Fanon vs. Canon: The Truth
written by Gileswench
We all know Buffy's real name is Elizabeth. And Giles hated his father. And Xander's parents beat him up. And Willow's parents are never, ever around. And everybody Calls Cordelia 'Delia' when they want to be on her good side. And Giles considers himself as a parent to every Scooby... except the one who is his true love. Right?
Well...maybe not so right.
These concepts, and quite a few others that crop up regularly in fanfic are not actually canon, but what we call fanon: concepts the fandom seems to have agreed upon whether or not the canon supports them. Some can be supported - at least in part - by canon, others are directly contradicted.
There's nothing wrong with using fanon, but it's a good idea to at least know that you're doing it.
So, what common fanfic concepts are fanon and which are canon? I have a partial list that should help you figure out if you're using fanon without realizing it, and help you identify further fanon in the future.
Let's start with an easy one: Buffy's real name is Elizabeth.
It's easy to see how this one got started, and why it has such staying power. Buffy is a derivative of Elizabeth, and is not commonly given as a proper name. But there has been evidence to contradict the idea that Buffy's name is anything but Buffy from the very first episode, Welcome To The Hellmouth.
When Principal Flutie is discussing her record at Hemery High with Buffy, he not only calls her Buffy throughout the interview, he also appears to read the name Buffy off her permanent records. School records are always written with the student's legal given name, and Buffy is not a common nickname for Elizabeth. On meeting someone named Elizabeth, most of us would assume that she's more likely to be known to her friends as Liz or Beth, not Buffy.
And the canon on this point remains consistant (unlike a couple other aspects we'll be discussing). When Buffy dies at the end of Season 5, her gravestone reads: Buffy Anne Summers. No mention of Elizabeth.
Also from Season 5, there's this conversation from the episode No Place Like Home:
Buffy, I know you're concerned, okay? But don't be. I'm still the mom. Which means I get to worry about you two. Which is a good thing because you're a Vampire Slayer. And you(to Dawn)...you are my little pumpkin belly!
Oh, Mom! That's like my kid name.
So I can't be retro?
Did you ever have any names for me?
No...I think you were always just Buffy.
This entire conversation would be nonsensical if Buffy's name was anything other than Buffy.
I think that takes care of that. Buffy has always been just Buffy.
Another easy mythical nickname to dispell is the idea that Willow is known to her friends as Wills. She isn't. Listen to any episode and you'll realize quickly that there is no 's' on the end. Rule of thumb: 'Wills' is the Prince of Wales' oldest son. Willow's nickname is 'Will'.
The other nickname problem we keep running into is Cordelia. For some reason, Cordelia fans often feel a need to give her a broad range of nicknames, with little to no reason given for everyone suddenly referring to her by them. Several times in canon, characters have called her Cordy, she has been referred to sarcastically as Queen C, and she has referred to herself as Cor once or twice, as has Angel - also once or twice. That's it, folks. Those are the only canon nicknames for Cordelia, unless you're writing a fic with Doyle, in which case Princess is allowed...but only if Doyle is the one who calls her that. Cordelia has never ever been referred to as Delia, Chase, Cory, Della, or any other possible varient of her name. If you must use one of these, please come up with a reason for doing so. If it's just to be cute, Queen Wench is going to hunt you down and slap you.
A lot of ficcers - particularly those of the B/G persuasion - have Buffy refer to Giles constantly as 'Watcher-mine'. It's cute, it's possessive, it's very Scooby in style...but it was never used on the show. Not even once.
That about takes care of the name issue, so let's move on to parents.
Many of us who concentrate on writing Giles find ourselves frustrated with how little we know of his past. In particular, his family life is practically a blank slate. And so we are all tempted to fill in a bit more information. Since pretty much every other father in the Buffyverse is either absent (like Buffy's) or an active negative role model (like Xander's hard-drinking, constantly unemployed daddy or Wesley's explicitly abusive one), it's tempting to assume the same of Giles' father. I've certainly written Giles' father as a horrible person myself.
But the fact is, what we know of him is incredibly sketchy. We know Giles senior was a Watcher, as was his mother before him. And we know that Giles is now in possession of a first edition novel by Forster (I've often seen people assume Jenny said Forrester and meant C.S. Forrester, but few people call Horatio Hornblower novels either romantic or evocative. I have to cast my vote with E.M. Forster, author of such eventual Merchant Ivory classics as A Room With a View and Maurice) that belonged to him.
Why do so many of us assume Giles' parents are or were - monsters? Probably because in the Jossverse, 'father' seems to be a codename for 'spawn of Satan' at times. Parents are rarely put in a good light, and fathers virtually never. Children grow up to be good, strong people in spite of their parentage, never because of it.
