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Are any of the characters in Harry Potter books a "Mary Sue"?

This question has a number of points against it:

  • It's obviously pretty subjective.
  • It's rather broad, being about all the characters of the series.
  • There's no prior research.

On the other hand, Mary Sue-ness is a literary trope that has been studied — Slytherincess points to the Universal Mary Sue Litmus Test, for instance. So there is probably a way to write an interesting, objective answer, which in my book is a redeeming quality for a borderline subjective question — a constructive answer justifies the constructiveness of the question.

The question is currently closed. Should it be reopened? Should it be edited, and how?

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    As an extra data point, JKR is/was very prolifierous and open about her personality, views and relationships to heroes, providing an extremely fertile ground for both "analytical" asnwer, as well as a high likelyhood that she actually spilled the beans and explicitly addressed this topic. I agree that the question in abstract may be not constructive, but it becomes significantly less so for some specific universes (Heinlein, JKR, CS Lewis, Pullman come to mind where we know a lot about the author and their worldview) than to a random SFF work. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Oct 20 '12 at 14:01
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    Additional note that might be included in an edit of the question, I remember reading that Rowling added a lot of traits to the characters based off of herself at the time of writing - the specific example I have in mind being Harry's inherited fortune, since she was nearly broke when she wrote the first book – Izkata Oct 20 '12 at 15:02
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    @Izkata -- Author-insert is definitely on the Sue spectrum. JKR's been pretty open about what personal traits she infused into her characters (Harry's glasses; Hermione's pedantry; the Ford Anglia; etc.) On a logical level, author-insert makes sense. Authors write what they know, and most everyone knows at the very least their own basic characteristics, warts and all. You make a good point, IMO. :) – Slytherincess Oct 20 '12 at 15:09
  • I always thought a "Mary Sue" could only be claimed for fan fiction, in which case it definitely has an objective (and fairly easy) answer. – tardigrade Feb 12 '18 at 9:48
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I support re-opening the Harry Sue question, as I stated in my comments at the original post, which Gilles has linked to above. I'll repeat what I said here:

I think this is a great question for a Fantasy site -- what better subject to discuss than the fantastical elements of our favorite fiction characterizations? This is not a subjective question (Universal Mary Sue Litmus Test) nor is it non-constructive. It's interesting -- sometimes the characters one would least think of as a Mary Sue (Harry Potter) get the highest Sue scores, while characters who appear to be blatant Sues (Ginny Weasley) score much lower. If this is a site for answers, this question definitely fits.It would definitely also be an appropriate question for writers.SE. I believe it still fits at scifi.SE as well.

I have a partial answer typed out that I saved in case this question re-opens and I'll post it here as, hopefully, an example of an answer to this question that is neither completely subjective nor non-instructive. The use of the Universal Mary Sue Litmus Test introduces the idea that there are specific characteristics of a Mary Sue/Gary Stu characterization -- as Gilles said, it's a trope. There is also the acknowledgement by the author of the test that the test is not perfect (unlike a Mary Sue!) but is a solid guide to assessing Sue-ness. The scoring process is explained in a non-subjective manner and guidelines are given for following up on scores that completely blow away the curve (see the score I got for Harry Potter below). So here's my example, using my partial answer that I wrote prior to this question being closed. I hope it will demonstrate that the Harry Sue question is answerable within SE guidelines.


Well, since this question still doesn't have a chosen answer, I'll give it a shot. I'll be using the Universal Mary Sue Litmus Test to try and preserve continuity and to garner the least amount of subjectivity possible. First, though, the author's (abbreviated) caveats:

Please, please, please remember that these are the symptoms, not the disease. Just because something is on the test does not mean that it's inherently bad and should be avoided at all costs. Think of them as being like salt or spices - they serve to enhance the dish when used in the right amounts, but when used too liberally, the result tends to be quite unappetizing. Again, INDIVIDUAL ITEMS DO NOT MAKE THE MARY SUE. THE INDIVIDUAL ITEMS ARE NOT BAD. MOST CHARACTERS HAVE AND SHOULD HAVE AT LEAST SOME OF THEM.

Furthermore, this test has never been nor probably will be perfect. At best, I can only offer it as a guide, not an instruction manual.

