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What is Canon, Anyway?

Recently, I re-read The Lord of the Rings trilogy. It’s been 13 years since I last read them. I initially had a plan to re-read them every ten years, but back in 2011 I had a hard time getting into them (I’ll get into why later). As I was reading Fellowship this time around, I came across a few details I had missed the first time around; one in particular was near the end of the book/movie, after Boromir attacks Frodo. In the movie, Frodo runs into Aragorn and offers him the ring, which Aragorn rejects. In the book, Frodo runs straight from Boromir to the boat.

So the question is, which is the canon version? Unfortunately, any movie based on a book is going to differ slightly, because there are several things that work well in a book that don’t translate well onto the screen. For the obsessive fans who love arguing over every tiny detail, it’s hard to determine which is “right.” In this example, I like the idea of Frodo running into Aragorn, because Aragorn is a fantastic character and this scene gives us a look at how he would react to the ring. He doesn’t provide a straight up answer, either; Aragorn does consider taking it, but eventually he rejects the ring. We don’t get to see that moment in the book, and there are several other differences between the books and movies. Some versions work better in the movie, some work better in the book.

Take for example the elves arriving at Helm’s Deep. In the movie, Haldir and some Lothlorien elves assist the Rohirrim in defeating Isengard (I love seeing Microsoft Word freak out at all of these names). In this battle, Haldir dies. I think this version is incredibly stupid. In the books, the elves – for the most part – don’t take part in any of the battles. Haldir appears in Lothlorien in Fellowship and we never see him again. It may seem kind of dickish that the elves never help, but that brings up several questions and lines of thinking about why they don’t help. You don’t get that insight/subtext if you go with the movie canon, where they do help. In this instance, I say go with the book over the movie.

Helm’s Deep.  Not a good place for elves.

Helm’s Deep. Not a good place for elves.

Granted, most people would go with the book over the movie; well, at least the die-hard fans would, as they always go with the original source material. However, in the first case I mentioned, I actually think the movie did a better job – and the same goes for deleting Tom Bombadil. I know most book fans adored Tom, but I always thought he was silly and added nothing to the story. I saw the movie Fellowship before I read the books, so I could be a bit biased. After many years of obsessing over LotR, I’d call myself more of a book fan than a movie fan, but I was 11 when the movie came out and I didn’t yet have the attention span to make it through the books. Shortly after seeing the movie, I tore through the book and realized that Tom Bombadil really was pointless. Even Tolkien agreed, as he wrote later on that he didn’t know why he had included Tom at all, and that the character didn’t make any sense. When it comes to the inclusion of this character, I have to go with the movie.

For the official canon version, What people eventually came up with was a mixture of the books and movies, but we all disagree on which parts of the books or movies are canon. As a result, when die-hard fans start debating, you end up with some messy arguments. Some fans think they are forced to go either all movie or all book, which is silly because various aspects of each version work better than the other.

I loved Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In the last season of Angel, there was an episode where they flash back to the 1940s. Angel gets involved in submarine warfare and Spike shows up wearing a Nazi uniform. During the sneak peak the week before, all they showed was Spike in the uniform and I started to freak out. After all, Spike was – and still is – my favorite character. However, seeing him as a Nazi? I couldn’t handle it, so I started thinking about canon in another way. Basically, I started thinking canon was stupid; what does it matter, anyway? It’s all a fictional story created to entertain us. Why can’t canon be whatever we want it to be? If the show features Spike as a Nazi, I can simply create my own version where he isn’t. Who’s to say Joss Whedon’s version of Spike is any better or worse than mine? That eased my mind until I saw the actual episode and discovered Spike wasn’t a Nazi, he just liked wearing the uniform. Either way, I started viewing every fictional universe differently from this point on.

Supposedly he liked how he looked in the uniform. I tend to disagree.

Supposedly he liked how he looked in the uniform. I tend to disagree.

Of course, this view doesn’t work if I want to debate stories with other people, because we need to have a set of events that we all agree upon. If that means Spike has to be a Nazi, or if it means Tom Bombadil has to be in the picture, then so be it. Humans are social creatures, and just about every fictional universe is more interesting if we share it with someone else.

There are some deviations to that concept, though. Yes, we have to have a set of events we all agree upon, and normally the only way for everyone to agree is if the creator confirms the set of events. In some cases, however, fans can agree on something even if the creator hasn’t stated it. Take for example Jon Snow’s parentage from A Song of Ice and Fire; at first glance, George R.R. Martin states outright that Jon’s father is Ned Stark – but fans have pretty much universally agreed that this is a load of garbage, and Jon’s real father is Rhaegar Targaryan. So many fans agree, in fact, that if Martin turned around and said that Jon’s father really is Ned Stark, fans would probably refuse to believe it. That’s not just because he keeps putting in plot twists, either; fans no longer believe anything he initially states because he eventually throws in a twist that undoes everything he had previously said. George R.R. Martin can put his pen down and definitively state what is and is not true, and we’d have to take him at his word; it’s his universe, after all. However, when it comes to Jon’s parentage, fans are so sure and so in love with the idea of R+L=J that it’s basically canon, even if it’s not.

So what does this all mean? Canon is whatever the majority of the fan base agrees it is, but only if you want to participate in the debate. If you want to enjoy the fictional universe on your own, then canon is whatever you want it to be. In my case, my canon LotR is mostly by the books, but occasionally something from the movies. If I’m debating with someone, though, I go strictly by the books. Don’t even get me started on the Hobbit movies…none of that is canon. Even the things they take straight from the book are not what I would consider canon, because so much of those movies is just Peter Jackson’s fan-fiction that I refuse to accept any of it. There is ONE Hobbit book that goes straight from Point A to Point B; anything else added by the movies is fan-fiction, plain and simple. However, that’s a rant for another day.

I once had a dream where I walked up to Tauriel and told her I was revoking her canon status because she didn’t exist.

I once had a dream where I walked up to Tauriel and told her I was revoking her canon status because she didn’t exist.

Oh, right, I forgot about the validity (canonicity?) of deleted scenes. Apparently, the Star Wars universe has a hierarchy of canon, and the highest tier (G-Canon, for George) considers deleted scenes to be canon. This understanding of canon makes for some interesting concepts. The theatrical release of Thor features Loki as an evil bastard who tries to steal the throne from Thor. However, there’s a deleted scene which shows Frigga crowning him after Odin falls asleep. If the scene is canon, this would mean that Loki wasn’t trying to steal anything but rather reclaim what was rightfully his. I like this interpretation best, because without that scene, Loki just seems really whiny; I like Tom Hiddleston too much to tolerate that level of whining.

For today, believe whatever makes you happy, because in the end it’s all fiction anyway.

This post was written by Guest Contributor Rhydnara

About Rhydnara

Rhydnara Sveinsdottir is a ninth century Viking Jarl who took power from her brother after her father died in a hall burning. In her free time, she enjoys obsessing over BioWare games (at the moment Dragon Age Inquisition) and playing with her demon dog, Brynhild. In her not spare time, she designs nuclear submarines for the Navy.

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