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Canon (fiction)

In the context of fiction, the canon of a fictional universe comprises those novels, stories, films, etc. that are considered to be genuine, and those events, characters, settings, etc. that are considered to have inarguable existence within the fictional universe. Usually items that are considered canon come from the original source of the fictional universe while non-canon material comes from adaptations or unofficial items. Generally, Expanded Universes are not considered canon, though there are exceptions which are considered near-canon.

Fan-fiction is never considered canon. Sometimes, however, events or characterizations portrayed in fan-fiction can become so influential that they are respected in fiction written by many different authors, and may be mistaken for canonical facts by fans. This is referred to as "fanon". (The fanon definition can apply to officially licensed works as well.)


Examples of fictional canons

The Simpsons

In The Simpsons, most episodes are considered to be canon, though some may not be able to match others exactly. There are references to other episodes in some, such as the fact that the Simpson family travelled to all of the continents in the world, save Antarctica. However, the location of Springfield is a big issue, and most clues to finding Springfield in the United States contradicts many other hints in previous episodes.

Other episodes, such as Behind the Laughter and the Treehouse of Horror specials, are not considered to be canon.

Sherlock Holmes

The Sherlock Holmes canon consists of the stories and novels written by Arthur Conan Doyle. This was decided by the Baker Street Irregulars, a group of Holmes enthusiasts, to distinguish the original stories from the pastiches that followed Holmes' retirement, and is probably the first use of the word in this context.


Main article: Middle-earth canon

Defining the Middle-earth canon is difficult, because many key writings were not published by J. R. R. Tolkien before his death. A considerable number of Tolkien fans do not believe that a canon can be defined at all, preferring to observe the evolution of Tolkien's stories in the many versions and drafts published posthumously in the History of Middle-earth series. Most, however, agree that The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are canon, and also include a substantial amount of material published in The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, and other posthumous books, as well as information from Tolkien's letters.

Star Trek

Main article: Star Trek canon

The Star Trek canon consists of the television series Star Trek, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager, Star Trek: Enterprise, and Star Trek: The Motion Picture and its sequels. The non-canonical status of the various novels, comic books and Star Trek: The Animated Series was decided by Gene Roddenberry, who also claimed that the Trek film Star Trek V: The Final Frontier was "slightly apocryphal".

It should be noted that the canon/non-canon status of the various reference books such as the Star Trek Encyclopedia and various companions acompanying the series is still debated. Many consider such reference works to be canon, while others do not; there is currently no clear answer solving this problem. A similar problem exists with trading cards cataloging information from the series.

Klingon in Star Trek

Also in the Star Trek universe, issues of what is and is not canon also are rife in the various Klingon-speaking communities.

The Klingon Language Institute takes the policy that Klingon is only canon if sanctioned by its creator, Marc Okrand; this essentially limits canon to what appears in the books The Klingon Dictionary, Klingon for the Galactic Traveller, the tapes Power Klingon and Conversational Klingon, the various movies up to and including Star Trek VI (Klingon in the later movies tended to be done without Okrand's involvement) and various articles in the KLI's journal, HolQeD; however, various interviews and conversations with Okrand have also been considered canon. Whether the Klingon in the novel Sarek is canon is debated, although the author, Ann C. Crispin , states in the introduction to that book that the Klingon in that book was okayed by Okrand.

Other groups have used Okrand's work and expanded upon it - for instance, Glen Proechel 's Interstellar Language School - or include various other Trek novels, novellas or movies in Klingon language canon.

Babylon 5

The canon consists of the television series Babylon 5 and its later TV movies, the TV series Crusade, the Babylon 5 novels and the Babylon 5 comic book published by DC Comics. This was decided by J. Michael Straczynski, who maintained a tight control on the expanded universe to ensure everything was canonical.

Doctor Who

There has never been an "official" statement on what is canonical Doctor Who. Fans run a spectrum between those who consider only the television series canon, and those who consider all Doctor Who canon. Within that spectrum most view the novels and audio dramas as at least near-canon. A faction of Doctor Who fans consider the 1996 television movie, and therefore the Eighth Doctor, to be non-canon. The new Doctor Who series, which started in 2005, is a continuation of the earlier series, and therefore will be considered canonical. It is generally assumed that all televised Doctor Who episodes from 1963 to 1989, plus the 1996 telemovie, are canon, including the infamous 1965 episode in which The Doctor breaks the fourth wall to wish viewers a Merry Christmas. The canon status of the three BBC Radio dramas based upon the show is not known. The two theatrical films based upon the series in the 1960s starring Peter Cushing are not considered canon.

James Bond

Fans of Ian Fleming's superspy are divided over what is considered official canon. There is little argument that all of Fleming's original short stories and novels are canon, and some include the Kingsley Amis Bond novel, Colonel Sun in this canon as well. The status of the John Gardner and Raymond Benson Bond novels in canon is less certain, since both book series have been updated and feature elements and characters created for the movie series. Benson's novels are particularly controversial as they appear to be based upon the Bond movie universe, rather than the literary Bond. The various Bond film novelizations are generally considered apocryphal, as is a 1970s "authorized biography" of Bond by John Pearson.

A new series of novels featuring a teenaged Bond written by Charlie Higson was released in the beginning of 2005. It remains to be seen if this series will be considered official canon. The TV series James Bond Jr., while officially licensed, is not considered canonical.

The Bond movies, meanwhile, appear to exist somewhat outside of any canon. Although there is some between-films continuity (e.g. references to the death of Bond's wife), the ever-changing cast has rendered any sort of canon determination virtually impossible.

Other factors

The fact the majority of fans of a fictional setting view certain things as non-canonical, or even an official statement to that effect from its creators, does not oblige everyone to agree. In addition, a story can belong to two overlapping canons. The most obvious example of this is Philip José Farmer's Wold Newton family. Some (but not all) of the adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan, Doc Savage etc. are canonical in the Wold Newton setting. This does not mean that the events of Farmer's books are canonical from a Sherlockian perspective. Similarly, fans of Laurie R. King's novels of Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell consider all the Holmes stories to be canonical in King's setting.

The difference can be even less clear cut than this. Current Star Trek novels maintain a tight continuity with each other, in addition to avoiding contradicting the television series. When a Lost Era novel set between the movies and The Next Generation features a younger version of a character introduced in a Deep Space Nine novel, it's obvious there's some sort of "canonical" novel-setting, even if the TV series is not obliged to conform to it. This is where fanon and canon often collide, especially when a TV series, movie or other officially canonical source contradicts it. An example is the Trek novel Starfleet Year One which appeared in print before the TV series Star Trek: Enterprise was announced, but was completely invalidated by the series; there are some Trek fans who prefer the Starfleet Year One version of events as canon, rejecting the TV series.

In some fictional universes interviews and other communications from authors are also considered canon - like the letters of J. R. R. Tolkien and interviews, internet chat sessions, and website of J. K. Rowling in the Middle Earth and Harry Potter universes respectively.

See also

Last updated: 06-02-2005 03:26:48
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