Pointing The Cannons At Canon


so is this cannon canon or what

For a great many years, I was rather enamored with the idea of canon in the pop culture feast that I consumed. This continued well into my 20s, maybe into my 30s, and even now I still feel its needle-stitch tug inside my heart. (For those who don’t know, the idea of “canon” originates with the notion that in a given topic, study or series, there exists a genuine, bona fide list of books that are considered sacred and original. In pop culture fandom, “canon” takes this idea to mean that some stories or ideas are “true” in the context of the internal history of that particular narrative.)

As by now all of you — except that guy who has been living in a nuclear bunker from the 1950s — have figured out that I wrote a Star Wars novel. *clears throat* I have not exactly been quiet about it. And this novel is the first “canon” novel to appear and start to build the bridge between Episode VI (aka Return of the Jedi) and Episode VII (aka The Force Awakens). It builds immediately off the events in VI, while planting seeds for what will eventually become the garden of new material that sprouts in VII. Again, it is to be considered “canon” — it is real and it is true in the context of the narrative story-world (“the galaxy far, far away”).

Ah, but, post-RotJ books already existed, and they were canon-ish. Zahn’s original trilogy (which I adored as a kid and which were held as sacred texts) launched a major mission into the unknown void beyond the borders of the galaxy we knew. Lucas said, “No new trilogy,” and that opened up the doors to dozens upon dozens of new books told in that space. These books were canon more by default than anything else (they were not to my knowledge explicitly made so, and as I understand it, Lucas always considered the books secondary to the visual media around the storyworld), but the books were close enough for horseshoes and hand grenades, as the saying goes. The Expanded Universe was as the name suggested: the galaxy became bigger, richer, wider, weirder.

Now, though, all that has gone. Those books have been re-classified as Legends.

See, Star Wars has always been more Tolkien than Marvel or DC. What I mean is this: the continuity of Star Wars has mostly remained a single, unbroken chain. Tolkien’s narrative storyworld is unified in the same way — whereas with the two major comic book houses, you get a massively fractured narrative. You get hundreds of chains, some broken, others soldered together, others still just random links floating in the void. The storyworlds of Star Wars and Middle-earth are histories beholden to isolated timelines; the storyworlds of DC and Marvel are shattered mirrors representing a variety of alternate dimensions or single-shot universes. Middle-earth has little variance in its historical thrust — no alternate histories. And, up until recently, that was somewhat true of Star Wars, too. (I say “somewhat” because how exactly do you classify the video games? The comics? The “Droids” cartoon? LUMPY AND ITCHY AND LIFE DAY?

That has now changed. Star Wars now has an entire outgrowth of its narrative universe moved to that “alternate timeline” category — the most robust branch of that tree has been suddenly wrenched sideways to make way for a graft from a new, different cultivar. It was bound to happen, of course. Once Episode VII was announced — hell, once it was even a glimmer in anybody’s eye — the historicity or “canon” qualifications of the Expanded Universe had to have felt a tectonic tremor in the Force. It would take back-breaking narrative calisthenics to maintain the Expanded Universe in a trilogy of new films. The age of the actors alone makes that tricky. And the Thrawn trilogy presents clones that do not operate well against the rigors of the prequel events. And of course once you step onto the path of the Expanded Universe, you have to play host to a wild array of story events that may not be easy to keep — Chewbacca’s death, for instance. Or the existence of zombie stormtroopers and space werewolves — er, sorry, “wyrwolves.”

So, the timeline had to snap in half.

Now, you have the galaxy far, far away.

And you have, separate from it, the Legends continuity. (This post, by the way, isn’t about the people who want to bring Legends/EU back. More power to them, and as I’ve noted, I’m sympathetic to those who feel like the storyworld they were following is no longer going to have new material. I have less sympathy for those who take that mission and make it a belligerent, negative one rather than one that is positive and constructive. Be a fountain, not a drain, folks.)

