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.