Of course, you don’t have to be a marginalized reader to be a fan of Alec and Magnus or to engage in fannish activities related to their characters and relationship. Maybe you simply like relationships where one partner is more experienced or where the couple has very different senses of style and hijinx ensue, or you enjoy the way the couple teams up for maximally efficient demon dispatching.
But if you are queer, the fact that Alec and Magnus are part of a fictional universe as popular as Cassandra Clare’s—where, based on those depressing statistics about how few YA books have been published in the last decade with LGBT characters, you might not have expected to find any queer characters—is a significant one. Their presence alone, in a series that has been translated into multiple languages, may make you especially inspired to create your own responses to them. And communities form around these acts of creation and interpretation. Become part of one, and maybe that person who posts great photos under the effyeahmalec username will become a new friend, boyfriend, girlfriend, or other significant person in your life.
But wanting new friends and/or action isn’t the only reason to involve yourself with characters from a fictional universe. You can also use the details the author provides about the characters as a jumping-off point to learn more about—well, in Clare’s books, any number of things, from anime, to Muay Thai, to Northern Renaissance painting, to the poetry of Ted Hughes and William Butler Yeats. And when an author gives you characters with whom you identify, then removes them from the narrative for long stretches, their very absence can be, paradoxically, a way for you to connect with them even more closely.
I keep saying “you,” but here’s where I come clean, or out, as the case may be: I identify as queer, so I’m one of those marginalized readers I’ve been talking about. And when I read the Mortal Instruments series, it struck me that significant portions of Magnus and Alec’s relationship take place off the page. Which makes sense—after all, Magnus and Alec are part of an ensemble cast, with world-saving responsibilities that often preclude sexytimes. But I kept thinking about how little of their relationship the reader actually sees and how that, surprisingly, didn’t annoy me but instead made me wonder a lot about what was going on while they were offstage. (Not like that. Well, maybe a little like that.)
What I wondered about the most was this, based on their vacation as described in City of Fallen Angels: If you were a warlock who’d had hundreds of years to travel, what would make you choose particular destinations for a trip with a new lover who’s also newly out as gay?
Here’s an example of the kind of interpretative strategy that can enhance the experience of a queer reader who’s interested in connecting to Magnus and Alec as a couple— and, perhaps even more specifically, in connecting to Magnus’ fabulous outfits.
Magnus and Alec’s European Vacation (with a Bonus Stop in South Asia)
We know from the text that Magnus takes Alec to Paris, Florence, Madrid, “somewhere in India,” Berlin, and Vienna. For each location, we also learn what Magnus wore—or at least one outfit that he rocked, anyway.
As we know, Magnus is hundreds of years old. He’s been around for any number of dramatic cultural shifts: in politics, in fashion, in the way same-gender relationships are perceived. And since I find history, queerness, and fashion equally compelling—and, of course, they’re all connected—I decided to consider each of the destination/ outfit pairs as a way into what Magnus might want Alec to know about that place and what Magnus himself might have experienced on earlier, perhaps much earlier, visits.
Paris In Paris, Magnus wears a striped fisherman’s sweater, leather pants, and an “insane beret.” Stripes have had so many different meanings in dress over the centuries that French scholar Michael Pastoureau has written an entire book about them: The Devil’s Cloth: A History of Stripes and Striped Fabric. Pastoureau begins his book by analyzing an advertising campaign slogan: “Cet été, osez le chic des rayures [This summer, dare to be stylish in stripes].” He comments: “To wear stripes, to present oneself dressed in striped clothing— if we believe the slogan—is neither neutral nor natural. To do so, you must display a certain audacity, overcome different ideas of propriety, not be afraid to show off.” Not a bad description of Magnus. And perhaps Magnus bought his leather pants from a shop in the Marais, a neighborhood that in 2012 is home to many g*y bars, galleries, and shops, while in the sixteenth century it was frequented by the Mauvais Garçons (“bad boys”)—French and Italian “adventurers” who, according to The History of Paris, “created great mischief ” during the captivity of King Francis I. It’s not difficult to picture Magnus among the adventurers. As for the beret, it’s simultaneously a traditionally French article of clothing and strongly associated with both bohemian and queer communities—within which there has always been a significant overlap.
