There is a tendency, among entertainment fandom these days, to treat the statements of an author about their work as somehow canonical to the work, despite those statements never being clarified within the text itself. People refer to this practice as the "Word of God".

Now, for some topics there has historically been a necessity to hang onto the author's extratextual utterances, because they are in reference to things that couldn't make it into the work even if the author wanted. I am referring specifically to queer relationships of any sort, where getting them shown in-text or on-screen has been an uphill battle, with editors and producers and studio heads fighting LGBT representation seemingly every step of the way -- such that the only way for an author to have an actual gay relationship is to imply it in the story and then jump to Twitter to clarify.

It may also be, whether with queer representation or with any other topic not likely to garner Conservative reaction, that there was simply not time enough to get all of the author's desired plot elements into the work. This is especially true with video games, where short production schedules and incomplete programming frequently force the designers to cut certain content.

Still, in a situation without either of those elements in play, it feels weird to have an author claim that this or that thing about the story is canonical, when that element was never written down. It raises the question of why, if it is so important to the text, it isn't in the text - as editors will sometimes say to authors who are explaining a passage to them out loud. It's some basic writing advice that if you want something to be part of the story, it has to be in the story.

I understand why sometimes such a thing is necessary, but even when it is necessary, it is not a good thing -- especially for stories written amidst the struggle for queer representation in the early 21st century. They above all others will suffer from the relentless march of time, when all but the text itself is lost, and there is no other source of guidance.

I would like you to picture the scene. You are walking in the grim, gritty morning, as the lone wind blows the sand down deserted streets. You kick your way through the rotted remains of a front door, into a house you've already scavenged, hoping to find a little more you missed, for there are slim pickings these days. The stairs creak ominously as you make your way to the remains of the second floor.

There in a hallway you thought unremarkable, you find a door that you had overlooked. The handle falls to pieces as you touch it, and the door swings open. Creeeeeeeaaaaaaak.

And inside, you find -- a little old library, caked in dust. No food. Maybe you could barter these books, though, people need the paper to start fires. Or they might be worth reading. You grab a book off the shelf and blow the dust off the cover. "How to cook for forty humans." Some kind of cookbook. Usesless. You stick it back on the shelf. But what's this one? Some kind of children's you flip through the pages, you are entranced by a tale of witches and wizards, goblins and giants, evil sorcerors and brave heroes. Wow, people really knew how to spin a yarn back then.

By the time you raise your head from your reading, the sun is higher in the sky. It's time to be moving on. You stick the book in your pocket, and wonder about who the author might have been, and how they had the time to write all this, as you make your way out of the house and down the street.

You need a freaking drink. So you make your way to the tavern, and after getting a bottle from the bar, you sit down by the stove, where a man with a long white beard is sitting in a creaky old chair. You've seen him sitting here all the time. He never seems to be anywhere else. You take the book out of your pocket, on the off-chance he'd know something about the time period it was written in.

And he says, "Oh! A story from my youth! I never thought I'd see it again! By the way, did you know that the wise old mentor in the story was actually gay? It never came up in the story, but the author revealed it in a tweet."

And you say, "What the heck is a tweet?"

And he says, "And now that my great secret is revealed...I can finally diiiiiiieee..." And he crumbles to dust in front of you.

So, fat lot of good he ever did, and now you have to figure out the story for yourself. Might as well get reading.

Treating the statements of an author as canonical when they speak or write about their own work is a venerable practice that long predates contemporary works created for entertainment value. Referring to the practice as the "Word of God" comes from its origins in the interpretation of sacred writings that entire faiths believe were inspired by or transcribed from the teachings or utterances of a supreme being. A clue to this can be found in the definitions of canon which include "a Church decree or law" and "a collection or list of sacred books accepted as genuine". Is it preposterous to apply the same kind of validation to a script of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" as you would to a book of The Holy Bible? Or is going to the source when in doubt merely a cultural consistency?