I get questions now about the canonization of things inside Aftermath — people excited or disappointed that X, Y, Z thing is now canon. (Some folks are upset because I canonized hamsters. As in, I mention something inside the book is “hamster-sized,” which now makes hamsters a real thing inside the Star Wars universe. There exists some pushback against Earth things intruding upon the SW universe, though as you’ll see, Earth references like “Falcon,” or “Hell,” or “hot chocolate” have long been a part of the galaxy.) And it’s curious, because I didn’t really think that way as I was writing the book. I mean, yes, I knew that what I was writing would have resonance and would be the first steps toward the larger bridge connecting the trilogies, but that was the 30,000-foot-view. I didn’t think about the nitty-gritty nuance of canonizing things.

(Sidenote: I also canonized “space diapers.” Hey, whatever, you mean to tell me some kooky smugglers don’t use ’em? NASA has garments that are referred to as “space diapers,” I’ll have you know. See? SEE? Boom. Space diapers. *drops mic into pile of space diapers, squish*)

And so, I’ve been thinking a whole lot recently about canon. What is it? How rigorous must it be? More importantly, why are we so beholden to it? Why do we care so much?

The answers to those last questions are many-faced.

First, I think it’s that we are beholden to viewing large narrative universes the same way we view things like memory, history and religion. We see things as sacred and true — which springs from the original usage of that word “canon.” Some books are canonized. Some are apocryphal. The apocryphal ones do not govern the larger history or the religion. They are somewhat… ancillary. And in our minds, lesser as a result.

Second, as geeky nerdy type folks, we love to become dogmatic about the things we love. It’s in our nature to be protective and knowledgeable — even hyper-knowledgeable — about the things we love. It’s a way to identify with our tribe. (Of course, that dogmatic adherence can also lead to fandom toxicity. Witness the dipshit fuckwhistle tradition of calling out “fake geek girls” or cosplayers, both of whom have a perfect right to engage with their fandoms as deeply, innately or intricately as they so choose.) We like rules. We like rulebooks. We are fans of data and detail.

Third, and connected to the last point, we love the things we love and want to know them through and through. Consider it a kind of rigorous exploration.

Fourth, and also connected to the second point, loving all the rules and the data and the details gives us a deeper reach into the worldbuilding aspect of the universe. It is a touchstone to the experiential — we perhaps more vividly connect with material that is continuous and true.

Fifth, the elegance of simplicity is not to be denied. If Gandalf acts one way here, then to have him act entirely different elsewhere feels abrasive and impossible. Keeping things together in a singular thrust of narrative consequence is, frankly, easier to keep track of in the long run.

And now, here’s why all that is a little bit bullshit.

History, religion and memory are fucked. History is often ret-conned because history is written by humans and humans are notoriously unreliable narrators. Much of our history is witnessed through secondary or tertiary resources — proxies who did not witness the events about which they are writing — and that makes it utterly shitty in terms of its factual dependability. Even primary sources must be viewed through the lens of perspective. As the saying goes, history is written by the weiners — sorry, winners. We are routinely given sanitized or spun versions of history, and that starts when we’re children. In the US, we’re shown these lovely images of pilgrims sitting down to Thanksgiving with the First People of America, but nobody tells you then about smallpox blankets or the Trail of Tears or how the Pilgrims were concerned about their religious freedom but not so much your religious freedom. Most people still don’t hear about how truly advanced the civilization was of the First People, or who Columbus was an asshole or —

Well, that list goes on and on.

And religion? C’mon. The Bible alone is not really one book but actually several books — you can watch the bone-breaking contortions or hamfisted cherry-pickings necessary to glean hard-and-fast moral life lessons from the Bible. Reading the Bible as a strict interpretation of fact is a pretty good way to miss what’s awesome about the Bible. By devoting yourself to those persnickety details, you lose what it means to be a good person and instead gain what it means to slavishly restrict your moral code to that of people who lived a long, long time ago and in a worldview far, far away. Once again, as children they’re taught the nice stories (“Noah got all the animals to save them from a flood!”) and later learn the whole story (“GOD DROWNED THE WORLD oh except for this Noah guy who has a thing for animals”).

