Log in

No account? Create an account
entries friends calendar profile AT: Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn Previous Previous Next Next
An Essay: Canon, Canon-Plausibility, and Deduction - Wemyss's Appalling Hobby:
From the Party Guilty of Committing 'Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn'
An Essay: Canon, Canon-Plausibility, and Deduction

Today, I wish to address canon, fanon, reasonable deductions, and irrational notions.


Let us begin by defining our terms.  By canon, I mean, solely, the books.  Not the films, not the author’s extraneous statements outwith the pages of the books, not all the rest of it: the books.  (I am, in a way, fortunate in that I no longer see the films, as I am boycotting Mr Rickman’s work.  As a result, I at least do not have my imagination contaminated by poor casting choices, odd foreigners directing the damn things, dodgily uncanonical elements dreamt up by Hollywood, and the really unfortunate way in which Steve Kloves and the Warner Bros Suit in Charge of Grrl Power have ruined Miss Watson as an actress and left her forever tagged with the fatal label of ‘difficult’.  Had it All Been Up to Me, the franchise should have been helmed by Terry Gilliam, after all, with David Warner as Voldemort, screen time for Andromeda and Ted Tonks – Penelope Keith and Geoffrey Palmer, with Younger Andromeda, in flashback, played by Emma Chambers – Dolores Umbridge portrayed, all sugar and cyanide, by Patricia Routledge, and Kathy Staff – Nora Batty, to the Yanks – as Nev’s Gran.  But that’s a digression.)  In any event, when I say canon, I mean, simply, the books.


Now: what method shall we apply?  You know, fanfiction was once a place for fun and intellectual amusement: the Baker Street Irregulars and Mgr Knox, Wilfred Scott-Giles on the Wimsey family, that sort of thing.  That is my method: take canon, apply to it learning, logic, discernment, and a knowledge of the period, and see what can be deduced from it in a way that is most consistent with the Sacred Texts. 


As it happens, if one does that, one finds a remarkably clear and distinct line between fanfic that is plausible in relation to canon, and fanfic that is not, and one can derive certain principles by which to distinguish the two – in advance, actually.


What, though, do I mean when I say, ‘apply to canon learning, logic, discernment, and a knowledge of the period, and see what can be deduced’ in a way consistent with the source materials?  Well, perhaps an example may suffice.


I’m rather fond of alternate history.  Most fanfic ‘AU’ pieces are more properly ‘AH’, alternate histories.  Now, applying some learning and discernment, including, I wish to note, some common principles of criticism, allows one to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate allohistories within the Potterverse.  Allohistorians – writers of AH – hew to a principle that is as sacred to them as ‘fair play’ is to the members of the Detection Club: there should be a single POD, ‘Point of Divergence’ (and, it may be added, as a subsidiary issue, second-order concerns want to be addressed, i.e., a temporary change may be effected by the POD, but history may in fact eventually revert to something almost indistinguishable from our own: Hitler gives the go-ahead for Operation Sea-Lion, but the Royal Navy and the RAF reduce the successful landing forces to a mere handful who are swiftly despatched on the beaches and in the fields, and the end result is very much as if Hitler had chosen, as in our history he did choose, not to invade at all).  There are uncountable numbers of AU/AH Potterfics that are unsuccessful; there are a few that work.  The former, it turns out, do not have a single POD and do not show any awareness of the contingent nature of history, the momentum of forces and trends, and the concept of the second-order AH; rather, they clearly reflect, sometimes explicitly in their summaries – or ‘summerys’ – an origin consisting of ‘what if [which is where good AH begins – and ends, with a single POD] AND what if then AND ooooh, OMG!squee!yeah! AND ALSO THEN THE OTHER AND THEN AND THEN AND THEN!!``!!ELEVENTY-ONE!1!`!!’…..  The result is some puerile effusion in which the only tenuous links to the canon that remain, are the names and physical descriptions – and perhaps not even that – of the characters.  By contrast, successful Potterverse AH (AU) fiction is premised upon a single POD: ‘what if the Wand Order Problem had been in fact the order in which the Potters died, Lily first and then James, sacrificing himself for Harry’, say.  It then goes on to treat this ‘what if’ logically: Sirius and Peter, for example, would still face off in the street, and Sirius be sent to Azkaban, Peter escaping as Wormtail, because the change in the order of the Potters’s deaths would not, logically, affect this; however, with Harry’s protection being bound to James’s blood, not Lily’s, Harry would have been sent to live, not with the Dursleys, but with one of the Potter family’s innumerable pureblood connexions.  Well, you see the point.


