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In fiction, canon is the material accepted as officially part of the story in the fictional universe of that story. 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)".
Influential or widely accepted fan theories may be referred as "fanon", a portmanteau of fan and canon. Alternatively, the term "headcanon" is used to describe a fan's own interpretation of a fictional universe.
The use of the word "canon" originated in reference to a set of texts derives from Biblical canon, the set of books regarded as scripture, as contrasted with non-canonical Apocrypha. 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. This usage was afterwards extended to the writings of various other authors.
The term "canon" nowadays refers to all works of fiction within a franchise's fictional universe which are considered "to have actually happened" within the fictional universe they belong to.
When there are multiple "official" works or original media, the question of what 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 the franchise was purchased 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. 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.
The official Star Trek website describes Star Trek canon as "the events that take place within the episodes and movies" (that is, the television series Star Trek: The Original Series, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager, Star Trek: Enterprise, and the Star Trek film series, with Star Trek: The Animated Series having long existed in a nebulous gray area of canonicity). 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." One example of a non-canonical element that later became canonical in the Star Trek universe were the first names for Sulu and Uhura, introduced in novels, plus "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 (1991).
The Star Wars canon originally existed on several levels. The highest level was the original Star Wars films, and statements by George Lucas; tie-in fiction from the Star Wars expanded universe had a different level of canonicity. The complex system was maintained by Leland Chee, a Lucasfilm employee. After Disney bought the franchise, all material published prior to April 25, 2014 that was not any of the Star Wars movies or the CGI cartoon The Clone Wars was declared in the "Legends" continuity, marking them as no longer official canon. All subsequent material exists on the same level of canon, with the Lucasfilm Story Group being established to ensure no contradictions among canon works.
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.
Canon as distinguishing between original works and later additions
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 and featuring the detective Sherlock Holmes. The subsequent works by other authors who took up Sherlock Holmes are considered "non-canonical".
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. Similarly, the jargon "headcanon" is used to describe a fan's personal interpretation of a fictional universe.
- Alternative universe (fan fiction)
- Expanded universe
- Fictional universe
- Parallel universes in fiction
- Reset button technique
- McDonald 2007, p. 38.
- Urbanski 2013, p. 83.
- "FAQ: Article". startrek.com. CBS Studios. 10 July 2003. Retrieved 29 April 2010.
- Baker, Chris (18 August 2008). "Meet Leland Chee, the Star Wars Franchise Continuity Cop". Wired. Retrieved 30 April 2010.
- "The Legendary Star Wars Expanded Universe Turns a New Page". StarWars.com.
- Doctor Who Magazine #388
- Doctor Who Magazine #356
- Davies RT, "The Writer's Tales"
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 April 1, 1998.
- Romano, Aja (7 June 2016). "Canon, fanon, shipping and more: a glossary of the tricky terminology that makes up fandom". Vox. Vox media. Retrieved 5 June 2019.
|Look up canon in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
- Rebecca Black, Digital Design: English Language Learners and Reader Reviews in Online Fiction, in A New Literacies Sampler, p. 126
- Parrish, Juli J. (2007). "Inventing a Universe: Reading and writing Internet fan fiction". CiteSeerX 10.1.1.93.419. Missing or empty
- McDonald, Lee Martin (2007). The Biblical Canon: Its Origin, Transmission and Authority (Updated and revised 3rd ed.). Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers. ISBN 978-1-56563-925-6. Retrieved 30 April 2010.
- Urbanski, Heather (2013). The Science Fiction Reboot: Canon, Innovation and Fandom in Refashioned Franchises. Jefferson, NC: McFarland. ISBN 978-0-7864-6509-5. Archived from the original on 24 April 2015. Retrieved 23 June 2013.