Canon (fiction)

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The Royal Book of Oz, a canonical work in the Oz series, although written in 1921 after the death of original series writer L. Frank Baum in 1919, by another writer Ruth Plumly Thompson authorized by original publisher Reilly & Lee Royal book cover.jpg
The Royal Book of Oz , a canonical work in the Oz series, although written in 1921 after the death of original series writer L. Frank Baum in 1919, by another writer Ruth Plumly Thompson authorized by original publisher Reilly & Lee

In fiction, canon is the material accepted as officially part of the story in an individual universe of that story by its fan base. [2] It is often contrasted with, or used as the basis for, works of fan fiction. The alternative terms mythology, timeline, universe and continuity are often used, with the first of these being used especially to refer to a richly detailed fictional canon requiring a large degree of suspension of disbelief (e.g. an entire imaginary world and history), while the latter two typically refer to a single arc where all events are directly connected chronologically. Other times, the word can mean "to be acknowledged by the creator(s)".



The use of the word "canon" originated in reference to a set of texts derived from Biblical canon, the set of books regarded as scripture, as contrasted with non-canonical Apocrypha. [3] 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, as contrasted with numerous Holmes adventures added later by other writers.[ citation needed ] This usage was afterwards extended to the writings of various other authors.


When there are multiple "official" works or original media, what material is 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 and Star Wars ), by assigning different levels of canonicity to different media (as was in the case of Star Wars before its ownership by Disney), by considering different but licensed media treatments official and equally canonical to the series timeline within their own continuities' universe, but not across them, or not resolved at all. There is also no consensus regarding who has the authority to decide what is or isn't canon, with copyright holders usually declaring themselves the authorities when they want to erase or retcon materials that were approved by the setting's original creator (with Star Wars again being an example). The use of canon is of particular importance with regard to reboots or re-imaginings of established franchises, such as the Star Trek remake (2009), because of the ways in which it influences the viewer experience. [4]

The official Star Trek website describes Star Trek canon as "the events that take place within the episodes and movies" referring to the live-action television series and films, with Star Trek: The Animated Series having long existed in a nebulous gray area of canonicity. [5] Events, characters and storylines from tie-in novels, comic books, and video games 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." [5] Some non-canonical elements that later became canonical in the Star Trek universe are Uhura's first name Nyota, introduced in the novels and made canonical in the 2009 film Star Trek , and James T. Kirk's middle name Tiberius, introduced in the Star Trek animated series and made canonical in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country .

During George Lucas' time with the franchise, Star Wars canon was divided into discrete tiers that incorporated the Expanded Universe (EU), with continuity tracked by Lucasfilm creative executive Leland Chee. Higher-tier and newer material abrogated lower-tier and older material in case of contradiction. The live-action theatrical films, the 2008 The Clone Wars TV series and its debut film, and statements by Lucas himself were at the top of this hierarchy; such works invariably superseded EU material in case of contradiction. The EU itself was further divided into several descending levels of continuity. [6] After Disney's acquisition of the franchise, Lucasfilm designated all Expanded Universe material published prior to 25 April 2014 (other than the first six theatrical films and the 2008 The Clone Wars film and TV series) as the non-canonical "Legends" continuity. Material released since this announcement is a separate canonical timeline from the original George Lucas Canon, with all narrative development overseen by the Lucasfilm Story Group. [7]

The makers of Doctor Who have generally avoided making pronouncements about canonicity, with Russell T Davies explaining that he does not think about the concept for the Doctor Who television series or its spin-offs. [8] [9] [10]

Additional works

"The Field Bazaar" was rediscovered and reprinted by A. G. Macdonell in 1934. The Field Bazaar (The Athenaeum Press 1934), page 1 of 2.jpg
"The Field Bazaar" was rediscovered and reprinted by A. G. Macdonell in 1934.

In literature, the term "canon" is used to distinguish between the original works of a writer who created certain characters and/or settings, and the later works of other writers who took up the same characters or setting. For example, the canon of Sherlock Holmes consists of the 56 short stories and four novels written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle that feature the detective Sherlock Holmes. [11] The subsequent works by other authors who also used the character Sherlock Holmes are considered "non-canonical".