Or, again, let’s look at Wizarding history and see what common sense tells us.  Oddly, the classic ‘anachronism’ example often cited, that of pre-17th C European Wizards smoking pipes, may not be anachronistic: there’s no canonical reason European Wizards mightn’t have discovered America long before European Muggles did, and they were certainly in sub-Saharan Africa centuries before any other Europeans, as witness the observations made of the erumpent in its natural habitat well before the Muggle Portuguese penetrated that far….  Yet consider how much virtual ink would be saved if common sense were applied to that hardy perennial in Potterfic, Titles and Honours.  As we’ll discuss further below, getting it right is rare, and all the more precious for that rarity – a matter of what the PPE types call ‘scarcity value’, I gather.  Or, again, consider all the wasted discussion (and fictional plot points) regarding Healers as being different to Mediwizards: down scalpels and take up Occam’s Razor, apply a bit of British knowledge, and it becomes commonsensical and evident that these are the Wizarding equivalents to the British distinction between surgeons and GPs.


Or yet further, here’s a case where ‘learning, knowledge, and discernment’ really do want to play more of a role.  At least in part, JKR is writing a shocker, a thriller, a detective story.  As such, she confronts a problem that today’s detective writers face and that the Golden Age writers never dreamt of.  To ‘play fair’ and to observe the Detection Club Rules, the author must expect something of the reader just as the reader is entitled to expect that clues will not be withheld, namely, a commonality of ethics.  It is rather difficult to have a suspect, who later turns out to be one of the innocent characters, act suspiciously and seem the sort who could be the murderer, if the reader and the author do not inhabit the same moral universe: the misdirection of making the innocent seem guilty and the guilty, innocent, cannot be accomplished if the reader does not recognise the same things as being wrong, dubious, and evil that the author so recognises.  There is an appalling, a stultifying, amount of Potterverse criticism and of Potterfic that is simply a complete inversion and transvaluation of all the values implicit in canon (wherefore the tiresome trope of ‘yay! Good!Voldie and Evol!Dumbles!’). 


As to knowledge of the period … well, we’ll see plenty of that as we apply our principles.


Let’s do.




What is canon (again, without bothering with what JKR does in her own life or says in interviews): Harry at least has a godfather, and that godfather seems to understand the concept.  When Mungo Bonham founded a hospital, he named it, in the best mediaeval tradition, for himself and his name-saint, calling it St Mungo’s (not, alas, ‘S Mungo’s’ – sorry, tree_and_leaf, I know it’s annoying to the scholarly amongst us): it is not, note, the Royal Aesculapian Hospital or anything of the sort.  The Hufflepuff House Ghost is a brother of an RC religious order.  Even ‘pureblood’ Wizards use the names of the Christian deity in casual oaths.

What is also canon: Wizards also on occasion – far less frequent occasions than fanfic would suggest – swear ‘by Merlin’; also, the one funeral scene we have witnessed in canon shows no religious elements.

What is canon-compliant or plausibly deduced from canon: It is plausible and indeed probable that Wizarding Britain, like its Muggle counterpart, is a vestigially Christian, post-Christian society.  Albus’s funeral is not a religious rite, in any case, but a secular, quasi-state occasion (although here the Wizarding world does seem not to have an Established Church template to use on what is in essence a national ceremony).  For a Wizard to say, ‘now that was a brilliant Quidditch match, b’Merlin’ need no more mean ‘I worship Merlin’ than an Edwardian Muggle’s saying, ‘now that was what I call a proper Test match, b’Jove’ meant that he worshipped the Roman pantheon.

