Converging WorldsFrom Transmedial Storyworlds to Transmedial Universes
Contemporary media culture is shaped by technological innovations and the gradual move of media conglomerates from vertical to horizontal integration. Among other things, this has led to the increased visibility of transmedial constellations that transgress the borders of both single works and conventionally distinct media, ranging from novel-based franchises such as The Lord of the Rings, A Song of Ice and Fire, or Harry Potter, via comics-based franchises such as Batman, X-Men, or The Walking Dead and film-based franchises such as Star Wars, Indiana Jones, or The Matrix, to television-based franchises such as Doctor Who, Star Trek, or Lost and video game-based franchises such as Tomb Raider, Warcraft, or Halo. While there are other aspects worth considering, these transmedial entertainment franchises tend to be most visibly defined by their representational functions. In light of the largely uncontested saliency of the representation of characters, stories, and worlds across media such as novels, [End Page 21] comics, films, television series, and video games, however, media studies still tends to operate with a surprisingly vague account of transmedial entertainment franchises’ “converging contents.”
Among the existing approaches to the analysis of the latter, Henry Jenkins’s concept of “transmedia storytelling” has proven particularly influential. In his essay “Game Design as Narrative Architecture,” for example, Jenkins describes the location of video games within transmedial entertainment franchises such as Star Wars as follows: “One can imagine games taking their place within a larger narrative system with story information communicated through books, film, television, comics, and other media, each doing what it does best, each a relatively autonomous experience, but the richest understanding of the story world coming to those who follow the narrative across the various channels” (2004: 124). In several subsequent publications he revisited and elaborated the concept but left its core parameters largely intact (see, e.g., Jenkins 2006: 93–130; Jenkins 2007; Jenkins 2011). Particularly because he emphasizes that “narrative analysis need not be prescriptive” (2004: 119), though, it seems striking that Jenkins remained primarily concerned with a decidedly “ideal form of transmedia storytelling” (2006: 95).
More specifically, Jenkins’s emphasis on the model of “co-creation” as opposed to the “current licensing system” leads him to dismiss a large part of existing forms of transmedial entertainment franchises as “redundant … , watered down … , or riddled with sloppy contradictions” (2006: 105). While the ideal form of “transmedia storytelling” may, indeed, entail “a process where integral elements of a fiction get dispersed systematically across multiple delivery channels for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience” (Jenkins 2007: n. pag.), it seems that current industry practices continue to regularly fail in their attempts to realize that ideal. As Jason Mittell remarks, then, it is fruitful to contrast “Jenkins’s proposed ideal of balanced transmedia, with no one medium or text serving a primary role over others, with the more commonplace model of unbalanced transmedia, with a clearly identifiable core text and a number of peripheral transmedia extensions that might be more or less integrated into the narrative whole, acknowledging that most examples fall somewhere on a spectrum between balance and unbalance” (2015: 294, original emphases). [End Page 22]
Another early approach that more explicitly addresses the often complex and contradictory nature of transmedial entertainment franchises’ representational functions was developed by Lisbeth Klastrup and Susana P. Tosca, whose concept of “transmedial worlds” analyzes these franchises as “abstract content systems from which a repertoire of fictional stories and characters can be actualized or derived across a variety of media forms” (Klastrup and Tosca 2004: n. pag.; see also Klastrup and Tosca 2011, 2014). At first glance, Klastrup and Tosca’s concept of “transmedial worlds” seems well suited to come to terms with the indeterminacies and contradictions of transmedial entertainment franchises’ representational functions, because it explicitly allows for them. However, it does so at the cost of employing a rather fuzzy notion of what a “world” is. “What characterises a transmedial world,” according to Klastrup and Tosca, “is that audience and designers share a mental image of the ‘worldness’ (a number of distinguishing features of its universe)” (2004: n. pag.).
Klastrup and Tosca further suggest that there are three core dimensions of a world’s “worldness”: its “mythos” comprises “the establishing conflicts and battles of the world, which also present the characters of the world”; its “topos” defines “the setting of the world in a specific historical period and detailed geography”; and its “ethos” refers to “the explicit and implicit ethics of the world and (moral) codex of behaviour, which characters in the world are supposed to follow” (2004: n. pag.). While I would not contest that it may prove fruitful to analyze the “worldness” of “transmedial worlds” with regard to these three dimensions, it would seem that Klastrup and Tosca’s focus on the latter’s “distinguishing features” (2004: n. pag.) reintroduces a rather normative twist into their concept. Indeed, in their sample analyses they primarily seem to be concerned with the “faithfulness” of a given work—that is, with how “successful” that work is “with regards to the implementation of the three core elements” (2004: n. pag.) that define the “worldness” of its “transmedial world.”
The significant heuristic value of the approaches developed by Jenkins as well as Klastrup and Tosca notwithstanding, then, it seems that both the concept of “transmedia storytelling” and the concept of “transmedial worlds” suffer from a largely unexamined commitment to what [End Page 23] one could call the model of the “single world.” While such a model would be entirely appropriate in those cases in which transmedial entertainment franchises not just aim at but actually succeed in representing a “single world,” on closer inspection these cases appear to be rarer than one might expect. One way or another, it seems somewhat unsatisfying to base the analysis of transmedial entertainment franchises’ representational functions on the assumption that they ideally should or actually do represent a “single world,” independently of whether we call that world a “story world” (Jenkins 2004: 124; see also Harvey 2015), a “transmedial world” (Klastrup and Tosca 2004: n. pag.; see also Wolf 2012), a “hyperdiegesis” (Hills 2002: 104), or something else altogether.
