Several years ago there were a lot of Star Wars books hitting the shelves and I was buying just about all of them. This was that golden age just before Episode 1 where the public’s hunger for more Star Wars was really beginning to peak and Lucasfilm happily obliged the fans with all kinds of books and merchandising. I, like many, many others, hungrily consumed as many of the books as I could get my hands on.
One of them was Tales of the Bounty Hunters. Set in the time around Empire Strikes Back, this book featured short stories about those wacky hunters that Darth Vader hired to chase Han Solo and company. I liked some of these guys, Dengar was a cool character that I thought didn’t quite get the pop he deserved. IG-88 was a big, deadly looking droid, and who doesn’t like Boba Fett?
Then I got to the Bossk story.
It was a fairly disappointing read for me because Bossk didn’t even seem to be the main character. There was some stuff about him, but most of it was from the point of view of another bounty hunter who was trying to set him up. The end of the story essentially has Bossk captured and it is heavily insinuated that he was made into a Trandoshan-hide garment for an Imperial officer’s wife because, hey, who wouldn’t want a dress made out of that guy?
What set me off about this story was that writer Kathy Tyers just didn’t seem interested in Bossk at all and would rather have her own character be the focal point of the action. I didn’t quite put my finger on it 100%, but the thought did cross my mind that the character Tinian I'att was somehow some kind of author surrogate.
Flash forward a few years and through the wonder of the Internet, I am introduced to the concept of a Mary Sue.
Mary Sue is a derogatory term used to describe a character created by a writer who exists solely for the purpose of the writer’s wish fulfillment. Mary Sues (or Gary Sue or Marty Stu) join the crew of the Enterprise, go to Professor Xavier’s mansion, or meet Scully and Mulder and quickly become the center of attention. They solve the problems that the main characters can’t, capture the heart of Bilbo, Spock, or Harry Potter, and then die dramatically in someone’s arms at the end of the story.
I guess in theory a Mary Sue does serve a purpose. Written correctly, these proxies can give the reader someone to relate to. And of course, who wouldn’t want to save the Earth/galaxy/universe with Luke Skywalker/Spike Spiegal/Wolverine? In reality though, it seems like a sad cry for help. Someone is so sad and lonely that no one could possibly relate to his or her unique problems that he or she has to retreat into someone else’s fantasy world where his/her character kicks ass, takes names, and leaves a lemon-fresh scent.
As you might imagine, Mary Sue’s aren’t only confined to the realm of science fiction and fantasy fan fiction (is that sci fi and fan fan fic?). I have heard (on the Internet, so it must be true) that Dirk Pitt is a surrogate of his author Clive Cussler. I have seen the movie Sahara but I am not familiar with the character beyond that. Reading his description in Wikipedia certainly leads me to believe that assessment though. Opaline green eyes which can be either alluring or intimidating, indeed.
There’s a lot of stuff out there about Mary Sue, you can check out for yourself the many web pages about the subject. I recommend reading the short story where the name got its origin. There’s also a test you can take if you think your character might have Mary Sue leanings.
Incidentally, I scored an 87. Jon the Intergalactic Gladiator is a Mary Sue!