It is also plausible in the current state of canon that, just as technology – and governance, and indeed education – in the Wizarding world seems rather pre-War, there could be rather more religious observance in Wizard-dom than in contemporary Muggle Britain.  Certainly, there is no canon against this.

What is not canon-compliant or plausible – indeed, is canon-rape (and pillage and plunder): All this sodding, clamant, proselytising fanfic ‘paganism’ with its intellectually ludicrous fakelore: ‘sky-clad handfastings’ and ‘so-mote-it-be’s and associated rubbish.  Not only is there no warrant in canon for it, it is inconsistent with baptisms, godparents, ghostly friars, and hospitals named for saints, all of which are canon.




What is canon: The government is composed of a Ministry and a Minister as its head, comprising the executive, and of the Wizengamot as the legislative power.  The Wizengamot appears to be unicameral – so far as we currently know.  The Minister has means of communication with the (Muggle) PM, and contrariwise.  The Minister has the power to grant certain honours, such as the Order of Merlin.

What is perhaps canon: There may be no independent judiciary; however, the hearing at which Harry defended his usage of underaged magic was rather likely an administrative hearing than an actual judicial proceeding, and the ‘trials’ of captured Death Eaters run by Barty Crouch the Elder may have been extra-judicial as a wartime and national security measure. 

What is known to be unknown: We do not know if there are hereditaries (or for that matter lords spiritual or any ex officio members of any description) in the Wizengamot.  We are not certain how many members of the (Muggle) Privy Council are aware of the existence of the Wizarding World, or whether the Sovereign is aware: however, as successive PMs, at least, are informed, there are necessarily some Privy Councillors aware of the matter, unless, which canon does not say, they are obliviated after leaving office.  (At the time that Fudge contacted the Muggle PM regarding the second rise of Voldemort, there would have been three former PMs yet alive.)  We do not know what role or duties attach to the Supreme Mugwump or to the Chief Warlock.

What is canon-compliant or plausibly deduced from canon: It is plausible that the Ministry is, as a matter of constitutional theory, subject to the Crown; certainly, the Minister acts as a first minister of a devolved population, arguably not quite as a full head of government would act and most certainly not as a head of state would do.  Particularly in light of the contacts with successive PMs and in the context of the granting of honours, it is rather more likely than not that the Sovereign is aware of the existence of the Wizarding world and of the Wizengamot and the successive ministries that act in the name of the Crown (note also that the Statute of Secrecy antedates the end of the Royal Veto, which might get interesting).  It is also plausible that the franchise is restricted and corrupt, as was the Muggle franchise in 1692; jobbery is almost canon.

What is not canon-compliant or plausible – indeed, is canon-rape (and pillage and plunder): A ‘republic’ of magic’ (who, then, is the head of state?  Because it isn’t Fudge or Scrimmy); direct, American-presidential-style election of the Minister (‘Vote for Fudge!’) – the presence of the Wizengamot and a Minister, in a British-authored book, compels the conclusion that the system is at least in theory parliamentary, however restricted the franchise; general un-Britishness.




What is canon: There are Healers and Mediwizards.  Hogwarts has a hospital wing; Mungo’s is the primary hospital for the whole of British Wizard-dom, if not indeed the only one.  Poppy Pomfrey is a Mediwitch.  She diagnoses, prescribes, and treats, all on her own.

What is canon-compliant or plausibly deduced from canon:  There are no nurses: there are only Healers and Mediwitches.  Poppy may be a ‘Mediwitch’ but she is not simply the school’s ‘Matron’: she engages in what can only be regarded as actual doctoring.  It is likely that the way in which Healers are different to Mediwitches mirrors the British distinction between surgeons and other medicos.  In light of the want of a Wizarding university in present canon, it is quite likely that Mungo’s is a teaching hospital.  In light of the general, rather backwards, tenor of Wizarding society, I’d not be surprised if Hogwarts and Mungo’s had the right to elect members to the Wizengamot, similar to the universities before 1950.

