February 5th, 2014

sherlock

writing Mary as a third wheel

I've promised just_ann_now a blog post on my thoughts about Mary Morstan's character in the latest Sherlock series. This isn't that, though that blog post is in the works. Rather, I'd like to talk about a related problem that I've seen poke up a few times in Sherlock fanfic and that I'm afraid will become even more of an issue. Namely, it's how to deal with Mary's character when you're writing series three fic.

(Be forewarned: spoilers for "His Last Vow" and series three generally ahead.)

This isn't a problem limited to the Sherlock fandom, by a long shot. I saw the same thing happen in the Tolkien fandom, particularly in slash though I'm sure it could happen in het contexts as well. What typically happens is the author sees a certain connection between A and B and wants to explore it, but B already is married to C, or has a serious canonical relationship with her, something along those lines. Said author isn't interested in a one-night affair or a boyfriend on the side; she wants A to be the love of B's life. To make this seem less like a math equation, let's focus in on the John-Mary-Sherlock triangle. You want to get John and Sherlock together as the true love in each others' life, but now John's gone and married Mary. Oops!

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sherlock

Fic Rec: Luminosity by what_alchemy [John/Sherlock(ish) + Baby Watson]

(ETA: After writing this I realized that this rec, and of course the story I'm recommending, has spoilers through HLV. Do I still need to put those warnings up?)

If I'm going to complain and worry about the way slash writers treat Mary like I did in my recent post, I should be just as quick to highlight people who do it right. Case in point:

Luminosity by what_alchemy

In this story John shows up on 221B one night, baby in tow, and they become a regular fixture in Sherlock's lives. Featuring Sherlock as reluctant uncle, babysitter (he's really much better than you'd expect, but oh so convincingly so!), and in the face of various legal struggles coming from his lack of official guardianship, BAMF-in-need-of-bail. The only time Mary is even mentioned is at the very end, and even there it's almost incidental.

What makes this work so well is that Mary is not demonized. Neither John nor Sherlock dwell on how his marriage broke down, though given the events and revelation of HLV (and, let's be honest, the way Watson avoids Mary's past rather than facing it), the odds were never exactly in the favor of this marriage surviving much past a year or two, if they made it that year. But Mary is not blasted. Hers and John's divorce is simply a Fact, as is the part that she signed away her maternal rights. I can see this being a loving act on Mary's part, really; if she couldn't provide a stable home-life because of her chosen profession and personality, if she didn't and couldn't have friends and families to help support her with the childraising thing, if she saw that John had all of that through Sherlock and Mrs. Hudson, if she trusted John to do right by her child, if the divorce happened early enough in Mina's infancy... I can see this being the kind of decision that a loving mother might make and that isn't at all neglectful.

It's also treated as something Mary chooses freely. She is shown respect and dignity, even if she isn't involved in the story much at all. So this is pretty well an example of what I harshly called annihilation (Mary is more or less completely removed from the picture), but it's done in such a way that Mary doesn't come off as cruel or evil... just not there, for reasons that could be unjustified but that also could be completely justified. I can easily imagine Mary having a fulfilling life, hopefully one with a minimum of body bags. That side of things isn't what what-alchemy seems to be telling, but it's not told in a way that portrays Mary with a fair measure of grace and sympathy, or at least gives the reader the freedom to see the story in that light.

This story really isn't about Mary, though. It's more about John and Sherlock and Mina forming a familial unit together. And it's so charming! Sherlock's discomfort around a child, Mina gnawing on microscope eye pieces and Sherlock using technical linguistic terminology describing her and that whole exchange with Mycroft at the end and... yeah. Entirely too much to absolutely melt over in this short fic. I also love the fact that the functional family comes first and that any romance, which is truly G-rated, comes organically out of that. Sherlock truly loves John and Mina, love that starts out as friendship but bleeds into agape love over the course of the story. Romance, such as it is, is the natural outgrowth of this rather than the driving force.

And speaking as a fan of the Johnlock genre who has enjoyed her share of stories where the romantic love comes first? That was one of the most beautiful paths to love of any sort that I've read in a long while. This story left me smiling and feeling all warm inside. Do check it out.