"Hi, My Name Is Mary Sue, and I'm a Vampire."

There’s really no good way for me to ease into this, so I’m just going to come out and say it: Vampires, at least many modern interpretations of vampires, are little more than Mary Sues.

anne-rice-vampiresUntil recently, I wasn’t familiar with the concept of the Mary Sue, even though  it’s fairly common in the world of fanfiction, a corner of fandom that I have never really had any interest in visiting. Anyway, in brief, a Mary Sue is an overly idealized, hackneyed character who functions as a kind of wish-fulfillment for the author or the reader. A Mary Sue can be either male or female and, despite originating in the realm of fanfiction, several canonical characters can be considered Mary Sues (Wesley Crusher from Star Trek: The Next Generation and The X-Men‘s Kitty Pryde have both been classified as Mary Sues in the past). There’s a pretty good explanation of the Mary Sue phenomenon here.

So, where do I get off calling vampires the Mary Sues of film, TV, and literature? Well, I think the prevailing depiction of vampires in fiction leans heavily on the “overly idealized” and “wish-fulfillment”parts of the definition. When I was growing up, vampires were monsters. They were evil, bad. They hung out in castles and abandoned crypts, killing and feeding on people. Then, somewhere along the line, an author by the name of Anne Rice showed up (perhaps you’ve heard of her?), and vampires experienced a thematic shift. (Disclaimer: I’m not saying Rice was the one who created the new, Mary Sue-ish vampires–in fact, I’m pretty sure she isn’t–but, she’s probably the writer who is most associated with the Sue-pires.) No longer were they monsters to be feared, hunted, and killed in the name of humanity. No. Now, they were to be pitied. And, in most cases, fucked. This is where the Mary Sue bit comes in. These new vampires were bad boys…but, bad boys who felt soooooo tortured by what they’ve done, that all they need is the love of the right mortal woman to put them on the path to righteousness and redemption. In the real world–y’know, the place we all live; the place we keep our stuff–guys who spend their time killing people probably don’t give a shit about redemption. No, they’re more likely to beat the crap out of you or throw you down a flight of stairs.

Now, I’m not knocking the whole “bad boy” thing. I get it. Bad boys can be wicked cool. Clint Eastwood, Charles Bronson, Lee Marvin, John Wayne: they all played a variation of the bad boy. Wolverine? Jayne Cobb? Logan Echolls? Yeah…they’re all awesome. I also understand because I suffer from the male version of the Bad Boy Fixation–the Crazy Girl Dilemma. River? Parker? Kara? Faith? Yes, please. I understand the draw, the excitement of never knowing what’s going to happen next. The truth is, in real life, both the bad boy and the crazy girl would fuck your shit up as soon as look at you. However, in the world of Mary Sue-pires, the tortured, immortal bad boy is easily tamed by the mortal woman, thereby providing the reader (and, possibly, the writer) with the best of both worlds: they get their bad boy who is dark, mysterious, and brooding, but all of the danger that would come with a real bad boy has been safely removed: “He may be a vampire, but he’ll never hurt me. He feels bad about all the killing and will never do it again.”

In closing, while I may not like the current crop of emo, metrosexual vampires plaguing modern fiction (don’t even get me started on the sparkly ones), that doesn’t mean I think you shouldn’t. In fact, I insist. If you like something, by all means enjoy it…drink from the well of entertainment ’til your thirst is slaked. But, I think you should realize (and accept) that the tortured vampire bad boy is complete and total wish-fulfillment. In reality, this guy would be the abusive boyfriend, the rapist, or the wife beater.

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20 responses to “"Hi, My Name Is Mary Sue, and I'm a Vampire."

  1. Cheers on this one! I tend to agree, though while you seem to be ambivalent I’m generally aggressively disgusted by that kind of one-note, lowest common denominator of making an appealing character. But then, I read Rice for the lulz, so I know I’m not the target audience.

    I am hoping the vampires will swing the other way eventually. I like the idea of the creature, but their ill treatment in popular fiction has all but excised their fangs.

  2. Excellent post, Dan.

    Another interesting aspect is that vampires have for many years represented sex–dangerous but desirable, sometimes irresistible, etc. Which gives you an interesting insight into any author’s psyche if they’re also using the vampire for Mary Sue-ism.

    I normally don’t evaluate personality or anything through people’s writing–but with a Mary Sue, it’s hard not to.

  3. While I certainly agree that vampire bad boys can be eyeroll-worthy — and I think my position on bad boys in general is well-known at this point — I’m not sure Mary Sue is the right term. Vampires tend to be wish fulfillment objects, whereas Mary Sues are supposed to be the characters that the writer/reader/viewer identifies with and wants to be.

    It would be interesting to see vampires as actual Mary Sues — characters who function to make male readers feel like even if they’re lonely, misunderstood, guilt-ridden outcasts from society, they’ll still be loved by a beautiful and thoroughly normal woman. But I think the phenomenon you’re talking about is something a little different, a term I can’t quite put my finger on.

    (Relatedly, and amusingly, I went through a brief Anne Rice period in 10th grade, during which I read Interview with the Vampire and half of The Vampire Lestat. I stopped when I realized the prose was awful, and also that I actively hated Lestat and had only read Interview for Louis, the vaguely pathetic mopey self-righteous guy who genuinely never wanted to kill anyone. I’m predictably.)

  4. Thanks, guys.

    @Matt: I try to be understanding about people liking things that I don’t. I hate being told something I like is stupid, so I’m sensitive of doing that to others.

