On "Mary Sue" and "Lay" Stories

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Title: On "Mary Sue" and "Lay" Stories
Creator: Judith Gran
Date(s): 2000
Medium: online
Topic: see below
External Links: online here; WebCite, at COCO CHANNEL
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On "Mary Sue" and "Lay" Stories is an essay by Judith Gran. It was originally posted to the Society for Slash Diversity and COCO CHANNEL, circa 2000, and then later on Judith's own website.

In it, Judith discusses the history, characteristics, and meaning behind Mary Sues and fans' desire to be present on the Enterprise.


The phenomenon of the Mary Sue story has become so overladen with parody that it's difficult, at times, to return to the wellspring of that phenomenon: the reality that in writing fan fic, we are really writing about ourselves. Most of our stories contain alter-egos in some form. Sometimes they're the ST regulars, sometimes they are alter-egos we create ourselves. In the early days of K/S fan fic, critics of the K/S premise used to allege that K/S was really a Mary Sue. Speaking for myself, I've used Areel Shaw as a Mary Sue, created an OFC (the Marxist-anarchist governor of a utopian colony planet who beds Kirk) as a Mary Sue, and most of the time I use Kirk as a Mary Sue, because Kirk is who I'd really like to be.

In my 20-odd years as a TOS fan, I have seen--underneath the good-humored and sometimes not-so-good-humored parody--a widespread recognition that the drive to put ourselves in a piece of fan fiction is a powerful motivator and one we shouldn't automatically dismiss in someone else because we are all prey to the Mary Sue-ish urge. After all, didn't Roddenberry himself say he created Kirk and Spock as alter-egos of himself? And don't even mention Wesley Eugene Crusher--please. (All I can say is that GR's alter-ego seems to have deteriorated over the years.)

In the old days, fans often acknowledged the Mary Sue-ish origins of their characters up front. If anything, it was considered an achievement to take a classic Mary Sue scenario and create a fine piece of fan fiction out of it. As an example, consider the print novel "The Displaced," published in 1979 or so. In it, a newly widowed 20th century housewife winds up in the 23d century, is captured by slavers and joins Spock in a sort of prison camp. Spock goes into pon farr, the heroine saves him, they stay together and have several children together before they are finally rescued by the Big E. The stuff out of which Mary Sues are made, right? But the maturity, integrity and honesty of the writing transforms it into a Good Story in spite of its Mary Sue-ish origins.

Pete Fisher's fan-fic novel *Black Star* is another example. The protagonist is a gay male trucker from the 20th century who's accidentally beamed up to the Enterprise while attending a Star Trek convention and becomes Kirk's lover. As is clear from Fisher's discussion of "Black Star" in his pro novel "Dreamlovers," he had had no exposure to fan fic at the time he wrote "Black Star," yet the novel bears the unmistakeable stamp of the Mary Sue archetype. But in its depth and originality and the quality of the writing, it transcends it Mary Sue-ish (Marty Saul-ish?) origins.

I could name many other examples of fan fic of equal quality whose genesis is obvious and acknowledged by their authors. Their common denominator, I think, is that their authors did not take the easy route to expressing their fantasies.They took the hard way, perhaps by reaching more deeply into themselves and their own experience and emotions, and created real characters and real stories in the process.

Personally, I think we should all acknowledge and nurture our inner Mary Sue and Marty Saul. Without them, fan fic probably wouldn't have reached the well-developed state it's in today, and indeed, might not exist at all.