Ah, fandom. A menace for some, a relief for others, and neutral ground for others still. Transformative works and alternative interpretations as a whole are a mixed bag with mixed reviews and have a long and storied history of problems purely from the perspective of a fan, let alone someone whose involvement goes a bit deeper.
There’s a lot of talk about “canon” and “canon compliance” when it comes to fictionkin and soulbonds and it can all look a bit confusing to newcomers and people who are looking into finding their origins through modern storytelling. It’s a topic with many interpretations depending on the angle you come at it from, so let’s break that down a bit first.
What do all these terms mean?
Canon, in the common fandom sense of the term, can vary wildly enough as is. Fanlore has a wiki article dedicated to it with further links discussing the breakdown, and certain series (like Star Wars and potentially Doctor Who, TvTropes has another breakdown) have “layers” of canon applied to various iterations and tellings of the story. Oftentimes the original iteration of a series is considered to be the “most true” to a fandom, and other times it’s simply the most popular version.
However, since fictionkin are a different degree of separate from a given source material (which is essentially interchangeable as a term with “canon”) than fandom, the difference between any officially-licensed and released media and subsequent fanworks is often emphasized further. “Canon compliance”, as a result, is essentially how much one’s personal life lines up with official source material, usually the most popularly accepted as the “real version”.
We’re expected to keep our experiences separate from the source material/canon’s creator and the fandom and for good reason: people have historically been obnoxious about their story being the only “true” one and otherwise inserting their beliefs in spaces that are not suited for such things, so it’s just polite to play by fandom rules in fandom spaces. Fandom inevitably ends up with a lot more what ifs and alternate scenarios that are applicable to fictionkin, so naturally a lot of terminology was reused.
The problem with the somewhat-necessary utilization of fandom-derived terms and ideas is that the separation of “canon is what is True” and “fandom/fanon is what is Imagined” is… largely useless when you look at them both as stories with no more objective truth than how dragon and faerie legends have changed and grown over the centuries. Hell, even in fandom it can be seen as a bit ridiculous, especially when you get into disagreement with the decisions on the creator’s choices on what direction to take said source in.
Why is this important?
If you ask me, canon compliance is taken a bit too literally as the yardstick by which someone’s experiences can be measured. If you take the “coincidence with a side of possible unintentional channeling mixed with creative license” approach that I often do, diverging from a given source material is inevitable. Situations will be different, people you knew will likely be different, even certain personality traits or “important” events will vary wildly from the popular interpretation, and that can lead to ruffled feathers for some people.
What I’m getting at here is this: canon compliance is used far too much as a measure of legitimacy from all ends, and that’s a terrible idea that causes problems for everyone. Official source material is just stories. So are the subsequent stories that are spawned from them, and from a standpoint of mythology the whole “one is More Real than the others” is a bit silly. You still with me? Okay, good.
When questioning, when looking into yourself and your experiences and attempting to make sense of them, using canon as defined here only goes so far. Past a certain point, any label or specific we use is only shorthand for something much, much larger, and the more you look at things critically the more you may start to realize the story as such becomes much smaller than the concepts you’re using it to explain.
That’s where alternative sources come in as a means to add in the information omitted by the most forward-facing, accessible version of the story comes in. You wouldn’t use just one source for a research project. You wouldn’t just present things without context and understanding if you could help it (which can always be helped…), you would cross-reference and compare with other research and ideas and repeat the whole process.
Standard mythology has always spawned spinoffs. Look at the numerous myths, and their reinterpretations, and their rewrites, and all the UPG out there surrounding all of them. This goes for more than just gods, by the way. You’d be hard-pressed to find a dragon who hasn’t looked to modern fiction in some way to find answers, or unicorns, or gryphons, or elves, or a whole host of other mythkin that are often seen as “more real” than those of us whose mythological origins are more recent and not in public domain.
What isn’t mentioned a lot with that is how much comparing and contrasting is done. How much “well, this book got this right, but this myth got this thing wrong” and how nobody bats an eye so long as they don’t claim to be from that book. (Which is also silly, but not the focus here.)
The point is: it’s standard procedure to use alternative or “apocryphal” sources when questioning. It’s to establish a baseline of “is” versus “isn’t”, a way to test one’s ideas against the ideas of others to find a better common ground to point to as a descriptor.
And I think that should be standard for fictionkind as well.
