Canon Fodder


I didn’t have the chance to write much last week, which means I didn’t write anything about Mario on Thursday, which is semi-officially Mario Day because “Mar 10” looks like “Mario.” Of course, that only works if you write the date in American fashion. I don’t know how they do it in the Mushroom Kingdom. But anyway, I recently read this article on fans’ objections to J.K. Rowling’s additions to the Harry Potter universe, and I figured I could tie that into Mario, as well as a few other fandoms. Obviously Rowling can write what she wants, and her world is hers to do with what she will. The issue has to do with crossing media, with how Rowling’s Pottermore updates and comments in interviews presumably count as canonical even though they weren’t in the actual books.

I can see the argument that this is kind of lazy, that these are probably points she should work into narrative. If you could create a fantasy world simply through brief blurbs, I’d be a lot more prolific. Someone in the comments brought up Sherlock Holmes, the first fandom to use the term “canon” for works of fiction, and how it partially came about because of a Holmes play that was apparently authorized but not canonical. The same is true for Star Trek novels and a lot of comics based on movies or television shows. There are some franchises where different media are considered part of the bigger picture, however; people mentioned Buffy the Vampire Slayer comics and some of the Babylon 5 novels. While I’m willing to accept that some fictional worlds go off in different directions even with officially licensed media, I still like the idea that details from these other sources count as part of the same world. And details from non-canonical media will sometimes make it into canon. How this relates to Mario has to do with how I grew up in the era of Mario cartoons, comics, and a bad live-action movie that I didn’t see until years later. Even though the stories could be pretty terrible and there were contradictions among them, they did seem to agree on several aspects of the universe that hadn’t been addressed in the actual games (although they sometimes had support in the instruction booklets): that Mario and Luigi were from Brooklyn, that Mario was older (by a matter of years, not minutes), and that their last name was Mario. Then along came Yoshi’s Island, in which it’s established that the brothers are twins who were born in the Mushroom Kingdom.

It’s possible to shoehorn in the Brooklyn thing by saying their family moved there after a few years, but I see no way around their being twins. We’ve also had word from creator Shigeru Miyamoto that the Marios officially don’t have a last name, and that the Koopalings aren’t actually Bowser’s kids. Mario being their surname was kind of a dumb idea anyway, although it’s not like there are any other possibilities. I originally thought it was only in the movie, but there was at least one Super Show episode that gave Luigi’s last name as Mario. I know none of those earlier media were canonical, but I liked that they included some additional details about the world and characters, like the name of Toad’s father and hometown, the identity of Princess Peach’s dad, that Mouser used to be king of a tribe of mice who built the warp pipe system, that the always-hungry Mario hated eggs, and perhaps even that the Princess was a fan of Milli Vanilli.

It’s like how the Star Wars Holiday Special was awful, but I see no reason not to accept what it presents about Chewbacca’s family. That does make me wonder how often Chewy sees his wife and kid, but I digress. Not that the Mario games were ever that big on continuity anyway. I know I’ve noted before how weird it is when a game will have multiple versions of the same characters, like Mario and Peach racing against Metal Mario and Pink Gold Peach in the more recent Mario Karts.

Apparently these not-really-different-characters are popular in Japan. Granted, the Mario Kart games don’t make a whole lot of sense anyway. I think the bigger issue isn’t the lack of continuity so much as that, if there are extra versions of Mario, it means there isn’t as much room for totally different characters.

I am talking here primarily about works that are officially licensed but not necessarily canonical. It’s a different issue when a fictional universe is in the public domain, however. There are a lot of Oz fan works that I consider to be accurate additions to the series. But then, I think Oz is somewhat of a special case because not only is it in the public domain, but the fanbase is pretty small and many of the fanfic writers know each other. As such, there’s often a way to maintain continuity between them without going through too much trouble. Not that everyone cares, or that there aren’t Oz fans who just don’t along, but it’s still more feasible than it would be for many fictional worlds, at least without someone to decide what’s official. I have to admit that this is partially because I like the idea of being able to contribute to the main history of Oz, rather than that of some side-universe Oz. Obviously this wouldn’t be the case if L. Frank Baum were still alive and writing.