What is not canon-compliant or plausible – indeed, is canon-rape (and pillage and plunder): Mediwitches as ‘mere’ (‘mere’, mind you!  The notion is inane: nothing ‘mere’ about ’em, bless ’em) nurses.




What is canon: There is one titled personage in canon: the Bloody Baron (all barons were robber barons in origin, and romantic notions be damned).  Famous Wizard Card or not, Lord Stoddard Withers is not canon – unless he’s in Fabulous Beasts, and I think he is not.  The OM is not a title, it is an honour, and it confers nothing save post-nominal letters on the recipient.  The Wizengamot and the Ministry confer no other honours than the OM.  The two recorded knightly characters I can recall are Sir Nick and his enemy, Sir Patrick Delaney-Podmore.

What is canon-compliant or plausibly deduced from canon:  Barons, however bloody, are Muggle-borns, or ‘halfbloods’.  Yes, even the Slytherin House Ghost.  The only possible alternative is that the Bloody Baron inherited from a Squib or Muggle predecessor, in the later of which cases we’re back to being ‘halfbloods’.  Sir Nicholas and Sir Patrick could be anything; there’s no reason a Wizard shouldn’t get a K.  If you take Lord Stod Withers as canon, he’s clearly Muggle-born, the younger son of a peer, and there seem to be – it is suggested in HBP that there isn’t, although the source is a character, not the author – there seem to be no Wizarding peers.

What is not canon-compliant or plausible – indeed, is canon-rape (and pillage and plunder): A Wizarding peerage, per se.  Rubbish about peerages and peers, such as an essay I saw a month ago arguing that, although he had a few extreme notions, Lucius Malfoy was a perfect example of nobility – in both senses.  (The writer alleged affiliation with the Continental aristocracy, such as it is; I can only say that this reminded me to send my contribution to the Better Off Out people.)  The ghastly innumerable instances of misapplied titles and forms of address that are regarded as proper and circulated as ‘beta’ advice in all the mostly horrid fics that grant some title or titles to Potterverse characters.  If you must write this snob-stuff, at least get it sodding right.


That should do to be going on with; it at least illustrates the technique (‘you know my methods, Watson’).  I’ll have more in due course.

Tags: , , , , ,

84 comments or Leave a comment
Page 1 of 2
[1] [2]
snorkackcatcher From: snorkackcatcher Date: May 14th, 2007 12:01 am (UTC) (Link)
Thank you for some timely common sense. :) I might quibble over a few points (e.g. I don't see why an ambitious pure-blood couldn't have got themselves made a Baron, not just a knight) but in general I completely agree with you about the sorts of approaches that determine if something is canon-plausible or not.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: May 14th, 2007 02:19 pm (UTC) (Link)

Well, you may be right.

Although it would I suppose rather want to be the FIRST baron who wangled either a barony by writ or lobbied successfully for a peerage in, ah, other ways....

thomasvye From: thomasvye Date: May 14th, 2007 12:09 am (UTC) (Link)
I'd just say that if, in making Mediwitches and Healers two distinct classes, JKRowling did intend to mirror the division between the surgeons and the physicians, then she did mean there to be a considerable difference, with real social and academic implications for the practioner concerned (depending on what era of history was drawn on, of course; pre 1745, broadly).
wemyss From: wemyss Date: May 14th, 2007 02:32 pm (UTC) (Link)


Although even now the distinction exists, does it not, as witness the Apothecaries Act 1815 and All That.
weselan From: weselan Date: May 14th, 2007 12:22 am (UTC) (Link)
*applauds* Great work :)
wemyss From: wemyss Date: May 14th, 2007 02:34 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thank you.

You're very kind to say so.
loopily From: loopily Date: May 14th, 2007 12:26 am (UTC) (Link)
Thank you for such a well-structured, pointed essay as well as a fantastic description of Alternate Histories (one of my favourite genres) in reference to fandom.
I feel I'll be referring several of my American friends to here in the future as it makes excellent points about several aspects of British culture that are not always covered or familiar to some of us.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: May 14th, 2007 02:43 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thank you.

