The Cassie Clare Issue
A TL;DR on the YA author’s more than problematic history.
Cassandra Clare has been a fandom presence long before she became the “author” of the “The Mortal Instruments” series. This is, of course, not news to the fandom veterans who were in forums and LiveJournal in the early years of the Harry Potter craze, but Cassie has worked long and hard to hide her fandom past from the general public’s eye, and thus a lot of the fans that learned of her existence with the 2016 premiere of Freeform’s “Shadowhunters” don’t know of her reputation as a plagiarist, bully, and incest fetishist.
Plagiarism, bullying and fandom drama
Cassie became one of the Harry Potter’s first Big Name Fans (fans with a large following fanbase) in 2000/2001, with her fanfiction series “The Draco Trilogy”. The series, which centered around the pairings of Draco/Ginny and Harry/Hermione, spawned a huge controversy when a reader noticed that nearly an entire chapter of “Draco Sinister” was lifted, nearly word for word, from an out-of-print fantasy series called “The Hidden Land”. As plagiarism is forbidden in most fanfiction-publishing sites, Cassandra was banned from Fanfiction.net.
Cassandra’s fanfiction-writing career didn’t end there, though. She proceeded to write other fics, including a Ron/Ginny (yes, they’re siblings) fanfiction titled… “The Mortal Instruments”. Yikes!
Cassandra’s scandals go further than just fanfiction plagiarism, though. There’s the infamous LaptopGate incident, where an alleged ten thousand dollars was donated to Cassandra and peers with the intention of it going to charity, though it was never clear just how much money Cassandra received or how much of it actually went to the hospital it was meant for. But Cassie is most notorious not for (maybe) scamming a couple thousand dollars from her fanbase, but for being a cyberbully.
As a Big Name Fan, Cassandra had the power to send hundreds, if not thousands of people to harass her detractors with all kinds of bullying and threats. She even got as far as to dox some of the people accusing her of plagiarism, got lawyers to threaten people into deleting their criticisms, and falsely accused a critic of hacking to try and get her expelled from her university.
In 2006, Cassandra deleted all of her fanfiction from the Internet in preparation for her professional debut. The next year she published the first book of the “The Mortal Instruments” series (no, not the incest fanfiction, the YA novels).
Many fans that have known Cassandra’s work from before she erased all of her fanfiction from the Internet have pointed out that the “The Mortal Instruments” series is hardly more than glorified Harry Potter fanfiction. The plot and characters are basically a mash-up of her “Draco Trilogy” and her Ginny/Ron fic. But the drama doesn’t end there. In 2016, SF/F author Sherrilyn Kenyon sued Cassandra for plagiarism, accusing her of lifting most of her plot, characters and even names from her “Dark Hunter” novels. You can find a detail-by-detail comparison of the two series as presented in the lawsuit here.
All of this is well documented in Fanlore.org, a Wikia dedicated exclusively to fandom history.
The Mortal Instruments vs. Shadowhunters
Does the issue being and end with Cassandra’s history of bullying, the fact that she used to write incest fanfiction and her plagiarim? Actually, it does not. Because the “The Mortal Instruments” books themselves have enough problems that we could write an entire thesis on the misogyny, abuse apologia, homophobia and racism reflected in their pages.
Last year, after a fan of both the books and the “Shadowhunters” show asked showrunner Todd Slavkin whether the character Simon Lewis was going to cheat on his girlfriend Maia in the show as he did in the book, Todd replied on Twitter that “shows can differ from books” and “Simon is too cool to do that”. Cassie, who’s seemed rather unhappy with the artistic changes that the show creators have applied to her plot since it first aired, took offense to Slavkin’s wording.
Fandom decided to ignore the grammatical mess that is Cassie’s tweet, and instead latch on Cassie’s wounded ego. Veteran fans all knew that she’s particularly susceptible to critique, prone to sending her fans after critics and quick to block people on Twitter for calling her out on her b*llshit. Yet, the fact that she seems to be offended by the show fixing the issues with her books was a last straw.
The 2016 “Shadowhunters” show hasn’t been perfect, of course, but the issue doesn’t lie on its differences from the source material. Rather, it has improved a lot upon a very flawed source, and it has yet to improve a lot more. Right now we’re talking about Cassie, and so we’re gonna focus on the issues with her books, not the issues with the show.