Against this background, the present article will pursue a more decidedly narratological perspective on transmedial entertainment franchises’ representational functions, using the theoretical framework of transmedial narratology to further contribute to the development of a nuanced account of what it is, precisely, that these franchises represent. While this article aims to complement rather than contradict existing approaches within current media studies, transmedial narratology offers a theoretically and methodologically refined basis on which one can build in order to extend the existing tools for the analysis of transmedial entertainment franchises’ representational functions beyond the model of the “single world.” To this end, I will first sketch a general conceptualization of storyworlds as intersubjective communicative constructs, before asking, rather more tentatively, in what ways we may need to go beyond the concept of the “single (story)world” in order to come to terms with the complex arrangements of narrative works that characterize most if not all transmedial entertainment franchises, their representational functions, and their “converging contents.”1
Storyworlds as Intersubjective Communicative Constructs
David Herman is usually credited with popularizing the notion of storyworlds as “the worlds evoked by narratives” (2009: 105), but he was by no means the first to discuss narrative works in terms of the worlds they represent. As he remarks, “over the past couple of decades … , one of the most basic and abiding concerns of narrative scholars has been how [End Page 24] readers of print narratives, interlocutors in face-to-face discourse, and viewers of films use textual cues to build up [mental] representations of the worlds evoked by stories, or storyworlds” (2009: 106, original emphasis). Indeed, the history of the concept can be traced from Gérard Genette’s “diegesis” (1988: 17) and Seymour Chatman’s “world of potential plot details” (1978: 29), via the “fictional worlds” of possible worlds theorists such as Thomas Pavel (1989), Ruth Ronen (1994), or Lubomír Doležel (1998), to cognitive narratologists such as Marie-Laure Ryan (1991), Edward Branigan (1992), or Richard Gerrig (1993).2
Despite a common conceptual core, then, the various approaches to storyworlds that are located within different research traditions not only use a variety of terms to refer to them but also conceptualize them rather differently. Herman, for example, understands storyworlds as “mental models of who did what to and with whom, when, where, why, and in what fashion in the world to which recipients relocate” (2002: 9) or as “global mental representations” of “the world evoked implicitly as well as explicitly by a narrative” (2009: 107). The popularity of Herman’s oft-quoted definitions notwithstanding, though, equating storyworlds with their mental representations ignores the fact that we usually presuppose some kind of intersubjective plausibility when we talk about what is represented by narrative works across media. We can, in other words, construct more or less accurate or appropriate mental models of a story-world based on one and the same narrative representation, and our terminology should be able to acknowledge this rather fundamental fact.3
Hence, I will draw on theorists such as Gregory Currie (2010) and Jens Eder (2008) in subscribing to a broadly intentionalist-pragmatic account of narrative meaning-making. In the framework developed by Currie, narrative works can generally be described as “intentional-communicative artefacts: artefacts that have as their function the communication of a story, which function they have by virtue of their makers’ intentions” (2010: 6). Eder’s approach is largely compatible with such a conceptualization of narrative representation (and narrative comprehension), but it allows to specify the ontological status of the worlds that narrative works represent. Storyworlds, in this view, are normative abstractions about ideal mental representations based on actual medial representations—or, somewhat less unwieldy, intersubjective [End Page 25] communicative constructs. Further following this line of reasoning, any discussion of how storyworlds are represented across media needs to take into account recipients’ collective mental dispositions, (medium-as well as genre-specific) communicative rules or representational conventions, and (hypothetical) authorial intentions.4
While I will not discuss the resulting processes of meaning-making in too much detail here (see Thon 2016 for a more detailed discussion), I would like to mention two complementary principles that are generally taken to be relevant in this context. According to Ryan, there is a principle of minimal departure at work during narrative meaning-making that allows the recipients to “project upon these worlds everything [they] know about reality, [making] only the adjustments dictated by the text” (1991: 51; see also, e.g., Lewis 1978; Walton 1990). It is worth stressing, though, that recipients do not “fill in the gaps” from the actual world itself but from their actual world knowledge, and that, moreover, “the frame of reference invoked by the principle of minimal departure is not the sole product of unmediated personal experience” but may include various forms of medial and generic knowledge, or even a specific “textual universe as frame of reference” (Ryan 1991: 54). The relevance of the principle of minimal departure for the larger issue at hand seems obvious, then, as the recipients will usually draw on previously established specific “fictional world knowledge” when trying to comprehend a work that is part of a given transmedial entertainment franchise. Yet, works that are part of a franchise can and usually will “depart” from what was previously established to be the case in that franchise’s world(s), as well.5
Moreover, despite the importance of the principle of minimal departure and the “filling in” of the “gaps” of narrative works for which it allows, some “gaps” can never be “filled” in an intersubjectively valid manner. The main reason for this is that recipients’ world knowledge—whether historical or contemporary, nonfictional or fictional, universal or particular—can provide only comparatively general additional information; as a result, they cannot conclusively infer the answer to specific questions such as “Does character X have a birthmark on his or her back?” if the narrative representation does not provide it. While recipients may pretend that storyworlds are complete in the process that [End Page 26] Ryan calls “fictional recentering” (1991: 24), most theorists of fictional worlds agree that represented worlds are actually incomplete. This still holds with regard to the worlds represented by transmedial entertainment franchises, though the latter make it more challenging to determine whether an answer to a specific question such as “Does character X have a birthmark on his or her back?” is available—after all, “filling in the gaps” of a previously established storyworld is one of the core functions that the addition of new works to a transmedial entertainment franchise may fulfill (I will address this in more detail in the second part of this article).
Even with regard to the less extensive question of how storyworlds may be represented within the confines of a single work in a single medium, however, it is also important to note that recipients routinely “ignore” some aspects of narrative representations in order to intersubjectively construct the storyworlds thus represented. Narrative meaning-making is based on an acute awareness of the intricacies of what Currie calls representational correspondence, a term designed to capture the general observation that, “for a given representational work, only certain features of the representation serve to represent features of the things represented” (2010: 59). Particularly in cases where the assumption of representational correspondence becomes problematic, recipients will look for alternative external explanations related to authorial intentions or representational conventions before trying to imagine contradictory or otherwise problematic storyworlds based on a rigid insistence on internal explanations.
Against this background, I want to stress that both “filling in the gaps” and “ignoring” certain aspects of a narrative representation are crucial parts of the intersubjective construction of storyworlds across media. Kendall Walton pointedly describes this aspect of narrative meaning-making in terms of a principle of charity:
The generation of fictional truths is sometimes blocked (if not merely deemphasized) just, or primarily, because they make trouble—because they would render the fictional world uncomfortably paradoxical. … If there is another ready explanation for the artist’s inclusion of a feature that appears to generate a given fictional truth, it may not seem that [End Page 27] he [or she] meant especially to have it generated. And this may argue against recognizing that it is generated. (original emphasis)(1990: 183)
While a discussion of the medium-specific application of charity that characterizes narrative meaning-making with regard to, say, novels, comics, films, television series, or video games is beyond the scope of this article, I wish to stress that recipients will generally try to exhaust every possible alternative explanation before attempting to imagine “uncomfortably paradoxical” or even just comparatively “inaccessible” storyworlds (see also Ryan 1991 on “accessibility relations”; Alber 2016 on “impossible storyworlds”).