Oh, and don’t get me started on the shame of losing a lot of the apocryphal books. You miss those, you miss Jesus’ teenage years. You also miss him being like, Harry Potter and shit. The Gospel of Mary Magdalene is a fascinating gnostic text concerned about the spiritual soul and actually talks a bit about some lofty things (“. . . Will matter then be destroyed or not? / The Savior said, All nature, all formations, all creatures exist in and with one another, and they will be resolved again into their own roots. / For the nature of matter is resolved into the roots of its own nature alone”).

Okay, how about memory? Also totally untrustworthy. We are all unreliable narrators.

Even science, which is by its definition devoted to the slavishness of data and detail, is wildly flexible — it has to be for it to work as designed. If science cannot evolve, our understanding of the world will fail to evolve, too.

In our narrative storyworlds — in our big spaceship galaxies and our fantasy kingdoms and our superhero cities and our SEX UNIVERSES WHERE I AM THE SEX KING — if we become too rigorous in our slavish devotion to canon, we lose the chance to tell stories. The more strict and detailed the canon becomes, the more reverence we devote to it. And the more it restricts the future of that narrative. The more it chokes off what can be told. Doors close. Windows slam shut and are boarded over. Options are lost. The more we care about what’s “true” — in a universe that has never been true and whose power lies in its fiction — we start denigrating those things that aren’t. We view alternate timelines as somehow inconsequential. We dismiss fan-fiction as just some wish fulfillment machine instead of what it often is: a way to tell cool new stories in a pre-existing pop culture framework that aren’t beholden to the canonical straitjacket.

The truth is, canon has never even been all that canonical. Even the canon of Tolkien is muddy. Which is true? The work of JRR? What about the added work of his son? What about the video games? The films? LEGO Dimensions posits a little LEGO Gandalf running around with Batman and Marty McFly. Which, by the way, is flarging awesome.

I think as trivia, it’s fine. Canon is cool when you view it as a puzzle to be put together. But when it becomes the point of our investment, when we become religious about its value — we lose something. We forget why stories are great in the first place. We fail to enjoy a story for being a story and instead try to view it as a series of binary data points. YES it exists. NO it doesn’t.

Does it really matter?

That’s not to say those interested in canon are wrong to like it — we like what we like for whatever reasons that please us the most. If you read or watch a thing and your interest is in piecing together the mystery of facts-within-the-fiction, then hey, you do you. But at the same time, if your love of canon gets you into fights online or limits what stories you’ll pick up in the future, it’s worth asking if you hold it in too high an esteem.

Maybe the best way forward is to view canon as a curiosity and not a set of slate tablets etched by God-lightning and brought down from the Holy Mountain. Maybe it’s time to enjoy the peculiarities intrinsic to a world where canon is flexible and uncertain, and where narrative apocrypha is allowed the precious room to stretch and breathe. Perhaps the joy in the broken mirrors of DC and Marvel is that I can have my Batman, you can have yours, and nobody has to arm-wrestle over which one is right, which one is true, which one belongs, which one does not.

* * *

ZER0ES.

An Anonymous-style rabble rouser, an Arab spring hactivist, a black-hat hacker, an old-school cipherpunk, and an online troll are each offered a choice: go to prison or help protect the United States, putting their brains and skills to work for the government for one year.

But being a white-hat doesn’t always mean you work for the good guys. The would-be cyberspies discover that behind the scenes lurks a sinister NSA program, an artificial intelligence code-named Typhon, that has origins and an evolution both dangerous and disturbing. And if it’s not brought down, will soon be uncontrollable.

Out now from Harper Voyager.

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50 responses to “Pointing The Cannons At Canon”

  1. I’m in Star Trek fandom where we don’t consider pro-novels to be canon. Only films and TV shows.
    I never knew this to be the case about Star Wars! Wow, I learn something new every day.

    I have a question, Chuck… Did you have to binge-read all the other Star Wars novels to become knowledgeable about Star Wars canon to be able to write your novel? Or had you kept up with Star Wars canon all along (since your youth)?