Racism in The Mortal Instruments
The books, much like the show, center around a white, red-headed Ginny Weasley copy-cat called Clary Fray. She is white, and so are nearly all the main characters of the series. The only non-white “main” characters (I use “main” loosely, as they get very little focus in the main continuity) are Magnus Bane, who’s mixed white and Indonesian*; and Raphael Santiago, who’s Mexican. The only human/Shadowhunter characters of color are East-Asian characters, while all the other non-white characters are Downworlders (part-demon creatures). Nearly all non-white characters in the series are mixed with white, too.
(*Note: both in the movie and in the show, Magnus has been played by Chinese, not Indonesian actors.)
The show made some strides to fix the asphyxiating whiteness of the series by racebending Luke (Clary’s adoptive father), Simon (her best friend) and half of the Lightwood family (Izzy and her mother Marisse). Nearly all vampires, werewolves and seelies were cast with people of color, making the “Shadowhunters are privileged and Downworlders are oppressed” narrative hold some real-life weight. It wasn’t perfect a perfect fix, of course, and Clary remains a White Savior Archetype in the narrative, but it lessened the overwhelming lack of people of color that plagued the book series.
The books lack people of color, and they also treat the ones that are there like absolute sh*it. From relying on the Angry Black Woman Stereotype and the Hyper-Religious Latino Stereoype, to making Simon cheat on and then dump Maia (a Black woman) for a white girl; all the portrayals of characters of color in the series are full of tone-deafness and harmful archetypes.
Biphobia and homophobia in The Mortal Instruments
“Malec”, as in the couple that is Magnus and Alec, is probably one of the main reasons why Cassie gets any kind of recognition for being “diverse”. Magnus is an Asian bisexual man and Alec is a gay white man, and they’re (though awfully sidelined and mistreated, and basically there to prop up the straight characters whenever the plot needs it) one of the three main couples in the books.
Now, not all representation is good representation, and the book portrayal of Malec leaves much to be desired. Starting with the fact that Alec —like all the other protagonists in the books — is a teenager, and Magnus is a couple centuries old. It was bad in “Twilight” and is still bad when a same-gender couple does it.
It’s interesting to note that the Shadowhunters society is deeply homophobic. What made Cassandra Clare, a straight woman, feel entitled to write her only main gay character as a victim of systemic homophobia, or to even include homophobia on her fantasy world, is a question for the ages. Instead of trying to decipher why heterosexual people feel entitled to gay people’s suffering, let’s jump on some quotes…
“Camille?” Alec said. Magnus knew her name! “You know her, then? Or-she knows you?”
“We know each other,” Magnus shrugged. “Once upon a time she was my girlfriend.”
“Your girlfriend?” Alec almost yelled.”You dated a vampire? A girl vampire?”
“It was a hundred and thirty years ago,” Magnus said. “I haven’t seen her since.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Alec demanded. Alec felt it again. The feeling he was being held at arm’s length. Like he was being cut out of something important.
Magnus sighed. “Alexander, I’ve been alive for hundreds of years. I’ve been with men, been with women-with faeries and warlocks and vampires, and even a djinn or two.” Magnus looked at Alec’s mother who had a horrified look on her face. Alec couldn’t blame her. He was a little horrified too. He knew Magnus was old and had been in love before but to hear it like that!
“Too much information?” Magnus said, noticing his audience. Maryse nodded almost automatically.
Alec was reeling. Was there anyone in the world Magnus hadn’t slept with? He felt suddenly so small, young, inexperienced and unimportant. Magnus was the only person Alec had ever kissed. The only person he had ever slept with. With all that experience had Magnus enjoyed being with him at all? Had it not meant as much to Magnus? Could it ever?
“How many other people?” Alec asked. “Roughly.”
“I can’t count,” Magnus said shaking his head. “And it doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is how I feel about you.”
“More than a hundred?” Alec asked not even taking in the words Magnus had said after ‘I can’t count’. How many was so many you couldn’t count them. He couldn’t focus on anything else at the moment. He couldn’t help picturing Magnus with a whole bunch of faceless gorgeous strangers. “Two hundred?”
“I can’t believe we’re having this conversation now,” Magnus said.
“Why so many?” Alec said. Alec was intense he knew, but he couldn’t help it. “Do you get bored with people fast?”
Would Magnus get bored of him?
