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Fan dissonance

Bemoaning the dissonance between canon and fanon.

You’ve finished up with a series. Be it a final book, a resounding last season, or the close to a decade-long franchise saga. All things must end, and that includes media. But for many fans (myself included), the end never quite comes. The life of a fictional world can be extended, preserved, and even … rearranged. Through foul necromancy and dark magic, fiction can take on a new life — a cursed life. To the uninitiated, this is known as fanfiction.

But what fanfiction giveth, it also taketh away. Anything that subverts the natural order must extract a price. And the price of fanfiction is dissonance.

We’ve all had that moment where we come back to an original text after ruthlessly devouring non-canon content for months on end, only to find that things aren’t exactly as we remember them. Maybe a ship isn’t quite as explicit as you recall, it could be that there never was a coffee shop AU in the first book, or perhaps, much to your horror, not everyone is gay. This is what happens when authorial intent comes crashing into the world of fanon.

It’s a disappointing and often drearily nostalgic process, which forces a reader to audit their mental archives and bring them in line with what’s ‘canon.’ But this is an ongoing struggle. Eventually you’ll reread or rewatch, and the cycle will begin anew once more. This is the plight of fan dissonance. So here are some tips to separate fiction from different fiction.

  1. If you remember someone as queer, that’s probably from fanfiction.
  2. If a plot point either makes too much or too little sense, that’s probably from fanfiction.
  3. If you remember a side character having more dialogue, that’s probably from fanfiction.
  4. If you thought the protagonist had any sort of common sense, that’s probably from fanfiction.

But dissonance isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it only reinforces the value of fan made content. If non-authorial texts have the power to complement or even supplant authorial texts, then we really need to assess the value of canon itself. Sometimes the author isn’t the best judge of what’s best for their world. While I’m not fully convinced the author is dead, they’re definitely asleep at the wheel at the best of times. For those who know it, fanfiction has always been a mixed bag. For every 500k modern AU there’s a poorly spelt, 10k power fantasy. But that’s what happens when there are zero barriers to entry. It may feel weird to revisit a text with false memories, but that dissonance isn’t so bad. After all, all it really means is that someone did it better.

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