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Fans & Fantasy: Who Needs Canon?

Last week was an interesting week for me. I learned a lot about how the word "canon" is interpreted very differently by shippers and non-shippers, and I thank all of you for your input. It seems to me that we still have a long way to go in order to reach the point where we can talk about these things without a lot of emotion and animosity being raised, but that's okay... I'm just so happy that we're able to have the conversation in the first place, no matter what may come of it.

I will concede one big lesson learned for me: I won't be referring to "canon" anymore as things that *could* be happening. "Canon-compliant," maybe, or "possible," but not "canon." I thank you all for your impassioned responses, and I've learned from it. I'm still looking forward to that day when what we see between the lines is considered equally valid, no matter how much it differs. And I still think it can happen.

But we're going to take a hairpin turn this week in our discussions of canon and start talking about the opposite side of the coin: ships that deliberately flout canon, or disregard it altogether. How can shipping still be seen as shipping, when there isn't a single possibility of the characters actually making the ship real?

(Then again, people say that about a lot of ships that would comply with canon, too.)

Imagine a box of Tinkertoys. Each hub can be connected to each other in a million ways. Characters are fascinating Tinkertoys to play with. What we know of them, of their life and personality and strengths and weaknesses and likes and dislikes -- can be plugged into a thousand different scenarios, and isn't that, at its core, what each episode of a TV show is? The writers take familiar characters and place them in new pots of hot water, then watch how they struggle their way out.

Shippers sometimes do the same, just to see what will happen ... but they concentrate on the romance aspect. And it's just as fun a game to play, especially since it isn't necessarily bounded by an overarching canon.

Here are some of the beloved tropes of non-canon-compliant ships, and how some of them come to be.

Bring Me to Life - Sometimes a character is killed off before his or her potential can be realized. (If the show you're watching is Supernatural, that happens a little more than sometimes.) So it's great fun to bring them back to life and/or negate their death, then run through what scenarios they might navigate and who they might get to know. Gabriel from Supernatural is the prime example in a show full of great examples. Fans have taken it upon themselves to build him back into the story in a way that vindicated the show of bravery that ended his life -- if he'd lived, he would have surely been a fighting, wisecracking part of Team Free Will and helped to rope the devil in. And given what a foil he was for Sam and Dean in the four episodes he was actually given, one can only imagine what he'd get up to with any or all of them in this alternate reality.... actually, one can't only imagine. Once can discuss. And write. And ship.

Beloved Enemies - Just like great supercouples, great enemies have to have chemistry. It's hardly a stretch that a really good pair of antagonists would sizzle in their scenes together, but it's a bit more of a stretch that they'd end up working out their anger in the bedroom. But there are plenty of examples of loving thy enemy in canon -- Joss Whedon does this damn well, having turned Buffy and Spike from archenemies into an actual supercouple, and reprising the trope with Wesley and Lilah on Angel. They hated each other until (and sometimes for a long while after) they got naked. So why not imagine similar scenarios for Emma and Regina, or for Mohinder and Sylar? The chemistry is there. It just needs a little tweaking.

Parallel Lines - Occasionally, two characters don't even meet onscreen, or if they do it's hardly a memorable meeting. But shippers are well aware of the possiblities of storytelling, and if they see a common point or similarity in their individual character arcs, shippers imagine that there's a world in which they could come closer... even fall in love. Mycroft and Lestrade have never spoken onscreen, but they both hold a grudging respect for Sherlock's mind and little patience for his eccentricities. And so shippers think, what if they met for coffee, what if they found in each other a kindred spirit, what if they were soulmates just enduring a degree of separation? Phil Coulson and Clint Barton are both no-nonsense guys, both mission-focused and tolerant, if not enamored, of their more flamboyant fellow heroes. Both underused. And while they barely speak in canon, what if they did?

And so fandom plays, and rearranges the Tinkertoys, and discovers a ship that's not built onscreen but has a fun voyage nonetheless.

Randomizer - And then there's the ships that don't seem to make any sense. Who in their right mind thought to put peanut butter and bananas together... or a phone and a camera? It's a leap of imagination at the least. But then again, some of the craziest risks taken in the realm of canon pay off the best, and the same is true of fandom play. Plus, considering how much life seems to just roll the dice, it can be fun to roll 'em right back. Why not knock two people together and see what happens? You may be able to predict what elements react in a chemistry set, but when characters are concerned things can be a lot more complicated -- and interesting.

Now, the big question is why? And the answer lies with that huge difference between watching and interacting, that new way (though it's really not so new) of involving ourselves in different worlds. Sure, sometimes the fun of shipping is building out on what's seen, but sometimes the fun is to build whole new structures. And that can be a creative, passionate, fun pastime.

The box of Tinkertoys may show you what can be made from them, but part of play is thinking outside of that box.

What pairs do you ship, even if they could never be considered canon-compliant? Why do you bother shipping so-called "rare pairs"? Can you see the appeal of rolling the dice differently on a universe full of fascinating characters? Do your ships fall into any of these categories? Sound off in the comments section!

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