“I live forever,” Magnus said quietly. “But not everyone does.”
That felt like a blow to the heart. Alec felt himself recoil as if hit. Were all Magnus’s lovers so interchangeable to him? “So you just stay with them as long as they live, and then you find someone else?”
Quoted from “The City of Fallen Angels”
“Beati bellicosi. Blessed are the warriors.”
“Good organization,” said Magnus. “I knew the man who founded it, back in the 1800s. Woolsey Scott. Respectable old werewolf family.”
Alec made an ugly sound in the back of his throat. “Did you sleep with him, too?”
Magnus’s cat eyes widened. “Alexander!”
“Well, I don’t know anything about your past, do I?” Alec demanded. “You won’t tell me anything; you just say it doesn’t matter.”
Magnus’s face was expressionless, but there was a dark tinge of anger to his voice. “Does this mean every time I mention anyone I’ve ever met, you’re going to ask me if I had an affair with them?”
Alec’s expression was stubborn, but Simon couldn’t help having a flash of sympathy; the hurt behind his blue eyes was clear. “Maybe.”
“I met Napoleon once,” said Magnus. “We didn’t have an affair, though. He was shockingly prudish for a Frenchman.”
“You met Napoleon?” Jordan, who appeared to be missing most of the conversation, looked impressed. “So it’s true what they said about warlocks, then?”
Alec gave him a very unpleasant look. “What’s true?”
“Alexander,” said Magnus coldly, and Clary met Simon’s eyes across the table. Hers were wide, green, and full of an expression that said Uh-oh. “You can’t be rude to everyone who talks to me.”
Alec made a wide, sweeping gesture. “And why not? Cramping your style, am I? I mean, maybe you were hoping to flirt with werewolf boy here. He’s pretty attractive, if you like the messy-haired, broad-shouldered, chiseled-good looks type.”
“Hey, now,” said Jordan mildly.
Magnus put his head in his hands.
“Or there are plenty of pretty girls here, since apparently your taste goes both ways. Is there anything you aren’t into?”
“Mermaids,” said Magnus into his fingers. “They always smell like seaweed.”
“It’s not funny,” Alec said savagely, and kicking back his chair, he got up from the table and stalked off into the crowd.”
Quoted from “The City of Fallen Angels”
Magnus is portrayed as predatory and promiscuous, forcing Alec to come out when he’s still not ready and being constantly attacked (by Alec, mainly) about his sexual past. On the other hand, Alec is deeply biphobic, constantly feeling threatened by Magnus’ proximity to other people and quick to turn violent over his jealousy.
Magnus and Alec don’t get much development in the main continuity, and most of it is centered around their conflict and the homophobia that Alec faces. Alec spends a good part of the plot pining after his adoptive brother Jace (yikes!), who is obviously heterosexual (and also his brother!) and makes Alec’s infatuation another case of Gay Person Obsessed With Straight Friend. Then, when Alec and Magnus finally get together, most of their scenes are spent in the type of jealousy and biphobia that we see in the quotes above.
There isn’t much to say for the representation of sapphic women in the books, as the only F/F couple is banished to a far-away island and gets no development. The show hasn’t included this couple thus far, so we don’t know if it might improve on it or not.
Abuse apologia and incest fetishism in The Mortal Instruments
There’s something to say for the fact that there are no friendships between women in the books and all the women do is compete with each other for male attention, but that’s not the worst part of the misogyny in “The Mortal Instruments”. Rather, the fact that women are subjected to abuse and rape for shock value, and even put in romantic relationships with their abusers is the real issue here.
Clary, particularly, has an iffy dynamic with Jace, who she believes to be her brother for a good part of the plot all while still being in love with him. Jace, who supposedly is also in love with her (while believing that she’s his sister) consistently treats her like absolute shit, like every archetypical Heterosexual Man In A YA Romance. It can get worse than maybe-kinda-incest and this-is-not-abuse-because-it’s-YA, though. Clary’s actual brother assaulting her is definitely worse.
To add to it, Maia Roberts (the Black girl who, I mentioned, gets cheated on and dumped for a white girl), who grew up in an abusive environment, is also made to go back to her abusive white boyfriend.
At this point it’d be hard to cleanse pop culture of Cassandra’s influence, but a critical approach to her and her books is the least we can do. Before buying any of her books, remember what she stands for.