The fact is, we have no specific evidence either way. Giles' father might have been a decent man. His father might have been a monster. It's unlikely that Giles' father is still alive, but that's an assumption on my part, based on a combination of Giles' age and the canon that he has his father's first edition Forster novel. It might have been a going-away gift as easily as a bequest.
In short, fanon says that Giles' father is or was a very bad person, but canon leaves the field wide open. Interpret it as you will. Unless the long-awaited Ripper series ever gets made, Joss is unlikely to contradict you now.
Speaking of parents, who is Spike's sire? This is one of those unfortunate situations where we have too many answers. Where Giles' parents are dismissed with a couple of cursory, vague lines about his father, Spike's parentage into vampirism comes with two directly opposing stories. In Season 2, in School Hard, Spike says to Angel: "You were my sire, man! You were my Yoda!"
Case closed, right?
In Season Five's Fool For Love, we are treated to an entire scene of Drusilla turning Spike. What's more, ever since then, Joss has insisted over and over again that he always meant Dru to be Spike's sire.
How to decide which to go with? Well, that's up to you. I tend to prefer to stick with the original story, but I'm a bit of a classicist. Some choose, like me, to keep Angelus as Spike's sire. Some choose to follow Joss' later canon that Drusilla did the deed, and some try to reconcile the two stories. How do they do it? Generally by assuming that Drusilla brought her new toy home, but didn't know how to play with it, leaving her sire - Angelus - responsible for training Spike in vampire ways. It's an ingenious fanon solution, but whatever way you choose to write it, you're stepping on canon.
Another interesting parental situation is Xander's. According to fanon, his father is a bully who beats him up, while his mother is merely an ineffectual drunk. And there's certainly canon to support this. In an early episode, when Xander calls home to give a bogus excuse for why he's not coming home (he's really pulling an all-night research session at the library), he is forced to tell his mother precisely who he is. Since Xander has never been presented as having any siblings, it can't be a case of confusion with a brother, can it? The clear implication is that his mother is too drunk to identify him. Another time, he invites Willow to dinner saying his mother is making 'her famous call to the Chinese takeout'. From what evidence we have, Mrs. Harris isn't much of a mother, or a housekeeper. And over the course of the series, Xander makes numerous jokes and bitter comments about how much his parents drink. He traditionally spends Christmas Eve having a campout on the lawn, so as to avoid the drinking and the fighting.
But do they actively abuse him physically?
The coin, quite frankly, is in the air on that one.
They may hit him. They may not. We have never seen Xander with unexplained bruises or other injuries. We have never seen him with a broken limb that a demon didn't give him. And despite a plethora of fanfics including - or entirely based on - Xander spending the night at the library or Giles' home because the abuse has gotten so unbearable, we never saw this on the show.
The one time we see Xander's parents in canon, Hell's Bells, they spend their entire time drinking and bickering. It's no wonder Xander is afraid of marriage if this is his experience of it!
Certainly, the Harris' will never be model parents. Under their care, Xander has grown up needy, socially immature, deeply angry, and inclined to choose sharp-tongued women (Cordelia, Anya) as partners. There's a lot of good in Xander, but it takes some care to dig it out from under the layers of hurt. He does, however, know in his heart that he wants to be different from his parents. In his First Slayer dream in Restless, Xander is afraid to go upstairs where his parents live, though he wants to get out of his basement. The dream ends with his father coming into the basement and ripping his heart out, then turning into the First Slayer. The imagery is obvious and disturbing in the extreme. It's up to you whether Xander's parents ever actually laid a hand on him in anger. The fact remains, whether by physical violence, verbal abuse, or simple neglect, Xander is a victim of parental abuse. All you need to determine is the level and method.
And while we're on the subject of parental mistreatment, let's take a look at Willow. The common fanon is that her parents are simply never in town. Is that true? Well, not necessarily. I can find little in canon to either confirm or deny this, much like the question of whether Xander's parents hit him.
On the other hand, it's clear that, in their own way, the Rosenbergs have neglected Willow very nearly as much as Xander's parents have neglected him. Willow lives in a nicer house, she never even hints at a pattern of excessive drinking, and it's doubtful that voices are typically raised very high there, either. But there the differences seem to end. In her one appearence on the show, Gingerbread, Sheila Rosenberg proves herself to have no clue at all about what's going on in her daughter's life. Only in that episode does she notice the haircut Willow got eight months ago, and has allowed to grow out quite a bit. It's mid-season three, and it's the first she's heard that Willow is dating Oz. She doesn't even know her daughter's best friend's name. Twice in the episode she refers to Buffy as 'Bunny'.
