Category Archives: Musings

A series finished

Within the last week, I finished a set of fantasy books which I have been reading through for literally the last thirteen to fourteen years of my life, the Riftwar books by Raymond E. Feist- and honestly, I’m not entirely sure how I feel about being done with the series.

Some background here- back towards the beginning of the year, having seen other people I know commit to reading 52 books within the course of a single year, I looked at my own reading habits- and I didn’t like what I saw. Too often, I was either not reading at all, or I was reaching for books I already knew to return to stories I already knew rather than seeking to stretch myself through exposure to new stories. This, I decided, had to change, and so I chose to take up that same challenge of 52 books (or more) in 52 weeks- delving into some of the piles of books that had been accumulating, unread while I preferred to return to worlds both well known and well loved.

However, there was the little issue of my wanting- as part of this- to finish off at least one or two series’ of books that I had previously begun but never finished. In doing this, much as I wanted to focus on expanding my literary horizons, I recognised that I was going to have to accept that I would be doing at least a little re-reading- if only so that when I was finishing a series, I would be going into each book with a full and up to date understanding of what had come before, rather than a handful of half-remembered plot points that would no doubt turn out to be wrong. To that end, I had about eighteen books of the riftwar set that I ended up re-reading, placing me firmly at the end of the darkwar trilogy to make a final assault on the culmination of the series as each set of books dramatically upped the stakes on those before, bringing you finally to a point where the entirety of the known universe was at stake.

That’s the other thing about Raymond E. Feist’s work, being based on a world that was- at its most fundamental level- a spin-off from Dungeons and Dragons, the story does feel very much like the records of an ongoing campaign from a pen and paper roleplaying game- evoking images in my mind of the revolving-door afterlife, in which characters of sufficient power don’t tend to stay dead for terribly long, of players so invested in the characters that they have built thatthey end up creating entire lineages of basically the same character archetype (for example Jimmy, son of Jimmy, grandson of James- all of whom are approximately the same character thrust into slightly different circumstances at different stages in their lives) and indeed the idea that “there’s an elf for that” with new tribes of elves introduced into the story as the plot created a demand for them.

But, having now finished the series, there’s a part of me that wishes it were still ongoing- even if it weren’t trying to outdo itself with bigger and bigger threats to life itself (because there’s unequivocally no room, nor any foreshadowing to give it scope to do so), there’s a part of me that still wants to be a fly on the wall in the world of Midkemia, watching the cut and thrust of politics between Roldem, Kesh, Queg, the Free Cities and the Kingdom of the Isles-  and yet, on the other hand, I’ve often held to the view that the best writers are the ones who know when to end a story rather than keep going- and all things considered, I think this is one of those cases, no matter how much I wish this were not the case.

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Whose Canon is it anyway?

Okay, we’ll start off with the proverbial elephant in the room- this is indeed my first time blogging (acknowledgement goes to people like Errol Elumir and Manda Whitney, whose creative endeavours inspired me to think that I might be able to do this myself) and I’ll admit I’m still learning- so if there are areas where I could perhaps do better, please let me know.

I’ve not picked the simplest of subjects to address for a first post either, and certainly not a subject with any definitive answers- but what I’m asking is this: What is canon, who owns it and how does that impact on the fanbase?

Canon, as I understand it, is by no means a new thing- having existed in such forms as Arthurian legend and Greek myths- and I’d even make an argument that the involvement of new storytellers in taking up these canons and adding to them could amount to what we, with our modern sensibilities, might consider fanfiction (for example, if viewed through a modern lens, would Vergil’s Aeneid qualify as trojan war/odyssey fanfiction?). Back then, Copyright law did not exist (with the first such law being passed in 1710- for those who might wonder), which meant that anyone could- in theory- participate in the expansion and evolution of the stories and indeed shared worlds in question.

But, I hear you say, all this talk about the historic nature of canon is terribly nebulous, lacking in citable evidence- and terribly boring.

BoredAdmit it, this image conveys your level of interest almost exactly.

