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Can any of the characters in Harry Potter books be considered a "Mary Sue" character? If so, who and why?

A Mary Sue or Gary Stu or Marty Stu is an idealized fictional character, a young or low-rank person who saves the day through unrealistic abilities. Often this character is recognized as an author insert and/or wish-fulfillment.

34

I think Hermione would qualify as a Mary Sue character. From Hermione Granger Author's comments on Harry Potter.wiki

Author's comments

J. K. Rowling has said that she loosely based Hermione at the age of eleven on herself at the same age, though an exaggerated version:

"...none of the characters in the books are directly taken from life. Real people did inspire a few of them, but of course once they are on the page they become something completely different. But, yeah, Hermione is a caricature of what I was when I was eleven — a real exaggeration, I wasn't that clever — Hermione is a borderline genius at points — and I hope I wasn't that annoying...sometimes she is an incredible know-it-all."

So Hermione is a exaggerated, maybe idealized, version of J. K. Rowling at this age. She is what she would like to be remembered as when she was a teenager.

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    I don't know about that last sentence. Rowling says herself "I wasn't that clever... I hope I wasn't that annoying". – AncientSwordRage Mar 11 '12 at 13:23
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    @Pureferret To some, perfection is annoying. – DavRob60 Mar 11 '12 at 13:32
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    I don't believe it's her perfection that's annoying. It's her stubbornness and sometimes short-sightedness, and her know-it-all-ness. Remember when she wouldn't speak to Ron for over a year because of the Scabbers vs. Crookshanks fiasco? Nobody perfect lets their pet get between them and their best friend. She's flawed and not a Mary Sue. – hairboat Oct 21 '12 at 19:16
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    Isn't the point of Mary Sue-ness to flag shallow and under-developed author insert characters? I don't really see how this shows that Hermione is a flat character - she has the "symptoms" of a Mary Sue but maybe not the "disease," to borrow the test's language. Dream of the Endless scores off the charts on the Mary Sue test, and Neil Gaiman has admitted to modeling him after himself, but that doesn't make him any less of a compelling character. – dunraven Jan 13 '16 at 22:23
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    Hermione is a muggle who seems to be able to do magic far better than any of her non-muggle peers, other than Harry, and could hold her own against many more experienced wizards. Seems to fulfill at least part of the Mary Sue trope. – Anthony X Aug 6 '16 at 14:18
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I think this is something of a contentious question (not to mention open-ended and straying far into discussion-question territory).

More to the point, I'm not sure any character meets the original definition as given by Wikipedia:

A Mary Sue (sometimes just Sue), in literary criticism and particularly in fanfiction, is a fictional character with overly idealized and hackneyed mannerisms, lacking noteworthy flaws, and primarily functioning as a wish-fulfilment fantasy for the author or reader.

DavRob60's example (Hermione) doesn't fit this definition, since she has noteworthy flaws (or at least many people including Rowling think so).

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    I think you are right, strictly, because Rowling doesn't do near perfect characters. They all have flaws. But there can still be a character who represents JKRs wish-fulfillment. – Schroedingers Cat Mar 11 '12 at 12:22
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    Just my two cents, but it's possible Hermione originated as this type of idealized character, but over the series, her character became multi-dimensional and had some more-than-insignificant flaws that added to interpersonal conflicts and tension in the emotional thread of the story. – Josh Mar 11 '12 at 21:42
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    @Josh No. She had flaws in the first book, too. – evilsoup Feb 5 '14 at 11:02
  • Also, none of the feats she performs in the series are un-explainable. She reads hundreds of books and practices more than anyone else in her classes. – WakeDemons3 Feb 26 '18 at 17:45
  • A Mary Sue can still have flaws, but they're not important flaws that ever cause real problems. – EvilSnack Nov 25 '18 at 4:12
12

I agree with Ginny Weasley, but the romantic foil has nothing to do with it. That's not the definition of a Mary Sue. She's simply one of the only flawless characters in the series. Powerful, intelligent, popular, has a good personality, is beautiful, and is incorruptible. The CoS encounter with the diary was precisely because of her innocence. She never questioned the intentions of the diary. However, as to how much Rowling wants to be Ginny, I can't say. So it can't really be proven.