And the scoring system:

(0-16 Points) Most likely Not-Sue. Characters at this level could probably take a little spicing up without hurting them any. (17-21 Points) Fanfiction characters can go either way at this point depending on the writer. For an MMO/RPG or original fiction character, however, you're most likely perfectly fine. (22-29 Points) Original fiction and MMO/RPG characters can go either way at this point depending on the writer. Fanfiction characters may need some adjustment, however. (30-35 Points) Fanfiction authors beware - Mary's on the loose. There's still a chance you can save this character with some TLC, though. Role-players and original fiction writers, you should also consider tweaking your character. (36+ Points) Fanfiction authors, you might just want to start over. Role-players and original fiction authors, at this point your characters are likely to provoke eye-rolling and exclamations of "yeah, right!" from your readers. (Well, at least from me.) Immediate workover is probably in order. (50+ Points) It's probably a lost cause either way, or you didn't read instructions properly (some people don't [read this instructions], which causes freakishly high scores). If it's the latter case, read the instructions and take the test again.

RESULTS:

HARRY POTTER: 121 (and ¾, natch) Points


Note: I was in the process of seeing where Ginny Weasley fell on the Sue spectrum when this question was closed, and it was interesting to me that she was barely registering on the scale by the time I stopped.

END

  • Now that the question is re-opened, you should move this answer there, and perhaps add Ginny and others (Hermione? Luna?) for those of us without the attention span to go through the test. – Kevin Oct 22 '12 at 23:32
  • @Kevin -- I will, definitely. It's just a particularly busy week :) – Slytherincess Oct 23 '12 at 4:31
  • @Slytherincess - reminder :) – DVK-on-Ahch-To Nov 6 '13 at 18:24
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Slytherincess makes the argument that the question is not subjective by linking to a "test" for the characteristics. There is no "official" test for this though, and even the test that she linked to seems very subjective. I'll highlight the cues that indicate that the results are subjective:

(0-16 Points) Most likely Not-Sue. Characters at this level could probably take a little spicing up without hurting them any. (17-21 Points) Fanfiction characters can go either way at this point depending on the writer. For an MMO/RPG or original fiction character, however, you're most likely perfectly fine. (22-29 Points) Original fiction and MMO/RPG characters can go either way at this point depending on the writer. Fanfiction characters may need some adjustment, however. (30-35 Points) Fanfiction authors beware - Mary's on the loose. There's still a chance you can save this character with some TLC, though. Role-players and original fiction writers, you should also consider tweaking your character. (36+ Points) Fanfiction authors, you might just want to start over. Role-players and original fiction authors, at this point your characters are likely to provoke eye-rolling and exclamations of "yeah, right!" from your readers. (Well, at least from me.) Immediate workover is probably in order. (50+ Points) It's probably a lost cause either way, or you didn't read instructions properly (some people don't [read this instructions], which causes freakishly high scores). If it's the latter case, read the instructions and take the test again.

Most likely, probably, can go either way, may need some adjustment, consider, might, likely. All of these are indications that the test itself is very subjective, so using it to declare the answer non-subjective is not accurate. The author of the test even addresses this by stating that high scores can be caused by just not reading the instructions carefully enough.

In addition to all of this, looking at some of the questions from the test, it is driven for use by the writer, not used to test someone else's characters. This is an important point because it makes some of the questions unknowable, and/or rediculously subjective. Examples of this are:

Is your character's name: A name you planned on giving one of your children?

Does your character look how you wish you look?

There are many more questions like that, and it is highly doubtful that JKR has discussed all of them enough for people to be able to answer them without some form of subjectivity.

Slytherincess also points out that

sometimes the characters one would least think of as a Mary Sue (Harry Potter) get the highest Sue scores, while characters who appear to be blatant Sues (Ginny Weasley) score much lower.

This is all evidence that the test, and the question itself is highly subjective. It is likely to garner a lot of debate, and will not have one correct answer. As such, it is not a good question for the site, and in my opinion should be closed (an opinion that the community agreed with).

Note: For those of you fixated on the fact that I said that the community agreed with the opinion originally, I apologize. I meant, that the community agreed with the opinion. I said "originally" to distinguish the fact that the community has since re-opened the question. It was meant to bring light the fact that the question indeed was closed at one point, something that may not be apparent to people looking at it now. I am fully aware that the community can't vote to re-open until it is closed, and did not mean to suggest that peoples opinions were swayed or changed or ??? whatever negative connotation that people were apparently attributing to the comment. It was only meant to distinguish the fact that A. The community down voted and closed the question, originally, while B. simultaneously showing that the community has since changed that decision.

