Although an overabundance of postmodern conventions can alienate a reader from the story, adding a touch of metafiction can go a long way towards defining the relationship between several distinct works tied together across an extended universe. As mentioned in a previous entry in this series, using a touch of metafiction to obviate reader confusion has a history that extends all the way back to Don Quixote, a work often credited with being the first Western novel. While Cervantes judiciously applied pressure on the fourth wall, this article examines an extended universe that delights in constructing an entire room of fourth walls before gleefully knocking down the building: Jasper Fforde’s Nextian universe.
This was written in response to Asher Elbein’s Atlantic article, “Enough with the Canon.” I agree with what I believe to be the essence of his argument – namely, that trying to assert an authoritative version of a fictional story in order to marginalize alternate perspectives is wrong. However, the article fails to consider both the functional aspects of canon, and the way it allows for a particular type of storytelling that would otherwise prove impossible.
Medium almost certainly qualifies as one of the more overlooked aspects of storytelling. When it comes to pop culture, stories are regularly told once on paper and, should they prove popular enough through that medium, they are told again on screen; those that prove exceptionally profitable on screen might even be retold again. When it comes to extended universes, however, different chapters of the same story might be told through several different mediums. In some cases, this may lead to one branch of the story controlling the rest; in other instances, the variety of mediums only serves to strengthen the story as a whole. We’ll look into the many mediums of Star Wars and Harry Potter to see how their multiple methods of storytelling affect their respective extended universes.
Few things are hotter these days than the extended universe model of storytelling. With the advent of the Marvel Cinematic Universe – and the wild box office success of movies like the Avengers – it seems like every studio in Hollywood is scrambling to establish their own “extended universe.” But what, exactly, defines an extended universe? Is it just a fancy name for a series of movies, or are there additional qualifications? Where did Marvel get the idea, and what aspects are worth being stolen by the competition? This brand new multi-installment column, Other Worlds Than These, will provide the answer to all these questions and more. First, let’s take a look at some of the literary antecedents that helped build the foundation for the extended universes of today.