Florence In the Boboli Gardens, Magnus wears an enormous Venetian cloak and a gondolier’s hat, suggesting that he and Alec spent some time in Venice before their Florentine sojourn. Several centuries previously, Magnus might have worn a similar cloak along with a mask and a three-cornered hat to celebrate Carnival. This costume, which was worn by people of all social classes and genders, allowed its wearers to be anonymous, which in turn allowed them the opportunity to engage in activities—such as sex with someone who was married, or of the same gender, or both—that otherwise would have been condemned. Magnus’ gondolier’s hat could be read as an homage to the liaisons that gondoliers sometimes developed with their clients; for instance, in the late nineteenth century, the English author John Addington Symonds, who wrote one of the first essays in English in defense of homosexuality, was involved with a gondolier named Angelo Fusato.
Madrid In front of Museo Nacional del Prado, Magnus presents himself in a sparkling matador jacket and platform boots. (And nothing else? Clare doesn’t specify, although one imagines Jace would have reacted even more violently to the photo if that were the case.) Inside the museum, there are any number of now-historic works of art that Magnus might have seen when they were new or even when they were in the process of being created. But the most notable thing about Madrid as a destination—about anywhere in Spain, for that matter—is that Magnus and Alec, were they so inclined, could legally marry while they were there. Spain achieved marriage equality in 2005.
(N.B.: About that marriage: A Malec wedding, or at least the prospect thereof, is another bonus feature that you should seek out if you haven’t seen it already. Clare created a short story in postcard form about Izzy’s short-lived but epic adventure in wedding planning, which she shared with fans who attended her City of Fallen Angels/Red Glove U.S. tour with Holly Black. Google “Cassandra Clare postcard short story.”)
Somewhere in India All we know about this stop on the trip is that Magnus was wearing a sari. Maybe he and Alec watched The Pink Mirror while they were there. The Pink Mirror is the first Indian-made film to focus on transgendered characters, and the ensemble worn by the person featured most prominently on the movie poster—a richly ornamented gold sari and veil—is one that Magnus, if not Alec, would admire. The film is actually banned in India, but what good is being High Warlock of Brooklyn if you can’t get your hands on illegal movies?
Berlin This time Magnus is wearing lederhosen—leather breeches—which he could have chosen for their associations with working-class virility, for how easy they are to clean in comparison with fabric garments, for the camp connotations that Wikipedia avers they have around central Europe, or perhaps simply for the (ahem) ease of access provided by their drop-front style. While in Berlin, he and Alec might have discussed another Magnus, g*y rights pioneer Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld. “In 1919, Hirschfeld founded the Institute for Sexual Science, with which he aimed to make people conscious of their sexuality and allow people to live their sexual lives as they wanted, not just according to rules that were dictated by society,” says Gerrit Horbacher, the spokesperson for Berlin’s Gay Museum, in an article on Berlin’s g*y history. Though judging from what happens later in City of Fallen Angels and City of Lost Souls, any insights Magnus wanted to convey to Alec about the value of unapologetic sexuality were not entirely absorbed.
Remember About the Windows and Mirrors? Sometimes People Want to Break Them
You might call what I did above “fansearch” ( fan + research), a nonfiction companion to fanfic. Being inspired to learn more about something when it’s mentioned in a book you’re enjoying is certainly valuable for anyone, but I’d argue that it’s especially so when there aren’t many books out there that reflect your life. Investigating history through a queer lens is a way to make a link between your experiences and what others have gone through in the past. The GLBT History Museum in San Francisco has a quote from a 1979 flyer inscribed on one wall that reminds visitors of the struggles of the queer community: “Our letters were burned, our names blotted out, our books censored, our love declared unspeakable, our very existence denied.”
