by Marie Robertson
THE HOBBIT, TAURIEL, AND THE DREADED MARY SUE LABEL
The term Mary Sue comes from fanfiction. It refers to flawless, idealized original (usually) female characters created by inexperienced writers. The Mary Sue character is beautiful, strong, smart, loved by all, and saves the day. She’s also boring as hell. I’m sort of an expert on Sues, in the sense that I wrote fanfiction at age 13 and inadvertently wrote tons of idealized self-inserts (because at age 13, I not only wanted to be a Transformer, but the coolest Transformer. Who didn’t?)
More and more, I’ve noticed the term has crossed over to movies, TV shows and books. “It’s a good movie, even though Character X is such a Sue”, I hear. I can’t agree that being female in a movie automatically makes you a Sue, but I can see the argument when it comes to certain characters.
Characters such as Tauriel from The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug. Before the movie even came out, accusations of Mary Sueism rang out from the fandom. After the movie’s release, the cries abated, but didn’t stop.
The problem is that there’s a huge imbalance in The Hobbit movies. We have one (sometimes two, if Galadriel shows up) female character for… what, about twenty-plus male characters? And Tauriel wasn’t even in the original book (seriously, Tolkien? Not one chick in The Hobbit?), which doesn’t help her supposed Sueism. Fans see her as too strong, too beautiful, too capable, too noble.
These movies are full of dwarves and hobbits and elves and dragons and all sorts of characters with penises (I’m assuming for the dragon here, though wouldn’t it be cool if Smaug were actually a lady dragon? Actually, wouldn’t it be cool if we could find a way to film a complete genderswap version of The Hobbit? Lady Thorin Oakenshield, anyone? Gandalf the Wizardess? Miss Beorn?), which means you can afford to have them run the spectrum of characterization from heroic to lazy to brainy to caring to cowardly to handsome to fat. No one will assume you’re trying to make a statement about men. But with our single female character, can we afford to make her anything less than strong and noble and utterly capable? Like it or not, she’s now a representative for her whole gender.
It’s hard to win when you’re a chick in a movie. Too flawed, and people accuse the filmmakers of sexism. Too perfect, and she’s a Mary Sue.
Tauriel is strong and brave and beautiful and frankly, a textbook case of a Sue. But it’s not her fault. It’s not really any female character’s fault if Hollywood thinks one or two women in an otherwise male cast ‘balances things out’. In a perfect world, female characters would always run the spectrum of broken to perfect, because there would be enough of them to do it. After all, flawed characters are fun. I’ve always preferred Veronica because perfect Betty is boring.
For now, though, I’ll stand by Tauriel, Mary Sue label and all, because it’s better than the alternative—no women at all.
(…. Seriously though, can someone genderswap The Hobbit movies for me? Peter Jackson? Anybody?)
Marie Victoria Robertson is a speculative fiction writer and playwright, as well as the board president of Jer’s Vision: Canada’s Youth Diversity Initiative (www.jersvision.org). When all the other girls wanted to marry Johnny Depp, she wanted to run away with Worf on the Enterprise. She enjoys giant robots, time-travel paradoxes, and forcing her son to watch Futurama.