Saturday, 22 February 2014

The Dreaded Mary Sue Label: the Hobbit & Tauriel

by Marie Robertson

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 ( 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.


  1. Actually all elves are strong and brave and beautiful, you know? Males and females. Thus she's no Mary Sue. Or if she is, then Leggy and Daddy are definitely by-the-book Gary Stues. :)

    1. Good point! But I count brains as part of the package. With some of the idiotic lines they fed Legolas in the LotR trilogy, I'm surprised he was able to figure out how to operate his pants. :P

  2. At first, I was okay with the idea of Tauriel. I wasn't over extatic, thinking "wow, what a great addition to The Hobbit!". I simply didn't think anything of it, but I understood the writers' motivation to add her to the story.

    But then, I read stuff about her, and I, too, dreaded that she would be a Sue. She is supposed to be somewhere between 300-600 years old and captain of the guards. Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't that a very young age for elves? Were there really no other, more qualified and more experienced warriors to have that position?
    I have to say that I find her to be just an obnoxious Mary Sue, no different from all the multiple Sue stories I've come across in the LOTR fandom since the movies came out.

    And really, I mean really, whenever there's a woman involved, you have to add a love triangle?! Are women really this disqualified for anything else, but to make the men around her become love sick idiots? I almost took my popcorn and walked out of the theathre when she healed Kili.

    She also shows signs to be very untrustworthy too. How can someone like that even get the position of captain of the guards to begin with?

  3. You are SO right. Goodness.

  4. I hate her as a character, and especially as an added character who isn't even supposed to be in the story. I don't like the idea of adding extra characters just because the original didn't have any of "whatever sort" of character is missing. It's like adding a black guy, just to have a black guy. Only we're adding a woman, just to have a woman. The story doesn't involve women... so... don't put any in the movie. Simple enough. The story doesn't involve black people or latinos either, and I didn't see any added characters to make up for that. (Though I did notice some darker-skinned background crowd characters.) Tauriel is The Hobbit's token woman. The fact that she was created just so there would be a woman is still pretty sexist. If a character doesn't belong, don't try to force it just for "equality." I think it only makes things worse. Because now, instead of not being represented at all, I am represented by a bunch of horrible characters. I would much rather have watched these movies without any women at all than have women I'm completely uninterested in in them. She's eating up screen time that could have been given to the characters who were in the book. (Legolas shouldn't be here either, by the way... They could have made this all into just one movie if they hadn't added about ten characters who aren't even in the story... Though they probably could have used a second movie so they could still develop the individual dwarves' characters better than the book did.)

    I do, however, like the idea of a gender-swapped Hobbit movie. So long as it doesn't involve a single male character who everyone wants to fuck and who is perfect and friendly and more tolerant than all his racist kin, and who's skilled in battle and insanely intelligent and experienced and perfect for his age show up. No one wants to see that.

    Someone else said that elves are supposed to be beautiful and perfect and so Legolas and his dad would be Mary Sues too, but they aren't. They are very flawed. They are complete racists. XD They act like stubborn dickheads through every scene they are in. That's flawed as hell. Tauriel, on the other hand, is pretty and skilled like all elves, but also seemingly more tolerant of the dwarves. She sympathizes with them more than any of the other elves do. So she's not only pretty and skilled, but also nice and tolerant. I cannot think of a single flaw she has other than her flawlessness. It's sickening.


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