And while I’m emphatically not a fan of emphasizing the challenges and difficulties that can accompany a queer identity, it’s important to recognize that even today, there are a distressing number of people who are actively hostile to anyone whose sexuality and gender identity don’t neatly fit their expectations. In a post about Clary and rape culture, well worth reading in full, Clare writes:
I get hate mail about Alec and Magnus on what I would say is about a weekly basis. I keep thinking it will get boring, but no, every time I wind up shaking with rage and walking around trying to shake it off and cool down. Since there’s such a pile of it, I tend to notice the same language cropping up again and again. One of the most common complaints is that I made Alec and Magnus g*y “for no real point” or “for shock value” or “to make money.”
I always wondered what the hell that was about. Did Alec and Magnus’ sexuality have to create world peace before it was okay to include it? Are g*y people existing that shocking? Is anyone dumb enough to think that including g*y characters in your story is going to net you the big bucks rather than what actually happens, which is that your book gets kept out of trade fairs and banned from libraries?
Characters like Alec and Magnus, whose presence within a fictional universe as popular as Clare’s puts them in front of a far wider audience than many other books with LGBTQ themes, are mirrors for some and windows for others. Readers who think Clare made Magnus and Alec queer “for no real point” are themselves missing the point. The presence of queer characters helps all readers, regardless of sexuality, get to a place where we can see both ourselves and each other more clearly.
Sara Ryan is the author of the YA novels Empress of the World (Viking, 2001, reissued 2012 with new material) and The Rules for Hearts (Viking, 2007) and of various comics and short stories. Most recently she is a contributor to Welcome to Bordertown (Random House, 2011), Girl Meets Boy (Chronicle, 2012), and Chicks Dig Comics (Mad Norwegian Press, 2012). Her first graphic novel, Bad Houses, with art by Carla Speed McNeil, is forthcoming from Dark Horse Comics.
Like Scott Tracey, I love a good villain. Without a good villain, a story is pretty weak. I loved Valentine in all of his monstrous humanity, so it is without reservation that I say: Go forth, and enjoy this valentine to Valentine. We miss him, but really, it’s best he stays wherever he is…
Villains, Valentine, and Virtue
I love a villain. Before you can make me care about the her**ne’s quest or whether the hero will overcome adversity to get the girl, I’m already rooting for the villain. Why? Maybe it’s because good villains start at the end of
the journey while the her**ne grows and learns as a part of hers. Good villains are always at their best/worst. They get to act right from the start; they thrive from the moment they step onto the stage.
Or maybe it’s because villains are so entertaining. When you’re a villain, the spotlight is always on you; every scene you’re in becomes crucial just because you’re in it. Villains make their own kind of fun, and that usually involves explosions. They have nefarious opportunities in bulk. When it comes to villainy, there are no rules, no limits, and certainly no expectations—the villain’s only job is to create problems and force the heroes to react.
Or maybe it’s just because villains have cooler wardrobes, snazzier accessories, minions—not to mention some of the best lines of dialogue. Villains can tell you the truths you don’t want to hear, and make you suffer for it.
Yup, whether it’s Loki in The Avengers, Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty, Irina Derevko from Alias, or Voldemort, I’m Team Evil and Eyeliner all the way. I don’t care if they’re big or small, male or female, human or something else entirely. Give me a great villain, of any shape, size, or origin, and you’ll have my time and attention, and access to my wallet for years to come.
This is one of the great things about the Mortal Instruments series: It has so many different flavors of villainy. There’s a whole underground world of monsters, any of whom could fulfill another series’ evil quota all on their own.
There are the faeries, who seem to show up only to cause Clary trouble (and occasionally give her a good lead on the latest mystery). The Faerie Queen tricks, beguiles, and tortures at whim, hiding her cruelty in archaic forms of hospitality such as the offering of food or drink. Even the simple act of telling a truth—a faerie mandate—is twisted to serve her villainy; some truths are wicked and sharp. Then there are the vampires, who have to feed on human beings to survive. They siphon off the thing that keeps humans from death and steal it for themselves. Not to mention all the werewolves and warlocks and other Downworlders that haunt the night.