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    You cannot say the community agreed with your opinion, since the question was reopened as fast as or faster than it was closed. Obviously, the community is divided on this matter. – Gabe Willard Oct 21 '12 at 3:57
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    @GabeWillard originally the community agreed. – NominSim Oct 21 '12 at 3:59
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    @NominSim - Originally, the community wasn't given another perspective or tools to consider while making a decision on whether or not the subject and question is appropriate for our site. – Slytherincess Oct 21 '12 at 5:19
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    @NominSim - there is no way to VTRO a question BEFORE it gets closed. Therefore it's impossible to know whether community as a whole (as opposed to 5 people in it, over the course of 6 months) shared that opinion, unless everyone who agreed also left an up/down vote on META (and since this wasn't asked on META till now, we won't know). – DVK-on-Ahch-To Oct 22 '12 at 2:23
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    @DVK, Slytherincess you're reading way too much into that last comment. It was just meant to indicate that originally the question was voted down and closed. Which happened... – NominSim Oct 22 '12 at 3:54
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    @NominSim The first downvote on the question was six months after it was asked. Hardly "originally voted down," and, as stated, no matter how much the community wanted to keep the question open, there's nothing we could have done to stop 5 rogue close-voters from closing it. Hardly a community consensus. This was just a few people over-eager to use the shiny new review queues. – Kevin Oct 22 '12 at 23:41
  • @Kevin fwd: my previous comment. – NominSim Oct 22 '12 at 23:53
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    Yes, I read and understood your comment. I'm just saying you're wrong. The question was originally upvoted and left open. For 6 months. It had no downvotes or close votes until a week ago. – Kevin Oct 23 '12 at 0:42
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    @NominSim -- I was merely responding as best I could to your four word comment, which wasn't exactly much to go on. I think that I was just pointing out that at the time of the votes to close that the community wasn't given any alternate reasons to consider that the question might be something we can work with. Which also happened. – Slytherincess Oct 23 '12 at 4:40
  • @Slytherincess The comment wasn't directed at you at all, so you weren't responding to anything said to you. Regardless, you're missing the point of what I said in the answer which is that the community voted to close the question. I addressed the "tools" that you brought up as well, if you care to read my answer and not jump on me for semantics in a comment not directed to you. – NominSim Oct 23 '12 at 4:49
  • @Kevin Edited to clarify, I only meant to bring to light the fact that the question was originally closed, and since re-opened. As people have pointed out you can't "re-open" a question before it is closed, I just wanted to make sure that people who were not aware knew that the question had been closed, and has since been re-opened. – NominSim Oct 23 '12 at 5:00
  • @NominSim -- I was responding to your comment that you directed at DVK and myself ... ? The one with my name in it ... ? I'm confused why you're saying it wasn't directed at me. – Slytherincess Oct 23 '12 at 7:35
  • @Slytherincess No...your "response" to the comment with your name in it was to say that you were "responding" to my "four word comment", which was not to you, but was directed at GabeWillard. In any case I hope you can look past my assertion that the question was voted to close and more into the body of my answer, which explains how despite your assertions, the question is very subjective. – NominSim Oct 23 '12 at 14:25
  • @NominSim - I'm unclear. The comment I'm referring to is the one that says "@DVK, Slytherincess, you're reading way too much into this" Etc. I'm not sure how I would know that was not addressed to me, but to Gabe Willard. Anyway, I really do understand your points. I don't disagree with the points you make per se. I just happen to think that it's OK to explore the parameters of the box and be flexible. I mean, honestly, at the end of the day? Why deny those who are interested the opportunity to explore the trope? I have VTC before, but I have also chosen to pass by a question I don't like. :) – Slytherincess Oct 23 '12 at 14:52
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    Subjective questions are ok as long as they're “constructive”, which roughly means that they are likely to lead to interesting answers and they aren't likely to lead to unending debate. After reading both Slytherincess's and your answer, I'm inclined to think this question is of the “good subjective” kind. – user56 Oct 23 '12 at 20:41

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