But readers/listeners/viewers of popular fiction have every right to ignore them.
It’s one of the points that is missed in the geekier debates about the nature of canon. Any creative project is actually a collaboration between the creator and the reader. Fiction doesn’t particularly exist on paper or television, or any other medium, it’s just a mode of transmission. The thing that makes it any kind of true, all takes place in the brain. The thing that makes unreal ideas into actual people, is in your brain.
Of course, it doesn’t make them that actual, but the nature of this sort of canon is the idea that there is ‘truth’ in fiction.
This is the true version of Batman. This is what actually happened on the Serenity. This is not the real Harry Potter having sex with three clones of himself.
The literary canon is about importance and credibility. Geek canon, different for every universe, is about some strange notion of truth. Which of these fictions are truer?
The debates are unnecessary, but then, so are the fictions, and it’s the false reality we project into them, that makes them so important to us. I can understand how people spend hours arguing about the truth of these lies, because to each individual, the truth is obvious.
We are passionate about imaginary worlds because our imagination is real to us. We recognise the worlds as being other from ‘reality’ but we see the as possessing their own weight of truth.
Which makes it feel like a betrayal when a certain kind of inconsistency is introduced. The retcon is the changing of history impossible in the real world. Suddenly Darlene is played by yet another actress, and we are supposed to pretend she was there all along.
That’s not quite the same thing as a retcon, when narrative ‘truths’ are overturned by newer ‘truths’, but it gets across the mental gymnastics required.
Doing some hasty research on the font of all geek knowledge, we find that a lot of the best retcons are revealed to be one character’s unreliable narration revealed as a lie. People lie, everyone has a different story, so sometimes facts are fudged. If you’re used to omniscient narration, which is what we default to except in the first person, this can still jar, but it’s the classy way to do things. Possibly.
Mostly because, well, it flags up that stories are lies that we have collaborated in. It shows us how even the characters in the story have their own worlds in their head. It reminds us that it is our point of view that creates the truth.
And there are hundreds of truths in any story. And some of them are real to you, and some of them are real to me, and some of them are real to somebody else.
Story telling is about lying to tell the truth.
And I’ve managed to get through this whole piece without reference the Death of the Author.
Illustration by Michael