Even her conversation with Willow about the witchcraft paraphanalia found in her locker at school (an early reference to the connection between magic and drug abuse on the show, interestingly enough), Sheila is more concerned about what this says about Willow sociologically than individually. She casually dismisses Willow's every attempt to connect on a more personal level. Some of this can be explained away by the effects of the Hansel and Gretl demon, but the fact that Sheila knows so little of what's going on in Willow's life can't be ignored. Willow is probably exaggerating slightly when she says the last conversation they had that lasted more than three minutes was about the patriarchal bias of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, but the fact that that's the closest thing she can think of to a heart-to-heart discussion with her mother is a little scary. It's all about the work, and nothing is left over for Willow.
Joyce Summers at her most clueless had a lot more idea what was going on in Buffy's life, despite a busy career at the art gallery. The things she didn't know about were almost invariably the ones Buffy deliberately hid from her. But Joyce had eyes. She could tell when Buffy was having boy trouble, even if she had no clue that the 'boy' in question was a vampire more than two hundred years old. She asked questions when she saw Buffy was troubled about something. She could see how much Buffy wanted that too expensive dress, and bought it for her to wear to the school dance. The one example we have of Sheila Rosenberg choosing clothes for Willow (her outfit in the first scenes of Welcome To The Hellmouth) looks as though she thinks her daughter is still eight years old.
As for Ira Rosenberg, we never meet him at all. And the two references we have are both about determining Willow's religious expression. He has forbidden her to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas...which is why she sneaks out every year and watches it with Xander at his house. And Willow tells Buffy that her father would be very upset if he saw the crosses she had to nail to her bedroom wall as part of the uninvite spell on Angelus.
Both parents seem more concerned with fitting Willow into a pre-determined mold than getting to know their daughter. She's fed, she's clothed, she's given every material need and comfort, but she appears to get little or no validation as an individual. Like Xander, Willow is desperate for attention she doesn't know how to ask for. Where Xander becomes loud and angry, Willow represses her desperate neediness and turns inward. Her desire for parental approval shows in her emphasis on academia at the expense of a social life. Willow would do well in school no matter what. She's exceptionally intelligent and genuinely loves to study. This, in and of itself, is in no way a bad thing. What does come across as a problem is her extreme shyness, her awkwardness in social situations that don't involve her very nearest and dearest, and her constant frustration at her sidekick role. She craves, yet fears, the spotlight. The lovers she chooses all place her firmly at the center of their individual universes...but she doesn't necessarily return the favor. We don't know how much of this is because her parents are gone physically, but they are certainly absent emotionally. Perhaps that's why we seem so determined that they aren't in the same state with her most of the time.
Though when Willow gets home after dark in I Robot, You Jane, and calls for both her parents, she seems completely unsurprised and unconcerned that neither one answers. Maybe they really are gone that much.
And then there's Buffy's father. Most of us tend to write Hank Summers as a rather stupid bully of a man who has no social skills, and certainly no real affection for Buffy and/or Dawn. It's easy to see why we do this, since Hank is a completely absent father. He couldn't be tracked down when Joyce became ill. He didn't show up to Joyce's funeral. There is no mention in S5 of Hank visiting his daughters, or even calling them to make sure they're okay. In the last real mention of him on the show (in the Jossverse reality; I don't really count his appearence in Normal Again, since that's a fever dream in Buffy's head), it is made clear that, while he's calling on a semi-regular basis, he has no clue that Dawn has spent nearly six months living with an unemployed twenty-one-year-old lesbian couple and a robot, nor that Buffy is dead. He hasn't taken steps to see to it that his daughters have enough money, that they're coping emotionally, or...much of anything really.
What's odd is that virtually none of us take into account that Hank wasn't always this way. In fact, in early canon, we see a couple glimpses of him, and he seems like a pretty decent guy. Things didn't work out between him and Joyce, but he still obviously loves his daughter, and Buffy loves him, too. One of her worst nightmares in the episode of the same name is that her father blames her for the divorce and will want nothing more to do with her.
At the end of Nightmares, when the real Hank appears, he's obviously delighted to see Buffy and looking forward to spending time with her. In his appearance in When She Was Bad, he makes it clear that he did his level best to connect with Buffy during a visit that lasted at least several weeks. He even tried bribing her with lavish shopping trips.
Does this attempt at bribery make Hank stupid or boorish? No. It makes him a loving father who really wants to find a way back into his daughter's heart, but isn't quite sure what road will work. He even says that it was a last-ditch effort to find a way into her confidence after every other method he could think of failed.