Most saliently, these explanations will refer to medium-specific representational conventions. Among other examples, Walton discusses what has become a standard case to illustrate that verbal representation (which is evidently employed across media) may already suggest fairly complex forms of representational correspondence:
Most of us will probably prefer not to allow that fictionally Othello is a great literary talent, and even to affirm that fictionally he is not. But this only shifts the paradox. Is it fictional that Othello lacks special literary talent and yet is capable of improvising superb verse while distraught? Shall we deny that fictionally Othello’s words “Had it pleased heaven / To try me with affliction” … are a superb verse, even though it is manifestly true that they are? Or shall we go so far as to deny that fictionally those are Othello’s words? Perhaps it is fictional, rather, that Othello utters an unspecified vernacular paraphrase of the words Shakespeare’s actor enunciates. (ellipsis in original)(1990: 181–82)
Of course, the problem is not limited to Shakespeare. While character speech tends to be represented using at least partially medium-specific strategies, the general principle that “representation is not verbatim” (Fludernik 1993: 356, original emphasis) and that the “gap” between representing and represented character speech can be quite pronounced still applies in a fairly transmedial way. On the one hand, then, it would seem reasonable to assume that the German terrorist Hans Gruber and his henchmen in the storyworld of the original cinematic release of Die Hard (1988) are meant to be proficient in their native language, even [End Page 28] though the actors used to represent them were evidently not. On the other hand, if one considers the fact that the video game Titan Quest (2006) is set in (a heavily “fictionalized” version of) ancient Greece, it would seem unreasonable to assume that its characters speak English, even though the default localization of the game uses English to represent their speech.
Similarly, in the case of pictorial representation across media, the representational correspondence may be complicated or even collapse entirely due to well-established representational conventions. Let me, once more, just give two brief examples. First, the audiovisual representation of Yoda in Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980), Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983), and the original theatrical release of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999) evidently differs from the audiovisual representation of Yoda in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002) and Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005). It amounts to a “silly question” (Walton 1990: 176), however, to ask for an internal explanation of these differences, as the film series’ switch from using a puppet to using cgi in order to present Yoda readily provides an external explanation (which was further emphasized by the implementation of a cgi representation of Yoda in the Blu-ray release of The Phantom Menace ). And second, it would be “silly” to ask for an internal explanation of the differences between the audiovisual representation of Albus Dumbledore in the first two feature films of the Harry Potter series (2001, 2002) and the corresponding audiovisual representation in its third through eighth installments (2004–11), as the death of actor Richard Harris, who was then replaced by Michael Gambon, provides a ready external explanation of these differences. In both cases, then, the intersubjective construction of the serial story-worlds presented by the films would entail applying charity in order to “ignore” at least some aspects of their audiovisual representation.
It is, of course, also entirely possible for (series of) works to provide internal explanations for these (as well as other) kinds of apparent contradictions. One of the more noteworthy cases would be the bbc’s long-running television series Doctor Who (1963–), which internally explains the regularly occurring changes of the actor used to represent its protagonist as the result of all Time Lords’ capability for “regeneration,” a [End Page 29] process that transforms both their physical form and some aspects of their personality—including, for example, the possibility of a change in sex as well as gender, and becoming increasingly independent from the problem it was originally meant to solve (for further discussion of the transmedial “spread” of the Doctor Who franchise, see Evans 2011; Harvey 2014; Hills 2010). In the absence of this kind of internal explanation, though, some degree of apparently contradictory difference in the audiovisual representation of a character tends to be “charitably ignored”—and this arguably also applies to transmedial representations such as those of Yoda in the Star Wars movies, the animated television series Star Wars: Clone Wars (2003–5), the cgi feature film Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008) and the cgi television series of the same title (2008–14), the various Star Wars comics, and the no less numerous Star Wars video games—or to those of Albus Dumbledore in Joan K. Rowling’s seven Harry Potter novels (1997–2007), their eight feature film adaptations, and the various Harry Potter video games that, in turn, tend to base their audiovisual representations of Dumbledore on the way he is represented in the films (for further discussion of the adaptation-heavy Harry Potter franchise, see, e.g., Hutcheon 2013).
Just as the principle of minimal departure does not allow recipients to “fill in” every last “gap” that a given narrative work leaves in the storyworld it represents, however, so does the principle of charity not allow recipients to generally “ignore” all kinds of contradictions that these narrative works may “appear to generate.” Yet there is still some controversy about what the occurrence of unresolvable contradictions means with regard to a given work’s representational function. On the one hand, theorists such as Ruth Ronen argue that “the coherence of fictional worlds does not collapse when a world of the fictional type contains inconsistencies or impossibilities” (1994: 93). On the other hand, theorists such as Lubomír Doležel hold that “worlds that include or imply contradictions are impossible, unthinkable, ‘empty’” (1998: 19). Not least in light of the scarcity of literary texts—let alone of comics, films, television series, or video games—that even attempt to represent explicitly contradictory situations (see, e.g., the fabricated example in Priest 1997), I tend to agree with Doležel (and others) that situations represented as contradictory are not imaginable in a meaningful way. Still, it [End Page 30] appears to be significantly less difficult to cue recipients into imagining contradictory storyworlds than it is to cue them into imagining contradictory situations.6
Accordingly, one of the core problems related to the notion of “contradictory storyworlds” is whether narrative works that successively represent situations that do not—or do not immediately—“add up” to a noncontradictory storyworld can appropriately be understood as the representation of one storyworld, even though not containing contradictions may be taken to be a core feature of the concept of a “world,” whether actual or merely represented. While it would go beyond the scope of the present article to discuss this problem in any detail, a good solution might be to treat apparently contradictory storyworlds as compounds of two (or more) noncontradictory storyworlds, combined by what Nicholas Rescher and Robert Brandom call “the procedure of World-disjunction” (1979: 10, original emphasis) in their early study of nonstandard possible worlds. Among other advantages, this allows us to treat the kind of logical inconsistency that contradictions generate as “a local and not necessarily global anomaly” (Rescher and Brandom 1979: 24, original emphases),7 understanding storyworlds as noncontradictory “by default,” with exceptions to this rule best described as compounds of noncontradictory subworlds. Indeed, it would seem that a conceptualization of storyworlds that frames them as noncontradictory “by default” and analyzes contradictory storyworlds as compounds of noncontradictory subworlds is particularly well suited to be applied to transmedial entertainment franchises, even though we are, of course, confronted with “compounding” on a significantly larger scale in these cases.
Whether a given franchise is conceived as transmedial from the beginning (as is, e.g., the case with The Matrix) or expanded across media after an initial commercial success (as is, e.g., the case with Star Wars), this conceptualization of storyworlds leads to a description of that franchise’s “converging contents” as spreading across media in the sense that every work that is part of the franchise represents a story-world of its own but, at the same time, establishes a relation between that storyworld and the storyworlds represented by the other works that are part of the franchise. Instead of assuming that transmedial entertainment franchises generally represent a “single world,” then, such an [End Page 31] approach allows for a systematic distinction between the local medium-specific storyworlds of single narrative works, the glocal but noncontradictory transmedial (or, in quite a few cases, merely transtextual) storyworlds that may be constructed out of local work-specific storyworlds, and the global and often quite contradictory transmedial storyworld compounds that may, for lack of a better term, be called transmedial universes.8 As the following section of this article will illustrate, such a conceptual triad enables us to retain the notion of storyworlds as intersubjective communicative constructs that are comprehended as noncontradictory “by default” without unduly perpetuating the model of the “single world” when analyzing transmedial entertainment franchises’ representational functions.
