Fanon is a portmanteau of "fan" and "canon." It refers to fan-generated ideas about fictional world that are held to be as good as (or better than!) canon by a fan or group of fans, or even the majority of a fandom. This can be good, bad, or so inconsequential as to be neither.
Although the PPC supports canon and reviles bad fanon, those who have a hatred for logical, interesting, or minor fanon theories should really just relax.
The Good, the Bad, and the "Who Cares?"
Sometimes, the canon leaves things unexplained, or only hints at certain events or outcomes. When this happens, fanon can fill in the gaps where canon leaves off, and if logic and respect for canon are used, this fanon can meld seamlessly into the canon and coexist happily. A trademark of good fanon is that it is always supported by clues and precedents in the real canon, and is simply elaboration or expansion. It is not trivial or dumb, but thoughtful and clever. It never replaces canonical elements, but unites or interprets them to infer other story elements unmentioned in canon.
Good fanon can appear as one author's interpretation of events, which the author may re-use for many stories. This fanon may be adopted by the author's own fans. If multiple interpretations of canon are possible, there may be several good fanon theories coexisting in the fandom. Rarely, the majority of a fandom may settle on a common piece of good fanon that expands on or explains away a vagueness or plothole in the source material.
Good fanon is usually marked as non-canon, especially when it's one author's personal fanon and they are writing goodfic. Often it's written for a small audience and can be thought of as an elaborate and intriguing AU.
Bad fanon does not fill gaps in canon. It doesn't explain or elaborate meaningfully upon the source material, and it is almost never supported by in-canon clues or hints. At best, it merely adds tidbits that are stupid, but at worst it supplants the real canon, causing canon damage as it spreads. Bad fanon is purely memetic, never marked, and the source of much badfic.
Bad fanon typically arises one of two ways:
- From misconceptions or confusion, coupled with ignorance, about the canon.
- Confusion about what is canon may result when a continuum has different adaptations, especially when lots of fans have seen one version, but not the other, and assume elements from the adaptation(s) apply to the original.
- Misconceptions turn into bad fanon when they spread around until people who don't know much about the fandom just assume that they're canon. Examples of common fanon misconceptions are that Azula's awkwardness in dealing with boys makes her a lesbian, Thranduil is abusive, and Elves are immune to the cold.
- From a desire to bring about a non-canon story outcome and "but I like it better this way" reasoning.
Shipping wars can be said to be conflicts between different groups' fanons, and sometimes really terrible examples of bad fanon crop up when people write fanfic using the fanon created in someone else's fanfiction. This may be because bad fanon contains "easy" plot ideas that a lazy or unimaginative writer can steal, avoiding plagiarism only by citing that "everybody in fandom has this idea!"
Creators leave things out, and the things people make up to fill in the blanks sometimes are so minor that they are neither good or bad. For example, some names in canon are never said, or ages are never elaborated on, or an exact height or body type is never given. Often there are fan standards for these details to prevent confusion.
Some fanon details may become canon, thanks to their harmless nature. For example, Captain Barbossa's first name was made "Hector" in fanon due to comments in a DVD extra—and later he was actually named Hector in subsequent movies. A background elf in the LotR movieverse now known as Figwit was named by fans, and even got a fandom nod in the form of a single line in the movie.
Fanon and Canon
The relationship between canon and fanon is a variable thing. In older or more complete canons, such as The Lord of the Rings, fanon is less acceptable than in younger or still-in-progress canons. In some cases of the canon being really stupid or terrible (sometimes due to a series jumping the shark, a change in writing staff, the introduction of a brand new canon Sue, or other shenanigans), fanon can be said to be better than canon, or "more canon than the new canon."
Some creators of canon like to play with their fandom and make fun of established fanon by overturning it or satirizing it. Joss Whedon is famous for this, as well as the episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender "The Ember Island Players." When creators give a "sure, why not" to bad fanon and make it canon, much drama is had.
Sometimes, fans forget what is canon and what is fanon, which can lead to Internet rage when the two come into conflict. Particularly in still-developing canons, new movie, episode, book, game, or other releases regularly outdate fanon. A mature fan can deal with their particular fanon or interpretation being outdated and may even continue to write their own fanon for their existing audience. Indeed, they may even tweak their fanon to nod at the new canon and respect it. An immature fan, on the other hand, may re-write whole books, seasons of shows, or movies to make their now-debunked fanon the star of the show.
Expanded Universe Material
It can be said that expanded universe writers create fanon—especially when the creation of the work was not heavily overseen by the creators of the canon. These ascended fanwriters may make up their own "canon" and, because it's released under the franchise, it really does become canon, despite it being created by a fan and not the creators of the continuum.
The canonical value of expanded universe writing varies from canon to canon: for World of Warcraft, it's released as supplemental "lore" and is almost entirely considered to be canonical (though WoW itself takes precedence if conflicts arise). Back before the Star Wars EU material was made the separate Legends canon, it had variable weight. On the opposite extreme from WoW, all of the Star Trek EU is considered non-canon—the only things that're canon are the shows and movies.
Fanon and the PPC
As it supports all good writing, the PPC supports good fanon. Who doesn't want to fill in the gaps and expand on tantalizing yet unexplored tidbits in their favorite canon, or explore an interesting "what if?" scenario, or imagine a world where that one annoying shark-jumping thing never happened? As long as it's respectful and well-written, the PPC is all for it.
Bad and stupid fanon, on the other hand, will be mocked without mercy. The PPC does not support claiming to be a fan of something while ignoring or mangling the components that make it up, especially while failing to respect it enough to so much as spell-check the story you wrote about it before putting it out in public. The PPC also does not approve of the arrogance of some fans who think they know better than the canon's author and preface their fixfic with things like "J. K. Rowling got it WRONG!" or "George Lucas is an idiot!"
However, it is not acceptable to charge for fanon you simply disagree with on the basis that you prefer some other fanon, and frothing at the mouth over obscure little details that most people won't know about is just silly. Also, outdated fanon written before the new canon was released (such as PotC fics written before the second and third movies were even announced) should not be made fun of unless it's really very stupid.
Knowledge of minor fanon and expanded universe material is useful for agents, because it is important to know if an uncanon name or minor factoid adheres to popular fanon, if it is ascended fanon and can be considered canon, or if it is just junk made up by the fic's author.