Why hello, children. Come back to hear more of Duke’s wisdom, eh? I don’t blame you. And before you question my brilliance, no, I did not spell the title of this article wrong. Geez. At least read the next paragraph before judging. Also, I couldn’t find a good picture to represent this article on the main page, so you get a picture of Aslan instead. Thank Gralas for that one.
Tonight we’re here to talk about something very important to nerd and geek culture. We’re going to talk about canon. And no, I’m not talking about ancient implements of war. Although that would be an amusing article to write as well. I’m talking about canon in terms of fictional lore. Simply put, something being considered canon means that it is considered “official”. A novel being considered canon might add a new take on an old idea, show something from a video game or movie that was never expanded upon in said video game or movie. Something NOT being considered canon might be…say, my Legend of Zelda fanfic. For as much as we’d like to see Link taking the law into his own hands and murdering Ingo, it’s just not canon.
But what does it take to be canon, exactly? This is going to be the main basis of this article, as it was the main basis for an argument I had on Gralas’ birthday with a friend of mine. Three absolutely drunk nerds sitting in a kitchen arguing about whether or not things should be considered canon in a series. Well, two nerds really. Gralas wasn’t arguing. He was FAR too drunk at that point. In fact, partway through the argument, he made the mistake of attempting to stand. He then fell flat on his face with a sickening thud as his head collided with the floor. The argument paused for a brief moment while we made sure he was not dead, and then we continued, with Gralas lying prone on the floor. Soon enough, he had heard enough of our bickering, so decided to attempt to end our argument by expelling the contents of his stomach onto the kitchen floor. Again, our argument was put on hold while Gralas was cleaned up and sent upstairs to his bed. Then the argument continued, for a nerdy argument is a force in and of itself. Add alcohol to that equation and it will only get worse.
The argument was about what it takes to be considered canon, and whether we need to accept it. My drunken counter argument was “I don’t wanna accept it”. But let’s take a closer look and examine what it takes to be considered canon.
Is it the creator of the series that decides what makes it into their world and what doesn’t? The people who own the copyright to it? I’m honestly not sure what it takes to be considered canon. I mean, surely George Lucas does not read every Star Wars novel brought before him to decide what little tweaks and changes need to be made. Who decides what is acceptable and what needs to be changed? A lot of novels and games and smaller things added to the series are given room to be free by avoiding important characters and events and focusing on their own stories. But not all of them. This is not the case in all of these books, as they often are about pivotal characters in a series. These books are much more likely to be able to upset the flow of the world by introducing contradicting canonical accounts of things.
If you follow the webcomic Penny Arcade, the most recent comic (at the time of this writing) is regarding a Mass Effect novel which apparently makes a rather large amount of mistakes. Though not quite as bad as the comic jokes about, there are certainly issues in it. And yet this novel is considered to be part of the series canon, and made it past any proof-reading and fact-checking that should have occurred before publishing. Now, if this was just a minor novel about this or that and had a few errors in it, I’m sure they would be overlooked. But this is Mass Effect, and these are nerds reading it. And NOBODY likes nit-picking and finding errors more than nerds. You’d think the writers and publishers would be aware of this fact by now. We like nothing better to know that we were right and they were wrong. Neener neener neener.
But if that book can slip through the net, how many others contain errors but are considered canon to the series? To the benefit of the Mass Effect folks, they issued an apology for the mistakes and promised to have a number of changes in any future editions of the novel. Hopefully in the future, similar novels will have more time and effort put into them to make sure that they fit into the world they are supposed to.
But that’s only the most recent and publicized example. There are countless factual errors in the worlds of Star Wars, Star Trek, Halo, and all manner of other things. The first two examples particularly have so many countless extra materials for them that it’s impossible for them not to have contradicting statements in them. But to be fair, I haven’t read many of their books, so I can’t provide examples of errors in them. But the Halo series is somewhat of a passion for a friend of mine, and he was the one I was arguing with that night. He loves the games, and he loves the books, but he takes issue with Halo: Reach because of its numerous errors. I won’t go into all of the details of the errors, because I can’t remember them and he explains them better himself. But he still maintained that because it was canon, he had to accept it as fact. Well, fictional fact.
But I suppose ultimately, the canon of the world is defined by its creators. Theoretically, George Lucas could hold the following press conference and all we could do is sit there and cry. Now, keep in mind that this is all fictional and extremely exaggerated, so don’t yell at me. Yell at Dave, it’s his fault that this came up at all. Oh, I guess I should mention that the friend I had the argument with was named Dave.
Lucas: Thanks for coming, folks. I’ve got big things to discuss. But first, I’ll take a few questions.
Nerd Who Snuck Into Press Conference: Mr. Lucas, I’ve found an error in the latest Star Wars book, “The Force: Lightsabers in the Mist”. On page two hundred and six, Darth Bulbasaur is said to have a pink lightsaber when he CLEARLY is stated three books earlier to have a LIGHT RED lightsaber.
NWSIPC: It’s an affront to all of Star Wars! You must fix it immediately, the fate of the entire human race depends on it!
Lucas: No it doesn’t. Shut up.
NWSIPC: Mr. Lucas, it is your DUTY to ensure that Star Wars remains untarnished and perfect as it always has been!
Lucas: You know what? Just for that, I’m writing a new book, myself. A very short book. *pulls out cell phone and hits a few buttons, then puts phone away*
NWSIPC: *phone beeps, he pulls it out, reads the message, and gasps* Mr. Lucas! You can’t do this! This isn’t right! Fix it immediately! There is still good in you!
Lucas: It’s too late. It’s official. I tweeted it, it’s now canon.
NWSIPC: But…Han Solo can’t be Luke and Leia’s father! It’s impossible!
Lucas: I can do whatever I want with Star Wars. You know it to be true.
Man, how messed up would that be? ’cause, you know, Han and Leia get married later. And have kids. Twins, even. I mean, I don’t know if you guys ever read the Young Jedi Knight series, but I know I did. Man I wish I was joking.
At any rate, unless Lucas got REALLY drunk, I doubt he would do anything like that. Because hundreds of thousands of nerds would be up in arms, grabbing plastic lightsabers and looking for blood. On the other hand, that would be pretty dang entertaining.
So I suppose canon really comes down to the creators and writers of the original worlds, or the copyright holders. So let’s hope that they fear us enough to keep the screw-ups to a minimum.
So what about you, readers? What do you think about canon? Are you okay with taking the bad with the good and accepting it all on the same plate? Do you try to avoid things that you feel don’t have the best interest of a series at heart?