And feel free to visit the community that exists precisely to answer questions about 'aspects of British culture that are not always covered or familiar to some of us', britpickery.
tudorpot From: tudorpot Date: May 14th, 2007 01:11 am (UTC) (Link)
(‘mere’, mind you! The notion is inane: nothing ‘mere’ about ’em, bless ’em) nurses. Thanks for that- a nurse.
An interesting essay, I will be putting it in my memories.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: May 14th, 2007 02:46 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thank you.

Glad to have been of use.
vihm From: vihm Date: May 14th, 2007 03:06 am (UTC) (Link)
Thank you for a sensible point of view. It can be quite tiring to wade through a story that has been riddled with uncountable misconceptions and clumsy canon. Now, if only authors would take the time to read this before they type :)
wemyss From: wemyss Date: May 14th, 2007 02:49 pm (UTC) (Link)

Why. thank you.

As to your wish, one can but hope.
tunxeh From: tunxeh Date: May 14th, 2007 03:53 am (UTC) (Link)
I like your analysis — very detailed and I think very accurate.

The two recorded knightly characters I can recall are Sir Nick and his enemy, Sir Patrick Delaney-Podmore.

If paintings count, Sir Cadogan also. I think that's it, though.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: May 14th, 2007 02:52 pm (UTC) (Link)

Forget me, wouldst thou, varlet? Fie!

You're quite right, I DID forget yon valiant knight.

azdak From: azdak Date: May 14th, 2007 05:54 am (UTC) (Link)
This is a most enjoyable rant and I look forward to reading the forthcoming attractions. May I ask what the Oxford connection is (since you mention PPE)?
wemyss From: wemyss Date: May 14th, 2007 02:56 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thank you. Glad to have amused and diverted.

As for yr question, I've simply a fondness for the maddening old place ('and what a whole it is'), if not a corresponding fondness for PPE sorts (SpAds in Training, most of 'em).
(Deleted comment)
sollersuk From: sollersuk Date: May 14th, 2007 12:33 pm (UTC) (Link)
If, as seems lilely from the name, the Wizenagemot reflects the Witenagemot/Witan, then it would be non-elected and consist of the most powerful wizards and/or those considered to be the most influential, and separation of powers is something that would not occur to the wizarding world.
sgt_majorette From: sgt_majorette Date: May 14th, 2007 08:48 am (UTC) (Link)

Hey! Teacher! Leave Them Kids Alone!

The kind of person who writes the kind of "fanfic" that makes your skin crawl is the kind of kid, who, in my young days, would have written poetry which, electric typewriters being bleeding-edge technology, they would have scrawled in marble notebooks and hidden under their mattresses thus sparing themselves all this abuse.

The kind of person who reads your rants and takes them to heart would have done the research in the first place.

Auntie's Tiny Precious had a dream wherein it was she and not Hermione who was at the lake's edge with Harry. I asked her to write it down, but all she would commit to print was a little doggerel version which she will never forgive me for blogging; had she been sixteen and not six, she would have spit up her whiny, sloppy, ignorant, ungrammatical adolescent heart all over the keyboard and Auntie would have been very mean to her.

I am disgruntled because BBC-America is showing Weakest Link at the time I'm used to watching The Hyacinth Show. Maybe Patricia Routledge is ill? By the way, what's the deal with referring to/addressing a relative as "Our Tom"? Regional or class?
wemyss From: wemyss Date: May 14th, 2007 03:06 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thank you, m'dear.

As to your query, I'll put it up at britpickery so that we can ALL argue it. (My own answer is, 'both'.)
themolesmother From: themolesmother Date: May 14th, 2007 08:58 am (UTC) (Link)
By canon, I mean, solely, the books. Not the films, not the author’s extraneous statements outwith the pages of the books, not all the rest of it: the books.

Good point. Too many people seem to think that you have to be up with every throaway statement JKR ever made in order to be canon compliant. The world is what she actually put in the books. It's the same with Tolkein. The LOTR films may be good but they are not canon - too much fiddling around with characters and storylines.

