When Canon & Commentary Collide: What Is “Part of the Story”?

This entry is part of the “Spoiled By Supplements” blog series.

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Image by geralt on Pixabay

Some people care about this topic more than others. For myself, I prefer to know what is part of the story and what is mere speculation, fan fiction, or notes on things that didn’t go anywhere. My time is both finite and valuable, so I want to know what is necessary and what is supplemental. These kinds of things can be interesting to know about, like reading a movie script to learn what was originally intended, see how it was actually executed on screen, and understand why it was cut or redone. These kinds of “alternate realities” are intriguing from an academic point of view. And a lot of artistic creation involves a lot of people, so seeing how the final product differs or adheres to the original vision and why it changed or stayed the same is pretty neat.

But how “final” is that final product? In an age where it’s easier and easier to make changes, from releasing Special Editions with CGI edits, changing a character’s design due to fan outcry, or redoing the CGI of an entire movie after it was released in theaters, it becomes harder and harder to call something “finished.”

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Inferior Origins

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Kira at the Gelfling Wall of Destiny (screenshot from The Dark Crystal)
Kira at the Wall of Destiny

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Who doesn’t love a good origin story?

Whenever I get into a fictional universe, be it books, movies, TV shows, or video games, I dig deep.  Those characters with shady or mysterious pasts are the most intriguing; we want to know how they became the person we know now.  If you’ve read (and enjoyed) The Symphony of Ages series by Elizabeth Haydon, you probably want to know Achmed’s full backstory more than anything else.  We get tantalizing hints, but no more.  Tolkien’s book The Silmarillion explores the history of the elves and Middle-Earth in almost excruciating detail.  People clamored so much for more stories about Drizzt Do’Urden that R.A. Salvatore gave them the drow ranger’s backstory in the form of The Dark Elf Trilogy.  Amazing RPGs like Mass Effect and Dragon Age cover the history of their worlds, the aspects of the places explored there, and the characters you encounter.  And isn’t that what a lot of modern RPGs are all about?  Exploration?  How was this world created?  What happened before the story that we see?  A good origin story is a fascinating and rewarding journey.

Of course, the key word here is “good.”  Not knowing parts of a universe’s history or the origins of a character leads to all kinds of juicy speculation, head canon, and fan fiction.  Sometimes the creators even deign to answer those burning questions for us.  That’s fine and dandy, but there is a dark side to it.  No matter how much I may want to know, “What happened?!” a part of me is always a bit wary when official works drop in to fill the gaps.

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