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Carry On is closely intertwined with the fictional Simon Snow series by fictional author Gemma T. Leslie which featured heavily in Rowell's previous novel, Fangirl. In Fangirl, Cath, the main character, is a BNF in Simon Snow fandom and writes Simon/Baz fanfiction. Her magnum opus is titled "Carry On," and the novel features numerous excerpts of both the Simon Snow books and Cath's fic.
Carry On is the story of Simon and Baz as told by Rainbow Rowell herself.
As to whether Carry On is canon, fanon (or something else?) Rowell said:
Wait a minute -- is Carry On fanfiction or canon?
The most common question I’ve been asked is whether I’m writing as Cath or as Gemma T. Leslie … The answer is, I’m writing as me.
After I finished writing Fangirl, I kept thinking about Simon and Baz and the World of Mages … I wanted to write more about them, but I didn’t want to write the full series GTL-style. And I also didn’t want to write through Cath’s hands and brain.
I wanted to explore what I would do with this world and these characters.
So, even though I’m writing a book that was inspired by fictional fanfiction of a fictional series …
… I think what I’m writing now is canon.
- Simon Snow, the worst Chosen One to ever exist
- Tyrannus Basilton Grimm-Pitch, his vampire roommate/nemesis and eventual boyfriend
- Penelope Bunce, Simon's best friend whose intelligence often saves the day
- Agatha Wellbelove, Simon's beautiful ex-girlfriend who refuses to become collateral damage
- The Mage, the Headmaster of the Watford School of Magicks, whose relationship to Simon is more complicated than it first appears
- The Insidious Humdrum, the villain (or is he)
- Natasha Grimm-Pitch, the ghost of Baz's mother who sets things in motion by asking Simon to help Baz find her murderer
- Lucy, the ghost of Simon's mother
Carry On vs Fangirl
Carry On vs Harry Potter
The Carry On universe is obviously heavily inspired by Harry Potter:
- Neither Harry nor Simon know their parents. They had rough childhoods and are at odds with the magical world. They spend most of their school year heroically chasing after a villain that will probably kill them. They are both sent back to the real world during the summer.
- Baz and Draco both come from old magical aristocracy and spend their early years plotting to bring down the hero.
- Penelope and Hermione are the clever sidekicks/best female friends.
- The Mage and Dumbledore are authority figures who mentor the hero and groom him to take on the villain.
However, the novel is just as obviously trying to address some of the criticism directed at the series:
- Lack of on-the-page diversity: While JK Rowling has been criticized for after-the-fact inclusion of diversity (Dumbledore being gay, the existence of LGBT or Muslim students at Hogwarts), Carry On features, amongst others, explicit racial and sexual diversity (Penelope Bunce is British-Indian, Baz's mother was of Egyptian descent and he identifies as gay, Penelope's roommate Trixie has a girlfriend), as well as disabled characters (Rhys and his wheelchair).
- The Mage's storyline addresses some of the criticism aimed at Dumbledore (authoritarian and irresponsible attitude).
- Euro-centricism of spells in Harry Potter (derived from Greek & Latin) vs spells based on the popularity of a certain phrase in any language in Carry On.
- Carry On's World of Mages isn't as isolated and anachronistic as the Harry Potter world: Mages integrate in Normal society and are aware of Normal culture (for example know how to drive and use cellphones.) Agatha's character in particular gripes about the Mages' inability to recognize the usefulness of technology over magic in certain occasions:
There are pages ripped out and taped all over one wall. (Not taped - stuck to the wall with spells.) (And this is exactly the sort of thing I'm sick of. Like, just use some tape. Why come up with a spell for sticking paper to the wall? Tape. Exists.)
In an ironic yet predictable manner, the success of Carry On has prompted a Harry Potter Drarry revival, either by reminding HP fans of their old fandom or by introducing frustrated SnowBaz fans looking for lots of quality fic to an acceptable substitute. See for example the author's notes to waspabi's story Stately Homes of Wiltshire, posted from March to May 2016:
Thanks to Catie and Serena, who have both been angelic and encouraging. Also thanks to Carry On, which pulled them unwittingly into HP fandom in this the year of our Lorde 2k16.
The main pairing is Simon/Baz or SnowBaz, with 538 works in the Tumblr tag. This is due to the fact that some Simon/Baz fanworks were posted based on their Fangirl iterations, before Carry On was published.
- I didn’t realize how much I needed Snowbaz in my life until I read Carry On. Comic by grickenfish.
As of May 4, 2016, on AO3:
- Most kudos: Once Upon a Time by followsrabbit (Simon/Baz, 2.5k, not rated.)
- Most hits: Five times they didn't (and one time they did) by redbeard (Simon/Baz, 6k, Explicit.)
- Longest: This Is Mr. Pitch by standalon (Simon/Baz, 100k, Explicit.)
- Carry On Aesthetics (2/4): Tyrannus Basilton Grimm-Pitch by carryonbunce
- The Carry On Fandom: A Guide for the Absolute Beginner by viva-la-snowbaz.
- Carry On section of Rainbow Rowell's website 
- Carry On, Rainbow Rowell, p. 461.
- Posted to Tumblr Nov 17, 2015, accessed May 4, 2016.
- Posted to Tumblr Dec 1, 2016, accessed May 4, 2016.
- Posted to Tumblr February 2016, accessed May 4, 2016.
- Posted to Tumblr March 3, 2016, accessed May 4, 2016.
- Posted to Tumblr April 12, 2016, accessed May 4, 2016.
- Posted to Tumblr Jan 17, 2016, accessed May 4, 2016.
- Posted to Tumblr April 3, 2016, accessed May 4, 2016.
- Posted to AO3 Dec 28, 2015, accessed May 4, 2016.
- Posted to YouTube Oct 10, 2015, accessed May 4, 2016.
- Posted to YouTube Oct 10, 2015, accessed May 20, 2016.
- Posted to Tumblr Apr 6, 2016, accessed May 4, 2016.
- Posted to Tumblr Feb 29, 2016, accessed May 5, 2016.
- Posted to Tumblr April 15, 2016, accessed May 4, 2016.