An excellent essay, full of sound common sense. Looking forward to reading more.

wemyss From: wemyss Date: May 14th, 2007 03:08 pm (UTC) (Link)


You're too kind.
lokifan From: lokifan Date: May 14th, 2007 09:12 am (UTC) (Link)
Thanks so much for pointing out the apparent lack of franchise in the books, "vote for x" stories irritate me. My guess has always been that the Wizengamot elects the Minister from among its members. The AU/AH distinction is very interesting, I hadn't known about it before. A very intelligent rant.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: May 14th, 2007 03:12 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thank you, you're truly kind to say so.

It wd be an interesting exercise in the sociology of fandom to see how one's background - even in reading: AH, detective stories, being a Baker Street Irregular, or what have you - correlates to one's fanfic preferences, style, and attitudes and approach.
tree_and_leaf From: tree_and_leaf Date: May 14th, 2007 09:32 am (UTC) (Link)
Jolly good stuff.

Further evidence for a non-established religion in the Wizarding World is the general lack of any sort of chapel at Hogwarts; but that doesn't allow any conclusions about the religious sentiment of the populace as a whole. Dumbledore never really struck me as having, personally, much of a theology other than a belief in the pwoer of love (not very systematic, but you might do a lot worse).

As far as paganism goes, I have a vague vision of some of the sillier Muggleborns assuming the pagan heritage of the wizarding world exists and is important, and making thorough idiots of themselves by attempting to revive the same, ineptly and to the general incredulity of the wizardborn. It might be rather difficult to do without being suspected of a gratuitous attack on Wicca, though.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: May 14th, 2007 03:16 pm (UTC) (Link)

Snort. Brilliant. But what's gratuitous about it?

Thanks, love.
tree_and_leaf From: tree_and_leaf Date: May 14th, 2007 09:36 am (UTC) (Link)
helmed by Terry Gilliam,

Oh please, no. I've seen Jabberwocky.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: May 14th, 2007 03:20 pm (UTC) (Link)

Yes, but Jo wanted him; WB didn't.

Besides, I'm very fond of Time Bandits AND Baron Munch.
goddlefrood From: goddlefrood Date: May 14th, 2007 10:02 am (UTC) (Link)

Some Random Comments from the Bench

Terry Gilliam
An odd choice for one who professes to thinly attack our transatlantic cousins, if I'm not mistaken, Mr. Gilliam being ultimately of the brethren himself, as 'twere.

I can agree with your sentiments on the films as a whole though, mostly diabolical tripe, IMNSVHO. I never read fanfiction so can make no really helpful comments there except to say I purposely never read fanfiction.

... the hearing at which Harry defended his usage of underaged magic was rather likely an administrative hearing than an actual judicial proceeding.

I too refer to these as proceedings, but they were rather more than administrative in nature, too tedious to go into again, but there is an essay at the community from which this was linked with a rather long analysis of that proceeding that I wrote not long ago, if interested.

Coincidentally, or perhaps not, I have recently crticised the whole Monarchical system type theories, which are based on miscomprehension of the titles in canon, as far as I can discern, so IOW, I agree on that matter. Notwithstanding that, I would add that I consider some, but not all, statements made by Ms. Rowling in interviews and elsewhere (particularly her own site) to be canon.

Although, to conclude, many theories, analyses and fanfics are rather septic, if you understand my meaning.

wemyss From: wemyss Date: May 15th, 2007 02:44 pm (UTC) (Link)

And yet, m'Lud....

I had indeed seen yr essay, and read it with pleasure and profit.

To clarify, I wd suggest that the proceeding in question is analgous to an ASBO proceeding, and specifically to the Scots method, in which a Children's Hearing is the vehicle for resolving the charge - unless the Fiscal finds the matter so serious that he refers it to the Sheriff Court or indeed the High Court of Justiciary, which is more or less what Fudge managed to arrange at the last moment.

Thank you for assisting me in clarifying my thoughts, and for so kindly and closely reading the matter.
84 comments or Leave a comment
Page 1 of 2
[1] [2]