Theresa Sullivan, later Theresa Sullivan Hartley, is the main character of Norman Boutin's indie published book Empress Theresa. She is the daughter of Edward and Elizabeth Sullivan, wife of Steve Hartley, and a native of Framingham, Massachusetts. At the age of ten, she has an alien life force enter her, after which she begins to exhibit great powers that eventually cause her to be the most relied upon and beloved person in the world.
Although she is described as the greatest girl in the world by the book's characters, readers and critics alike have complained that she is taken far too seriously by world leaders and common people. Many of the claims made about her by other characters, and the author, are not consistent with her actions and beliefs, and that she acts as an unstoppable tyrant and bully with her god-like abilities.
Theresa is described by the book as "having a good disposition" and it claims she wants what is good for the world.
She is shown to be creative when solving problems, doing so in unique (and often overly complicated) ways, such as using eternally exploding ice in the arctic to simulate rain, instead of undoing the cause of the lack of rain.
Theresa is childish: she is shown to want rewards for problems she causes herself and seems to enjoy the fame and attention she gets (although she sometimes denies it) but dislikes all the responsibility that comes with it. This child-like behaviour could be interpreted as her not being able to emotionally develop correctly due to her being moved up in school too fast, and always being treated as the golden child by her parents, although this is not what the book seems to suggest.
She is depicted as being very conscious of how she looks - being worried about her weight at only ten years old. Theresa is also shown to be flirtatious, and seems to enjoy the attention her looks get her. She is often shown to be highly egotistical - unwilling to let others share her abilities, who she thinks of as inferior and untrustworthy, despite being no better herself, using her powers for her own gain at best, and at worst in, ways that would lead to the endangerment, if not death, of others.
The only other girl that Norman may have been obsessed with other than Theresa was Joan of Arc. In his online musings over Joan, much of his language and rhetoric sounds similar to his language and rhetoric over Theresa. His descriptions of events in Joan's life also sound eerily similar to descriptions of events in Theresa's life (for example, Theresa's thoughts while being led away to imprisonment and execution). This obsession is further supported by three Amazon reviews Boutin left in the 2000s; each was titled a variant of " A 5x year old Joan of Arc fanatic [verbs] on [title]."
Norman also admitted in an interview that Theresa's story was drawn from the 1994 attack on Olympic figure skater Nancy Kerrigan, and the investigation of Tonya Harding. He had originally written the story as a man who could read minds and solve a similar case, but threw out the idea. He then invented a character based off of Harding (now renamed Theresa) who had psychokinetic powers and used them to get revenge on her accusers. Over time, the story changed and developed into a young girl given special powers from an extraterrestrial force.
Role in the Story
Theresa is, obviously, the central character of the story. She uses her awesome powers to reshape the world in her image, which includes 24 hour daylight, eliminating Winter, having her own island which becomes a new oil rig, making land specifically for winter sports, and forcing the civilians (predominantly Jewish) out of Israel and making them walk roughly 400 miles on a muddy bridge/road to a new land safe from terrorists (yes really).
She constantly describes herself as a 'good (Catholic) girl', but her actions would say otherwise. At some point in the book, she is given the title 'World Empress' though she isn't referred to as such often.
Traditionally, a Mary Sue refers to a character in a fanfiction who is a self-insert of the author into a canon world. They tend to be flawless, relied upon heavily by other characters, and have their pick of romantic interests. Everything they do is seen as perfect or morally justifiable (even if, in reality, it isn't), and the only characters who might oppose them and their worldview are villains. The term's scope has broadened in recent years, and has come to refer to fiction characters in general who are flawless and heavily influenced by the author's personality and worldview. They are frowned upon by readers for being far too perfect and hence flat, undeveloped characters, and achieving success so easily their exploits become dull and predictable.
Many critics have labeled Theresa a Mary Sue, saying she is far too perfect to relate to the reader, as well as the fact that the treatment she receives from other characters is far too unrealistic. Norman has denied these allegations, saying that "anybody can become as fine a person as Theresa if they'll only try." However, one critic ran Theresa through the Universal Mary Sue Litmus Test, and found that she scored 100 points, making her a full-on Mary Sue.
