The literary term “Mary Sue” is one bandied about often today. We hear it over and over again to where the actual definition becomes clouded by accusations that every major character is some kind of Mary Sue. It is now almost synonymous with “Whiny review on the internet”. But the Mary Sue trope has a very specific definition.
I’m paraphrasing from a number of sources, but essentially it means: A perfect fictional character. Often, this character is recognized as an author insert or wish fulfillment, often inserted into an existing fictional universe. They can usually perform better at tasks than should be possible with no training or experience, and usually are able to upstage the main protagonist of an established fictional setting, such as by saving the hero.
The origin of the term comes from the name of a character created by Paula Smith in 1973 for her parody story “A Trekkie’s Tale” published in her fanzine Menagerie #2. The story starred Lieutenant Mary Sue (“the youngest Lieutenant in the fleet — only fifteen and a half years old”, with a genius IQ, who dies tragically), and satirized unrealistic characters in Star Trek fan fiction. This was a parody designed to illustrate the types of stories that she did not want submitted. Essentially one’s where the established main characters of the show were not the protagonists of the story.
For you edification, the entire story (all ten glorious paragraphs of it) are reprinted below. Enjoy and Caveat Emptor.
A TREKKIE’S TALE
By Paula Smith
“Gee, golly, gosh, gloriosky,” thought Mary Sue as she stepped on the bridge of the Enterprise. “Here I am, the youngest lieutenant in the fleet – only fifteen and a half years old.” Captain Kirk came up to her.
“Oh, Lieutenant, I love you madly. Will you come to bed with me?”
“Captain! I am not that kind of girl!”
“You’re right, and I respect you for it. Here, take over the ship for a minute while I go get some coffee for us.”
Mr. Spock came onto the bridge. “What are you doing in the command seat, Lieutenant?”
“The Captain told me to.”
“Flawlessly logical. I admire your mind.”
Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy and Mr. Scott beamed down with Lt. Mary Sue to Rigel XXXVII. They were attacked by green androids and thrown into prison. In a moment of weakness Lt. Mary Sue revealed to Mr. Spock that she too was half Vulcan. Recovering quickly, she sprung the lock with her hairpin and they all got away back to the ship.
But back on board, Dr. McCoy and Lt. Mary Sue found out that the men who had beamed down were seriously stricken by the jumping cold robbies , Mary Sue less so. While the four officers languished in Sick Bay, Lt. Mary Sue ran the ship, and ran it so well she received the Nobel Peace Prize, the Vulcan Order of Gallantry and the Tralfamadorian Order of Good Guyhood.
However the disease finally got to her and she fell fatally ill. In the Sick Bay as she breathed her last, she was surrounded by Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy, and Mr. Scott, all weeping unashamedly at the loss of her beautiful youth and youthful beauty, intelligence, capability and all around niceness. Even to this day her birthday is a national holiday of the Enterprise.