If anything, you wanted to go into a discussion of more modern canon- perhaps the canon of the Marvel or D.C. comics universe, or that of Star Wars and its expanded universe, or something in a similar vein. These modern canons are protected by copyright, are owned by major corporations and often include elements that we wish they didn’t (or even worse, retcon themselves to remove elements that we love).

Now, hang on a moment, I expect you’ll tell me, the corporations that own these canons are out to make a profit, and without any solution definitively better than capitalism, they have every right to do so.

Nonetheless, the fact remains that often these large, sweeping canons are not all that we would want them to be, leading to situations where fans say that their “headcanon” does not, for example, include Jar-Jar Binks, or the Spider-Man should never have been part of the Avengers. Indeed, despite the fact that we in no way own the canon of the properties that inspire us, we bend them to our will in the privacy of our heads with gleeful abandon. But I would ask this, when we create our own headcanon for the stories we love, making sweeping changes in the process, is this a kneejerk reaction of anything but that, through which we admit that something is wrong but do not take the time to understand what is wrong and how it is wrong (potentially leaving those of us with more creative mindsets at risk of falling afoul of George Santayana’s famous quote, “those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it”) or do we take the time to sit down with the elements we dislike- examine their flaws, and consider how we can avoid falling into the same traps in our own, often fumbling and blundering attempts at creativity?

The other issue we often encounter with our fandoms is that of our most beloved elements not being as appealing to those who make the business decisions

BusinessmanBecause clearly this guy knows the critical portions of canon better than the rest of us.

Yes, now we come onto the matter of official retcons and universe reboots- and while I could talk about this in terms of such franchises as the Marvel comics Universe, or even in terms of Doctor Who, I’m going to discuss this in terms of Star Wars, because that’s the franchise I know best which falls into this category. I’ve been a fan of the Star Wars films since the release of the special edition films back in the nineties, these being the first time I watched them- and I discovered the novels of the Expanded Universe soon thereafter- being enthralled with the Thrawn trilogy and the X-Wing novels and reading my way through much of the rest, even the bits which were jarringly out of place, flawed or just didn’t suit the pacing I preferred of a story.

But my interest over the years became strained, first by the prequel films with their stilted dialogue in place of the banter of Han and Lando and reliance on CGI sequences doing all the storytelling. Secondly came the New Jedi Order arc of novels which, for all that they were an audacious concept and employed skilled writers to try and put their vision down on paper, the sheer number of alternating writers in that series (and all subsequent Star Wars multi-writer book projects) kept it from developing a consistent voice for me. Thirdly came some of the novels that followed after the New Jedi Order arc, which seemed to have been published more for the purpose of trying to tie together wildly divergent elements of backstory to create from all the contradictions a single story for characters such as Boba Fett, no matter how many improbably placed hoops the story had to jump through to achieve this.

This being the case, I slumped into a degree of despair and fatalism regarding Star Wars continuity- for all its promise, and for all the way it inspired me at first, it had these big glaring issues which had pushed it to the back of my priorities among the many stories and canons about which I am passionate.

But with the announcement that Disney had bought the rights and Episode 7 was being made, that changed, and with the subsequent announcement that they were basically getting rid of the expanded canon, my opinions solidified. After all, the Thrawn trilogy and the X-Wing novels had taken the films and expanded their scope in my mind, building from the foundation of one planet or system at a time into a grander canvas that saw the Rebel Alliance- indeed the New Republic as it became- forced to evolve from fighting one skirmish or battle at a time into a power capable of waging war across a broad front against an enemy that, while it had turned upon itself, still vastly outnumbered them- and I wasn’t willing to give that up, in fact I still don’t want to give that up even though I have little choice in the matter.

So, for all that J.J. Abrams’ vision seems to involve a much longer and less decisive war against the empire, and seems to replace such titans as Thrawn, Ysanne Isard, Zsinj, Natasi Daala and the Emperor Reborn with Sith inquisitors- in my headcanon, Thrawn is still out there, waiting, with the consummate understanding of strategy to overwhelm even the Sith and restore order to an increasingly chaotic galaxy, whatever the cost.