08 July 2009


In stumbling across Wikipedia, I happened upon the page for Irulan Corrino, and noted something that was a little baffling to me: the Dune Encyclopedia is apparently not considered canon for the series. (Canon mostly means "the official version," at least when it comes to what the author(s) say(s) actually happened in their universe) This was a bit of a disappointment to me, mostly because the Encylopedia is one of the most fascinating pieces of in-universe detail that I have ever seen--it handles things with a respect that usually only reality engenders, providing backstory for the entirety of the universe of Dune, 'past' and 'present.'

Fortunately for me and my piece of mind, exactly who declared it non-canon was not Frank Herbert. He apparently did not feel constrained by it, and did not hesitate to write whatever he wanted to, later, but he apparently approved of it at publishing, writing a foreword praising it. It was only later declared non-canon after the new series, starting with Dune: House Atredies. This made me feel a lot better: I really did not like those books, despite whatever use of notes from Frank Herbert they used.

I thus felt that I could ignore the 'true' canon. It's not as if I have any legal obligation to adopt it--as a consumer, I am welcome to be as irrational as I want, as long as I acknowledge the authors. To me, these new books took the characters as they were in Dune and pasted them callously into the past, never giving them enough room to breathe, which is, to me, very much the opposite of Herbert Sr.'s careful pace. To them, the Corrino Emperors were always impotent bunglers; the Butlerian Jihad was always a simple rebellion; thinking machines were always just mechs.

Why, then, does canon matter? I listen to what my favorite authors say because, well, they're my favorite authors. Most of the time, they come up with things that I could never imagine; that's why I read them. It's when I can easily come up with something more...interesting that I begin to lose faith in the primacy of the author's opinon. It's only the text that matters, not what anyone says afterwards. Fiction is not a narrative of what happens elsewhere, but instead exists entirely within the pages of the book. Once words are written, edited, and published, there is nothing that the author can do to further change them--their characters are what they are, speak what they speak, and generally exist only ever in the mind of the reader. There is no objective reality of a book.

I've had several rather intellecutally violent discussions with others who acted as though there was some independent reality within the pages of a book, where things can only be taken wholly or not at all. I would suggest that these are the people to whom canon is prime, to whom only the author can define what they read, because the author's vision is more important. I simplify, of course, and sneer a little as well.

What to take from this? I'm not sure at all, but it serves to highlight my occasional disconnect from other readers. When looking at SF as a whole, maybe, we need to keep in mind that what we see as readers searching for the future, it may not be what the author sees.



Adam Wykes said...

I was talking about the whole idea of "canon" on a rather long car ride with my fiancé because of this post. She reads Harry Potter and Dragonlance, I read things like Dune, Lord of the Rings, and Arthur C. Clarke.

Canon really only exists as a sort of traditional, unspoken agreement between the author and her fans. It releases her from any obligation to include the universal modifications/additions of another mind in any further writing they pursue which shares the same story universe. For the fans, this is only important insofar as they know that the original author is under no such obligations. As far as what they consider the universe to be, they are up to the suggestion of the canon texts and their own imaginations, which may or may not include the suggestions of "fan-fiction."

We have come a long way from the old days where it was believed that the author had the final authority over the meaning of her text. Thanks to the critiques of Postmodernism, Deconstructive Theory, and Reader Response Theory, that sort of paternalist, monarchical dominion is no longer paid much heed. The readers are the ones with true authority over the meaning of a text, although that authority is democratic - not autocratic. It still pays to argue for the side with the majority vote, so to speak. And the author's choice of words no doubt influences this process to a great degree. Socially agreed-upon semantics provide a basis for rational communication. But I am preaching to the choir, no doubt.

I'm the same way - I avoid certain books/movies/games if I think it will weaken the awesome of a universe I have already perfected in my mind. For this reason I avoid all Star Wars novels associated with the Vong.

BTW, glad you brought up the Dune Encyclopedia. It will segue nicely with my next piece.

Chris B. said...

Dune was a terrible movie. True fact. I once saw it at 2 in the morning on the Disney channel.

Geoffrey Wykes said...

I refuse your provocation!