Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Curious Cat Question

What do you people think of canon? Specifically genre canon. Canon of course is an iffy term but I'm using this particular appellation with regard to those work that have lasted this long in the collective memory of the genre community and writers who're still writing after x-number of years.

I ask because I know a few writers who don't think that genre canon should be regarded as such-- unless they're specifically favored. Personally, I do have high-regard for older works including books that we wouldn't give the time of day now that we've gotten older. Examples here include David Eddings, Terry Brooks, etc. The flip side of this coin are genre canon that are regarded seriously as long-lasting: (for fantasy) Michael Moorcock, Glen Cook, Fritz Leiber; (for horror) Stephen King, Ramsey Campbell, Peter Straub, etc.

So do we have to deal with earlier genre works when we read (or even write) genre stories? Explain and discuss. Your answers will be graded.

Update: After an interesting talk with dodo, ramblingsoul and adam last night in Katipunan, I thought that a correction was in order. This is because 'canon' -- the word I used to describe the subject-- has too many connotations that divert the subject matter. I needed to re-define the parameters of the question.

Thus, the books I was referring to are books that are 'older' than the current crop on the bookshelves today. So my question is: should a reader check out previous-- and more older-- works done on the same subject?

In other words, do you need to read the field?

As an example, if you were to read the latest bestselling vampire book by Charlaine Harris, (which has been made into a TV series True blood) would you also check out Suzy McKee Charnas' The Vampire Tapestry (1980) or even George R.R. Martin's Fevre Dream (1982)? If you were to read Neil Gaiman's Stardust (1998), would also you read Lord Dunsany's The King of Efland's Daughter (1924)? What do you think?


JP said...

It depends on what kind of engagement with the genre you want. If you want to read whatever's out right now, get that quick buzz off it and carry on like that, cool.

Still, I think a fair number of people who slot themselves into niches like 'fantasy fan' tend to have a mindset that will incline towards grappling with the concept of a canon, and what it might consist of. They'll read more things, some good, some bad, some indifferent and come out with theories. Also, cool.

I suspect that reading deeper into a genre's canonical works gives you a better sense of what's out there, and perhaps a better nose for originality. It may possibly help you define your own take on quality a bit better.

But eventually a canon, including your own personal canon, becomes a pedestal populated by sacred cows.And the only thing sacred cows are good for is to be slaughtered. Once you reach that stage, you're either a total crank or writing your own possible entrants to the canon, or both.

So, er, don't sweat it too much unless you mean to either crack up or write?

Pipe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pipe said...

I'll be assuming that you mean canon as stories deemed as essential bodies of works for an understanding of the genre.

First, as a reader, I don't think we need to deal with canon at all. I've never subscribed to the idea that "oh you can't consider yourself a fantasy fan if you haven't read X and Y and Z..." It might leave you a bit lost in the community if you can't relate to the stuff everybody else has read, but I don't think that affects your status as a reader at all.

As a writer, well, I think that canonical texts should only play a role in two instances: when you are seeking to improve your writing and when you are considering your target audience.

A writer who wants to better himself (whether or not he wants to be published) in a particular genre should read the stand-out works i that genre, old and new.

As for the second instance... I remember one episode of the most recent Project Runway (my wife loves it, and I usually join her for the end of the show) there was an argument between the judges and a contestant because she had done something really beautiful - which was very similar to something another (famous) designer had done in a recent show. The contestant claimed it was unfair that this be taken against her when she hadn't copied nor even seen that outfit, but the judges stood firm behind the idea that if you wanted to be a fashion designer, you needed to be aware of what others in the field had put out before.

I think this is true for authors as well if they are thinking of publishing their work - the context in which your target audience will read the work has to be considered. Just because someone else has done a similar story before you doesn't mean you should stop - but I think a writer who wants to be published owes it to his target readership to at least be aware of these other works, especially if these are prominent in their minds. If one wants to do a plot with about a leper-skeptic protagonist cast into a fantasy world, the author need not have read a single Stephen Donaldson novel, but its bad market research if he's not aware of Thomas Covenant - and market research is part of being a published author.

dodo dayao said...

Canons are borne of politics more than anything else, I think, and is hopelessly mired in the past. They're stuffy that way and should be blasphemed against and interrogated and eventually revised every several years.

this is Adam David said...

as always, tama si dodo.

mmm... dodo...