Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Canon - Apocryphal of It

Helmet, Canon, Canonical, Canonicity
Death Star portrait photographer cutting off Darth Vader's head - not canon
(photo by East Mountain


Noun. Old English.
[Latin from Greek kanon rule: reinforced in Middle English by Anglo-Norman canun, Old & modern French canon.]

1 An ecclesiastical law or decree;
especially a rule laid down by an ecclesiastical council;
singular & (usually) in plural, canon law. OE

2 The part of the Mass containing the words of consecration. ME

3(a) A general law, rule, or edict; a fundamental principle. LME

3(b) obsolete. MATHEMATICAL. A general rule, a formula, or table. LME-L18

3(c) A standard judgement.; a criterion. E17

4(a) (The set of) those biblical books officially accepted by any of the Christian Churches as genuinely inspired;
any collected or list of sacred works accepted as genuine. LME

4(b) A list or catalogue of recognized saints. E18

5 MUSIC. (The style of) a composition in which different parts take up the same subject successively in strict imitation. L16

Ignore this cannon by Rama - it's completely irrelevant
No, no, no - not a cannon - a canon! You can clearly see that the broadside variety has two n's, but the Biblical, Catholic, ecclesiastical, legal, mathematical and musical variety only has one. If you struggle to remember which is which ... well ... you just have to learn. Isn't English hilarious? And ignore the anatopistic picture of a cannon above - it'll only confuse you. Regarding canonicity, while it's probably fair to say that there aren't many people debating vigorously over whether or not The Book of Maccabees is genuinely part of the Biblical canon, canonicity of a more secular realm is by no means dead. In fact, in the sweaty and socially awkward world of fiction fandom, questions of canonicity can bring a dab of colour to the cheeks of even the most sun-starved Lvl 32 Dungeon Master. The problem, apart from the fans having nothing better to do, is that some of these fictional universes are so vast, and the various mediums they appear in so extensive, that a certain amount of contradiction is almost inevitable.

To use Star Wars as an example, it has the three original films and then the three (rather rubbish by comparison) prequels. In the Expanded Universe, however, there are also TV programmes, cartoons, books, comics, computer games, board games and toys - all officially licensed, but all produced by different authors and artists. If there is a contradiction between, say, Attack of the Clones (one of the films) and Yoda: Dark Rendezvous (one of the books), which is correct? Well, that's easy, you say - the film is clearly the canon. What, though, if the contradiction is between the book and, say, Knights of the Old Republic (a hugely popular and critically acclaimed computer game)? Is one medium more canonical than another? And if said book only contradicts the obvious canon on one point, does that discredit everything else in the book?
(I'm not knocking Yoda: Dark Rendevous, by the way ... I'm sure it's thoroughly riveting).

If such conundrums didn't already have enough beards itching, that's only the beginning of it. What about the piles and piles and piles of accumulated unlicensed fanfic that has amassed? Does any of that have canonical value? And what about the original author? In the case of Star Wars, it's George Lucas. If, in his old age, he petulantly rebels against his own work, pronouncing that Darth Vader is really a woman, that Yoda is Luke's father, and Jar-Jar Binks was just a manifestation of Obi-Wan's drug-addled imagination, would all of that become canon? In other words, does the author have some omnipotent power over the work that he's created, or does the work develop a power, a truth, of its own, beyond the reach of even the original creator?

In case all of this has given you a Force Headache (one of Darth Vader's non-canonical powers), I shall leave you with a short video entitled Darth Vader Being a Jerk - you can decide for yourself if it should be considered canon. If this lightsaber rattling has all been a little low-brow for you, however, then why not have a listen to Pachelbel's Canon in D. Sure, it's clichéd and a victim of its own success; sure, it's played at just about every classless wedding in the Western hemisphere. But as a piece standing on its own merits, it's still breathtakingly, sublimely, transcendently beautiful, so set your skin to goosebump and your neck hair to bristle ...

Where do you draw the line when it comes to canonicity?

Who has the final say: the author, the fans, or the work itself?

Did you have Pachelbel's Canon played at your wedding?

Do please fire a broadside of your most insightful canonical comments below.


  1. None of the above. It's the critics. If they say the book is set in Australia then obviously they must be right even if the poor author is under the impression that it is set on a small rainy island. If the critics say the main character is called Alice then the fact that the author has scattered the word STEFANIE liberally throughout the book and never mentioned an Alice doesn't matter a jot. If the critics say the book's a pointless one-star re-telling of PETER PAN even though the book has no fairies, no pirates, no journey to another world, no band of lost boys and not even a flipping dog...
    What's that? Bitter? Me? What gave you that idea?

    1. Well I asked for a broadside, Sally, and by Jove I got one!

  2. How can there be a contradiction between the book and Knights of the Old Republic? Kotor is set thousands of years before the Starwars trilogy. Good grief Ed! Once again I'm shocked and appalled at your blatant ignorance of the Starwars expanded universe.
    *snorts derisively while swinging imaginary lightsaber*

    1. OK OK ... busted I have been!

      (authentic Yoda voice)

      Never have I read "Yoda Dark Rendezvous" or played "KotOR". Ashamed much am I.

  3. This article led me to ask why the camera Canon is so called?
    Maybe 3b or 3c?

    1. Interesting question - I'd never thought about Canon being spelt 'Canon'. I found this article on their website:

      The Canon Camera Story

      Apparently, the name Canon comes from the original Japanese name Kwanon, so called because the inventor was a believer in Kwannon, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy.