I’m Firing My Canon!

24 02 2013

That’s canon. With one ‘n’. As in, the story building sort. You can stuff it full of lead balls all you want but unless you’re writing a book about pirates and the like it might look a tad out of place.

I’m talking world building people, not grape-shot.

Canon, as it applies to storytelling, can be loosely defined as:

Established story arcs from previous works. Once it is written it becomes part of that world’s history.



Breaking it Down

Let’s take an example from a wildly popular bit of fantasy writing. In The Hobbit by Tolkien, Bilbo Baggins comes into possession of the one ring. At the time it just seems like a nifty little doo dad that lets you turn invisible to those around you. Nifty!

But you know what happened as a direct result of Bilbo coming into possession of that thing? We ended up with three more books!

So when we are looking at Fellowship of the Ring we can look back at the events of The Hobbit and say yeah, Bilbo found that in this earlier book, that’s canon. It is part of the established history of our storytelling world. Well, Tolkien’s world I should say.

How does this apply to me? Well, let me tell you about what’s been eating some of my free time lately.

I enjoy a dip into video gaming. The newest release that has my attention is Aliens: Colonial Marines. I love it. I love those dirty xenomorphs and all of their associated films. It’s a fantastic franchise. Which has what to do with all that Lord of the Rings business a few sentences back?


The Point!


Now browsing through different websites offering reviews of the game, one thing is clear. This game irked a whole mess of fans. As an official property, the story is accepted into the Aliens universe as canon. It has become historical fact in reference to the entire story that has preceded it.

But there’s a problem.

I’ll try to sum it up without using too many specifics for those of you who might not (for whatever odd reason) know anything about the franchise.

The game resurrects a character that was killed off screen at the beginning of the third film and uses him to drive the plot of the game. Uh Oh! Oh and by the way, the nuclear explosion that wiped the colony of Hadley’s Hope from existence at the end of the second movie? Yeah remember that?

somehow that bastard was nuclear bomb proof and survived with maybe just some scratched paint despite the fact that 60 warheads worth of nuke exploded right on top of it.


This leads to all kinds of trouble with subsequent events. The third movie for instances sees a small army of alien crazed scientist show up to try and forcibly take the only living alien left in existence from Ripley who is trying her damndest not to be eaten by it. Which no longer makes sense given that there seems to be a whole planet full of the things.

In the fourth movie we find MORE crazed scientist cloning Ripley in order to get the alien egg out of her chest that she took to her grave in the third movie. Again… why? There’s a whole damn planet full of them? Seems you can’t nuke them. They’re like cockroaches.

And that’s the issue. This game screws with the canon hardcore, and a lot of people don’t like that.

But does it really matter?

The folks who own the rights to the franchise don’t seem to think so given they put their stamp of approval on it. And honestly, the game was fun. It was neat running around familiar locations hunting bugs just like the marines of Aliens. But now things have been permanently changed.

Your copies of the third and fourth film aren’t going to suddenly burst in to flames or anything now that their pasts have been rewritten. But those stories might make a touch less sense now that the game has made such radical changes to the canon.

And this of course isn’t an isolated incident. Fans of the lore of the Warcraft franchise can tell you that they’ve seen the universe that fuels their favorite game series change repeatedly to validate the events of new content. They keep playing so they must be okay with it on some level?

But is it really?

Should we be sad to see some of our favorite moments in story telling simply vanish in the name of building new content that wouldn’t have worked with established lore?

Would Christopher Tolkien be okay rewriting the events of Return of the King in order to make a story of his own set immediately after those events work in the overall universe? He might be okay doing that. His family owns that universe; he can write what he wants.

Would we as fans be okay with it? Would it even matter if we weren’t?




One response

25 02 2013

If we were not okay with it, it would not matter one whit. As long as the American God Consumerism is still getting the worship demanded to keep Gods relevant and strong, then we will be forced to deal with “oh, we meant this!”. It may upset a few geeks, but people will still buy it.

On another level (one I value far stronger than the above sentences may imply), if an artist or artistic think tank does not feel like sticking to their preconceived stories and published works (no matter the genre or format) that is also up to the artist. It is their property and they can morph it, change it, dump it, or simply pretend it never happened.

Artists are known to be fickle and finicky critters. Approach carefully and always bring emergency caffeine to sooth the savage.

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