On the “Intended Structure” of Transmedial Universes
Before discussing the relations between work-specific storyworlds, transmedial storyworlds, and transmedial universes in more detail, however, let me offer a few more remarks about what the proposed concept of a transmedial universe entails. Just like the work-specific and/or transmedial storyworlds they contain, transmedial universes can be understood as intersubjective communicative constructs with a normative component. However, the way in which narrative meaning-making tends to be oriented by hypothetical authorial intentions is complicated considerably by the dispersion of authorship that characterizes most if not all transmedial entertainment franchises. Whereas comics, films, television series, or video games are usually the work of more or less complex author collectives, as well (see, e.g., Mittell 2015; Thon 2016; or the contributions in Gray and Johnson 2013), current licensing practices allow for what could be described as a transfer of authorship to corporate holders of intellectual properties, resulting in what Colin B. Harvey calls “legally proscribed memory” (2014: 278). Increasingly, then, “legally binding documents … dictate what elements of a franchise can and cannot be used and in what context” (Harvey 2014: 279; see also Harvey 2015; as well as Evans 2011 on institutional authorship in television; Johnson 2013 on franchising; and Wolf 2012 on the transfer of authorial control across “circles of authorship”). [End Page 32]
Moreover, both a franchise’s authorial constellation and its catalog of works will usually change over time, which, of course, also affects the structure of its transmedial universe. On the one hand, this simply refers to the addition of new works to the franchise’s catalog, resulting in the incorporation of new work-specific storyworlds into its transmedial universe.9 On the other hand, changes in a franchise’s authorial constellation may also result in the redefinition of (some of) the relations between its various work-specific storyworlds and occasionally rather fundamental changes of the “intended structure” of its transmedial universe. Evidently, then, the synchronic complexity as well as the diachronic variability of many franchises’ transmedial universes can make it difficult to figure out how a given work-specific storyworld fits into the transmedial universe of its franchise, increasing the importance of what Jenkins has described as recipients’ “collective intelligence” (2007: n. pag.; see also Lévy 1997) for the meaning-making process. However, conceptualizing a given franchise’s transmedial universe as an intersubjective communicative construct with a normative component does not require that all members of its various author collectives and all members of its often highly diverse audience actually “share a mental image” (Klastrup and Tosca 2004: n. pag.) of that universe.10
Still, it will usually be possible for most if not all recipients to use various (official as well as unofficial) paratexts to get a sufficiently precise idea of a given transmedial universe’s “intended structure.” Drawing on Jenkins’s discussion of “adaptation and extension” (2011: n. pag.), Mark J. P. Wolf’s discussion of “adaptation” and “growth” (2012: 245), and Ryan’s discussion of “expansion” and “modification” (2008: 385),11 I would like to suggest that two single narrative works within a transmedial entertainment franchise can be defined, first, by a relation of redundancy, when one is aiming to represent the same elements of a storyworld that the other represents; second, by a relation of expansion, when one is aiming to represent the same storyworld that the other represents but adds previously unrepresented elements; and, third, by a relation of modification, when one is aiming to represent elements of the storyworld represented by the other but adds previously unrepresented elements that make it impossible to comprehend what is represented as part of a single, noncontradictory storyworld. While this rather basic [End Page 33] distinction will not capture all the intricacies of transmedial universes’ “intended structures,” it still seems to be a helpful heuristic for the indepth analysis of the interrelations between a given franchise’s work-specific storyworlds (see also Ruppel 2012 for an example of where this line of inquiry may lead us; as well as Gray 2010 for further discussion of the notion of media paratexts, which tend not to contribute “directly” to the representation of a franchise’s transmedial universe).
Take, for example, the transmedial franchise A Song of Ice and Fire, which is based on George R. R. Martin’s novel series A Song of Ice and Fire (1996–) but has since been developed to include not only the wildly successful hbo television series Game of Thrones (2011–) but also several comics and graphic novels, a collectible card game, two board games, two pen-and-paper role-playing games, and various video games (as well as a series of novellas by Martin himself, an extensive companion book that he coauthored, a book of maps, and two collections of artwork). At first glance, the strong presence of Martin as the author of the franchise’s “ur-text” (Jenkins 2007: n. pag.) might suggest that its subsequent entries should generally be expected to be redundant adaptations of (specific parts of) the transtextual world over which Martin has exerted direct authorial control. Even if we accept that, say, Daniel Abraham and Tommy Patterson’s comics series A Game of Thrones (2011–14) is a largely redundant adaptation of the first novel (from which it has also borrowed its title), though, this evidently does not apply to many of the other entries in the franchise.
While there are obvious differences in the ways that the novel and the comics series present their respective work-specific storyworlds, these differences might arguably be “ignored” by reference to the diverging representational limitations and affordances of literary texts and graphic narratives. In the case of hbo’s television series Game of Thrones, however, it would seem that no amount of charity will allow for the intersubjective construction of a storyworld sufficiently similar to that represented by Martin’s series of novels in order to speak of a primarily redundant adaptation. While the television series does not simply “retell” the story originally told by the novels, then, it also quite clearly does not expand that storyworld in a noncontradictory way (independently of the question of whether the showrunners David Benioff [End Page 34] and D. B. Weiss or other members of the television series’ author collective would have the authority to do so, to which I will briefly return below). Rather, it takes certain elements and leaves others, changing and rearranging them to an extent that it seems more appropriate to speak of a modification of the novel series’ storyworld than of its redundant adaptation or noncontradictory expansion (even though the television series certainly also “retells” and expands on quite a few elements of the storyworld that is represented by the “ur-text” of the novel series).
Much more could be said on the A Song of Ice and Fire franchise, of course,12 but my main point here is that transmedial entertainment franchises are often not appropriately described as representing a single storyworld, even though the work-specific storyworlds of the various works that are part of a given franchise may, to various extents, add up to noncontradictory transmedial storyworlds. Indeed, while one can also find franchises such as The Matrix or Halo, which appear to be primarily defined by an attempt at the noncontradictory expansion of a single transmedial storyworld (see, e.g., Jenkins 2006; Ryan 2013; as well as Harvey 2015; Rosendo 2015), it seems not uncommon even for comparatively small-scale franchises (in terms of storyworld “spread,” not in terms of commercial success) to establish two clearly distinct storyworlds via a high-profile modifying adaptation while still aiming at a further expansion of each of these storyworlds via additional works in other media. An even clearer example of this would be the comics-based franchise of The Walking Dead, which, similarly to the novel-based franchise of A Song of Ice and Fire, has recently experienced a surge in both commercial and critical success (see, e.g., Beil and Schmidt 2015; Jenkins 2013; Proctor 2014).
