In fiction, canon is the conceptual material accepted as "official" in a fictional universe's fan base. It is often contrasted with, or used as the basis for, works of fan fiction, which are considered to be non-canon. It is used in two slightly different meanings: first, "it refers to the overall set of storylines, premises, settings, and characters offered by the source media text".[1] In this sense, canon is "the original work from which the fan fiction author borrows,"[2] or "the original media on which the fan fictions are based."[3] Secondly, it is used "as a descriptor of specific incidents, relationships, or story arcs that take place within the overall canon"; thus certain incidents or relationships may be described as being canon or not.[4] The alternative term mythology is often used, especially to refer either to a richly detailed fictional canon requiring a large degree of suspension of disbelief (e.g. an entire imaginary world and history), or to a central thread of storytelling running through a broad fictional canon that may episodically wander into many side plots with little connection to that thread.

The use of the word "canon" in reference to a set of texts derives from Biblical canon, the set of books regarded as scripture, and which are contracted with non-canonical Apocrypha.[5] The term was first used by analogy in the context of fiction to refer to the Sherlock Holmes stories and novels, written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, to distinguish those works from subsequent pastiches by other authors by Ronald Knox in a 1911 essay "Studies in the Literature of Sherlock Holmes".[6][7] It has subsequently been applied to many media franchises. Among these are science fiction franchises such as Star Trek, Star Wars, Halo, Mass Effect and Doctor Who, in which many stories have been told in different media, some of which contradict or appear to contradict each other.[7] In many comedy franchises canon is often contradictory as plots are designed primarily for humor and only secondarily for consistency.

Canonicity[edit | edit source]

When there are multiple "official" works or original media, the question of what is and what is not canonical can be unclear. This is resolved either by explicitly excluding certain media from the status of canon (as in the case of Star Trek), by assigning different levels of canonicity to different media (as in the case of Star Wars), by considering different but licensed media treatments official within their own continuities but not across them (as with Battlestar Galactica[8]) or not resolved at all.

The official Star Trek website describes Star Trek canon as "the events that take place within the live-action episodes and movies" (that is, the television series Star Trek, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager, Star Trek: Enterprise, and the Star Trek motion pictures).[9] Events, characters and story lines from tie-in novels, comic books, video games and Star Trek: The Animated Series are explicitly excluded from the Star Trek canon, but the site notes that elements from these sources have been subsequently introduced into the television series, and says that "canon is not something set in stone."[9] One example of a non-canonical element that later became canonical in the Star Trek universe was the name "Tiberius" becoming the official middle name of Enterprise captain James T. Kirk. The name was introduced in the Star Trek animated series, and was later added into the official biography of the character by its mention in the live-action film Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

The Star Wars canon exists on several levels. The highest level is the six Star Wars films, and statements by George Lucas; tie-in fiction from the Expanded Universe has a different level of canonicity.[7] The complex system is maintained by Leland Chee, a Lucasfilm employee.[7]

Fanon[edit | edit source]

Fan fiction is almost never regarded as canonical. However, certain ideas may become influential or widely accepted within fan communities, who refer to such ideas as "fanon", a portmanteau of fan and canon.[7][10] The term may also be used to refer to fan fiction in general.

Fanon is established in a spontaneous manner by the community of fans at large, for example fan clubs, whenever the official canon is not clear on some points of its narrative.[11]

Fanon is a common feature in large franchises and fictional universes where there are many canon and non-canon works, as in the Star Trek universe. Sometimes, fanon comes from the acceptance of non-canonical explanations provided in expanded universe published works.

See also[edit | edit source]


References[edit | edit source]

  1. Parrish 2007, p. 28
  2. Meredith McCardle, Fan Fiction, Fandom, and Fanfare: What's All the Fuss, p.3
  3. Rebecca Black, Digital Design: English Language Learners and Reader Reviews in Online Fiction, in A New Literacies Sampler, p. 126
  4. Parrish 2007, p. 32
  5. McDonald, Lee Martin (2007). The Biblical Canon: Its Origin, Transmission and Authority (Updated and revised 3rd ed.). Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers. p. 38. ISBN 978-1-56563-925-6. Retrieved 30 April 2010. 
  6. Peter Haining, "Introduction" in Doyle, Arthur Conan (1993). The Final Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. New York: Barnes & Noble Books. ISBN 1-56619-198-X.  Edited by Peter Haining.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 Baker, Chris (18 August 2008). "Meet Leland Chee, the Star Wars Franchise Continuity Cop". Wired. Retrieved 30 April 2010. 
  8. "Separate Continuity". Battlestar Wiki. Wikia. 6 October 2006 ff. Retrieved 1 July 2011. Check date values in: |date= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. 9.0 9.1 "FAQ: Article". CBS Studios. 10 July 2003. Retrieved 29 April 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Parrish 2007, p. 33:
    'fanon.' Within an individual fandom, certain plotlines may be reinvented so many times and by so many people—or alternately may be written so persuasively by a few writers—that they take on the status of fan-produced canon.
  11. Definition on TV

Sources[edit | edit source]

  • Parrish, Juli J. (2007). "Inventing a Universe: Reading and writing Internet fan fiction". Template:Citeseerx. Missing or empty |url= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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