Before I begin, I’d just like to say right off the bat that I recognize this may be a controversial post due to our highly unpopular opinion about this author and her novels. However, we think this is a really important discussion to have. It has been noticeable to some, especially our Tumblr followers, that we pointedly avoid any discussion or even mere mention of Cassandra Clare and her novels on this blog and its related social media. As a former fan of her works (I read all 6 TMI novels and all 3 TID novels, even some related short stories Clare wrote, so I don’t hold these opinions merely because I subscribe to some belief that I need to be controversial and inflammatory), upon further reflection as I grew up and became more immersed in the YA Lit community, I realized that there were a lot of issues with her books. Like, a lot.
First of all, let’s start with a little background information on Cassandra Clare. The Mortal Instruments began as Harry Potter fanfiction, which I honestly have no problem with – many fantastic authors have begun their careers with writing fanfiction, as it’s a wonderful way to practice writing and developing worlds and characters with virtually no consequences. But in the case of Clare, her fanfiction not only aroused some plagiarism accusations prior to TMI, but portions of City of Bones actually maintain some of her original writing, with fans and critics having spotted quotes which were torn directly from her Draco fanfiction and merely placed into City of Bones. When looking at those quotes, it appeared to me that she had merely changed names, worlds, and concepts but still kept a lot of that original work intact. That was the first red flag.
The second red flag came when I learned that Clare had allegedly sicced her lawyers on those who had called out her works for plagiarism or who had merely spoken out about their dislike of her writing. Now, this hasn’t been corroborated – I recognize that. These claims live on in internet archives, to be believed or not. But after my experiences with Clare (more on that later!), I’m honestly inclined to believe them.
But let’s get into the real meat of this argument – why do I actually dislike The Mortal Instruments? What is it about the work(s) that makes me genuinely think this series shouldn’t be so popular? The first thing that really disappointed me was the incest. And before anyone says “but they weren’t really siblings!” yes, that’s true, but it doesn’t change the fact that when Clary and Jace wholeheartedly thought they were related, they still maintained and attempted to suppress real feelings for each other, relation be damned. Even though Clare later reveals that they were not actually brother and sister and their beautiful, magical love could now flourish in public, she still sent the message, for a time, that it was perfectly fine for these two to remain in love – their feelings were just so strong, they were always meant to be together no matter what, etc. And that’s obviously a problem.
Furthermore, when Clary and Jace actually enter into a real relationship towards the end of the series, it is highly abusive. Though Jace is possessed for a period of time, his possession is unbeknownst to Clary for a long while, and she still continues to excuse the abusive actions he takes against her because she believes that he loves her too much to really mean it. Clary exhibits the kind of mentality that many women stuck in an abusive relationship do, and it’s disappointing to see that Clare doesn’t make Clary advocate for herself when she had the opportunity to show her readers that women deserve better than abusive relationships, and they should seek help, speaking out about their partner’s abuse. In the world of YA Lit, the target audience for these novels is impressionable young teenage girls. When you send the message that men who are abusive don’t really mean it if you’re so in love, and won’t do it again because it was just a mistake this one time, you risk telling your readers that should they end up in a similar situation, there’s nothing wrong with it. Considering how many girls love Clary and Jace’s relationship, how many aspire to that same kind of romance – and hey, I was one of them once too – this seems like a deeply unsettling message to promote.
But don’t just take my word for it. Years ago, a woman reached out to Cassandra Clare on Tumblr and expressed her concerns, as the survivor of an abusive relationship, about Clary and Jace’s relationship and its implications for young women. She elaborated on the same issues I did above, with the real knowledge of its potential impact on those in abusive relationships. Clare’s response? Teenage girls aren’t stupid. And yet, as a 19 year old girl who was once obsessed with these books, I think I can speak with authority when I say yeah, teenage girls are kind of stupid. No, they’re not so dumb that they can’t recognize problematic material; but they are impressionable, and that cannot be denied. The media we consume affects us deeply. It sends us messages about the world, whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, and it can affect our moral and intellectual development. Clare’s denial of this is an attempt to prove that she is not complicit in the problems she has created with her novels, and it is disheartening.
I could speak at length about more of the issues within her novels – the use of LGBT+ characters as tokens, the veiled plagiarism she continues to exhibit, the fact that she writes the same novel over and over again simply with different characters in a different time period in a different place, how poor the writing and worldbuilding really is, the manic pixie dream girl problem, etc. The list goes on and on. But my problem with Clare really stems from personal issues, and has informed my continued dislike of her despite having left these novels in the past.
When I was a freshman in high school, probably around 15, I expressed the same concerns as above on Tumblr. I was very vocal about my dislike of her books, as were my friends, and we knew people didn’t like us speaking out about it. But it was an important discussion to spark, and we had enough people in our corner that with all the confidence that young girls think they have, we continued to express our opinions. Did we go about it in the right way? Probably not. We could have articulated ourselves better, backed up our claims, and made our arguments less emotional. But would I do it again? Um, obviously. Here I am. But when Cassandra Clare seemed to plagiarize from one of my favorite series, I took it personally. I reached out to her with my concerns in a polite manner, and got an unnecessarily rude response.
She brushed aside my point and told me she would be contacting the author of the series my friends and I were trying to defend. She was obviously upset that I had brought up plagiarism, despite my never actually uttering that word – I merely hoped to bring her attention to a problem. And maybe it wasn’t a problem. Maybe I had perceived one that did not really exist, looking for an excuse to call her out. Yet she seemed to have a greater knowledge of my friends and I, and clearly showed that she knew how much we didn’t like her books, how vocal we were about that, and it upset her. I freaked out immediately, scared she was monitoring me and those I cared about, and we all changed our URLS, some even deleted their blogs entirely out of fear. As a minor aware of those stories about lawyers, honestly, it scared me. I immediately contacted the other author (who had no part in this interaction and was being brought in unfairly) and begged her for forgiveness and a chance to explain, and she was gracious enough to listen to my friends and I and to understand our role. From that point forward, I shut up. I acted out reflexively at first, but after a week, I was quiet about what had really happened. I just let my hatred fester, and expressed my disappointment with the books themselves, but I was quiet about my actual interaction with Clare. I’m done being quiet.
I can’t change anyone’s opinions, and I know that. But in an age of social media in which everything that appears to be even slightly problematic gets “cancelled” and torn to shreds immediately, I can’t help but wonder why Cassandra Clare’s books continue to go unscathed. She’s clearly supported dangerous tropes and mentalities, and even acted personally to dispel talk of dislike about her novels through fear tactics. If people are so inclined to “cancel” books, television shows, movies, etc. for one mistake here and there, I urge you to think critically about what Clare’s books have exemplified and whether or not the plethora of issues contained within them make these novels still worth high regard. In my opinion, it’s time to start calling out problems without fear. I understand I may take heat for this, and perhaps it’s been long enough that I should leave this completely behind, but seeing these books flourish only makes me want to pull my hair out every time I step into a bookstore. If you’d like to disagree with me, feel free. But just as I cannot change others’ minds, others cannot change mine on this subject. For further reading on some of the problems I have mentioned, please see the links below.