At first glance, amc’s The Walking Dead television series (2010–) may appear to be a straightforward adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead comics series (2003–), and Telltale’s The Walking Dead adventure game series (2012–14) may, in turn, appear to be a straightforward adaptation of the television series, but the differences between the stories these series tell turn out to be quite striking and do, in fact, make a description of the television series’ work-specific storyworld as a modification of the comics series’ work-specific storyworld appear more appropriate. As Kirkman explains, “there are things that happen [End Page 35] in the comic that you absolutely have to put in the show, otherwise you’re not doing the comic justice. But maybe we move it up, maybe we move it back, we add different characters into the mix. We just do little adjustments to make it a little more compelling for the audience that is invested in the source material” (qtd. in Taormina 2012: n. pag.). In contrast, the adventure game series takes even more liberties—including a change in the main protagonist—but does so in a way that makes it appear as a largely noncontradictory expansion of the comics series’ work-specific storyworld rather than as either a redundant adaptation or a contradictory modification of that storyworld. And, finally, Terminal Reality’s first-person shooter The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct (2013) is, perhaps, not a very well made video game, but it still manages to convey with sufficient clarity its aim to expand the work-specific storyworld of the television series rather than that of the comics series.
Indeed, it seems that both Telltale’s The Walking Dead and Terminal Reality’s The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct are authorized to expand the storyworlds established by the comics series and the television series, respectively. They are, in other words, what is commonly described as canonical expansions, which sets them aside from quite a large number of other works that could, at first glance, be comprehended as noncontradictory expansions of a previously established storyworld based on what they represent but which are not authorized to expand the storyworld in question, remaining apocryphal. While the proliferation of author collectives and licensing practices sketched above certainly plays a role here, it should be noted that the question of canonicity does not entirely coincide with the question of authorship. As has already been mentioned, the franchises of The Matrix and Halo appear to be primarily defined by an attempt at the noncontradictory expansion of a single transmedial storyworld, despite the fact that their individual works are still created by different author collectives. Now, it seems clear that the author collectives of officially licensed works such as the video game Enter the Matrix (2003) or Eric Nylund’s novel Halo: The Fall of Reach (2001) are more likely to have the authority to expand the transmedial storyworlds that are at the “canonical core” of the The Matrix and Halo franchises than, say, the authors of the various The Matrix and Halo fan fictions that can, for example, be found at An Archive of Our Own (see also, e.g., Jamison 2013; [End Page 36] Lindgren Leavenworth and Isaksson 2013; Thomas 2011). However, there are also licensed works such as the video game The Matrix: The Path of Neo (2005) or the last of the seven short anime films collected in Halo Legends (2010) that are explicitly marked as apocryphal despite being created by officially licensed author collectives.
As Wolf remarks, then, “for a work to be canonical requires that it be declared as such by someone with the authority to do so” (2012: 271)—but the importance of the canonical/apocryphal distinction for the analysis of transmedial entertainment franchises’ representational functions should not be overemphasized. Indeed, it would seem that the relevance of the question of a given licensed work’s canonicity remains largely limited to those cases where that work’s storyworld could, at least in principle, be comprehended as a noncontradictory expansion of a previously represented storyworld (whether work-specific, transtextual, or transmedial). Yet in the case of the A Song of Ice and Fire and The Walking Dead franchises, it is obvious that the Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead television series constitute modifying rather than redundant adaptations of Martin’s novel series and Kirkman’s comics series, respectively. In those cases, asking which of the works is “more canonical” seems to miss the point, namely, that they do not contribute to the representation of a “single world” to begin with. However, while I see neither an immediate need nor theoretically solid ground to exclude any work—whether canonical or apocryphal, licensed work or fan creation—from consideration as contributing to the representation of a franchise’s transmedial universe, the fact remains that the canonical/apocryphal distinction often plays an important role in the intersubjective construction of these universes.
A particularly long-running franchise that has turned into a standard case to illustrate transmedial entertainment franchises’ potential for both synchronic complexity and diachronic variability is Star Wars (see, e.g., Brooker 2002; Harvey 2015; Jenkins 2006; Klastrup and Tosca 2004; Ryan 2013; Wolf 2012). Initially, the franchise was characterized by a laissez-faire licensing practice that has resulted not only in various largely redundant adaptations of the first three feature films (Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope , Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, and Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi) but also in several [End Page 37] rather strange but nevertheless officially licensed attempts at an expansion and/or modification of the work-specific storyworlds the films had established (see, e.g., Alan Dean Foster’s 1978 novel Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, a sequel to Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, which was rendered apocryphal by the film’s commercial success, or the original stories that were published by Marvel as part of its Star Wars comics series between 1977 and 1986).
In response to the devoted fan base’s demands for explanations regarding the obvious contradictions between the ever-multiplying work-specific storyworlds of the franchise during the 1970s and 1980s, however, a distinction between canonical and apocryphal works was established during the 1990s and refined during the 2000s.13 During the 1990s, this initially resulted in a renewed emphasis on George Lucas as the franchise’s core author, the person whose “vision” supposedly defined the “intended structure” of Star Wars’ transmedial universe. Rather than denying canonical status to all licensed works over which Lucas did not exert immediate creative control, however, Lucasfilm Ltd. (or, more precisely, Lucas Licensing) introduced a multi-leveled “canonical hierarchy” according to which all works within the Star Wars franchise were attributed different “degrees of reliability” with regard to the representation of the (barely) transmedial storyworld located at the “canonical core” of its transmedial universe.
In 2000, Leland Chee was appointed to curate the “Holocron continuity database,” which would eventually attribute six “canonical levels” to an ever-increasing number of storyworld elements from all over the franchise (see the detailed discussion provided by Wookieepedia 2015). While the “George Lucas Canon,” which contained not only the six feature film episodes (i.e., the original trilogy of Episode IV through VI as well as the more recently released “prequel trilogy” of Episode I through III) but also “any statements by George Lucas (including unpublished production notes from him or his production department that are never seen by the public)” (Wookieepedia 2015: n. pag.), still defined the “canonical core” of the franchise, then, works that were merely part of the “Television Canon” (which was introduced to attribute a comparatively high canonical status to the cgi feature film television series Star Wars: The Clone Wars and its feature film pilot, among others) or the [End Page 38] broader “Continuity Canon” could still be comprehended as expanding the work-specific storyworlds of the films, albeit only to the extent to which they did not conflict with “higher-level canon.”14
Despite the fact that the “Holocron continuity database” appears to describe a transmedial universe with a comparatively well defined “intended structure,” then, it should also be noted that both this transmedial universe and the transmedial storyworld at its “canonical core” remained in a state of constant flux. During the past few decades, this primarily resulted from Lucas repeatedly reconsidering what he “intended” to be the case in the work-specific storyworlds of the six feature film episodes most saliently defining the franchise’s “canonical core.” As the Wookieepedia’s description of “George Lucas Canon” notes, “when the matter of changes between movie versions arises, the most recently released editions are deemed superior to older ones, as they correct mistakes, improve consistency between the two trilogies, and express Lucas’s current vision of the Star Wars universe most closely” (2015: n. pag.).