The boorish neglect doesn't begin until after Helpless. Even in that episode, he was still trying on some level. When business affairs kept him away on Buffy's birthday, he sent a huge bouquet of flowers and the tickets to the ice show - offering the closest thing he could to his yearly tradition with Buffy. And Buffy wouldn't have been nearly so hurt and disappointed at his absence if she didn't love him dearly in return.
After that...nothing. Joyce's excuses and protestations that Hank loves Buffy ring more and more hollow, but the audience is given no real explanation for the change in Hank's priorities.
What accounts for this sudden change in character? Why would a man who still adored his daughter after she burned down a school building suddenly want absolutely nothing to do with her for no particular reason just three years later? Why would a man who spent a summer trying desperately to connect with his obviously troubled child suddenly have no interest in making sure she was well - even on a physical level when her mother dies?
Fanon hasn't found an answer that takes early canon into consideration. Maybe you're the person who will come up with the perfect, fan-approved answer to the mystery.
So, since the Scoobies have no loving, involved, decent parents, Giles delightedly steps up to the plate and considers them all his own, right?
Over and over throughout the series, if anyone tries to cram him into the daddy role, Giles refuses to accept it. Whether through direct protest or evasion, he won't be anyone's father. After Joyce's death, a lot of fanfic had Giles moving in with Buffy and Dawn, since they were clearly not going to be self-sufficient. After all, Buffy was still in college, and had her Slayer duties besides. Dawn was a very needy teenage girl. Giles had a steady income, and a strong interest in the girls' well-being. It would have made sense, and it would have been practical for everyone concerned. So why didn't he do it?
Simply put, he wasn't their father, and he didn't want to be their father. In fact, he outright refused to be their father. He left town when Dawn had no adult supervision at all. That's canon, folks. As much as we'd all like Giles to be daddy material, the fact is, he may not be.
Or is it that he won't be until it's a child of his own?
Whatever the truth on that question, he has no intention of playing daddy to any of the Scoobies, under any circumstances.
But enough about parents. Let's take a look at some miscellaneous bits of fanon.
What about the common fanon concerning Olivia? It's hard to find a story that doesn't treat her, at best, as an alcoholic, and, at worst, as a demon. To read a lot of fanfic, you'd think she had fangs, a tail, and a huge flashing billboard over her head reading 'pure evil'.
I know a lot of Giles shippers of every description were disappointed when Olivia came on the scene, but the fact is, not only is she not a bad person - she's one I could easily have grown fond of, had she been around for a few more episodes.
She showed herself, in her brief appearances, to be a warm, funny, intelligent person with a strong appreciation for Giles, and a real respect for his life apart from her. She makes jokes, she shares his taste in music, and - contrary to what a lot of fans of the show think - she was never shown drunk. With a drink in her hand? Yes. In many of the scenes she appeared in. But drunk? Not once. Not even while obviously shaken in light of the situation in Hush. And in most of these scenes, Giles is also there, also has a drink in his had, and is also not drunk.
Far from being a bad influence on him, Olivia actually seems to make Giles feel comfortable, relaxed, and secure. What's wrong with that?
So take another look at those scenes, and see if it's really necessary to treat Olivia so badly. Chances are, you'll discover she's nowhere near as bad as you remember after reading all that fanfic.
Giles can be in his bedroom and yet be unobserved by the Scoobies downstairs: I don't know how this one got started, but it needs to end now. Watch any episode that shows a longshot of the interior of Giles' apartment, and you will quickly discover there is literally nowhere to hide in that place but the bathroom. He doesn't have a bedroom, per se. He has a sleeping loft. There is only a low railing between the floor area and open air. The instant anyone walks in the front door, they can see his bed clearly. There is no furniture conveniently placed against the railing to hide behind. Downstairs, the kitchen is open to the main living area, having a doorless opening to enter the room, and a huge passthrough that doubles as a breakfast bar. If you need Giles to overhear a conversation from a hidden spot in his apartment, you're stuck with the bathroom. Or you could always move the scene to another location where there really is a place for Giles to hear things while under cover.
Mythical extra bathrooms: Neither Giles' apartment nor the Summers house has a second bathroom.
Writers often add a bathroom to these locations for convenience, but there is absolutely nothing in canon to support it, and there's direct canonical and architectural evidence to contradict these bathrooms.
In Giles' apartment, the extra bathroom is invariably placed in the loft, but there's literally nowhere for it to go. Trust me, in all my life, I have never seen a one bedroom (let alone bedloft), two bathroom apartment.