    • No, because that canon is now Legends and not part of the continuity I’m now writing. Once upon a time I read some of those books on my own — Zahn’s books, some of Stackpole’s, etc. — but never read all the way through and didn’t have to now.

    • Star Trek novels are kind of a weird thing, though, because for years they were giving just about anybody who asked permission to write one and I’m pretty sure the only rule was ‘don’t kill anybody important, m’kay?’ I own a bunch of those novels and I love them, but they were never meant to create any kind of unified narrative – they’re fanon, not canon. The Star Wars franchise has always exercised a lot more control over who got to write what and when.

      Which is why it’s so awesome that Chuck got to write official new-canon for Star Wars. Congrats on being tapped to help build the foundations of the new universe, Chuck!

      • Yes, exactly! Anybody could write a Star Trek novel. I tried to. Paramount sent me the submissions guide to pro-novels. You couldn’t write relationships between two canon main characters, couldn’t kill anybody off (main canon characters) and the Enterprise crew had to be exactly as they were at the beginning. No changes in status.

        But then there was some Star Trek novels that started breaking those rules (in recent years) and got published.

        I’m only the most casual fan of Star Wars–and I’m blown away at the differences in how canon is dealt with.

  2. As a Whovian who was around during the 90s with the multiple book and audio drama lines that frequently contradicted each other, I feel this essay so hard. #LOOMS

    Canon is useful sometimes, but like you said – when you try to make a list of What Is Canon, you lose interesting stuff.

    Maybe the Star Wars verse could use a dash of ‘wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey’ to make the contradictions hurt less.

  3. I am making a frankequote out of this: The more we care about what’s “true” — in a universe that has never been true and whose power lies in its fiction — we forget the purpose of stories and fail to enjoy them.

    The purpose of stories is to reinforce our perception of the world, empower our capacity for empathy, make us better human beings. When we invest to much on whether a story is legit in a certain universe instead of understanding what the story has to tell, we lose the meaning of storytelling.

    I love Star Wars, and I love Star Trek, and I certainly love Suikoden (Am I going to deep here?).
    I know how fandoms work. I understand why people could get upset over canon. But that, as all forms of bigotry, is trying to hard too be special, to be part of a community, to be accepted and admired and loved. I understand Lucas and his before-selling-to-Disney wish to keep it an exalogy (I do not even know if that word exists). Star Wars was the tragedy of Darth Vader. It was his story. In Romeo and Juliet we do not care what happens to the Montagues and the Capulets; the story was told, the meaning was there to grasp.
    Time to go a different story.

    And different stories is what we need.

  4. Oh my god! Was having this very discussion with a couple of people yesterday with regards to Doctor Who! As I’m fairly certain that I have heard Moffat and others say several times that there is no canon when it comes to Doctor Who, I tend to be fairly relaxed about it, and I find it amusing when people talk about the ‘traditions’ of a show about a time-travelling, twin-hearted, regenerating alien in a dimensionally transcendental spaceship/time machine that looks like a police box. Predictably, the conversation was about the idea of a female Doctor, and the reasons they thought it a terrible idea (‘because I said so’ and ‘it breaks with the tradition’ being two reasons, as well as – most hilariously to me – because it represents some nefarious agenda that ‘they’ have which would then just end with DW being scriptwritten by ‘them’ via twitter).

    I myself find canon problematic in fiction generally, because it tends to get worked up in people’s minds to be some gigantic set of rules with which they can spank anything which they don’t feel is in agreement with it. Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy had a very fluid relationship with continuity, especially as the story traversed formats. Red Dwarf tends to ignore it whenever convenient. Of course, you can argue that both of these are comedies, but I would argue back that there is a lot of profound shit that goes on in each as well.

    Anyways, I ramble – excellent post as always, and I’m enjoying the hell out of Aftermath so balls to all those who aren’t 🙂

  5. Brilliant article (aren’t the all? I hear you say). It makes me sad to have my deepest convictions dissected and explicated, though, like a slap in the face 🙂 For me, Star Wars was the first 3 movies – and nothing more. I hated Jar-Jar or whatever he was called, walked away and never looked back. I’ve never read a Star Wars book. Don’t play games, don’t play with lego or read comics. I’m still struggling with the question: How does anyone get to write a book set in the Star Wars universe without breaching the copyright of some ginormous corporation? Perhaps the answer is obvious – written in graffiti somewhere. Oh and I was sad to hear that Chewbacca died. Not in my ‘canon’ he didn’t!

