Russell: a Mary Sue?

The Mary Russell Companion is many things to many people: research tool (What year did “Mrs Hudson’s Case” take place?); source of amusement (Fernando Pessoa, pirate!); extended, free-form Laurie R. King novel (gasp: the  Memoirs, fiction? Never!).  Tirade against accusers..?


A Protest: Russell and the Mary Sues

Holmes, Watson, King

Since the Memoirs first began to appear, with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice in 1994, the person of Mary Russell has attracted controversy.  Many devout Sherlockians raised their (generally) manly voices in protest, at the thought of their honored detective having a life past August, 1914—moreover, a life that not only included a woman, but one who was not The Woman, Irene Adler.

More recently, another form of outrage has been raised, under the accusation of “Mary Sue!”  A Mary Sue, for those unfamiliar with the term, denotes a writer whose personal fantasies, generally of the romantic variety, blatantly override the good sense of a storyteller.  This stand-in character is invariably hugely gifted, generally wealthy, and so impressively clever as to leave all the established characters either gaping in her wake or succumbing to her charms.laureie_signing_sherlock

The question of Russell’s “Mary Sue”-ness stands apart from one’s acceptance or rejection of her actual, physical reality.  If she is real, then one must take at least the major part of her memoirs as being accurate.  If she is a work of fiction, then being (as Laurie King has said in interviews) designed around the existing template of Sherlock Holmes, her omni-competence is inevitable: if Holmes himself is composed of lighting-fast wits, physical competence, honed senses, and arcane knowledge, then so must Mary Russell be.  In either case, the lady is no Mary Sue.



If you’d like to read more about the Russell Memoirs “Game”, The Mary Russell Companion

is available here.




  1. Merrily Taylor on May 28, 2014 at 5:37 am

    My – who is that handsome woman consulting with Holmes and Watson? Sure a lady in distress of some sort? Perhaps over unjust accusations of having associated with, or enabled, a Mary Sue. No such thing!
    Now “50 Shades of Gray,” THAT’S someone’s Mary Sue fantasy!

  2. Kim Fleming on May 28, 2014 at 1:36 pm

    I find the whole concept of a “Mary Sue” character totally misogynistic. If a “Mary Sue” is: “invariably hugely gifted, generally wealthy, and so impressively clever as to leave all the established characters either gaping in her wake or succumbing to her charms,” it seems to me that if you change the gender, James Bond would be a “Mary Sue.” Or more appropriately, Sherlock Holmes would be the biggest “Mary Sue” in literature! It seems to me this “Mary Sue”-dom is a product of men believing that an uber-competent, intelligent, “worshipped” male character is the believable storytelling norm, but any uber-competent female protagonists are by definition, an unbelievable aberration that wrecks “the story.” I call bullshit on the whole Mary Sue label!

    • Zoe on May 29, 2014 at 4:27 am

      Agree completely!! The whole concept of Mary Sue is just another way to shame women out of writing awesome female characters. Like you say, all the male characters, James Bond, Sherlock Holmes, every super-hero ever, every action hero, they’re ALL Gary Stus and people worship them, why shouldn’t women get to write women like that?? For myself, I’ve turned the Mary Sue label into a compliment; oh yeah, she’s a Mary Sue, and she’s AWESOME!!

      • Merrily Taylor on May 29, 2014 at 5:29 am

        Zoe, so true – why does no one ever think it’s “ridiculous” that James Bond is handsome, rich, lethal, and can fight off three bad guys while simultaneously making love to a gorgeous woman – without spilling a drop of his martini? (Oh, and come to think of it, spies are supposed to be innocuous, not the sort of person one would notice – Bond fails on that score, too!)

    • Merrily Taylor on May 29, 2014 at 5:24 am

      Kim, you definitely nailed it!

    • Julia on June 4, 2014 at 9:50 pm

      Actually, Mary Sue has a male counterpart–Larry Stu. No really, that’s really a thing–although admittedly he’s not nearly as prevalent or referred-to as Mary Sue.

    • Madison on December 25, 2014 at 9:59 am

      Do any of you know anything about Mary Sues? Well. There’s a male version, as stated above. And by calling Holmes a Sue, you prove your ignorance. A Mary/Marty Sue is a character (usually fan-made) who cannot do anything wrong. They have little to no flaws, and those that they do have are never a source of serious conflict. Sues usually have a tragic backstory and are made with the intention of everyone loving them (and the obvious wish fulfillment). They’re always a “special snowflake”. In fanfiction (like this book- it’s published, yes, but it’s still fanfiction) a Sue will often be a counterpart of a main character in some way, adopting all of their skills and talents (but none of the flaws, of course). Sound familiar? On top of that, they will almost always have some relation to said protagonist, whether it be romantic or familial. Understand now? Characters like Bond and Holmes have flaws. Holmes is a sociopath, for crying out loud!
      Russel is/has:
      -an absurd number of skills, many of which have been copied from Holmes
      -a counterpart to a canon character in some way
      -in a romantic relationship with a canon character
      -always fights for good, is just good for the sake of it
      -anyone who doubts or dislikes her is quickly proven wrong by her amazing skills
      -tragic backstory
      -takes a canon character’s place
      -bashes the canon character (Watson) whose place she’s taking
      -is a tomboy who hates feminine pursuits, but still has waist-length hair because short hair is “too much to manage”
      -stunning and beautiful and slender and tall and *retch*
      -genius, fit, artistic, speaks up for her beliefs, kind
      -has all of a canon character’s skills (Holmes) and more
      -no major flaws/flaws are never a plot point or a serious problem for them
      Need I go on?

      • Laurie King on December 26, 2014 at 8:21 am

        This sounds very personal to you, Madison, and I’m sorry my work has troubled you. Perhaps you ought to avoid the Russell & Holmes stories altogether, since life is too short–and there are too many other fine books out there–to spend time on that which causes you distress.
        Wishing you a happy 2015,

        • Merrily Taylor on December 26, 2014 at 9:21 am

          I would also add, without prolonging a well-worn argument that Grows Tedious, that Mary Russell has a number of human flaws and failings that become evident as one reads the entire series, and in this series, Sherlock Holmes isn’t the main character – Russell is. But then we know that.
          Happy New Year to all!

        • Sheila Kennedy on December 15, 2021 at 6:42 pm

          Mary Russell is, it seems to me, cut from the same cloth as Harriet Vane, in that she represents the author’s fantasy-persona in the stories………
          Laurie, I love your creations, but I can’t help but notice that you have a great deal of long hair, studied theology, and married a man much older than yourself! Are you also left-handed and Jewish, I wonder……
          Please, please write more!

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