In the Summers house, the mythical second bathroom is more likely to be migratory. It's usually placed on the second story as a master bath off Joyce's room, but has also been known to be downstairs, somewhere vaguely off the kitchen.
Buf if you watch the overture sequence of Once More With Feeling carefully, you'll note that Willow goes into the bathroom from her (formerly Joyce's) bedroom, then comes out a second bathroom door into the hallway, where Dawn is performing the Numfar dance of Get The Hell Out of the Bathroom Before I Pee Myself - and doing it very well, I might add. If there was a second bathroom anywhere in the house, mightn't Dawn have gone there? Why would she be waiting for a master bath if there's another right next door? Why would Willow go in one bathroom and out another? It simply wouldn't make sense.
Also, the house is a California Bungalow, or Craftsman style cottage. These were mainly built in the first quarter or so of the Twentieth Century as affordable housing for working folk. That meant that luxuries like second bathrooms were almost never installed new, and are a pain to add later. The use of space was deliberately functional, so making major changes to the floorplan is not a simple matter. And when Joyce bought the house, she was sharing it with one teenage girl. Two women and one bathroom makes sense. It's perfectly workable. She wasn't planning on five girls under the age of twenty-two sharing the house...let alone the ridiculous influx of pulchritudinous girlhood in Season 7.
Giles has a regular gig at The Espresso Pump: Oh, and before I get into the meat of this question, please note the spelling of the coffee house's name. There is no x in espresso.
Now, on to the real question. Since we saw Giles playing his guitar and singing at The Espresso Pump, fans have written dozens - perhaps hundreds - of fics that have Giles as a regular, advertised feature at The Pump. But is this likely?
Certainly, Giles was at surprisingly loose ends in S4. That may well be why he overcame his usual diffidence to perform at the Pump. But was it a full performance? I'm actually inclined to believe that it was a single song - maybe two - at an open mic night. After all, he had no trouble getting away to take care of the haunted frat house. If he'd committed himself to playing all evening, he would never have gotten away. And after that, Giles was shown playing his guitar only once - his rendition of Free Bird in his apartment in The Yoko Factor. Was he practicing for another open mic night? A full performance? Just strumming away his maudlin mood? We don't know.
What we do know is that no further mention of Giles playing, either publicly or privately, is ever made again.
None of this negates the possibility of Giles having a thriving coffee house career. I'm simply raising the idea that it's not so much canon as fanon.
Giles is given to huge emotional outbursts including lots and lots of crying: To this one, I can only say a hearty 'huh'? In seven seasons of canon, we've seen him break down in tears exactly once. And that was only after his attempt to avenge Jenny's death with the help of a flaming Louisville Slugger was averted and he had to drop the anger that was keeping him upright. The only other time we saw him even close to tears in canon was upon Buffy's return in Dead Man's Party, when he had to excuse himself briefly to compose himself under cover of getting snacks from the kitchen. If you must have Giles in tears, try to keep in mind how much provocation is necessary to make him cry.
The instant Giles and his fill-in-the-blank partner are together, they will marry immediately, have a huge number of children, and live happily ever after with no further problems or quarrels: Nice fairy tale, isn't it? And certainly we all write at least one of these fluffy bunny endings. There's nothing wrong, per se, with writing one or even a dozen. But there's so much more meat to play with in taking the harder road. Giles has lived very much alone for a long time. He's set in his ways, stubborn, and amazingly quirky. How easy a time of it would he have suddenly sharing his home not only with a lover/spouse, but with a houseful of children to boot?
From his choice of canon lovers, it's clear that Giles loves a lover with a mind of her own and a mouth to match. Jenny and Olivia were both strong-minded women who weren't afraid to take a stand apart from his. If one accepts canonical hints that Giles and Ethan may once have been more than friends, that only fits the pattern. Add to that the fact that virtually every canonical character he could possibly be paired with is just as stubborn, as sarcastic as he is, and either extremely emotionally repressed or equally emotionally needy - sometimes both at the same time, and you're just not looking at endless domestic bliss with no complications. I'm not saying he can't be happy with the right person - far from it. All I am saying is he'll stay just as prickly as he is now, just as stubborn as he is now, and just as sarcastic as he is now...and so will whomever he chooses to spend his life with.
I, for one, would love to see more stories where just because they share a home, that doesn't mean all the problems have gone away.
As I said in the beginning, there's nothing wrong with using fanon. It's a quick and easy way to please the audience. But isn't it more fun to be original? To make your readers think? To play within the rules Joss gave us and still make our favorite couples get together?
Try it and see.
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