    • I’m with JJ. Loved the original SW movies as a kid, hated the subsequent movies, never read the books. Sorry, Chuck, I’ll hold out for another Miriam Black. So in trying to understand why everyone has their panties in a wad over Aftermath, I’ve tried comparing it to my feelings over the changes that Peter Jackson made in the LotR movies. And it turns out that the only outrage I can remember is over major changes in the motivations and behavior of established characters. Faramir tempted by the Ring and vile abuser of prisoners? HOW DARE YOU. But it sounds like the SW fans are upset over new characters who are different from old characters. And the mention of Earth critters. I understand people feeling attached to the canon. But I still don’t understand the upset over Aftermath.

  6. Its difficult. I get what you’re saying – canonisation is limiting, don’t stunt the flow of stories – but when there’s so much content to ingest, it can get a bit frustrating to discover that events you read in one place, are nullified or refuted in another.

    But that’s all it is: a bit frustrating. As a kid, I avoided non-canon stuff because it had been drummed into me that it was in some way inferior or (laughably) “not real”. And that aversion has persisted.

  7. Yeah, canon is complicated. (Aftermath is next on my TBR list, so I’m still completely cold regarding knowledge of the new universe.)
    I always took as canon whichever came first out of book, film, whatever – and then the rest is quasi-canon, requiring my discretion whether or not I consider it canon. That personal rule encompasses everything from Harry Potter, Middle Earth, Star Trek, Doctor Who….and Star Wars (etc.). It’s good to be flexible as I read more than I watch things (ease of format).

    So the novelisations were – and still are – mostly gold for me in Star Wars. Otherwise I tended to oscillate between the end of the books (Caedus), Vong or some point prior to that being the ending of “canon” for me. Usually Vong. By the end of the Caedus arc, though it was finished well (good last book) I think it had got too, ah, repetitive, if that makes sense.
    I quibbled a little – okay, a lot – at first when I heard of the take-over, but I’m excited now. My one itch was how many good characters had to get scrapped along with any not-so-good ones and the bad deaths. I’ll be curious to see what, if anything, they do regarding kids and love interests. I really liked the Solo kids and Mara. Oh, and also *Ahsoka*. I still kind of hope/wish (headcanon) that given she’s one of the new-old Jedi Luke will discover. Hmm.

    Psst, Chuck, what’s your policy on reblogging? There is no ‘reblog’ button here for WordPress that I can see, just a ‘like’ one. So I’ll have to copy-paste it, crediting you and adding my own commentary. How much is okay to do? One paragraph with a link or the whole thing, still linked?

    • Ahsoka isn’t Legends, though — she’s real deal canon (again, this is why canon is weird, because we have to make statements about whether a beloved character is “real” or “not real” anymore). If you’re not watching REBELS, well, ahem, you may want to be?

      As far as reblogging — a couple paragraphs and a link is fine, yep.

  8. Canon’s a tricky bugger. I’m a comics fan so I love it, but at the same time I know that rigid adherence to it can be the worst thing ever.

    The main thing I took from Aftermath as far as canon was, “I want these people to show up elsewhere, too,” and, “I want a Norra Wexley Y-Wing pilot card in the X-Wing Miniatures Game.”

  9. “Some folks are upset because I canonized hamsters” is the sort of complaint that should be printed out and framed in your bathroom. What a complaint to have.

    *ahem* Also, interesting article – it’s weird to remember a set of things you’d believed were “truths” about something you love are as shifting as the creator’s (creators’) memory and inclinations. The reflex to cling on to things you thought were solid is strong. I’ve got a lot of sympathy for it. But creators gonna do what they’re gonna do: you either enjoy it, or you go away and hide in your own cubby-hole of What I Think. Both reasonable; one probably a bit less interesting after a while.