Were holy texts actually the literal word of a god, the only way to know what they truly meant would be to ask the Creator yourself, and heaven knows plenty have made claims of doing so and getting an answer. Thing is, they're not. They were written by human beings, usually centuries ago, often in some now-dead language, and then translated to another language by other human beings, then translated again by yet another... each time having their original meaning slightly diluted, modified, obscured, or otherwise corrupted from the original text (Your Faith May Vary™). In many cases, the changes weren't simply artifacts of translation, but intentional modifications made for the purposes of social control and protecting the power and authority of a particular church, or sect, or group of priests, or a king, or whatever.

So when scholars studying these words arrive upon some passage that is inscrutable or vague, and the questions of "what the FOLK does this even mean?" arise, as they always do, it becomes more than simply a matter of curiosity as to whether the author meant for the characters to fancy one another in a particular way. It can become a rather more desperate matter of affirming and validating specific tenets of an entire cult around which, in their view, the entire human race must adhere or face eternal damnation. In such situations, scholars study earlier translations and any other historical evidence available for clues, hoping to ascertain the true and seemingly hidden meanings. Some people spend their entire lives doing this, a preoccupation dating back centuries, while others spend their lives trying to stop them from doing it. Rather more obsessive than fandom in my view.

Hang on, there's more. Did you know that this sort of scholarly pursuit of truth "outside the text" is also common in legal contexts? To take one example, let's consider The Constitution of the United States of America and the Amendments to the Constitution of the United States of America. You've heard of The Federalist Papers, right? It's some quaint little thing the founding fathers used to expound upon their ideas and intentions, stuff that just didn't get into any of the drafts that were written of the Constitution. There's all sorts of other writings they left behind too, some even conflicting with each other — what fun! And today there are thousands of people in the United States who in complete seriousness put on black robes and sit on high benches to pass judgment about such matters — nine of them in particular have the last word when it comes to answering "WTF?" questions about what's written inside the text of this document. In fact, there's a hot trend among the current gang of nine to actually ignore the decided precedent established by hundreds of years of decisions made by earlier members of their gang, and instead imagine what the original authors of the texts in question actually meant by cherry-picking primarily from things they wrote outside the text, or even things the authors allegedly read (!?) that were written by other people. If you think that takes big balls, sometimes they'll whip out some new legal theory that was cooked up by partisan hacks who are bribing them to rule in their favor on bullshit cases whipped up in state courts for the express purpose of overturning existing federal case law. But, uh, I digress.

These are just two of the cultural drivers behind the tendency within entertainment fandom to seek knowledge that can't be clearly derived from the text. I'm not seeking to argue that it's good or ideal, I'm just making the point that it's not surprising or even the slightest bit unusual. There are many more examples which relate to other kinds of historical scholarship on literature, both for fiction and non-fiction. This pursuit has been going on ever since the first person started writing things down, and it's never going to stop because no matter how much you struggle to make yourself clearly understood in writing, the readers just can't climb inside your head and see your vision perfectly the way you do. Indeed, your inability to articulate that vision the way you intended may not be because the suits didn't like it, or the studio forced you to cut 20 minutes because it was "too long", or it would face conservative backlash, or upset the fan base, or (insert other valid reasons here), but due to it not being shot full of holes in front of you before you published it. No matter how hard you try to think of everything, you almost never do. In such cases it becomes paramount that you add to the incomplete or poorly-expressed stuff you already put in writing to prevent your words from being misinterpreted by some smartass who then pronounces to the world that since your words made their brains go "thud", you're obviously liberal, gay, socialist, racist, ableist, homophobic, xenophobic, misogynistic, misanthropic, or some other myopic pejorative. Or, in less abusive terms, they have some agenda to push like heteronormativity and they're using your words to drive it when that ain't what you had in mind.

The truth is unusually complicated these days because a surprisingly large minority of folks refuse to accept any reality that disagrees with their worldview. Telling it like it is becomes challenging when there are other people who want that story to be received and understood through their personal lens. Going to the source outside the text is a way of cutting these people off from their mission drive to hijack the message and make it serve their ends. Sometimes those ends are good, and sometimes they're evil. When the source is disputed and no authority exists or is recognized as a representative of the source, that's when things can get really unpleasant. Many wars throughout history have been fought over this issue, and countless hordes have died asserting or defending one point of view over another. Who's right? Only the winner decides how history is written. Unless you're, like, Howard Zinn or something.

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