Perhaps more importantly, though, the acquisition of the Star Wars franchise by Disney in 2012 has led to yet another fundamental shift in the “intended structure” of its transmedial universe that abolished the six “canonical levels” in favor of a simpler canonical/apocryphal distinction, once more. While the feature films of both Episode I through VI and the forthcoming Episode VII through IX as well as the Star Wars: The Clone Wars feature film pilot and television series will remain at the center of Star Wars’ transmedial universe, the former “expanded universe” will continue to be published “under the new Legends banner” (StarWars.com 2014: n. pag.), rendering it more clearly distinct from the franchise’s “canonical core.”15 On the one hand, then, the Star Wars franchise serves to emphasize the importance of the canonical/apocryphal distinction for the intersubjective construction of the “intended structure” of a given franchise’s transmedial universe. On the other hand, however, it also exemplifies transmedial entertainment franchises’ potential for synchronic complexity and diachronic variability, which makes analyzing them based on the model of the “single world” appear overly reductive. [End Page 39]
As I have attempted to show, one way to transcend the model of the “single world” is offered by a narratologically informed account of how transmedial entertainment franchises afford the intersubjective construction not only of medium-specific and transtextual or transmedial storyworlds but also of occasionally rather complex storyworld compounds that one could, for lack of a better term, call transmedial universes. As theoretically sound as it is analytically versatile, this approach to the analysis of transmedial entertainment franchises’ representational functions can be applied to a variety of different cases, ranging from the gradual expansion of a single transmedial storyworld in comparatively small-scale franchises such as The Matrix or Halo, via the more complex combination of redundancy, expansion, and modification that defines the transmedial universes of franchises such as A Song of Ice and Fire or The Walking Dead, to the synchronically complex and diachronically variable “intended structures” of the transmedial universes that long-running franchises such as Star Wars generate.16 Of course, not all lines of inquiry within current media studies will deem this kind of detailed analysis of transmedial entertainment franchises’ representational functions necessary, but for those that do, the “toolbox” developed in the previous pages may prove to be of at least some heuristic value.
jan-noël thon is a research associate in the Department of Media Studies of the University of Tübingen, Germany. He is the editor of From Comic Strips to Graphic Novels: Contributions to the Theory and History of Graphic Narrative (2013/2015, with Daniel Stein), Storyworlds across Media: Toward a Media-Conscious Narratology (2014, with Marie-Laure Ryan), Game Studies: Aktuelle Ansätze der Computerspielforschung (2015, with Klaus Sachs-Hombach), and Subjectivity across Media: Interdisciplinary and Transmedial Perspectives (forthcoming 2016, with Maike Sarah Reinerth), as well as the author of Transmedial Narratology and Contemporary Media Culture (forthcoming 2016) and Transmediale Narratologie: Eine Einführung (forthcoming 2016).
1. My approach to the analysis of transmedial entertainment franchises’ representational functions is closely connected to a more general attempt at developing a transmedial narratology as a theoretical frame within which medium-specific models from various strands of current narratological practice may be systematically correlated, modified, and expanded to illuminate the forms and functions of narrative representation across media (see, e.g., Thon 2014c, 2014d, 2016). Most importantly, the following conceptualization of storyworlds as intersubjective communicative constructs draws extensively on my previous work on transmedial strategies of narrative representation in contemporary comics, films, and video games (see Thon 2016: chaps. 2 and 3). Despite these continuities, then, the present article provides me with a welcome opportunity to examine in more detail the extent to which a general method for the analysis of transmedial strategies of narrative representation needs to be augmented in order to prove useful for the analysis of transmedial entertainment franchises. [End Page 40]
2. There is some discussion within current narratology regarding the question of when something can or should be considered a narrative (see, e.g., the surveys in Thon 2014b, 2016). In the context of a transmedial narratology, recent attempts to develop prototypical definitions of narrative that allow for gradual conceptualizations of narrativity appear most promising (see, e.g., Ryan 2006). As different as the various proposed answers to the question of when something can or should be considered a narrative are, though, there is a broad consensus that prototypical narratives should at least be considered to be representations of worlds that are situated in time and space as well as populated with characters. Against this background, suggestions that some represented worlds are “transnarrative” (Wolf 2012: 154) appear to be based on an overly rigid conceptualization of narrativity. Still, it seems worth stressing that not only novels, comics, films, or television series but also maps, timelines, encyclopedias, and (video) games may contribute to the representation of what I would call a storyworld.
3. Of course, this does not mean that the ways we imagine the storyworld based on a given narrative work will be entirely alike, nor that they should be. Nevertheless, it seems important “not to confuse the worlds of games that appreciators play with representational works with the worlds of the works” (Walton 1990: 58). Indeed, equating the storyworld that a narrative work represents with the way individual recipients imagine it rather obviously runs counter to how we usually talk about storyworlds, both as “mere” recipients and as scholars. Although it has become rather common to emphasize the importance of narrative comprehension within contemporary narratology, even cognitive narratologists by and large seem not all that interested in the actual mental models that recipients construct on the basis of narrative representations but rather in some ideal version of these models (see, e.g., Herman 2002, 2009). For a more detailed discussion of the similarities and differences between various conceptualizations of “represented worlds,” see Thon 2016.
4. As far as the conceptualization of storyworlds proposed in the present article is concerned, the reflexive and decidedly hypothetical reconstruction of authorial intentions that tends to orient the meaning-making process primarily pertains to a given work’s “referential meaning” (Bordwell 1989: 8, original emphasis; see also Persson 2003: 29–33). Moreover, Currie refers to a comparatively weak form of “hypothetical intentionalism” here, as drawing “pragmatic inference to” the “intended meaning” (2010: 16) of a narrative work does not, under normal circumstances, entail “a forensic investigation into a person’s motives that involves sifting the evidence of diaries, letters, and the reminiscences of friends” (2010: 25). For a more detailed discussion of intentionalist-pragmatic accounts of narrative meaning-making in the context of a transmedial narratology, see, once more, Thon 2016.