Other writers

Some works by the original writer such as The Field Bazaar but not the same publisher may be debated as forming part of canon. [12] This is because copyright used to be exercised by the publisher of the work of literature rather than the author. [13] Campaigning by Victor Hugo led to the Berne Convention which introduced author's rights. [14]

However, sometimes in literature, original writers have not approved works as canon, but original publishers or literary estates of original writers posthumously approve subsequent works as canon, such as The Royal Book of Oz (1921) (by original publisher), [15] Porto Bello Gold (1924) (by estate), [16] and Heidi Grows Up (1938) (by estate). [17]

Late 20th century

In film and television this is common that the original writer does not decide canon. [18] In literature, the estate of H. G. Wells authorised sequels by Stephen Baxter, The Massacre of Mankind (2017) and The Time Ships (1995). [19] Scarlett was a 1991 sequel to Gone with the Wind authorised by the estate. [20]

21st century

In 2010, the Conan Doyle estate authorised Young Sherlock Holmes [21] and The House of Silk . Sequels to the stories by P G Wodehouse about the butler Jeeves were sanctioned by Wodehouse's estate for Jeeves and the Wedding Bells (2013) by Sebastian Faulks and Jeeves and the King of Clubs (2018) by Ben Schott. [22] The Monogram Murders (2014) by Sophie Hannah is a sequel to Hercule Poirot novels authorised by the Agatha Christie estate. [23]


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 blend of fan and canon. [6] [24] [25] Similarly, the jargon "headcanon" is used to describe a fan's personal interpretation of a fictional universe. [2]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Retroactive continuity</span> Revision of existing facts in succeeding works of fiction

Retroactive continuity, or retcon for short, is a literary device in which facts in the world of a fictional work which have been established through the narrative itself are adjusted, ignored, supplemented, or contradicted by a subsequently published work which recontextualizes or breaks continuity with the former.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sherlock Holmes</span> Fictional character (consulting detective) created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Sherlock Holmes is a fictional detective created by British author Arthur Conan Doyle. Referring to himself as a "consulting detective" in the stories, Holmes is known for his proficiency with observation, deduction, forensic science and logical reasoning that borders on the fantastic, which he employs when investigating cases for a wide variety of clients, including Scotland Yard.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Pastiche</span> Art genre based on imitating the style or character of other artists work

A pastiche is a work of visual art, literature, theatre, music, or architecture that imitates the style or character of the work of one or more other artists. Unlike parody, pastiche pays homage to the work it imitates, rather than mocking it.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fictional universe</span> Self-consistent fictional setting with elements that may differ from the real world

A fictional universe, or fictional world, is a self-consistent setting with events, and often other elements, that differ from the real world. It may also be called an imagined, constructed, or fictional realm. Fictional universes may appear in novels, comics, films, television shows, video games, and other creative works.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sequel</span> Part of a linear narrative that continues the story of a previous work

A sequel is a work of literature, film, theatre, television, music or video game that continues the story of, or expands upon, some earlier work. In the common context of a narrative work of fiction, a sequel portrays events set in the same fictional universe as an earlier work, usually chronologically following the events of that work.

<i>The Seven-Per-Cent Solution</i> 1974 mystery novel by Nicholas Meyer

The Seven-Per-Cent Solution: Being a Reprint from the Reminiscences of John H. Watson, M.D. is a 1974 novel by American writer Nicholas Meyer. It is written as a pastiche of a Sherlock Holmes adventure, and was made into a film of the same name in 1976.

An alternative universe is a setting for a work of fan fiction that departs from the canon of the fictional universe that the fan work is based on. For example, an AU fan fiction might imagine what would have taken place if the plot events of the source material had unfolded differently, or it might transpose the characters from the original work into a different setting to explore their lives and relationships in a different narrative context. Unlike typical fan fiction, which generally remains within the boundaries of the canon set out by the source material, alternative universe fan fiction writers explore the possibilities of pivotal changes made to characters' history, motivations, or environment, often combining material from multiple sources for inspiration.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Expanded universe</span> Non-linear additions with consistency to the fictional universe

The term expanded universe, sometimes called an extended universe, is generally used to denote the "extension" of a media franchise with other media, generally comics and original novels. This typically involves new stories for existing characters already developed within the franchise, but in some cases entirely new characters and complex mythology are developed. This is not necessarily the same as an adaptation, which is a retelling of the same story that may or may not adhere to accepted canon. It is contrasted with a sequel that merely continues the previous narrative in linear sequence. Nearly every media franchise with a committed fan base has some form of expanded universe.

Sherlockiana is a term which has been used to refer to various categories of materials and content related to the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, created by Arthur Conan Doyle. The word "Sherlockiana" has been used for literary studies and scholarship concerning Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock Holmes pastiches in print and other media such as films, and memorabilia associated with Sherlock Holmes. Sherlockiana may be defined as "anything about, inspired by, or tangentially concerning" Sherlock Holmes.