  • Ginny is close to perfect, but her mannerisms aren't really "hackneyed" as the definition suggests. She could be a borderline Mary Sue, I suppose. – hairboat Oct 21 '12 at 19:18
  • Just want to add that she also tends to be the "girl for all seasons" Harry need help in communicating with Sirius that Hermione and Ron can't provide? Ginny appears out of the blue with the ready answer! Quidditch team lost a member? Ginny turns to be a talented player!.. – Shana Tar Oct 10 '18 at 12:59
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'Mary Sue' is a meaningless phrase. It has so many definitions that it is useless as a term of criticism.

It started out as a fanfiction term, to describe self-insert characters who warp the world of the story around themselves in such a way as to ruin the story. See, for example, A Trekkie's Tale, the parody fic that the term originated from. Under this definition, no character in Harry Potter can be a Mary Sue, because the series itself is not a fanfiction.

There's also an ugly side to the term. It's often used to put down any powerful female character, and is only rarely used against male characters. Along with the sneering tone of the word 'fangirls', it is used as a way to alienate female fans of a work and perpetuate patriarchal power structures.

Now, a Mary Sue in the original sense is obviously a terrible thing for a fanfiction. People want to read about Kirk and Spock's blossoming romance, not a poorly-written wish-fulfilment self-insert character outshining them both. Since the barrier of entry for fanfiction is so low, lots of really terrible writers were and are writing terrible stories starring terrible self-insert characters. As much to spoof this as to offer constructive criticism, many 'Mary Sue litmus tests' have been put out online. These list common traits that are found on Mary Sues. The test linked to in the comments is one of the less-bad ones out there, let's have a look at a few of the questions:

\3. Does your character look how you wish you look?
6. Do other characters frequently tell your character how sexy, cute, or beautiful xe is?
14. Does your character have a scar or other small "flaw" that is noticed by someone, but does not actually detract from your character's appearance from your point of view?
28. If your character has a short temper, sharp wit, snarky attitude, or is otherwise prone to verbal assaults, are the tongue-lashings and/or snarkings xe gives other characters always deserved and/or justified?
75. Is your character some kind of 'chosen one' and/or a major part of a prophecy?
80. What about any of these?
a. Born/raised in extreme poverty?
b. Born/forced into slavery?
c. Banished from anywhere?
d. A member of a despised, outcast, and/or downtrodden race or group?
e. An illegitimate child in a society where this is stigmatized?
f. The parent of an illegitimate child in a society where this is stigmatized?
g. Physically abused?
h. Sexually abused/raped?

So you see, they are broadly about 'is this character secretly a ridiculously badass and pretty version of yourself?' (note that this is a slightly different definition of the term than above, though still related). Number 80 (and there are a few others along that vein) seems like it conflicts with that overall thesis -- and it does.

Since the term Mary Sue is applied mostly to fanfictions written by awful/beginner writers, those who had the term used against them tried to change things so as to avoid the label. There's only one problem: they were and are terrible writers. Instead of understanding the core of the criticism and improving their writing, these authors would bolt a bunch of negative traits onto their character in an attempt to make them 'deep'.

So now we have yet another version of the Mary Sue.

So far I have been dealing exclusively with fanfiction, because that is where the term originated and (in my opinion) the only realm in which it is even vaguely meaningful. However, people have expanded it to apply to characters in what must (for lack of a better term) be called original fiction. It's obvious why this would be the case: as Internet communities aged, the same people who had offered criticisms of fanfiction in the past 'graduated' to applying the same lens to original fiction.

The original definition of 'unbelievably awesome/beautiful character who warps the logic of the world around them' could be applied to some original fiction. More often it is used to mean 'character I don't like'. I've seen the term applied to Superman, Batman, Doctor Who, every female companion from the Welsh series of Doctor Who, Captain Kirk, any given Little Pony, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Indiana Jones, Lara Croft, nearly every action hero, Alyx Vance, and Ellie (from The Last of Us).