    @Kristin: Although I’m sure some authors are purposefully using vampires for wish-fulfillment (and, really, don’t many writers use their characters for that?), I think the Mary Sue-ism is more on the part of the reader.

    @Jennifer: It’s not a perfect comparison, given the subject/object disparity you mention. But, since I couldn’t come up with a better term, I thought it was mildly fitting. I also wanted to see the reaction from fans when I call their precious, brooding fang-men “Mary Sue”.

  5. @Dan: I don’t blame you. I’m just a jerk. =D

  6. @Dan I think this calls for the coinage of a new word!

    (I did enjoy the post, by the way, despite my terminology quibble! Now I’m just waiting for someone to explain the appeal of zombies.)

  7. @Matt: And that’s why we like you.

    @Jennifer: I can’t possibly come up with the concept and the word in the same day. Zombies are one step beyond. They’re all hunger, no humanity. Also, they’re bloody and rotting, which is always cool.

  8. If you’ve read Twilight, you would know that this is spot-on. Edward and Bella are BOTH Mary-Sues. BUT I also think it does a disservice a little bit to Buffy. Some of that series greatest stuff came from the dilemmas of Angel and Spike who were trying to be good men while still being vampires. The theme of redemption was powerful enough to last Angel through five seasons of his own spin-off. As for Anne Rice, that chick is just messed up. Interview With the Vampire is definitely a freezer book.

  9. @Ashley: But, as with every other trope he’s used, Joss was making fun of it while celebrating it. How many times did he make broody Angel the butt of someone’s joke? And, even while trying to be a good guy, you could see how annoyed Spike was with himself for caring.

  10. Okay, good. As long as we’re in agreement.

  11. Oh, hey. I have an idea! Let’s post this on all the Twilight message boards and see what happens.

  12. I loved this article even though I’m a fan of the vampire. I think it compels me to remember the monster even in the sexiest vampires I write. You should meet them sometime. They’re almost human. Great ballsy post Dan. It should be on freakin DIGG.

  13. I fullheartedly agree with you. And I hope to God that the specific case you’re referring to –though you probably can’t say for yuor general health and safety– is Twilight.

    Personally, I like Anne Rice’s vampires. They were still hated by most everyone in the books themselves; for the reader to pity/sympathise with the vampire is just a result of how she wrote the book. She began Louis’ story when he was a human (or rather, Louis began his story, seeing as he was being interviewed), so we could be there through his process and changing. As an author in general, she knows how to spell, use proper grammar, and paragraph switch, among many other basic-to-advanced skills.

    Meyer, on the other hand, has no firm grasp on any grammatical concept, paragraph skips unecessarily, and worst of all, has stories completely devoid of plot and character. It is bland, and frankly, gag-inducing. Don’t believe me? Highlight (either with a sticky or a highlighter — don’t worry, you won’t be ruining any real piece of literature) every description of Edward Cullen (this includes his “talents”, his “powers”, his “good looks”, and whatever else. Extra points if you can find every description of his eyes, and especially know the amount of times she says “ochre”) and every time Edward and Bella talk to each other about how much they love each other, but it’s so dangerous for them to be together because Ed is a killer, but they don’t care (because they’re OMG SO REBELLIOUS). Colour-coordinate, to make it that much more fun!

    Now, do you see? Do you see that all of that makes up basically the entirety of the book? Sad, innit.

    What’s worse, I’m a teenager, and a girl, so people IMMEDIATELY assume I’m in love with Twilight.
    God. Will the madness never stop?

  14. I totally agree with this post. I always was more interested in vampires as, well, monsters. It’s sad how the only examples I can think of as proper vampires are Nosferatu and the 30 Days of Night vamps. They’re actually frightening, in actions and appearance. Never once did I say “I wanna fuck that” during 30 Days, which is completely refreshing. 30 Days wasn’t perfect by any stretch, but I feel like it’s a step in the right direction. Come on, the vamps look like shark people, how awesome is that?

    I’m really not a fan of vampires as they are now, Twilight pretty much sealed that deal. If we could get away from the pretty-boy vampires and make them freaking scary again, I’ll be all over that. ‘Til then, I’ll be rooting for werewolves to make a comeback, and watching every zombie movie released (Zombieland ftw!).

  15. @Narissa: I wasn’t talking specifically about Twilight…I haven’t read it, so everything I know about it comes second-hand. And, it’s more the content of the books and not the mechanics that bugs me. Because, even if Rice is a better writer, she’s still offering idealized, wish-fulfillment.

    @Krista: Yes! 30 Days of Night is exactly the kind of vamps I’m talking about. Savage, gross, and completely unfuckable. They are corpses, after all. I’ll take a zombie or a werewolf any day (or night) of the week.

  16. You so need to see Let The Right One In…

  17. It’s next in my Netflix queue.

  18. @Dan: Oh, I get it completely that Anne Rice is doing more or less the same thing. But thanks for clearing it up nonetheless.

    @Krista: I loved 30 Days mostly because it scared me shitless. I didn’t get the experience of reading the graphic novel (yet) but I watched the movie and it was good, though the ending left me feeling rather empty and questioning. Werewolves are definitely my favourites over vamps; always have been, always will be. But I have always prefered the scary vampires to the “omg woe is me I live forever and never die and every girl loves me for no concrete, explanable reason” Suepires.

    Anne Rice probably started this, but Meyer made it a solid part of …”literature”… now. I mean, there were many stories floating around the web involving vampire love, but it was NEVER as massive a clot between real stories that aspiring writers post, and the bile spewed in blogs or online journals or whatever else like it is now.

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