This question: Can any new information be canon if J.R.R. Tolkien is dead?

Led me to ask this question: Who can determine what is 'canon'

Which brought up an interesting point. In many cases what is or isn't canon is a matter of public opinion, often argued over, with no definitive, objective answer.

I do not think we are fit to give calls such as this. SE sites are designed to answer questions with the answer, not debate points. I point to the fact that Are any Sci-Fi video games considered canon? was closed for nearly this very reason.

Canon is a tricky and often loaded term. I think that it often lands in the field of something we are not fit to give THE answer to, and therefor not fit for this forum.


4 Answers 4


For a given work, there are typically a few definitions of what might be considered canon — usually there's a single one, but there tend to be more in interesting cases. For example, the Tolkien question leads to discussing Christopher Tolkien's participation. Whether his publications are canon are not is a matter of opinion, but calling for explanations based on an analysis of his contribution is a typical example of “good subjective” question.

Asking for a definition of canon in general is another matter. Each case is different, so there isn't much to say beyond the dictionary definition — unless someone wants to affirm their arbitrary rule or pile on anecdotes, both of which would be prime examples of “bad subjective”.

  • Understandable, almost as soon as I asked it, I realized it was better for here.
    – Ashterothi
    Commented Jul 9, 2012 at 23:13
  • I still stand that in many cases what is canon is both indeterminate and led by mob mentality. It is a word that gets thrown around a lot by people in order to attempt to give what they say weight, but doesn't actually mean anything. Even this article en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canon_(fiction) shows the trouble with trying to pin down Canon
    – Ashterothi
    Commented Jul 9, 2012 at 23:19

To summarize the answer I gave to Who can determine what is 'canon' before it got closed - I think canon in some cases is subjective but there are many notable exclusions to that.

In cases where only one author has written books in a world, canon is fairly straight-forward - did it appear in that author's writings? Canon for the Culture novels by Iain M. Banks is fairly clear cut. Same with Alistair Reynolds' books or Modesitt Jr.

Harry Potter is an interesting case as although only Rowling has written in that world, her copious use of Word of God and how it affects canon can be portrayed as a matter of opinion. In general she doesn't contradict her own writings though.

More interesting cases include those I mentioned in my answer, in a spectrum of roughly most straightforward to least:

  • Tolkien - the most common definition of his canon is his work, plus Christopher Tolkien's publications. This was Tolkien's intention in setting up the estate, so I'd argue that it would include those, but I can also see how someone can argue that only Tolkien's actual writings apply.
  • Adams - And Another Thing..., although endorsed by Adams' wife, wasn't explicitly set up by Adams (it was initiated by the publisher with the estate's approval) so opinion definitely comes into it here.
  • Conan - Not particularly familiar as to what the relevant opinions are here, but I can easily see some authors/portrayals being considered canon to the exclusion of others.
  • Star Trek - Covered elsewhere, but their concept of canon definitely has degrees.
  • Star Wars - This apparently has a crazy number of degrees of "canon-ness".

All through that spectrum opinion comes into it. In this case, it really does come down to the individual fan - I may insist that only the films are canon for Star Wars, because they were what Lucas intended. And that Greedo shot first because of that belief. And that's going to differ from probably every other person in the world. But it's a valid opinion given the definition of "canon".


This question didn't even come up for any of the Star Trek ones of a similar nature.

So I would venture to say that, if you can cite a legitimate source (such as a quote by the creator(s) / author(s) / current producers), it's a valid question that has a real answer. Just as long as it doesn't devolve into opinions.

  • 3
    Not to mention many many questions on whether various works are canon in their universes (HP, Alien, Smallville, etc etc etc) - scifi.stackexchange.com/search?q=canon.
    – dlanod
    Commented Jul 9, 2012 at 23:23
  • @dlanod I guess you can see where I spend all my time, those didn't even cross my mind =P
    – Izkata
    Commented Jul 9, 2012 at 23:26

I'm going to second what Gilles said.

Our (SFF) function visavi canon should be like that of the US Supreme Court.

We can determine if something follows existing law, but we can not establish new law (canon).

  • If a specific universe has (well/somewhat) defined canon rules, defined by some entity associated with that universe, then questions on whether something follows those canon rules are within scope.

  • If a specific universe has no canon rules defined officially, but well-defined rules defined unofficially and somewhat established (I'm thinking Lovecraft here), then questions answerable by "If you take this version of canon, X; else, Y" are within scope. BUT, questions aimed at deciding which of canon versions are "more correct" are not.

    Tolkien seems like a good example of this - AFAIK nobody officially said whether CT's work is or isn't canon, but questions that can be answered in the format of "if you assume JRRT-only canon, X and if you assume CT-inclusive canon, Y" are in scope.

    OTOH, "Is CT canon" is not in scope.

  • If a specific universe has no defined/agreed upon canon rules whatsoever, then any canon discussion is likely to devolve into subjectivity. I can see SOME excellent question dealing with such as being in scope (dealing with classification of canons) but most won't be.

    IMHO, a good example of a rare in-scope question would be (re-using Tolkien) "What are the main changes/additions introduced into JRRT's Arda universe by Christopher Tolkien's works"?

  • I really like this answer. Thanks!
    – Ashterothi
    Commented Jul 10, 2012 at 14:45

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