Creating Headcanons: Everyone Does It

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Title: Creating Headcanons: Everyone Does It
Creator: Emily Asher-Perrin
Date(s): February 3, 2015
Medium: online at Tor.com
Fandom:
Topic:
External Links: Creating Headcanons: Everyone Does It, Archived version
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Creating Headcanons: Everyone Does It is a 2015 essay by Emily Asher-Perrin.

Topics Discussed

Excerpts

This happens to me all the time with plotholes and poorly conceived film climaxes. A friend is busy trashing the latest contrivance in some blockbuster, and I’m suddenly confused because I inferred elements that were never in the script. Oh, these characters are clearly a lot closer than the film is saying outright—that’s why the emotional arc works! I just made up an entire background for them in my head, complete with adorable scenes of them braiding each other’s hair as teenagers. They would die for each other. Fixed.
Some headcanons are different beasts altogether. For my own part, I have a tendency to reimagine lots of characters as queer people in the fiction I consume. Part of that has to do with my reading lots of slash fiction growing up. (The goggles, they never leave you.) But the main component of that comes from being queer myself; I’d rather be imbibing stories in which I felt better represented. It’s also easy to create wild variant headcanons for periphery characters or to do your own world building for universes that are a little on the thin side. There are canons that reconcile disparate versions of similar ’verses. (This is particularly common in comics fandom, where fans might chose to mesh comics themselves with movie universes and alternate realities until they come out with a version that suits them best.) Often fandom does work the author was never even planning to conceptualize, let alone flesh out. It’s one of the wonders of the creative process.

Reactions and Reviews: At the Original Post

I personally think that once a work of fiction leaves the creator’s head and enters the public, they have offered over the keys of meaning to the audience. What a creator intended and what audience infers will never be perfectly matched, and even when a writer puts something they believe to be explicitely explained into the text, any clever audience can find away around what is written to find evidence for their viewpoint. Probably what you are describing here is that process, that you liked a movie, tv show or book, and let yourself like it by glossing over its imperfections, or just simply filling in the missing parts with the power of imagination. All art, good or bad, has this potential, and is the best art is that willingly surrenders to the audience and says, “you’re a smart bunch, fill in the gaps.” [1]
I also am finding myself a bit embarassed that I never considered that Hermione was anything other than white, but I would kind of love to see JKR make that real canon, lol. But now I am going to sit here and think about all my head canons. I am sure that is also why things like the prequels got such a huge backlash – we had 20 years (well, I didn’t, I was a relatively new Star Wars fan at the time) to come up with our own versions of the way things were. It is actually why I find myself more nervous than excited about the new movies, especially as it concerns Luke, whom I have EXTENSIVE headcanon (and…maybe fanfiction…look, I was 14, okay!) about. [2]
I have a theory that there’s a correlation between the available narrative space for headcanons and the quantity of fanworks. Especially if there’s enough blank space on the page for more than just fix-it stories. JKR, bless her heart, didn’t get everything perfect nor was she a particularly rigorous worldbuilder. So fans can easily make stuff up to make the world and characters of Harry Potter better or more detailed. Teen Wolf has holes you could float a supertanker through but they make excellent playgrounds for fandom. Doctor Who literally has all the time in the universe for side adventures and barely respects its own ‘canon.’ Sherlock is essentially all fanfic at this point, some people just get paid for theirs. [3]
Headcanon is a dangerous thing. That’s why if I know a movie or TV show is being made, I shift the source material (if I haven’t read it already) to the end of my reading list. That way the headcanon doesn’t jar my enjoyment. It doesn’t even have to be changes in the plot or a character’s appearence, but the way a word is pronounced. I blame having one Welsh, one Irish and two cockney grandparents (one of whom came home after WW2 speaking fluent French) but how a word or name sounds in my head can be totally different to how the actors deliver it. And it’s not just the made up ones. Until a teacher wrote down arrogant, the word I used in discussions didn’t sound like the one in my head when I read the word (that one kind of only had two syllables)…. [4]
Canon is the individual decision of every single reader or viewer.

That’s it. “Headcanon” is canon. There’s no other kind. Because, when you cut down through all the guff the meaning of “Canon” is, essentially, “This is the real version. This is what really happened.” But there is no “real” version, because none of it really happened.

Fiction, you will be shocked to realize, is imaginary. Harry Potter and Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger and their adventures are imaginary. All twelve Doctors and their dozens of companions? All imaginary.

And do you know what’s every bit as real as an entirely imaginary thing? Any other entirely imaginary thing! So what you imagine in your head as you read a book or watch a movie or listen to an audiodrama is every bit as real as what the author intended. Ron being married to Hermione while Harry’s married to Ginny, and their offspring Hugo and Rose and James and Lily and Albus Severus are no more real than Ginny having dumped Harry because she always came in second place to her brother and his girlfriend, leading to Harry, Hermione and Ron settling down together as a polyfidelitus triad, married in the Wizarding World’s first three-way wedding, and living happily in a true menage a trois (Which, remember, is French, not for some gymnastic sexual activity, but Household of Three.) ... The demand that fans grant greater reality to any give set of imaginary events is so onerous that its surrender of personal mental autonomy outweighs any possible benefit from shared references. Any fan can refer back easily to the original source and point at it as his/her base assumptions. There’s no need to define the them in a way that shoves your choices down the rest of fandom’s throats.

In fandom practice, “canon” is used too much as a bully’s truncheon. What the original creator created is still wholly imaginary. It’s not more real than what you or I decide to accept. [5]
Let’s take this argument to another popular franchise.

Who shot first? Han or Greedo? Which is canon?

I find the debate you two are having particularly fascinating in this context. The creator of the content went so far as to change the content in a subsequent release and actively destroy all previous releases of the content that didn’t match up with his intentions.

Bottom line? Canon is what the content creator puts out in a fixed medium. Except… mediums are no longer fixed. Quandry? Just a bit. Frequently, there is room for interpretation of canon because not all the information is present. But is Jonathan really trying to argue that if a person thinks the Death Star should have been called the Death Moon that Death Moon is canon just as equally as the Death Star?

And while, yes, neither is real, only one of those versions of canon belongs to the content creator. And that’s the difference.

Canon is what we know the content creator wrote, shot, or otherwise intended. Head canon is what we wish they had written, shot or otherwise intended. Its not a matter of “positioning yourself for fannish dominance,” as much as it is respecting the intellectual property of someone else. [6]

References

  1. comment by icholasna
  2. comment by Lisamarie
  3. comment by Noblehunter
  4. comment by WillMayBeWise
  5. comment by Jonathan Andrew Steen
  6. comment by anthonypero