So that's yet another definition of the term.

While it's about as far from an academic source as you can get without smearing faeces on the wall, tvtropes.org is a pretty good barometer of Internet Nerd culture. Its Mary Sue page lists no fewer than fourteen distinct 'flavours' of Mary Sue, and even goes on to note even more interpretations of the meaning of the term than I have here.

  • Black Hole Sue — Everything is about me!
  • Purity Sue — Love me!
  • God-Mode Sue — Power overwhelming!
  • Mary Tzu —I knew you would do that. In fact, I knew you would do that before I even met you, cuz I'm JUST THAT GOOD!
  • Jerk Sue — I'm a complete and utter bitch and I have constant PMS...love me!
  • Possession Sue — My favourite character is an even better version of me!
  • Copy Cat Sue — I'm just like my favorite character, but even kewler!
  • Relationship Sue — You're my boyfriend now!
  • Sympathetic Sue — Feel sorry for me!
  • Anti-Sue — I'm genuinely useless, but everybody still loves me!
  • Villain Sue — I have you now, my beautiful slaves! Ahahahahahahaha!
  • Fixer Sue — No, that's not how it's supposed to go!
  • Parody Sue — Why don't they fall for my buxom charms?
  • Thirty Sue Pileup — We are Legion.

So at the end of this all, what do we have? The fanfiction definitions can't be applied to Harry Potter, since it isn't a fanfiction. I don't believe that any of the characters warp the logic of the world around themselves -- Yes, Harry himself is the Chosen One, has an unusual (but not truly disfiguring) scar and a tragic past (dead parents, abusive adopted family). Yes, Hermione is based on the author's personality as a child. Yes, Ginny Weasley steals my imaginary boyfriend, the bitch. But these are all fairly well-written characters; things don't go their way by authorial fiat; they have genuinely challenging obstacles to overcome. They suffer losses. They behave like human beings, and people react to them like human beings.

This question is essentially asking one of 'is Harry Potter badly written?' or 'what characters do you not like in Harry Potter?' -- neither of which strike me as a good fit for a SE site. However, since it has already been closed and re-opened, I suppose the community has spoken.

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    Given that the question links to Wikipedia, and Wikipedia provides a fairly unambiguous definition: "Mary Sue" today has changed from its original meaning and now carries a generalized, although not universal, connotation of wish-fulfillment and is commonly associated with self-insertion. True self-insertion is a literal and generally undisguised representation of the author; most characters described as "Mary Sues" are not I'm not sure where your "has so many definitions that it is useless as a term of criticism" comes from. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Feb 5 '14 at 13:15
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    @DVK it comes from observation of how the term is used in practice, rather than treating Wikipedia as the Infallible Word of God. And I would not call that an unambiguous definition ('a generalized, but not universal, connotation of wish-fulfilment'? That's pretty woolly). – evilsoup Feb 5 '14 at 13:27
  • The question was "does any character fit Wikipedia definition". Existence of other definitions may be interesting but not directly relevant to answering this question. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Feb 5 '14 at 13:31
  • @DVK well, then -- from the Wikipedia page: 'In fan fiction, a Mary Sue is an idealized character representing the author'. Harry Potter is not a fan fiction, therefore the Wikipedia definition of the term cannot be applied to any of the characters. – evilsoup Feb 5 '14 at 13:34
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    I agree with @DVK-on-Ahch-To here - we should bear in mind how and when the term is used in life. if I say for example: "Wesley Crusher from TNG is such a Mary Sue!" - most people will understand me even without referring to wiki article or any other source. The term got it's own intuitive meaning that probably tend to be wider than the original one. – Shana Tar Oct 10 '18 at 13:23
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Simply put, Ginny Weasley. There's no real purpose, in terms of plot, for her existence other than as a romantic interest for Harry. She's also not very well developed in terms of character compared to the other Weasleys and most other characters. It's true that she was the one Tom Riddle was trying to take over from his diary, but that could have just as easily been Luna, Cho Chang, or any of a number of other characters. It didn't have to be Ginny.