  10. Oh god, you just had to put a shot from the Star Wars Holiday Special in here. Do you know that my husband brought that, and only that, for me to watch when I was being induced with our daughter? I’m sure there was some thought in his head about laughter being the best medicine, but you better believe I told him to turn that shit off after 5 minutes of wookies howling at one another while my magnesium sulfate was kicking in. Seriously Chuck, a trigger warning would have been nice.

    And yes, we are still married. 🙂

  11. Tolkien’s canon — setting aside the work of other people like game-makers or even Christopher’s editorial decisions in assembling the Silmarillion — is actually still pretty messy. He had to retcon the Riddles in the Dark chapter after he started writing LotR and changed his conception of the Ring. And the History of Middle-earth series gives us access to a huge number of early drafts, alternate versions, supplementary writings, and attempted later revisions, which are often inconsistent with the “main” books and with each other, but which fans have eagerly devoured. One of the cool things about the Tolkien fan community is the way people have embraced and wrestled with the contradictions of “canon.”

    A cleaner example of a deliberately unified canon might be the Wheel of Time books. Jordan and Sanderson seem to have put in a lot of effort to make all the information released about the WoT world internally consistent (though even there, you can clearly see Jordan’s conception of the world evolving over the course of especially the first few books.)

  12. Star Wars has a slightly weird angle to canon, because Lucas actually changed the story. It’s now canon that Greedo shot first and that Jabba was waiting for him in Mos Eisley. Which just shows that canon can be changed. The story collection Tales of the Bounty Hunters had a Boba Fett origin story which was overwritten by Attack of the Clones, so it doesn’t bother me that I have a stack of books which are now not-canon, because frankly, when it comes to Star Wars, canon is what you make it, and not even George Lucas gets to tell us what we can enjoy.

    I like to think of it the way Vimes saw time in Terry Pratchett’s “Guards! Guards!”: as the legs of a pair of pants. You can go down one leg or the other. Maybe the official Lucas-Del Rey canon is one leg and the other leg is the post-RotJ EU books. I like a leg that keeps the original theatrical versions. Some people will like legs that are nothing but the OT and possibly TFA. At the end, it won’t be pants, but a set of stockings for Cthulhu’s tentacles.

  13. I’m not sure that the comparison to history does much for your case. Although historians often revise the specific details of their narrative, the basic premise of history is that it is based on actual people, places, and events that really occurred, a quality called historicity (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historicity). Narrative revisions in history do not wipe out the previous “canon;” they modify it based on new factual information or theoretical concepts. Writing a different interpretation of Christopher Columbus is permitted within the bounds of historicity, if the sources support it. Writing that Christopher Columbus did not exist and that a new character, Bob Smith, “discovered” the Americas in 1493, is not permitted within the bounds of historicity. This is why, for example, most scholars consider Gavin Menzies “1421” thesis (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gavin_Menzies#1421:_The_Year_China_Discovered_the_World) to be a work of fiction, rather than a work of history.

    The bigger point, of course, is that Star Wars Legends was never history – it was always fiction. There is no “historicity” test for new works; only standards of canon produced by Lucasfilm. However, the history comparison doesn’t do much to advance this point.

    Loved Aftermath. Keep up the good work!

    • That’s all very true — and I mention historicity in the post. My point isn’t about the concrete nature of history but rather, our perception of it, which is by necessity ever-shifting. So if we can expect history to shift underneath our feet, it is fair to expect our fiction to do the same, I think.

      Glad you liked AFTERMATH!

  14. If the ‘quantum scientists’ are right and there is an infinite number of universes where every possible combination of events can and do occur, there must be a universe where Star Wars is non-fiction. Just a stray thought. 🙂

  15. I hope star wars isn’t rigidly held back by canon, because I want to see the prequels remade with a re-written Anakin… just get the guys who made the Clone Wars animation to do it. *buzzes with nerdy excitement at the very thought*

    As for your post, hear hear! Well said, Chuck.

