Previously posted in another journal: 04-18-2008
So, two people tops on my LJ flist are going to know what the hell I’m talking about. This however has never stopped me before. Yes friends, this is the long anticipated, “why Jame is not a Mary Sue Despite Having Mary Sue-like qualities,” meta-essay. I’ve written a synopsis of the series elsewhere.
Jame Talissen is the main protagonist of a series of books by an excellent if –unlucky in choice of publishing companies–author. The Kencyr novels by P.C. Hodgell takes the usual tropes of epic or, “high” fantasy such as The Dark Lord and the Battle Between Good and Evil and turns everything sideways. The heroes chosen to fight for the Light are bitter, resentful, occasionally corrupt and fighting more out of a sense of duty and desperation rather than for Good, and the forces of Darkness are not so much evil as they are utterly alien and toxic to the life of the universes they’re invading.
Given a back story like that, it would be almost impossible not to have one’s character become a Mary Sue. Especially since Hodgell is working with tropes and concepts that are pretty much guaranteed to produce one. Part of the reason Jame avoids this fate is the prose itself, which contains a certain dry wit accompanied by a certain dark sense of humor. Another reason is that each Mary Sue-like trait is mitigated by some other trait, each described in a way that is detailed and analytical rather than angsty–an explanation rather than an excuse.
Jame possesses the following Mary Sue traits:
In the first book, Godstalk, our protagonist is missing several years of her life, and is suffering from partial amnesia, as well as an infected wound. Amnesia is such a common literary cliche that it’s been known to cause eyeballs to roll right out of the reader’s head whenever it comes up. In this case, the amnesia is at least partially self-induced (for reasons which will be gone into detail later) but mostly the result of her illness and the time/space differences between the place she escaped from and the place she ended up.
–A mysterious and dark past.
The mysterious dark past is pretty much the reason for the amnesia. (The mysterious dark past also leads directly to the super special destiny and super special powers.) Jame was driven out of her home at the age of eight by her batshit insane father. Said home was on the very edge of the territory that had been taken over by the entity or entities (known as Perimal Darkling) that are responsible for slowly destroying the world. Reality is very strange on that particular frontier and you really can’t call anyone living there particularly sane, but Jame’s dad was crazier than most. Jame ended up on the other side of the barrier that seperated the territory taken over by the invading entities from the rest of the world, and lived there a while before escaping.
–A super special destiny.
Or, “Jame’s family is really scary-weird.” Remember Jame’s batshit crazy dad? Well, he wandered off one day and came back married to someone who is later revealed to be Jamethiel Dreamweaver, the twin sister of the Kencyr Highlord Gerridon, who decided to sell his soul and the souls of most of his followers to Perimal Darkling three thousand years previous to the story. (Jamethiel is the one who did the actual soul-stealing.) Technically, he’s their uncle. Anyway, Uncle Gerridon arranged the marriage because he needed a replacement for his sister, whose powers were getting out of control.
Special Destiny Part Two: Jame is probably an avatar of the Kencyr God (whom the Kencyr really really don’t like that much since he gave them the job of protecting the universes from Perimal Darkling, and then wandered off.) There are two other avatars, but they haven’t found themselves yet.
This is all revealed very slowly, and without any particular angst. Jame tends to react to these revelations by Trying Really Hard Not to Think About It more often than not. Part of the plot is Jame slowly learning that this is not an effective coping strategy.
–Mysterious super special powers.
See above. Jame’s people have special powers/magical abilities. Jame in particular has a LOT of special powers/magical ability, it just never seems to do her any good. She’s accident prone, and tends to make hideous mistakes either through ignorance, recklessness or because she and ethical behavior have an uneasy relationship. (On the other hand, she’s very honorable, and at least has the common sense to find someone with an actual moral sense when she needs advice.)
In most cases, this would be a bizarre form of modesty, or a badly described attempt at a “gawky girl becomes beyootiful once she matures into her features” transformation. In this case, the gawky girl is somewhat accurate. Our Jame is best described as having a “boyish” figure. Another reason Jame doesn’t think much of her looks is mostly because she doesn’t WANT to think about her looks. Jame? Is a dead ringer for her mom. For obvious reasons, Jame Tries Really Hard Not To Think About Looking Like Her Mom.
–The ability to make people love her.
This happens rather frequently. Again, this very seldom benefits Jame, or the person infatuated with her, because Jame is oblivious all but the most blatant flirtations. And when she does notice, her reaction is, “the hell?”
–Bad guys hate/obsess over her. Good guys love her. (The Honor Harrington Effect!)
While this is true for a lot of the series, this breaks down practically at the very beginning of the series, in Godstalk, when Jame encounters a Kencyr named Bane. Bane is basically a serial killer, batshit insane, and most likely Jame’s half brother. Bane is also fascinated/intrigued/infatuated with Jame.
Jame is an interesting, multilayered character in a fascinating, darkly humorous fantasy setting. While she does have traits in common with a “canon Sue” they are balanced by other traits both positive and negative that prevent Jame from descending into Sue-dom.