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August 04, 2014

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Isn't a Mary Sue story only one in which the universe of the story is perverted by the wish-fulfillment desire of the writer?

Doesn't detract from your point, in that even the cheesiest Mary Sue story would probably have a fuller character than the weird cardboard cutouts you describe as populating this show . . . .

I recall a friend once telling me, while she was in the middle of earning her MA in English, that one way of talking about characters was the distinction between flat and round characters. Many of Dickens's characters, for instance, being flat, while Dostoevsky's were round. Perhaps this is just abuse of geometry a la Fashionable Nonsense, but I'm also reminded of Ursula Le Guin talking about how in a well-written fantasy (or, more specifically, a well-designed fantasy story), the world was like an iceberg: you only ever see 10% of it, but the rest of it has a very large influence on how what you see behaves. And anyone paying attention can see the difference between this type and the other.

Also, only touching on the women aren't real trope and because I feel the need to expel some bile, I had been contemplating (irregularly, don't worry) for some years as to just how misogynistic John MacDonald was, in all those terribly popular Travis McGee novels. I read them all, in order, and I'm pretty sure that every single woman that he has a relationship with ends up murdered or raped or both, with the exception of the one who dies of brain cancer. Repellent and it makes me glad I read them so many years ago, time at least has bleached it a bit. But which also leads me to observe that despite the new James Bond being the best ever, every single woman he's had sex with so far has died. Please correct me if I'm wrong, I would be pleased to know it.

I think part of what may be behind Teen Wolf getting so bad is the inherent implausibility of these Modern Fantasy universes. The idea that the world could always have had large numbers of dangerous supernatural beings with serious self-control issues *and nobody ever noticed* is pretty preposterous. They did try, IMO, I thought it was pretty good in S1 and meandering but trying in S2. You can never have LeGuin's iceberg in that kind of universe; to mix metaphors, the lead weight of preposterous backstory would pull the whole enterprise below the waves.

The fairly blatant sexism of thin female characters is a separate problem and not particularly limited to Modern Fantasy - as Jake's examples from other genres demonstrate. If anything, it's probably somewhat better on average thanks to the witch archetype and the fact that female superhumans are still superhuman. Also, possibly that women are often a big part of these audiences may play a role too.

Another drag on modern series is the excessive amount of dramatic character twists. Characters switch from good to bad to good to bad to good to bad to.. well, you get the idea. It's a reaction to the more traditional problem of having pure evil characters vs. pure good, which is silly too, but it's often gone way over the edge in the other direction.

"LeGuin's iceberg" sounds a lot like Ernest Hemingway's famous iceberg:

“If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water.”

(I'm not accusing LeGuin of plagiarism; she probably credited Hemingway.)

Jim, it's even possible that I'm misremembering exactly what Le Guin said . . . I think it's in Languages of the Night, I will dig through it and see.

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