Monday, April 1, 2013

Priming the Canons

I hope you all had a pleasant Easter, and that your April Fool's Day is going just as well.  I can't think of anything to do with the blog for the occasion that would be more entertaining than annoying, but feel free put your finger to your chest, look down, and then flick your nose on my behalf if that'll make your day feel a bit more complete.

On a completely unrelated note, I've been thinking about the official but non-show FiM materials which Hasbro has been putting out lately.  Click below the break for a few thoughts as to how it pertains to fanfiction.

Way back when, when I was writing LotR fanfics, the question of canon was an easy one to answer.  Even after the Peter Jackson movies came out I was writing fanfics of the books, and within that community the issue was an easy enough one to resolve: anything from The Hobbit, LotR, or The Silmarillion was canon, anything from Tolkien's other posthumously published writings was not (but flagrantly disregarding them was somewhat frowned upon), and anything else could be safely ignored.  The movies, third-party guides to Middle-Earth, and everything else were understood to be non-canon, at least so far as those fanfics were concerned.

When it comes to MLP, though, things are a bit trickier.  We can all agree that the show itself is canon, and that fanworks and other independent third-party materials aren't, but what of Hasbro's licensed products?  When toys similar to show characters started coming out, complete with non-fanon names (Carrot Top vs. Golden Harvest, Lyra vs. Heartstrings, etc.), the community got its first taste of what was to come, and it was a serious point of contention for a while.  For the most part, both "toy canon" and fanon names for characters are now considered equally acceptable (though everyone still seems to have their preferences), and plenty of fanworks have made a joke out of using both as either a first name/last name or a real name/nickname, but sometimes that kind of accommodation is harder to reach.

I saw someone on a forum recently complaining that a changeling fanfic they were working on had been invalidated by the FiM comic books, for example.  I haven't read the comics, and I probably won't (I've never really been much of a comic book person, and four dollars a pop seems kind of pricey for something I'm not convinced I have any interest in), but they're definitely being presented as part of the MLP universe--should ignoring the events or characterizations in the comic be considered tantamount to ignoring the events or characterizations in the show proper?  Should fanworks which violate comic book canon but not show canon be labeled as such, the same way that alternate-universe fics are typically denoted?

Or to give another example: I haven't read Twilight Sparkle and the Crystal Heart Spell, the licensed FiM chapter book (obviously; it doesn't come out until the day after this post goes up), but from what I've heard about it, it seems it will probably contradict something I'm working on.  Should this bother me?  Should I rework or shelve that story, at least until I've read the book and can match it to my own?

I can tell you the answer to that last question, at least; I'm going to go ahead and ignore the book, at least as far as my own writing is concerned.  For now, at least, I'm sticking with the TV show as the only "official" work I need to worry about following, and leaving books, comics, toys, and the rest aside.  But the larger question is one that bothers me; what is the shared MLP experience, at this point?  When I wrote LotR fanfics, I could take it as a given that anyone reading my story had read LotR, and that anything else they'd read or seen was irrelevant to their enjoyment of my story; what can a ponyfic writer assume about his audience at this point?  That they're familiar with all the official MLP materials?  That seems like far too much to ask, at this point.  What should a reader--should a writer, for that matter--be expected to know about MLP when they dive into the world of fanfics?

This is territory that plenty of other fandoms have covered (Star Wars apparently has five distinct levels of canonicity for its licensed materials), but it's all new to me.  I suppose that some questions about what should or shouldn't be treated as an established part of the FiM universe are the price we pay for investing ourselves in a fictional universe which is still in the process of expanding, but I can't say I like the uncertainty surrounding what is or isn't MLP.


  1. Replies
    1. Wait, Bilbo won the Ring fair and square?! While I like the treachery in the ret-con, I've always hated that stupid "riddle". Ugh, why do you people insist on hurting my head with conflict?

      On the subject of ret-cons, I absolutely loved the retroactive spider in South Park and thought that was the best part of the Cthulu episode, which was otherwise kind of "meh" (though it was pretty nice getting a Totoro reference)

      I've always seen the issue of canon as something of a game. It's fairly obvious that many sources, especially lengthy cartoons, aren't that interested in continuity and will favor the rule of funny. Trying to work around that and piece together a coherent story is fun! I do something similar for D&D characters: roll on a bunch of random tables and try to make sense of the results. Doesn't really work with my new philosophy that characters should start as blank slates and background is levels 1-4, though

    2. I feel I should state more of my opinion on this that I didn't already on my blog. As far as I'm concerned, the only canon that should even be considered for this fandom has to come to from the show's, as stated by others. Canon, by its nature, has to come from the original source and final product, the anchor if you.