5. I agree with Herman that the concept of “storyworld applies both to fictional [End Page 41] and nonfictional narratives. All narratives have world-creating power, even though, depending on the kind of narrative involved, interpreters bring to bear on those storyworlds different evaluative criteria” (2002: 16, original emphasis; see also the more detailed discussion in Thon 2014a, 2016). Among other things, this would suggest not only that there is no reason for the transmedial representation of storyworlds to be limited to the genres of fantasy and/or science fiction (see, e.g., Harvey 2015; Ryan 2015) but also that transmedial representations of nonfictional storyworlds are possible (see, e.g., Ryan 2015; and the case study of transmedial journalism developed in Detel 2014).
6. For a more detailed discussion of the distinction between situations and storyworlds, see Thon 2016. While it would go beyond the scope of the present article to further examine the “contents” of storyworlds, I would still like to mention that there is a broad consensus within current narratology that “situations, characters,” and “actions” are defining elements of a prototypical “represented world” (Schmid 2010: 31; see also the brief discussion of narrativity above). However, more complex proposals to describe these elements have also been put forward. Ryan has developed detailed taxonomies of the “inventory” of fictional worlds (1991) as well as of storyworlds (2014); Doležel (1998) provides an in-depth discussion of different types of fictional worlds as well as a fairly complex taxonomy that allows for a meticulous description of their constituting elements, in the context of which he also offers a rather influential discussion of the “modal constraints” governing the internal structure of these worlds; and, putting a stronger emphasis on different strategies of representation, Wolf likewise provides an in-depth discussion of the “frameworks and infrastructures that help both authors and audiences to organize all the pieces of information about a world and give a coherent or even consistent existence to the whole” (2012: 154).
7. Evidently, the local/global distinction can be productively applied to a wide variety of phenomena in the context of narrative meaning-making. As, e.g., van Dijk notes in the foreword to Macrostructures, “in cognitive psychology and artificial intelligence, it has appeared that processing of discourse and interaction … cannot properly be accounted for without the global organization of complex information. … These various global structures are accounted for in terms of macrostructures. Macrostructures are higher-level semantic or conceptual structures that organize the ‘local’ microstructure of discourse, interaction, and their cognitive processing” (1980: v). Because the local/global distinction is relational, however, whether a given process or a given structure will be described as local or global depends on the frame of reference. As far as the intersubjective construction of a given narrative work’s storyworld is concerned, one can begin by systematically distinguishing between locally represented situations and the more complex global storyworld as a whole into which they are combined during narrative meaning-making (see Thon 2016). If [End Page 42] the frame of reference is changed from a single narrative work to the transmedial arrangement of narrative works within a transmedial franchise, however, the storyworld that would previously have been described as a global construct will reappear as a considerably more local element. See also the further discussion of the distinction between local work-specific storyworlds, glocal transmedial storyworlds, and global transmedial universes below.
8. While I would readily admit that this terminological choice is slightly awkward, “universe” still seems to be one of the more appropriate shorthands for “contradictory storyworld compound.” One problem with the term appears to be that it is already used in a variety of ways in production and fan discourses. Particularly in the context of long-running franchises, “universes” are sometimes contrasted with “multiverses,” the latter referring to “the overall structure resulting from the connection of two or more universes that, though connected, still remain distinct and separate” (Wolf 2012: 216). Hence, a term such as “multiverse” might, at first glance, appear to more appropriately describe the kind of storyworld compound I am interested in here. On closer inspection, however, the rather specific term “multiverse” turns out to be no less problematic than the more general term “universe,” as it tends to be used to provide internal explanations for the contradictions that appear among the work-specific storyworlds of comics-based franchises such as those of Marvel or dc, thereby allowing these franchises to “weld” their work-specific storyworlds into what I would, perhaps, describe as an increasingly transmedial storyworld (though quite a few contradictions tend to remain unresolved). See also Kukkonen 2010; Packard 2015; Wolf 2012; as well as dc Comics Database 2014; Marvel Universe Wiki 2009; Wookieepedia 2015.
9. I wish to stress again that the concept of a transmedial universe refers to an arrangement of storyworlds that is represented across different media rather than to the arrangement of narrative works that are used to represent the storyworld compound in question. While the distinction between narrative works and the storyworlds they represent is well established within current narratological practice (see, e.g., the discussion of various accounts of “narrative composition” in Thon 2016), there is a tendency in current media studies to conflate transmedial entertainment franchises with the world(s) they represent. Not least since this kind of short circuit—perhaps best exemplified by Klastrup and Tosca’s suggestion that “the transmedial world of Tolkien’s Middle Earth is more than the particular book trilogy called The Lord of the Rings, and it includes the films, the board games, the computer games, the fan fiction, the landscapes painted by graphic artists, etc.” (2004: n. pag.)—tends to downplay the importance of narrative meaning-making processes across media, though, I maintain the heuristic value of a systematic terminological distinction between transmedial entertainment franchises and the transmedial universes they represent.
10. However, insisting that work-specific storyworlds, transmedial storyworlds, [End Page 43] and transmedial universes should not be conflated with their mental representation by either the members of a given franchise’s various author collectives or the members of its audience but will, instead, be best conceptualized as intersubjective communicative constructs with a normative component that are based on their medial representation is not meant to minimize the variety of different experiences that transmedial entertainment franchises (as well as single narrative works or monomedial series of narrative works, for that matter) afford their recipients. Yet, this should not be overemphasized, either. As a point in case, the question of whether we encounter the various works of a transmedial entertainment franchise in their “order of public appearance, order of creation, internal chronological order, canonical order, order of media preference,” or “age-appropriate order” (Wolf 2012: 265) will influence how we construct a mental representation of that franchise’s transmedial universe, but arguing that it actually changes the structure of that universe (and not just our individual imagination of it) would seem misguided (see Wolf 2012: 264–67; as well as Klastrup and Tosca 2014 for a small-scale questionnaire-based study on “entry points” into the A Song of Ice and Fire franchise).
