Sorry about the last few weeks — things at school sort of piled up. To make up for it, you will (possibly) be getting two updates this week! Yay!
Today, we are going to delve deeply into the philosophy of writing, so hold onto your hats and other precarious pieces of clothing as I ask you a very important question:
What is canon?For those of you that are not quite as far into the world of fandom as I am, ‘canon’ is anything made up by the writers of a show, novel, film, etc. If your favourite novelist has just told you that the story world they write has a blue sky, then it’s canon that the sky is blue.
Or is it?
This is what I’m currently mixed up over, and why I decided to write a post — what if the author is wrong? What if you’ve been imagining that the sky is green — is the sky canonically blue? If the novelist explained in a previous novel that the sky was yellow, is it canon that the sky is both blue and yellow? Do we pick our favourite? The most recent one? And if the novelist only implies that the sky is blue, is it canonically blue or not?
That’s a lot of questions, so I’ll put them into context to explain them a bit better. I’ll even list them for you, because I’m that wonderful.
- What if you’ve been imagining that the sky is green — is the sky canonically blue? I have this problem almost constantly when I’m reading. In fact, it’s become almost a dilemma to me (as sad as it sounds). If I’ve spent the last three books in a series imagining the main character as Mr Tall, Dark and Handsome and then the author includes in the fourth book that Mr Tall isn’t actually so tall at all — in fact, he’s half the size of his girlfriend — what do I do? Do I throw out the idea I have had for three whole novels just because the author tells me to? Or do I say ‘fuck you’ to canon and imagine him as a towering figure anyway? For me, this dilemma often ends with me conveniently forgetting the detail given by the author after deciding that I would stick with the canonical representation, but it does bother me, especially when that detail becomes important to the plot-line.
- If the novelist explained in a previous novel that the sky was yellow, but now says it is blue, what do I do? This is one of the reasons that I’m writing this post today and the very reason for this post’s title. Today (a few days ago for you), it was revealed that this is Steven Moffat’s explanation for how the Doctor and Clara got away from the happenings of NOTD. For those of you who aren’t Whovians or are just too lazy to check the link, what Moffat basically says is that time can be rewritten as long as you don’t know that it can’t be rewritten. Complicated and confusing as always, thank you sir. But more than that, more than the fact that it’s terribly flimsy and a totally rubbish move after their escape from destiny was made the main plot of the series, it goes against things Moffat has said before. In TOTD, Ten and Eleven both manage to change the mind of the War Doctor, even though he’s in their past and they know what happens. They change time — they rewrite it when they are fully aware that they can’t — and all that happens is that Ten and WD have their minds wiped of the whole affair. And so what do we, the fans, believe? What do we take as canon — the flimsy and stupid new theory or the equally flimsy and stupid old theory? Are we expected to hold both theories in our mind and practice our cognitive dissonance? Or are we expected to reconcile them together and say that the Doctor only thinks that time can’t be rewritten when you know it can’t be because he’s got a bit confused by all the timey-wimey stuff too?
- If the novelist only implies that the sky is blue, is it still canonically blue? This particular question comes from my time in the depths of the Sherlock fandom. While scrolling on Tumblr, I realised that, in fact, there is no way whatsoever that John and Sherlock don’t have feelings for each other. Not just platonic feelings, but romantic feelings. The ‘Sherlock is a girl’s name’ line, which completely murdered all the Johnlock shippers in he fandom, made me realise that Sherlock was definitely going to say ‘I love you’; he even used the same lines used by the Tenth Doctor before he got the chance to tell Rose he loved her — ‘if this is my last chance to say it…’. If you believe that Ten was going to tell Rose he loved her — and it’s pretty well accepted that that’s what he would have said — then you have to at least consider the idea that Sherlock was going to admit his fiery passion for his blogger. And if you consider the idea that Sherlock is in love with John, you have to accept that the writers have made it seem so. And therefore, surely it is canon. We’ve been made to think something about the characters by the writers — isn’t that what canon is? And yet, this example also clashes with the other two questions I have about canon. I don’t see Johnlock as a thing, so do I have to change my views because it’s been implied? John has said a thousand times that he isn’t gay, so do I have to make all the pieces fit myself and suggest that the love is one-sided?
Back to my foremost question: What is canon, anyway? Furthermore, does it even matter?
When canon can be anything from what’s implied to what is clearly said, when it can contradict itself massively, can it be called canon? Does it matter what is canon and what is not, when it’s all such a jumble and a mess? Without an audience, these stories and films and shows and books and poems and the creative market itself is simply writers playing make-believe. Without an audience, they don’t even get paid for it.
Personally, I think that the audience makes the tale. When reading poetry, you’re often told that there is no wrong answer, no wrong interpretation, because it is your interpretation, and that’s the important bit. It’s the same for stories — a story is made by the people reading it — as Oscar Wilde did not quite say (I’m paraphrasing), art is a reflection of the artist. But it’s also a reflection of the people enjoying it — for all I know, you’re scoffing at the idea that Johnlock has been implied to be canon, or even the idea that Moffat’s contradicting himself. Maybe you’ve read some of the books I read on a daily basis and believe that they are sophisticated commentaries on teen culture rather than just novels about teenagers kissing each other and worrying about sucking blood accidentally, I don’t know. But it doesn’t mean that one of us is wrong — it doesn’t mean that Johnlock isn’t canon or that Moffat’s explanations aren’t canon. Johnlock is canon to me, and Moffat’s explanations are canon to you.
A story is in the eye of the beholder (who is usually beautiful).