      Everything else, whether's it's got Hasbro's approval on it or it's a fanwork, can be ignored (stuff like some of the names created for the certain background characters is a case of "when in Rome, do as the Romans"; it's too widespread to ignore (and to be honest, much of it is harmless)). I think it would be ridiculous as a reader to expect others to keep track every other piece of merchandise, particularly when not all this stuff is available abroad and if they have to spend money on something (although to be honest, four bucks is peanuts compared to what I've had to spend on reprints of Barks', Tezuka's, Kelly's, and Segar's work, but hey they at least can they can draw).

      Now as far knowledge goes, that really depends on a lot of things. Personally, I think that the best fanficts don't require any previous knowledge or experience to work, but at the same time, I think as a reader you shouldn't complain if you're confused about a fanfict for something you've (I myself only saw maybe 3/4ths of season one before I started reading ponyfic, and I don't remember ever feeling confused). Now being a writer, watching at least a sizable number of episodes so that you can understand the characters (and that's because they're the main (if not only) selling point) should be the requirement.

      Now besides characterization and the "neutral facts", I cannot answer what parts of canon should respect as far as the show goes, given that it has contradicted itself a number of times (and I've seen the results of trying to accept every line as canon as Rosa tried to do of Barks' work in "The LIfe and Times of Scrooge McDuck", believe me when I say it's a mess). That was really the point of blog post.

      At the end of the day, if you keep your audience entertained enough, and don't frustrate them so that they don't start seeing flaws, then canon be damned you can get away with anything short of murder (and if you're really good, you can get away with even that).

  2. The way I see it, the show is the ultimate authority on what is canon. Anything that happens in an episode is considered canon and should be adhered to unless it is either edited out or taken out by a retcon in a later episode. After all, these episodes are created by the show's production team, and thus have the biggest claim to being official sources when it comes to information about the characters, the setting, and their adventures.

    After that comes a sort of secondary canon, consisting of the books, comics, trading cards, and toys. Anything that directly contradicts the source material simply isn't canon, and anything that fits in well can be added in according to your headcanon preferences.

    As for your question about how much knowledge we need before jumping in, I'd say just watching the show is good enough. While there are some fanfics that will incorporate elements from the books and comics, most will focus more on the show, as there are simply more resources to utilize there. So really, the issue of an expanded universe will become relevant, but it won't be for much later, and even then you could still pick up on the bits and pieces you need to know on any forum or fan discussion.

    Also, I really like the comics and recommend them. I agree that the price is pretty steep, but there's still quite a bit to like. The new arc's just starting out as well, and it's shaping up to be pretty good. Just saying.

    1. This, basically. I consider the show the ultimate canon authority and anything else in the "expanded universe" is optional but nice for those who are familiar with it, as far as I'm concerned.

      I have a feeling that this will change at some point though. Maybe future seasons will start having tie-ins with the comic series, and then suddenly the comics will gain equal importance? I don't know. Something like that MIGHT happen.

      All an issue for the future right now though. As I said, right now, I believe only familiarity with the show is really necessary.

  3. When I first joined the fandom, I actually thought about starting a project that would essentially be the pony version of the Holocron continuity database. Imagine my surprise when you linked to just that, after I'd already decided to mention it!

    I don't think Hasbro's particularly interested in developing a canon for this property. Fans have, of course, asked the writers what would be considered canon for the show, which is what this fandom's about, and they've pretty much said it's just the show. The comic is, I believe, one of the only exceptions to that, so you should probably give it a look

    I've only read the first issue, and previews for the others. It's pretty good so far. I plan on getting the compilation they're selling of the first four issues. At 104 pages for only $10, it's much more reasonable than buying the individual issues

  4. Ow! ;_; My nose! Chris, why would you do that?

    I've been thinking about this myself lately, given that I just started reading the comics (and they're not bad!) I think we might need to do the 'levels of canonicity' thing ourselves eventually. You've got the show at the top, of course. If it ends and is supplanted by comics and/or books, that would be second, with toys and trading cards at the bottom. I've always treated toy canon as usable only when the show hasn't already filled in a blank (you can thank Trixie Lulamoon for that), but the comics are a stickier wicket. At this point, since they've already been invalidated to a point by the show (if we're talking synchronicity here), I think they're just a bit of worldbuilding to play with. They use that Walmart-exclusive map poster quite extensively, at least.

    I very much want to read that book, though. I hear it involves back story for Cadance, and that's something that could fill in where the show has left a hole.

    1. It helps to think of canon as a fluid concept. Cadance's backstory might be considered considered canon until the show invalidates it, and even then some other aspects of the book might still be considered canon so long as it can be justified - and we've got a lot of contrivances, from dream sequences to autism, to help us out there!

    2. Man. You are good at this canon thing. :3

  5. As I've said before, the writers con't really seem to give a rats ass about internal consistency, so I don't see why I should.