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12 Responses to Canon Fodder

  1. Bryan T Babel says:

    Another strange example of “canon limbo” might apply to the works of Tolkien. How much of “The History of Middle-earth” applies to filling in the details? The obvious parts rejected from the published material can be discounted, but what about details like the names of the seven houses of the Dwarves? What about details that Tolkien answered in his “Letters” after publication, like Hobbit birthday rituals?

    • I definitely count those as canon. They’re the author’s own conception, so should be included as canonical information. I did as much on my Middle-Earth Chronology here: http://timelineuniverse.net/MiddleEarth/MiddleEarthChronology.htm

      • Nathan says:

        I guess it’s possible he could have changed his mind if he’d ever wanted to work those things into an actual story, but since he never did, his notes are the best source we’re going to get.

      • Bryan T Babel says:

        Which of the many (sometimes contradictory) stories about Galadriel are we to regard as canon? Tolkien pondered many alternatives before he published anything, and Galadriel’s backstory was apparently something he brooded over quite extensively.

        I would agree that anything written in a letter (which is a form of publishing) could be considered canon, but when we have a multiplicity of rough drafts, how are we to choose?

      • That’s the real question. For me, the answer is the most current one. That helps narrow it down. But yes, Galadriel’s history is the most challenging of all the examples.

  2. There were two harmonious sources for Chewbacca’s family back in 1978, one was the aforementioned Holiday Special. The second was The Wookiee Storybook (which featured an original story, and one that was considerably better than the one aired on TV). Both showed Chewie’s wife Mallatobuck (Malla), son Lumpawarrump and father Attichitcuk (Itchy). Nearly twenty years later, when Michael Kube-McDowell sent in an early draft of his book trilogy, Star Wars: The Black Fleet Crisis, it included a completely different conception of Chewie’s family. Lucasfilm sent him back The Wookiee Storybook with a note explaining that this was Chewie’s family. I love that!

    • Nathan says:

      I like the idea that a storybook like that can be considered an official source.

      • I know! And a children’s storybook at that. But that’s how Lucasfilm operated until the Disney buyout. It wasn’t a perfect system, but it was a darn good one while it lasted!

      • Nathan says:

        I do recall hearing that the Expanded Universe was generally kept consistent with ITSELF, but Lucas and the other writers didn’t always adhere to it when actually making the prequels and television shows.

      • Lucas renamed the capital planet Had Abaddon to Coruscant, based on the name Timothy Zahn gave it in the Thrawn Trilogy. He even added the character Aayla Secura to Revenge of the Sith (she’s the Twilek Jedi, and one of the few we see killed onscreen at the end), and she comes solely from the pages of the Dark Horse comic book series. Dialogue in that same film also mentions Quinlan Vos, whose another starring character from the pages of the comic-books.

        The way canon used to work was as a hierarchy, with Lucas at the top. This allowed him to change his conception as went on. Mostly, he changed his conception within his own films, and this caused no end of vitriol for certain fans who hated the Special Editions. When it came time to do the Clone Wars, he also created some contradictions, which had to be fixed (retconned) by the writers, most of which were.

        But the fact that they were allowed and even encouraged to go in and provide retcons shows how functional the system was. Again, not perfect. Ideally, Lucas would have his conceptions mapped out years in advance, but that’s just not how he works. He likes the flexibility of being able to change things. But he also saw fit to have in place a team that could afterwards make sense of it all.

        For example, in A New Hope, Obi-Wan says, “For over a thousand generations, the Jedi Knights were the guardians of peace and justice in the Old Republic.”

        From that information, we learned that the Old Republic has been around for roughly a thousand generations.

        Then, in Attack of the Clones, Supreme Chancellor Palpatine says, “I will not let this Republic that has stood for a thousand years be split in two.”

        Lucas seemingly contradicts himself in the two films, but then the Expanded Universe, as vetted through Lucasfilm, revealed that the Ruusan Reformation, at 1000 BBY (Before the Battle of Yavin), restructured the galaxy so that power was no longer vested in the Supreme Chancellor, but in the Galactic Senate.

        So, it was a win/win. Lucas had the freedom to change his mind, and through Lucasfilm, keep everything consistent.

  3. I wish wordpress had an edit feature: End of Second Paragraph: “When it came time to do the Clone Wars, he also created some contradictions with the EU, which had to be fixed (retconned) by the writers, most of which were relatively minor and eventually taken care of.”

  4. Pingback: Expanding Game Worlds | VoVatia

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