The Authority of Canon


What decides the canon of story? Does it matter which comes first? Which should hold more weight, book or film? Discerning canon is an important aspect of literary scholarship because the authority of canon decides which stories we will keep telling long after their authors have returned to the dirt. After all, myths have played a significant role in our language development. Myth is a vehicle in every culture uses to assign moral codes, entertain as well educate on how things came to be, and inform those in the future on how their method of communication was used. What gave importance to the authority of canon was when other people began writing Sherlock Holmes stories other than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle after the detective’s presumed death. A Law needed to be agreed upon that would protect and honor the creator of the work in the first place.

The subject of canonicity has brewed in my mind as separate parts, until I watched a video from one of my favorite YouTubers: Super Carlin Brothers. J–one of the Carlin Bros–argues in his video that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child isn’t canon and the eighth story. Really, there isn’t much need to even open the book to confirm this. At the bottom of the front cover, it says “based on an original new story.” Based?! They may say this is the eighth story, nineteen years later, but this play isn’t even THAT story; it’s not the original material.

There’s a reason we say “the new motion-picture based on the novel by . . .” because it’s an adaptation of an original work. J says that the Harry Potter films aren’t canon because they’re based on J. K. Rowling’s seven books. They would not have been created if not for the books themselves. So too, they contain many plot changes, making them distinct from the novels. They are not copies of their page inspirations because they are not original ideas. I wish I had not expected a word-for-word repeat of what happened in the books back when the Potter films were still coming out.

The same can be said regarding The Lord of the Rings’ film adaptations, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and HBO’s Game of Thrones. These motion pictures (going off J’s argument) are not canon because they are based off work that came before them. In the case of Game of Thrones, it’s going to end before A Song of Ice and Fire. I would argue the ending of the show will be canon, UNTIL George R. R. Martin finishes A Dream of Spring. The books came first. The show wouldn’t exist without them. So the books and George have final say, even if they didn’t end first.

Back to Harry.

If you will ignore for the moment what I said earlier about the front cover of Cursed Child literally telling us it’s not canon. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be anything else to write about. To further beat this poor dead horse, let’s look at two simple lines and the scenes surrounding them. The epilogue of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (DH) and Act I, Scene I of Cursed Child (CC).

DH “‘Don’t forget to give Neville our love!’ Ginny told James as she hugged him. ‘Mum! I can’t give a professor love!'” (757)

CC “HERMIONE: ‘Rose. Remember to send Neville our love.’ ROSE: ‘Mum, I can’t give a professor love!'” (12)

These are supposed to be the same scene, right? Isn’t Cursed Child picking up right where Hallows left off at the platform? Why is it Ginny to James in one and Hermione to Rose in another? Continue to read the two scenes side-by-side and you will find additional diversions. Jo was supposed to be involved in writing this; wouldn’t she have just copy-and-pasted from Hallows? It’s her work, no need to bother with copyright. It’s like watching Rogue One and them changing the narrow escape Princess Leia makes with the Death Star plans. Rogue One is canon because it blends seamlessly into Episode IV and maintains the world’s continuity.

This is a big deal because the Cursed Child is marketed as the “Eighth Harry Potter” when on the front cover it says it’s based on an original story. What was so wrong with the original that you couldn’t just give us that? Maybe there wasn’t any time-turner nonsense, and we could spend time with a Potter as a Slytherin at Hogwarts. So what if it’s a repeat of the original books. Well that’s what made them so great in the first place. Nevertheless, until Jo or somebody else comes along to replace it, Cursed Child will be canon to Harry’s story.

If you don’t care about fictional canon, then think of history as real-life canon. The authority of canon is determined by the victors, and knowledge is power. Consider the Council of Nicaea following Emperor Constantine’s conversion. The council’s purpose was to agree on common law and mythology to unify Christendom. The council had to decide what would be Biblical canon and what wouldn’t be, i.e. the Apocrypha. They created what is what for much of the world in the thousand-and-some years after the council. Canon retains a high place in our civilization because stories are part of our DNA. When you write, whether or not you are well-known, you participate in the future of our culture. We cannot for sure predict what will survive, only that what does will contribute to the authority of canon and define our history.

Cheers and Happy Easter.

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