Questioning Canon: Navigating an Expanding Franchise
In a franchise that is ever-expanding – and not always in ways that everybody agrees with – it is interesting to look at the idea of canon and how important it is in determining the stories that we all love. Many other major franchises face this exact problem with so much content and often intersecting storylines. Is the idea of canon truly important when it comes to telling these complex stories? Or should we simply enjoy the stories as they are and listen to the wider messages that they’re trying to impart to us?
Even though there are many different meanings of the word “canon,” we are going to define it as the material that is accepted as part of the fictional universe of that story. In essence, it’s the established facts of the storyline: the rules, characters, and indisputable events that form the official story. And it’s important to remember that even this singular narrative has many different influences and opinions surrounding its creation – from different directing styles to actors’ interpretations of their characters to differing opinions between editor and author.
If we look at the Harry Potter series, there is a lot of evidence of changing canon to suit the films rather than staying absolutely true to the books. One such decision was delegating many of Ron Weasley’s lines to Hermione Granger, which changes the way many perceive his character. While this “regifting” certainly aided the films’ portrayal of Hermione, Ron’s character was simplified in this process, relegating him to the role of humorous sidekick rather than the more complex and loyal character that he is in the books. So even in book-to-film adaptations, the idea of canon can become less clear-cut and concrete as different directors and creators weigh in with their creative decisions.
Having an official storyline can be great to get fans all on the same page, but in the end, the very nature of storytelling is embellishment and adaptation. From the time communities first started telling stories in the oral tradition, stories have evolved and changed with each retelling. Ancient narratives, such as the Iliad and the Odyssey, come from the passing down of tales and represent one amalgamation of many different accounts. Stories often represent gateways into a myriad of threads, some woven and structured within the bounds of books or films, plots, and character arcs. Some, such as comic book series, embrace the embellishment, contradictions, and endless nature of storytelling. We’ve seen how the Marvel Cinematic Universe has taken its long tradition of comic book stories and bound them all into one storyline, creating a singular canon storyline. Yet even that owes its existence to the wider world of Marvel content.
To fan fic or not to fan fic? Is that even a question? Fan fiction drives an important wedge into the discussion of canon, precisely because it often breaks all the rules of canon and revels in new storylines or ideas. But fan fiction can also have a big impact on fandoms and therefore how we perceive canon. For example, ships that have never been confirmed within canon (I’m looking at you, Wolfstar) are nonetheless a big deal for many fans, and these elements influence the way they react and experience the story. There is something to be said for the whole “the author is dead” argument. Once the story is in the hands of the readers, it’s up to them to interpret and oftentimes embellish the story as they will.
This leads us to the question of how important an official storyline really is. As readers, consumers, and fans, we might expect authors and creators to give us one story and leave it at that. However, looking at the growing nature of many stories being created today – a world of prequels and sequels and spin-offs – we know that it’s not always that simple. And as we’ve seen above, the direction that fans take a series can also have an important impact on the stories themselves.
Basically, stories come down to your own interpretation. If you want to strongly believe in that fan fiction you fell in love with where Remus and Tonks don’t actually die in the Battle of Hogwarts but were rescued by a 20-year-old Teddy Lupin and transported into the future via a time portal, then go for it. (It’s amazing, by the way. Check it out here.) If you’re more of a Hermione and couldn’t bear the thought of anything beyond the original series and view everything since the end of the series as “not really Harry Potter,” then that’s fine too. After all, you may disagree with the validity of anything that goes against canon. But then, that’s your choice, isn’t it?
In a world that has so much content and so many storylines, the whole idea of canon ends up being a choice. Stories and storytelling all come down to a relationship: one between you, the author, and the word. And like all relationships, it’s up to you to do with it what you will.