A spiritual successor is a product or fictional work that is similar to, or directly inspired by, another previous work, but does not explicitly continue the product line or media franchise of its predecessor, and is thus only a successor "in spirit". Spiritual successors often have similar themes and styles to their source material, but are generally a distinct intellectual property.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sherlock Holmes pastiches</span>

Sherlock Holmes has long been a popular character for pastiche, Holmes-related work by authors and creators other than Arthur Conan Doyle. Their works can be grouped into four broad categories:

The Buffyverse canon consists of materials that are thought to be genuine and those events, characters, settings, etc., that are considered to have inarguable existence within the fictional universe established by the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The Buffyverse is expanded through other additional materials such as comics, novels, pilots, promos and video games which do not necessarily take place in exactly the same fictional continuity as the Buffy episodes and Angel episodes. Star Trek, Star Wars, Stargate and other prolific sci-fi and fantasy franchises have similarly gathered complex fictional continuities through hundreds of stories told in different formats.

Many writers make references to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's famous literary creation, the detective Sherlock Holmes, and these often become embedded within popular culture. While Holmes exists predominantly in the context of Victorian-era London, he has been mentioned in such outre contexts as the 22nd century or hunting aliens or supernatural enemies. These references are in addition to the innumerable passing references to Sherlock Holmes made in many literary and cinematic works, such as the labeling of a person as a "Sherlock", whether in reference to their intelligence.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Canon of Sherlock Holmes</span>

Traditionally, the canon of Sherlock Holmes consists of the 56 short stories and four novels written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. In this context, the term "canon" is an attempt to distinguish between Doyle's original works and subsequent works by other authors using the same characters.

The Sherlockian game is the pastime of attempting to resolve anomalies and clarify implied details about Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson from the 56 short stories and four novels that make up the Sherlock Holmes canon by Arthur Conan Doyle. It treats Holmes and Watson as real people and uses aspects of the canonical stories combined with the history of the era of the tales' settings to construct fanciful biographies of the pair.

A shared universe or shared world is a fictional universe from a set of creative works where more than one writer independently contributes a work that can stand alone but fits into the joint development of the storyline, characters, or world of the overall project. It is common in genres like science fiction. It differs from collaborative writing in which multiple artists are working together on the same work and from crossovers where the works and characters are independent except for a single meeting.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fan fiction</span> Type of fiction created by fans of the original subject

Fan fiction or fanfiction is fictional writing written in an amateur capacity by fans, unauthorized by, but based on an existing work of fiction. The author uses copyrighted characters, settings, or other intellectual properties from the original creator(s) as a basis for their writing. Fan fiction ranges from a couple of sentences to an entire novel, and fans can retain the creator's characters and settings and/or add their own. It is a form of fan labor. Fan fiction can be based on any fictional subject. Common bases for fan fiction include novels, movies, musical groups, cartoons, anime, manga, and video games.

Star Wars has been expanded to media other than the original films. This spin-off material is licensed and moderated by Lucasfilm, though during his involvement with the franchise Star Wars creator George Lucas reserved the right to both draw from and contradict it in his own works. Such derivative works have been produced concurrently with, between, and after the original, prequel, and sequel trilogies, as well as the spin-off films and television series. Commonly explored media include books, comic books, and video games, though other forms such as audio dramas have also been produced.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Leslie S. Klinger</span> American attorney and writer (born 1946)

Leslie S. Klinger is an American attorney and writer. He is a noted literary editor and annotator of classic genre fiction, including the Sherlock Holmes stories and the novels Dracula, Frankenstein, and Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as well as Neil Gaiman's The Sandman comics, Alan Moore's and Dave Gibbons's graphic novel Watchmen, the stories of H.P. Lovecraft, and Neil Gaiman's American Gods.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Continuation novel</span> Canonical sequel novel by a different author

A continuation novel is a canonical sequel novel with continuity in the style of an established series, produced by a new author after the original author's death.


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  19. "Tell Us 5 Things About Your Book: A Sequel to 'The War of the Worlds' (Published 2017)".
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  23. "Poirot is a show-off, but he's brilliant. That's why I brought him back to life". the Guardian. 5 November 2017.
  24. 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.
  25. The first known use of the word fanon was by Emily Salzfass in a post about Star Trek at alt.startrek.creative.erotica.moderated on 1 April 1998.