    The only thing you really need to be aware of is what assumptions your readers will make. If you suddenly use something that is against your reader's expectations of canon, you're going to piss them off pretty quick. So explain any changes, or at least highlight them so the reader isn't surprised, and you're probably golden.

    1. One of my favorite:

      Reasons for fanfic, actually, is the internal inconsistency of the show.

      I mean, the fine and lumbering behemoth that is Background Pony only exists because of that weird little moment near the beginning of the first episode where Twilight, running back to her rooms to look up the Elements of Harmony, passes a light-green unicorn with a lyre on her flanks who smiles and waves at her as if she knows her. Why, then, when this same unicorn starts showing up in Ponyville, does she never approach Twilight?

      Or one of the maybe two changeling fics I've liked, The Irony of Applejack, which takes off from that one little flashback scene in "Apple Family Reunion" where the guy making the apple fritters looks under the table, finds baby Applejack, and doesn't know who she is. If she's the daughter of the reunion's host family, how is it that this guy's never seen her before?

      And I've been working for nearly a year on a story to try and explain some percentage of the weird moments in the "Canterlot Wedding" episodes... :)


  6. I certainly can't speak for everyone, but the atmosphere around EqD as I perceive it is that only the show is strict canon. The audience of people who only watch the show is significantly larger than the audience who only read the comic. I don't see an AU tag as ever being required for something that violates the comics but fits perfectly well with the show. Same with toy canon. The majority of writers use the fanon names for background characters, but either one is fine. There are so many toys out now that there are a lot of characters I can't recall seeing in the show at all, though I have so doubt that there are people who pore over every frame and could tell me exactly when each one appears.

  7. I actually made a reference to the comic series in one of my stories, but it's fairly subtle so that people who haven't read the comic series wouldn't be confused by it.

    And in the end, I feel like that's the ultimate test of whether something is considered "canon." It's not that I trust the show as a source of information more than the comics, it's just the practical reality that everyone here has seen the show, but only a few have read the comics. As such, the idea of holding true to the show becomes important, and holding true to the comics much less so. Personally, I like to think of the comics as a secondary canon, but I'm definitely not going to tell anyone "Hey, you can't do this, that contradicts something in the comics."

  8. Replies
    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Wait, that was hilarious. What the crap did Pen Stroke do?

    3. Not the first time he's done well on April Fool's. I enjoyed Honey Trouble last year. This is better, though


    5. Oh Lord, that epilogue! Chicken, I... I think I love you, but you and Present are already OTP :(

      Time to open Office and Find and Replace "Twilight Sparkle", "Trixie" and "Luna" with "Present Perfect", "Chicken" and "Oats" while I sob uncontrollably

  9. Calling comics canon? I don't even consider Cadence canon. (And I don't deliberately misspell it because of a typo on a toy, either.)

    1. To elaborate: Say I'm writing a story. I have to say what Celestia is doing and what Luna is doing about the situation. I don't say what Cadence is doing, because we have almost no clue what she does, and her existence throws out things we thought we knew about Equestria without telling us what to replace them with.

      (How do you guys get an avatar with OpenID? Uploading an avatar doesn't do it.)

    2. Like I said above:

      Fixing the inconsistencies is one of my favorite reasons for fanfic. I mean, I only got into this racket because, as the first season went on and on without ever even mentioning Luna, I couldn't stand it anymore and had to start writing the story that was swirling through my head.

      Same with Cadance--and I have to admit I do enjoy spelling it that way. After the epilogue of Half the Day is Night, making Cadance into Equestria's death goddess and psychopomp was a natural fit, and nothing in the show has yet said she isn't... :)


  10. I don't think that it is fair to ask fiction authors to comb through everything Hasbro puts out to check for canon infraction. We all watch the show. If it happens in the show, it's canon. Everything else isn't. Hasbro makes all kinds of bizarre marketing decisions (pink Celestia, and yes I know the reason behind it, but still) and anyone who remembers the 80's will remember when G.I. Joe and the Transformers had Marvel comics that wildly diverged from the cartoons. If people want to included that stuff and interesting bits of fanon, then more power to them, but people shouldn't be called on having a different name for their favorite background pony when Hasbro hasn't established a real name for the character in the show. And they definitely shouldn't have to read the comic to write a fanfic.

  11. I suppose the proper way to do this is to simply ask the show writers what canon they adhere to. They have a show bible and make at least some attempt to be consistent, even if they aren't as strict about it as the fans. If, say, a coloring book has no impact on the show, then it can't really be considered canon (though it might make for great fodder!). If Hasbro tells them to work with some new toy or the comics, then that would be canon

  12. The universe my fics are set in was created while the show was still running (as were all the myriad FiM fanfic 'verses out there), and the two realities have since parted ways, as it were. So this doesn't really concern me all that much. I've always ignored lesser aspects of the series that didn't particularly suit me, especially where characterization is concerned, since the writers themselves apparently can't make up their minds in that regard (compare Spike in, say, "A Dog and Pony Show" and "Spike At Your Service", for one).