  • Having Harry's love interest be his best friend's little sister does add some depth to his struggle with whether or not to date her at first (and whether or not to continue in book 7 when he's a marked man). Not huge, but it makes it a tiny bit more interesting. – hairboat Oct 21 '12 at 19:19
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    A love interest that is also the best friend's little sister sounds an awful lot like a Mary-Sue... Especially as she was not mentioned a lot in the first book and then suddenly got a big role in the second book. Don't get me wrong, I've got nothing against Ginny, she just happen to have a lot of Mary-Sue characteristics. – Aifos Nov 11 '12 at 15:32
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    "There's no real purpose, in terms of plot, for her existence [...]" I strongly disagree. The main reason for her to be there is to have more pressure on Ron: not the brightest, not the oldest, not the girl, not the youngest, not the best at quiddich, etc. I'm pretty sure that is why she was there in the first place. And Charlie and Bill are much less development than she does. – bilbo_pingouin Jul 8 '15 at 10:53
0

I think Dumbledore might qualify. The universal mary sue litmus test gave a score of 116, granted there were some questions I was less than sure about the translation of qualities for the relevant stereotype, but that is still - very high.

The various 'young, rebellious and attractive" qualities don't apply, but there's a lot in the category of "special, wise, and always just" - including being the most powerful and feared by the Dark, physical markers like significantly twinkling eyes, or unique and impractical or unrealistic wardrobe, long string of shiny significant names, was a genius and prodigy as a student, is famous and has influence out of proportion to actions, telepathic bond to an iconic companion (pheonix) whose purpose is to mark him out as special, who can bend or break rules without cause or consequence, is given the benefit of doubt to the extreme followed by forgiveness for his 'old man's mistakes' without penance or restitution, and any remaining hurt or anger is called out as unjustified, is shown as knowing things but not blamed for allowing even bad things to happen, those that disagree with him are evil, stupid and petty, or eventually converted.

There's a a lot more, but I think that gets the basic reasoning across. To me, it is the heavy hand of the narrative - the insistence that no one is allowed to think ill of the character unless they are villains or proven wrong, that the character is always wise and wonderful and nothing is their fault - that makes a character seem a Mary Sue, or Gary Stu. More so than judging a character just because they are author insertions, to be honest... I have seen a few that manage those well even if others manage less well, but very few who manage not to let the author darlings run wild.

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    Hmm... the dude fell in with a homicidal maniac future-tyrant; waited for a couple of decades to confront the same (because he was worried about feeling bad), thus resulting in numerous un-needed deaths. He then proceeded to NOT apply his specialness and wisdom to hunting down Death Eaters, which resulted in Yet More unneded deaths once Voldemort came back. I think he's far from even remotely being the type of flawless character that Gary Stu implies :) – DVK-on-Ahch-To Jan 14 '16 at 1:25
  • @DVK - I think it's less that he doesn't have those flaws (and I do agree with you, every bit) than that the narrative is unwilling to hold him to account for them. He is forgiven (literally, in the case of Harry), or is not really held to account, as in the Grindlewald situation because of his personal trauma. As I said, I think he's a Stu because he's allowed to get away with those kinds of things while the narrative and/or author excuses everything. – Megha Jan 14 '16 at 1:37
  • hm. Possible. As long as everyone acknowledges that Dumbledore sucks, I agree :) – DVK-on-Ahch-To Jan 14 '16 at 1:42
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    @DVK - his character would be a lot more bearable if they would only acknowledge he may be twinkly-eyed and grandfatherly, but he's also a fanatic who doesn't mind sacrificing the innocent because their souls are clean, and can justify anything in the name of the greater good. – Megha Jan 14 '16 at 1:53
  • Absolutely not! Arrogant, manipulative, untrustworthy person. I agree with everything his brother says about him. And Aberforth does not shown as evil or stupid for disagreeing with Albus, the reader eventually got to think Ab has got the point. – Shana Tar Oct 10 '18 at 12:48

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