  16. *Claps.* Everything you said here is true. And I think I love fanfiction for the same reason I love reading other holy books–and even my own–as a story about people doing shit: because tall tales hold more truth than extemporizing.

  17. So my question is, when one is pitching a book to an agent/editor, is the point of the pitch to encapsulate the essence of the book in a few sentences, or is it to simply give an opening hook? Most of the pitches I read here do the latter, while I was under the impression agents/editors wanted the spoilers. Wrong impression?

  18. “If you read or watch a thing and your interest is in piecing together the mystery of facts-within-the-fiction, then hey, you do you. But at the same time, if your love of canon gets you into fights online or limits what stories you’ll pick up in the future, it’s worth asking if you hold it in too high an esteem.”

    First, saying “you do you” then telling me what to do is a little disingenuous.

    More importantly, I don’t read many things because of canon breaks. And I even remember the moment it began. As a teenager, I got really into Dragonlance. REALLY into it. Own-over-100-books into it. And I’m reading one of them, one by Weis and Hickman so MORE CANON than others, and it OPENLY MOCKS one of the prior books (by a different author) as a “bard’s tale” and “ridiculous”. And the worst part? The book being mocked wasn’t any good to begin with. But at least I could console myself by saying, “Now I know what happened with Sturm and Kitiara.” Except I didn’t, because not canon. I no longer read Dragonlance. I avoid the Star Wars EU for the same reason.

    And that’s essentially my bone to pick with canon errors: it means an author didn’t care enough to do the proper research, and/or a copyright holder didn’t care enough to exercise some skilled editorial oversight. And it’s damaging for three reasons:

    First, it hurts the brand. Publishing wrong-canon books, which are then mocked by other, “more” canon books, is terrible for your brand. I gladly would have read every Dragonlance book EVER if I could be confident the canon held together, because, damnit, I want to know how Verminaard rose through Takhisis’ ranks. But if you tell me how, then tell me, “No, wait, but really…” that’s called the bait-and-switch, and it’s a jerk thing to do to a reader. In well-canoned series, even if some of the books aren’t that good ON THEIR OWN, they can contribute to the setting AS A WHOLE and be worth reading. When I get into something, I want to get into THE WHOLE THING.

    Secondly, I’m sure you’re familiar with the term, “Willing suspension of disbelief.” Canon breaks break my suspension of disbelief, for what should be obvious reasons.

    Finally, the setting of every story is like a character. I like to think I know characters in books I read. Some of them I’d like to get a beer with. Some of them I’d go fishing with. Some I would be honored to be their mortal enemy. And some I wouldn’t give a glass of water to if they were dying in the desert, and not giving them that glass of water would be the greatest moment of my life. And settings are the same way. I always like to imagine living in my favorite settings (even the darker ones, like SoIaF), really inhabiting them and what my life would be like there. But you can’t DO that if the setting’s full of holes and inconsistencies. It just takes all the fun straight out of it.

    I have something like 300 books on my to read list (thank you Goodreads). Why would I waste my time on series that can’t even be bothered to maintain internal consistency?

    • All that is entirely sensible, and please believe me, I’m not telling you what to do. I am, however, asking that if one’s interest in canon actually can limit one’s enjoyment in the story being told — or, if the extreme attention paid to canon limits those stories told. (And some of this is entirely driven by the IP holders, no doubt.)

      The problem with “canon errors” — especially in something as big as the SW universe and with so many hands in it — is that like with *real* canon questions in literature, you don’t get tacit agreement on things. Because it’s too big, to sprawly. Your point with Dragonlance is interesting — for me, though, it becomes less a question of “now I know what happened,” because at the end of the day, none of it happened. Headcanon rules.

      I agree entirely that too much of breaking canon has the chance to break that suspension of disbelief, which is indeed vital.

      — c.

  19. Tolkien is actually a great example because the man changed his own canon over the years. Sometimes he even changed the names of characters. One of the big jobs his son has had is weeding through the boxes and boxes of stuff Tolkien jotted down in his life and figuring out which version should take priority.

