On Canon in Fiction

I find that more and more, I am unconcerned with “canon” when it comes to my favorite narratives. I mean, the notion itself is fairly recent, when it comes to our storytelling. Go back as far as you like: it is a natural human tendency to take the characters we already know and have heard of and cast them in similar roles in differing narratives.

Egyptian mythology is a great example of this. There is a reason that there is no single, cogent mythological narrative to the gods of Khem. It’s because there is 2000 years worth of stories about those gods, told, changed, retold over successive generations.

The same is true of narratives of Christ and his disciples. I mean, there’s a reason why an entire council had to be convened to decide what was “Actual Jesus” and what was apocrypha.

Folklore – that lovely body of storytelling that served the function that modern fiction does now – is rife with it. Arthur and Camelot. Robin Hood. Richard the Lionhearted. Charlemagne. Over and over and over we see it: a tale, featuring a hero that grabs onto the popular imagination, who gets repurposed again and again for different stories. Some of which are wildly at odds with one another (original “your fic is ooc” thumbs-down comments).

Even in the New World we have this. The stories of Davey Crockett, Johnny Appleseed, John Henry, Paul Bunyan – there are various stories about all of them, some of which conflict with one another, as those names get reused to tell stories of different types.

Now, copyright laws (for better or for worse; this post is not about them, please) have actually done a remarkable thing. They have *changed* the way we view storytelling. Every story must be brand new. It must be unique and original. “Derivative” is a thoroughly modern slander against a narrative, as though it were a storytelling sin, when it used to be the very core of people telling stories.

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