See, the problem with “canon compliance” is it insinuates only one story is true. No, the words people should be looking for is only one story is copyrighted and officially endorsed by the copyright holder, most often the creator, or the person who published that one version of the story to their name. Unless you’re lucky enough to have an openminded creator, but still.
The point is, when compared to people who are looking for a way to express what they’re experiencing, no one story is more objectively true than another. Fanfiction can be just as much of a factor as the “official source”, because maybe another writer captured your impressions better than the moneymakers did. If we’re taking the standpoint of coincidence and creative license into account, there’s no need to pit one against the other.
Think of it this way: when you’re questioning, oftentimes you’ll look for similar characters or settings to see how much those things compare against each other. One source may hit more boxes in the setting department, but another may in the character department until you find a source that fits both better, a character that was cut from one version, or just settle with not knowing until something comes along that hits it. It’s still a questioning process that involves seeking out multiple options, and without even acknowledging the differences in adaptation and the wars waged over those in fandom spaces alone, fan-created content ranging from theories about canon, AUs, plot bunnies, full-fledged multi-chapter fanfic…
Doesn’t that look an awful lot like multiple takes on the same myth? Doesn’t that ring the same bells? They’re all stories, after all. Maybe we should see them all as such, with the value placed not only on creativity, but that no story can be more true than any other unless we’re comparing it to our own life, and our own life only.
This can be taken further, as well.
For some, staying within the same source bubble won’t answer all the questions and address all the concepts in an adequate manner. When you’re looking for answers, when you need to take internal feelings and externalize and understand them, oftentimes having a comparison or metaphor will make the process easier and faster for you and everyone else.
Sometimes concepts that are found in this empirically-verifiable physical world are enough. You can compare one thing that happened or one way you feel or one thing you experience to a concept that exists within a fairly mundane sense. Phantom and mental shifts are good examples of this.
Phantom shifts have a direct parallel with the phenomenon of supernumerary phantom limbs to the point the terms are often considered interchangeable in these communities, and mental shifts are simply a change in one’s mindset, perception, or mood to one that more closely and actively resembles the mindset, perception, or moods to those they’d experience if they were physically their kintype.
Other concepts aren’t so easy to find parallels for. Many of us are more used to concepts better suited to the magical, metaphysical side of things. Plenty of us are active magical practitioners, or are at least aware of concepts like energy work, spirit communication, multiple levels of reality and existence, things like that. Looking into magical practices and spiritual traditions in this world can give names to concepts and allow for explanation and understanding of more out-there, esoteric experiences.
Speaking from personal experience, actually looking into certain concepts referenced in the works of fiction I use as a point of reference for myself has given me a lot more perspective and understanding than if I had simply stuck to the hard canon interpretation and never looked any further.
(This also brings up the fact that if, during those explorations into more conventional mythology, I had come across something that fit my experience and understanding better, I would have shifted my focus and energy to looking more in that direction. Just because something has connections to an older story doesn’t make that version more true on an individual OR universal level.)
Branching out and looking for more information and interpretations is an important part of expanding your worldview and understanding. Comparing and contrasting is a vital part of testing ideas against each other. But, even with the understanding of fiction and myth being interchangeable when discussing objective reality and personal experience in many ways, it’s easy to want to stop there. It seems impossible and branching into “faking” territory if another work of contemporary fiction expresses an idea or concept or experience better than more general areas of knowledge.
But it’s really not any different from using it as a metaphor or comparison for things in this world and this life. If magical practitioners who have nothing to do with pop culture pagans or magicians can use “fictional” concepts to explain and better demonstrate an idea to help someone gain a skill or better connect with and understand their practice, if a scene from a “fictional” story can be used to share a lesson or convey a more mundane idea about concepts, emotions, interactions… why would there be a sudden exemption from using that to explain another type of personal experience, just because the explanation and point of reference for both things is contemporary works of fiction?
They aren’t mutually exclusive. They can coexist, there isn’t some rule about there being a limited amount of ideological space that can be occupied by one type of concept based on origin. That’s just stupid.
The whole point of questioning is better understanding yourself. Critical thinking is not criticism, or outright trying to prove or disprove certain ideas. It’s taking in multiple ideas and perspectives, comparing and contrasting, weighing them against each other to come to a more informed conclusion, and I think that can extend to more sources than people probably think of in more ways than they recognize, both in relation to their identity and in life overall.