    My fanfic 'verse has taken on a life of its own by now, and trying to align everything with Equestria Prime would be a nightmare of rewrites and pushing square pegs into round holes. I don't need to waste my time on that when I can use it on actually writing stories, because the latter is something I enjoy doing.

  13. I'm with the majority here, and would say the show is canon, everything else is optional. This is firstly because the show is the first stop for details, the core, and the first source of information. Secondly, the fact is that there are more people in the fandom who watch the show than who read the comics or buy the other merchandise, and it's the one place where everyone can agree to go to settle a dispute, even if the dispute is not actually settled.

    That still leaves a couple of problems, though: contradiction, and unpleasant canon. The first problem is that sometimes the show contradicts itself. The most obvious example that comes to mind is the cutie mark business between Apple Bloom's episodes and the Season Three Finale.

    In the former, cutie marks appear after a pony finds his or her calling, or special talent, and are merely symbols that identify their calling to others. Magic cannot force a cutie mark to appear prematurely, so presumably the mechanisms of genuine cutie marks (as opposed to those caused by illnesses such as Cutie Pox) can trump magic.

    Twilight, however, magically forces cutie marks to appear in place of pre-existing marks, and the marks are not the effects of the special talent but cause it. In this case, the mechanisms of genuine cutie marks (as opposed to those caused by illnesses such as Cutie Pox) can be trumped by magic.

    In such a case, a fan can choose either to develop the two cases so that they no longer contradict each other, or to discard one piece of canon in favour of the other. However, this probably means that an entire episode has to be rendered "Fanon Discontinuity". The fan simply refuses to acknowledge the element as canon.

    The second problem is when canon does not contradict itself, but when it presents something so repugnant or unpleasantly surprising to its viewers that they don't want to acknowledge it as canon. Examples include episodes in which a much-loved character behaves in a way that is ethically questionable, especially when the episode does not call them out on it. Here, the solutions are the same as the one for contradictions, with the options being either acceptance of the elements, however distasteful, or rejection of the unpleasant one. It does help a little that the show is episodic in format, making the dropping of some episodes (if not all of them) fairly easy.

    So, in conclusion, even referring to the show as the ultimate canonical reference point doesn't settle every last issue of canon-fanon details entirely. At this current stage, I wouldn't blame somebody for ignoring certain episodes, even if it meant they had to find some other way to get the details they did want from those same episodes.

    1. Of course:

      Contradiction is in the ear of the behearer--or, no, wait, that can't be right.

      I'll start again.

      The cutie mark thing you cite, I posit, isn't a contradiction at all. It is, rather, the whole point of the season three finale: Twilight manages to create an entirely new type of magic when she shuffles the others' cutie marks.

      This has huge implications for ponykind and shows that ponies haven't really understood cutie marks until now. Twilight, then, is rewarded for her accomplishment by being made an alicorn, and that's vsomething, Celestia says just before her song, that has never been done before.

      Which is why I'm leery of this book that's just been released claiming that Cadance was once a pegasus. The book seems to me to contradict something that's already been stated explicitly in the show.

      Fortunately, as we've all pretty much been saying here, the show trumps all else, so I can continue in my fictive universe to maintain that Cadance has always been an alicorn and that she came into being at the same time as Celestia and Luna. :)


    2. OK, it isn't really a contradiction. I admit I was struggling for an example off the top of my head, and that's the best I could think of to illustrate the point (i.e. it wasn't a very good example). I guess a better example would be how the cutie marks were allocated. For instance, Rarity manipulates the weather when she has Rainbow's cutie mark, but Rainbow acquired the mark when she discovered her love for speed, racing, and winning. Rarity should have been running around at Mach 3 if her cutie mark was really telling her what to do.

      Thanks for the correction. I'm disappointed I made such a poor error, but at least it's cleared up now.

    3. Personally:

      My favorite contradiction in the series so far is the city of Manehattan. From the name, the Habsbro-produced map, and the lyrics to the "Babs Seed" song, one might gather that it's on Equestria's east coast. And yet in Applejack's flashback during "Cutie Mark Chronicles," we see her watching the sunrise over some very mountainous terrain just before Dash's first Sonic Rainboom goes off.

      If Equestria's sun rises in the east, then why isn't Applejack watching the sun rise over the ocean? And if Equestria's sun rises in the west, how is it that Applejack sees the Sonic Rainboom just after dawn while for the rest of Our Heroines, it happens later in the day?

      Either Manehattan is located in the earlier time zones west of Ponyville and Canterlot, or Applejack's recollection of that day's events have gotten a bit skewed over the years.

      For my part, I ended up not mentioning "east" or "west" in the fic I was writing that made me start wondering about this point. :)

      Mike Again