    Canon is a useful concept for these gigantic fictional worlds we build. Somewhere in the writing of them, we do have to figure out what matters to the narrative and what doesn’t. But in my head, I’ve actually got two concepts: what is ‘real’ to the plot, and what is ‘real’ to the reader. Just because they’re different things does not mean that B is to be dismissed, or we wouldn’t have so many versions of the King Arthur myth.

    I wonder if Ye Olde Fanneboys sat around and argued about Lancelot’s characterization. I bet they did.

  20. (I know this is not about literature with a capital L, but…)
    In a previous iteration of self, I was a vocal advocate for the study of the traditional canon of literature, though not to the exclusion of other literary texts. I had a bug in my ass about it. Every time a Toni Morrison novel was part of the reading list (5 times), the professors would reference Faulkner. “See how she’s using Faulkner?” No, I don’t, actually. You never put Faulkner on the syllabus. Or Hemingway. Or Irving. Or Poe. Or Ellison. Or Emerson. Or Steinbeck. Oh, but we’re reading Mumbo Jumbo again? Great. Thanks for that.

    I was a real pedantic butt-hole. I was also in my early-twenties when RIGHT and WRONG seem… um… capitalized?

    That said, previous-self had a good point: If you desire a well-rounded view of a text, do yourself a favor and understand what came before it. Know what it’s riffing on. Know what words litter the ground upon which it grows.

    ‘Cause, come on, isn’t it hip to know that Superman was a yellow-boot-wearing, high-jumping socialist?

    But even The Canon (all ivory-tower and whatnot) changes. Morrison is surely in. I think, and really hope, someone is showing Ms. Rand the door. People can fight change. Change does not fight back. It just happens.

    • Hear, hear. Every story has its pedigree, and on that gnarly family tree we can trace connections between paraliterary pulp fiction, the what-became-classics of literary canon, and folktales. Between all of it.

      Before the literary canon, too, there were even older story cousins, whose various incarnations were mostly part of an oral literary tradition. We call it Homer’s Ilyad, for instance, but research reveals the story existed well before we think he did, and in as many variations as there were poets to perform it. Each embellished and rewrote for their audience.

      I like to think of fan fiction as a new kind of malleable, morphing Iliad. And its authors do not diminish the gnarly old story tree, but grow it with each new effort. Some versions of the Iliad will probably captivate you more than others. But I’m pretty certain in my case, it won’t be because everything is just where I expected it to be.

  21. I recently finished the audiobook version of Aftermath and i loved it. I really like where you are going with the story. And bravo to you for writing same-sex couples, even married ones, into Star Wars. I’m surprised Disney allowed it, but very glad.

    Personally, I’m on both sides of the Star Wars canon shift. I am definitely one of those people who adhere strictly to canon, but I am also a huge fan of the Old Republic era that Bioware came up with. I even prefer it to the movies sometimes. I would love it if that stuff was made canon, even though it really doesn’t matter in the end. It was interesting to me to find out that Darth Revan almost made an appearance in Clone Wars before it was cancelled.

    On a side note, I’m working on making a custom Lego figure for Mister Bones. Is there any way you could give a little more detailed description of him? For example, you mention he’s painted black and red but is there any specific patterns or imagery?

    Keep up the good work!

  22. Great thoughts. Its a great reminder of why we’re supposed to love Star Wars- for the stories, not the minute facts. I think the best perspective on canon is simply accepting what the Universe “curators”, (AKA Disney and the Lucasfilm StoryGroup) say is canon, so then you don’t have to worry about figuring out all of the little things that could or could not be canon. No need to speculate about what might be “re-canonized” because even if someone like “Thrawn” is re-canonized he still won’t be the same character since he’ll have different events, characters, and plots to deal with.

    Speaking of stories, I would like to applaud and thank you for your story that you included in the Star Wars canon. I thought the story was fairly original, action packed, and character driven.

    Also, those who don’t like your writing just have huge grammar sticks up their asses and need to get over themselves. I had a lot of fun reading your unique writing style.

    I’m excited to see where you go with the next two novels of the trilogy- I really want more of Rae Sloane!

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