11. While Wolf’s distinction between “adaptation, when a story existing in one medium is adapted for presentation in another medium, but without adding any new canonical material to a world … , and growth, when another medium is used to present new canonical material of a world, expanding the world and what we know about it” (2012: 245–46, original emphases) suggests a “tidiness” that seems rather rare in contemporary media culture, Jenkins more explicitly concedes that “it might be better to think of adaptation and extension as part of a continuum in which both poles are only theoretical possibilities and most of the action takes place somewhere in the middle” (2011: n. pag.). Wolf and Jenkins are certainly right that some works primarily “re-tell” stories that were already told (see also, e.g., Hutcheon 2013; Parody 2011), and that this kind of redundancy (which I increasingly prefer not to conflate with the more varied process of “adaptation”) should be distinguished from the kind of expansion that results in the “growth” (or “extension”) of a previously established story-world. It seems similarly evident, however, that quite a few works (and, in fact, many if not most works that are marketed as adaptations) draw on a previously established storyworld but change it in such a way that one cannot speak of either the redundant adaptation or the noncontradictory expansion of that storyworld anymore. In these cases, then, Ryan’s distinction between the “transfictional relations” of “expansion” and “modification” (which she further contrasts to the less salient cases of “transposition” and “quotation”) proves particularly useful (see Ryan 2008, 2013, 2015; as well as Doležel 1998 for the distinction between “expansion,” “displacement,” and “transposition” that informs Ryan’s account; Saint-Gelais 2011 for a more detailed discussion of “transfictionality”).
12. For example, the observation that both the storyworld of Martin’s novels and [End Page 44] the storyworld of hbo’s television series are equally important parts of the franchise in its current form is further backed up by the ways in which the franchise’s video games relate to the novel series and the television series, respectively, with more recently published titles such as Cyanide’s Game of Thrones (2012) or Telltale Game’s Game of Thrones (2014) increasingly integrating assets from the television series, without being particularly explicit with regard to the question of whether they are meant to expand and/or modify the storyworld of the novels and/or that of the television series. One of the reasons for this might also be that the television series, while being best comprehended as a modification rather than as either a redundant adaptation or a noncontradictory expansion of the novel series from its very beginning, has remained comparatively “faithful” to the core structure of the latter’s plot in its first four seasons. See also Klastrup and Tosca 2014; Schröter 2015 for further discussion of some of the franchise’s video games; as well as the contributions in Gjelsvik and Schubart 2016; Lowder 2012 for a broader examination of the A Song of Ice and Fire franchise.
13. While the “owners” of the Star Wars franchise may wield the authority to decide what the elements of the transmedial storyworld at its “canonical core” are, this should not be understood as erasing the impressively large amount of “fanonical” elements that relate to the “intended structure” of the licensed transmedial universe in complex ways (see also, once more, Jamison 2013; Lindgren Leavenworth and Isaksson 2013; Thomas 2011 on fan fiction). Moreover, role-playing practices ranging from pen-and-paper systems such as the Star Wars Roleplaying Game (Slavicsek, Collins, and Wiker 2000) and massively multiplayer role-playing games such as Star Wars: The Old Republic (2011–) to cosplay or even full-fledged Star Wars-themed live-action role-playing can be described as highly local forms of meaning-making taking place against the backdrop of the considerably more global forms of transmedially constituted “referential meanings” offered by the franchise. While these kinds of practices will usually not contribute to the transmedial universe of a given franchise in intersubjectively stable ways, they are, perhaps, best understood as being transmedially empowered by the intersubjectively stable parts of that transmedial universe (or, more commonly, by the transtextual or transmedial storyworld at its “canonical core”). See also Bowman 2010 or Taylor 2006 for ethnographic studies of various forms of role-playing games; Wolf 2012: 220–34 for a brief discussion of “virtual” and “interactive worlds”; and Thon 2015, 2016 for further discussion of the intersubjective construction of video games’ storyworlds in relation to the kind of representational instability that results from interactivity rather than nonlinearity.
14. In contrast, many of the works that “predate a consistent effort to maintain continuity” were marked as part of a “Secondary Canon,” which was further distinguished from the “Non-Canon” of “what-if stories (such as stories published [End Page 45] under the Infinities label) and anything else directly and irreconcilably contradicted by higher canon” (Wookieepedia 2015: n. pag.) as well as the more limited “Detours Canon,” constituted by the repeatedly postponed yet supposedly still forthcoming cgi television series Star Wars Detours. Although both the works published under the Infinities label and the extensive body of Star Wars fan fiction to be found at An Archive of Our Own and various other sites exclusively dedicated to the franchise are firmly considered “Non-Canon,” then, it seems clear that even these kinds of apocryphal works will often be best described as either a prima facie expansions or some form of modification of (a specific version of) the (barely) transmedial storyworld at Star Wars’ “canonical core,” though their apocryphal status ultimately prevents them from being considered as actually expanding or modifying it beyond the addition of yet another work-specific storyworld to the franchise’s transmedial universe.
15. Using the Legends brand for the continued publication of material that is now more clearly marked as apocryphal also hints at a potential internal explanation of the contradictions between the franchise’s various work-specific storyworlds. As Del Rey’s editor-at-large, Shelly Shapiro, suggests, “legends are things that are often told over generations so they’re not … they change constantly with the telling, so you can’t actually attribute an author to any particular one. Often it wasn’t someone who was actually there. You can go back to any of the legends … they’re pretty sure there was a ‘King Arthur,’ but most of the stories probably did not happen. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t kernels of truth in it” (qtd. in Dyce 2014: n. pag., ellipses in the original). While considerably less explicit than the various internal explanations via which dc and Marvel have repeatedly attempted, albeit with limited success, to “weld” their various work-specific storyworlds into the transmedial storyworlds of the supposedly noncontradictory “dc multiverse” and “Marvel multiverse,” respectively, this attempt at framing the canonical/apocryphal distinction as a matter of representational (un)reliability still appears noteworthy in its emphasis of the model of the “single world.” See also Thon 2014d, 2016 for a more detailed discussion of the notion of representational (un)reliability.
16. Indeed, the proposed conceptualization of transmedial universes as contradictory compounds of ontologically distinct work-specific, transtextual, and/or transmedial storyworlds appears flexible enough not only to be applied to the analysis of the apocryphal and/or unlicensed periphery of a given transmedial entertainment franchise—allowing for the analysis of its “fanon” in addition to its “canon”—but also to come to terms with various kinds of crossovers between the storyworlds and/or universes that were established by different franchises. On the one hand, this refers to multi-franchises such as the “dc Universe” and “Marvel Universe,” each of which combines a number of what could be described as distinct franchises (such as Batman or Superman in the [End Page 46] case of dc, or X-Men and The Avengers in the case of Marvel) into a particularly expansive transmedial universe (which, in both cases, pretends to merely be a complex kind of transmedial storyworld, albeit with limited success). On the other hand, crossovers may also occur between franchises whose universes are more clearly perceived as distinct, sometimes remaining fairly limited (as is the case with most dc/Marvel crossovers), at other times spawning franchises of their own (as was the case with the action role-playing game Kingdom Hearts , which resulted in a long-term cooperation between Square and Disney, and will likely be the case with the more recent collectible figurine/video-game hybrid Disney Infinity , as well).