects of a Mary Sue. Fans tend to notice when a profic writer or a show's writing staff steps over the fictional line and moves a character out of believability and into the Mary Sue realm.

Examples:

  • Anita Blake who started as a low-powered necromancer in Laurell K. Hamilton's novels, and, as of the most recent book[3], is involved in a threesome with her two original love interests, a vampire and a werewolf, needs to have sex with numerous strange men or else she'll go crazy (called the Ardeur), can control animals and the undead, can magically bind werecreatures and vampires to her as her servants, and is the queen of a pack of wereleopards.[4]
  • Wesley Crusher from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Annoying boy hero, written by Gene Wesley Roddenberry.
  • In a classic piece of Sueage, J. Michael Straczynski (creator of Babylon 5), gave both of his messianic-space-captain war-hero lead characters (Jeffrey Sinclair and John Sheridan) his initials.
  • Rodney McKay on Stargate Atlantis has been termed the self-insertion character of some of the writing staff[5] -- geek boy gets to be a hero, gets the pretty girl, etc.
  • Jennifer Keller, Rodney's love interest on SGA, is sometimes cited as a Canon Sue.[6]
  • Ziva David from NCIS has been labeled in this manner[7].
  • Other male canon characters such as Spike and James T. Kirk[8] also get the Mary Sue label (though less often).
  • Bella Swan from the Twilight series is considered by some fans to embody the "Clumsy Sue" (yet loved by everybody) archetype.
  • The character Eragon, an ordinary farmboy rising to unbelievable greatness in the Eragon novels and film adaptation, is seen as a Mar(t)y Sue.
  • Phèdre from Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel's Legacy books is occasionally called Sue-ish.[9]
  • Readers of Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern sometimes describe reacting to the young harper Menolly as a Mary Sue, particularly in Dragonsinger, the second volume of her story.
  • Fan reviewers react similarly to Kindan, the hero of Todd McCaffrey's Dragon Harper.
  • Among readers of Jean M. Auel's Earth's Children novels, even the most devoted fans describe the heroine Ayla as an "Uber-Sue." Ayla is also cited for her extreme beauty such that every Cro-Magnon man who meets her immediately wants to mate with her.
  • Harriet Vane, a character introduced by Dorothy Sayers into the last four books of her Lord Peter Wimsey mystery series, is an oft-disputed Canon Sue. Like Sayers, Harriet Vane was a mystery novelist; Sayers also gave her a very thinly fictionalized version of her own unfortunate romantic history -- including killing off the fictional character based on her ex-lover. Of course, Lord Peter fell madly in love with Harriet, causing some to suspect that Vane was Sayers' Mary Sue. However, most fans view Harriet as a well-rounded, honestly flawed character. On the TVTropes page for Peter Wimsey, Harriet is described as "a rare example of an Author Avatar done exceptionally well." The entry adds that she "never descends to the depths of perfection required for a Canon Sue."

The complaints about many of these characters tend to focus on their plethora of abilities and seeming inability to fail, at anything, ever. The general feeling is that such traits render the characters less believable.

A fan writes in Jundland Wastes #3 (July 1981) that Star Wars is one big Mary Sue for its creator. "[The only person getting rich off SW] is George Lucas, whose own little Mary Sue has captured so many hearts; and he really doesn't count anyway, since he's plowing it all right back in Lucasfilms, to bring us newer and better fanzines -- er, movies."

By today's standards, Tarzan of the Apes is a Mary Sue, as are Nancy Drew, Andersen's Little Mermaid, and Christian heroine Elsie Dinsmore.

It is occasionally possible for an author avatar or Canon Sue to transcend the genre by virtue of subverting the usual Mary Sue tropes. In a Metafilter thread about fandom and fanfiction, site user Asparagirl said,

FYI, the ultimate piece of 'Mary Sue' fanfic is the terrific novel "The Beekeeper's Apprentice" by Laurie R. King, in which a young brilliant fifteen year old American girl becomes best buddies and eventually the wife of Sherlock Holmes (yes, really). King is an Edgar Award winner, which is the annual award given for best mystery novels. In "Beekeeper's" she doesn't just fill the 'Mary Sue' trappings, she exploits them shamelessly, subverts them, rises beyond them. She deftly points out the ways in which her modern female protagonist is no more a wish-fulfillment for women than Holmes himself was an idealized wish-fulfillment for Victorian men. For every allusion in the Conan Doyle canon to Holmes as a Christ-like figure (Reichenbach, his birthday, etc.), King counters with her protagonist's associations with Biblical women (both of the Mary's and Judith, in particular). [10]

Controversy: are Sues just strong women? Or competent women?

