Canon: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

Just read a really interesting article in The Atlantic called “Enough With the Canon,”  which discusses the problems with having a rigid definition of a science-fiction or superhero universe, and the tendency of fans (and even creators) to patrol whether new versions of that story, or even new fans, conform to that definition.

This dovetails quite a bit with some of my own thoughts which have been influenced by my experiences in the Arrow fandom, and by discussions I’ve had as a writer and reader about fairy-tale retellings.

In the Arrow fandom, at least online, there’s a definite  us vs. them dynamic, which generally has canon-invoking-comic-book fans on one side and fans of the Oliver Queen & Felicity Smoak relationship (Olicity) on the other. This has been extremely weird for me since I’m a fan of both the Green Arrow canon (I had a major geek out when he fired the famous boxing glove arrow) and the Felicity/Oliver relationship.

It’s not that I discount, or want to demean, the historic Green Arrow/Black Canary pairing, but for the purposes of this version of the story, it just wasn’t working. And, though I’m not a die-hard comic fan, I’m nerd enough to know that the Black Canary doesn’t appear in the origin story Green Arrow: Year One (one of my favorites) and that Oliver has been in love with a lot weirder people than Felicity over the years.  Like every other superhero there are already multiple versions of Green Arrow – so why do people get bent out of shape when TV creates one more?

In addition, the best fairy tale retellings I’ve ever read, or seen, pick and choose from their source material to create a strong new version of the story.  Whether it’s Disney making the choice not to give The Little Mermaid its traditional tragic ending, or Juliet Marillier cutting down the number of sisters in her 12 Dancing Princesses retelling Wildwood Dancing, these changes served the story they were trying to tell.

One of my favorite quotes from the article says:

                “What’s been largely lost over the past decade is the crucial point that these stories are imaginary — they were dreamed up by people, and can be changed, distilled, or subverted by anybody at the drop of a hat… Treating them as if they’re carved in stone only reduces them to a flat series of issue numbers, paragraph citations, or official tables. It takes away the joy of personally deciding which version of a character you like, which version of a story you prefer.”

Yes, it’s great to weave in details from the source material.  Every fan loves those nods to the things they care about  But the important thing shouldn’t be patrolling what it means to be Green Arrow or who gets to captain a Federation ship.

What matters is that you tell a great story.




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