Some evidence in favor of the Mary Sue charge:
- She is constantly described as sexy and beautiful. Her body receives positive attention from other characters. This includes her wedding, where her cleavage and shoulders are said to have charmed everyone (including, one must imagine, some of her own family)
- She is apparently very smart - a trait among Mary Sues. She skips 6th grade and enters 7th grade at the age of 11, graduating at 17 (being 16 most of the school year, as her birthday is in early May). At the start of the book she self-describes herself as being a 'whiz' in school. She also seems to somehow know everything about HAL, physics, dark matter, and various other topics she never saw signs of interest in-she just seems to guess and either be right or everyone believes her.
- Though another reason she was moved up in school was because her mom thought her thick hair was a symbol to her 'change of life' and decided her 11 year old daughter needed to be around girls her 'own emotional age'-13 year olds.
- Everything she does is justified, or is treated as harmless. She never repents or shows any remorse for anything serious that she's done, including wearing a sexy dress to show off before boys (mind you, in a Catholic-based college) , or mocking her ex's girlfriend. It doesn't help that other characters constantly talk about how perfect she is, even when she's clearly seen doing imperfect actions throughout the book.
- Literally everyone who knows about her immediately trusts and relies on her, for no other reason than the book says they do. The only people to oppose her are antagonists.
- Of course everyone who doubts her or questions her is immediately dog-piled by her cult of followers and their reputations are forever ruined.
- Norman himself has admitted to just how perfect she is, saying that while "some people write stories about characters who sin and eventually repent," he wanted Theresa "to be a good Catholic girl from page one." He has likewise described her as "beautiful", "very intelligent", "great personality", "attracts boys", "succeeds in her endeavors", "is courageous to the point of death", "has more power than all the world's army combined" - an extreme level of absolute perfection that would definitely fit a Mary Sue.
- However, Theresa repeatedly is not a 'good (Catholic) girl' as she attempts to commit adultery when she learns Jack is still dating Ginny by putting on a sexy dress in an attempt to seduce him. She ends up seducing Steve, who would become her husband. Some readers may also interpret Theresa an Steve's rush into marriage to mean they wanted to sleep together, but didn't want to be unmarried- so they get married only days after Theresa turns 18. She also at one point calls herself the right hand of God, which is the spot for Jesus. She constantly seeks revenge on those who wronged her, when the Bible says to not seek revenge- let it be left to God to punish the wrong.
- The powers she receives from HAL seem to be limitless and all-powerful. While some of the powers are more mild/common (super strength, perfect aiming abilities), the book later gives her God-like powers with no limits (shifting the entire Earth's tilt, 24 hour daylight, eliminating winter, moving entire countries, creating new land,putting everyone into a coma, immortality/negligible senescence).
- Theresa states that HAL must be some kind of alien race that has existed for millions of years, theorizing that the species takes hosts on different planets, find a way to reproduce, then leave for more planets. However, she seems to have such a bond with this particular HAL that once she dies, her HAL will merge with the Earth and never do anything again...because she was just that special apparently.
- When more people are merged with HAL's, Theresa decides that nobody else is capable nor worthy of the powers but her, so she puts the entire world (minus her and Steve) into a coma for 600 YEARS to find a way to remove all of the HAL's from their hosts to absorb them all.
- Theresa and Steve's hundreds of children all look like clones of their parents (boys look like Steve, girls like Theresa) except they all have the same hair color as Theresa, are all physically 10 yet are hundreds to thousands of years old, and apparently have the knowledge of hundreds of college degrees
- All of the events in the book (from chapter 4 onward) take place over the course of roughly a year, so Theresa accomplishes all of this at the age of 18/19 years old- its common for a Mary Sue to accomplish many things/be heroic/beloved by all at very young ages-older Mary Sues aren't as common.
The only thing which might work against the Mary Sue charge is the fact that it is hard to imagine Theresa as a self-insert of Norman himself. The thought of a man in his 60's seeing himself as a girl in her 20's is either impossible, or just plain horrifying to conceive. Though perhaps he is not imagining himself, but his ideal partner?
One could even say he was trying to imagine a modern day Joan of Arc
Aside from the Mary Sue charge, other criticisms have been lodged against Theresa as a character. Some critics were appalled by Theresa's poor treatment of Ginny, especially in regards to the latter's social class.
A major criticism against Theresa is directed towards her moral character. Though Theresa is called by Norman as a "good Catholic girl," and characters in the book speak of her as being morally perfect, she is often engaging in immoral or less-than-spiritual acts, such as scheming to seduce Jack with her 'little black nothing' dress (despite him having a girlfriend), seeing herself as a God-like figure and enjoys being worshipped, though God doesn't really like that, rushing into a marriage with Steve just to have sex (not stated, but seemingly implied)