Some fans who write original female characters find that these characters will always be labeled as Mary Sues, no matter how well written or characterized, and see the obsession with the Mary Sue/Canon Sue label as evidence of misogyny in fandom [11]

The "Mary Sue" concept has drawn criticism from amateur and professional authors. Many such criticisms are brushed off as coming from writers who create "Mary Sues" and are thus beneath notice. However, the onus of wishing to avoid being condemned as a "Suethor" ("Mary Sue" author) apparently weighs heavily even on professional authors and sophisticated amateurs, particularly women.

Camille Bacon-Smith includes a subsection on the "Mary Sue" concept in her book, Enterprising Women[12], tying it together with the Canon Sue issue. While not denying that such characters exist, she observes that fear of creating a "Mary Sue" may be restricting and even silencing pro writers, not just fan writers. She mentions "Mary Sue" paranoia as one of the sources for the lack of "believable, competent, and identifiable-with female characters." At Clippercon 1987 (a Star Trek fan convention), Smith interviewed a panel of women authors who say they do not include female characters in their stories at all. She quoted one as saying "Every time I've tried to put a woman in any story I've ever written, everyone immediately says, this is a Mary Sue." Smith also pointed out that "Participants in a panel discussion in January 1990 noted with growing dismay that any female character created within the community is damned with the term Mary Sue."[13]

Several other writers quoted by Smith point out that James T. Kirk is himself could be considered a "Mary Sue," or Canon Sue, and that the label seems to be used more indiscriminately on female characters who do not behave in accordance with the dominant culture's images and expectations for females as opposed to males.[14] Professional author Ann Crispin is quoted: "The term 'Mary Sue' constitutes a put-down, implying that the character so summarily dismissed is not a true character, no matter how well drawn, what sex, species, or degree of individuality."[15]

In discussing what is and is not Mary Sue in either professional or amateur fiction, it is necessary to remember and take into account the common fictional figure known as the competent man or woman. Described and named by Robert Heinlein, this is a non-superpowered hero who is accomplished in numerous skills, mostly acquired through practical experience. Like an Olympic skier who is working toward a master's degree in sociology and plays Irish harp in her leisure hours, this character is not as unrealistic as she may at first appear. Competent male characters have long been taken for granted: James Bond, Doctor Who, Batman, Mr. Spock, Sherlock Holmes. Competent women in fiction may be more likely to be ridiculed and/or labeled as Mary Sue.

Canon Sue Fandom

There is an entire Livejournal community devoted to pointing out and mocking Canon Sues, appropriately named canon_sue. In this sense, Canon Sues could be seen as an anti-fandom. When making a post to the comm, fans are asked to provide such details as the Sue's:

  • Annoying Origin
  • Annoying Way of Ruining the Story
  • Annoying Special Abilities
  • Miscellaneous Reasons The Sue Should Not Exist [16]

The comm was founded in 2003 and has nearly 600 members as of 2008.

References

  1. The Appropriation of Characters: The Curse of the Willow Sue by Kate Bolin. Accessed Oct. 26, 2008.
  2. Who's Afraid of the Mary-Sue?: In Defence of OCs by Firerose (accessed 3 September 2012)
  3. Which AB book?[citation needed]
  4. Anita Blake's powers at her Wikipedia page.
  5. Discussion by bethbethbeth and Xparrot at cesperanza's post SGA 5.16; 23 Nov 2008 WebCite.
  6. Mary Sue Keller post by wickedwords, 6 Sep 2008. Accessed November 22, 2008; WebCite
  7. you made me hate you, i didn't want to do it post at The Hathor Legacy, accessed November 22, 2008
  8. Wikipedia article on Mary Sues Accessed November 22, 2008
  9. In a thread at FFA I'll try to find the link to.
  10. Asparagirl, FYI, the ultimate piece of 'Mary Sue' fanfic Posted May 23, 2007. Accessed November 19, 2007.
  11. "[...]it looks to me like people are utilizing multiple definitions of Mary Sue, and by at least one of them, "any strong female heroine with an interesting life" qualifies. This is upsettingly sexist, especially to a person who hopes to make a living writing strong male *and* female heroes with interesting lives." Alara Rogers, Make up your Mind: what is a Mary Sue? Posted January 30th 2003. Accessed 19 November 2008
  12. Bacon-Smith, Camille, Enterprising Women, Television Fandom and the Creation of Popular Myth. Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1992.
  13. Smith, p. 110. A footnote states this was reported to her by Judy Chien, who attended the panel at MostEastlyCon 1990 in Newark.
  14. Smith, p. 97.
  15. Smith, p. 98.
  16. Livejournal, Canon Sues Profile Page Accessed November 22, 2008.
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