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Not to be confused with Canonization or Canons.

Canon as it relates to The Elder Scrolls is the concept that a fundamental set of games, texts, or other publications constitutes a body of knowledge about the series that is inherently worth a greater level of consideration than works published by other parties. Although the "canonical authors" of the series are generally accepted to be any ZeniMax Media company, including Bethesda Softworks, the term is intentionally ambiguously defined by the game developers and has been a source of contention among the wider community for this reason. In February 2014, Michael Kirkbride released C0DA, an influential but controversial text rejecting the concept as a whole. The Elder Scrolls Wiki does not endorse the use of the term "canon," instead opting to classify documents based on their licensing status.

To understand canon and continuity, the overall Elder Scrolls series should be looked at as a set of stories written by many different people which "document" historical "events." Although some stories are more reliable than others, they all are looked upon as part of the overall "history." It should also be remembered that all of these stories are simply that—stories. There are numerous errors that inevitably arise between the stories simply because different authors have their own ways of telling the story and may not have the time and resources to perfectly align the details.

The situation can be compared to Greek and Roman mythology, or the stories of King Arthur. The various Elder Scrolls tales are a group of separate but linked stories, and are told by many different authors over a period of time.

Developer comments on canonEdit

The following archive attempts to document various developer quotes on the subject of canonicity and, by extension, the nature of the lore as a whole. While discussing the topic, developers have in different moments completely contradicted each other and even themselves. Bethesda's ultimate position on canonicity in The Elder Scrolls is subsequently dubious.

CartogriffiEdit

Is the Creation Club canon? (10/03/17) (UESP Discord server, #skyrim)

"I am not an official arbiter of Bethesda lore, but I hope you don’t mind if I chime in. Creations are official releases, but it’s also understandable that a site like UESP or the Imperial Library would take CC with a grain of salt. We do consider lore implications when reviewing proposals, particularly something trying to heavily enmesh itself into the world. Connections to the world are great, but we also want to avoid anything being too impactful. That is, we want things to fit into the game world, but we’re also not looking to greatly expand the lore of the game. With historic items, like artifacts, simply existing can have implications for the lore. Although artifacts in Tamriel do have a habit of disappearing and re-materializing in other places. I believe this was even noted in the description of Chrysamere in Daggerfall."[1]

What's Bethesda's relationship to lore and canon? (10/26/17) (UESP Discord server, #lore)

"​We try not to make proclamations about the lore. So much of its richness comes from the fact that it's almost entirely encountered first-hand, and through texts written by in-world authors with their own biases, opinions, experience, and misconceptions."[1]

What about items from other games? Are those canon, too? (10/26/17) (UESP Discord server, #lore)

"Promotional items are sort of a category of their own."[1]

Tori DoughertyEdit

Do you think MKB's lore should be considered canon?

"TES lore is so big and so mysterious, and up for interpretations of all kinds. So I don't really know if anything in the game can really be called "canon" unless the player sees it happen!"[2]

Douglas GoodallEdit

Talking about the Lessons of Vivec, why did you write Sermon Zero? Should it be interpreted as being official lore?

"I wrote it is as a kind of "me, too!" after reading the 36 Sermons. It was a tribute and a refutation. I don't have any say anymore about whether it is official lore. I probably didn't leave extensive enough notes for them to make it official... I figured that, regardless of whether the 36 Sermons were true or not (something that was not decided at Bethesda when I worked there), the author (whether it was really Vivec or not) would have competition. An opposing faction. An alternate take. Note that Sermon Zero isn't actually present in Morrowind, as far as I remember. Books that are actually published in one of the Elder Scrolls games have precedence over ramblings on the forums."[UL 1]

Matt FirorEdit

"So I don't have to tell you guys this, but the lore – maybe some of your readers will know this – but the lore in Elder Scrolls is never definitive, it's always told through the eyes of people that live in the world, which gives developers – not just us, but everyone that works on Elder Scrolls – certain leeway to kind of find what that person meant when they were telling the story."[3]

One of the most common questions I get about The Elder Scrolls Online is whether its lore is considered canon in [the] broader Elder Scrolls [universe]. [Is it?]

"Yes, it absolutely is. We have one full-time loremaster that does nothing but work with Bethesda Game Studios to make sure that there's a consistent timeline, characters are consistent, naming is consistent. The timeline is [a] super important force to any lore. This is why we picked the time that we did for Elder Scrolls Online all those years ago when we started the project, was we wanted to pick a time where there wasn't a whole lot known about it, so we could at least tell our own stories with our own characters, and we do that. But yeah, when you start to bring in things like the Psijic Order and the history of the Altmer, yes, we're very much tied into the main lore. [...] [We work with Bethesda Game Studios] every day, yeah.[4]

Pete HinesEdit

How will the books and texts released after Morrowind (e.g. Vehk's Teachings) and the teasers and reports before Oblivion (e.g. Nu-Mantia Intercept, Love Letter from the Fifth Era, etc.) be folded into the official lore and will this lore appear in-game? Was the 'Trial of Vivec' RP (which culminated in the banishing of Azura from Mundus) a semi-official conclusion of the Morrowind storyline, or can we expect to learn more of its connection to recent events, along with the true fate of Vivec/Vehk?

"Remember that only things that have been published in Elder Scrolls games should be considered official lore."[5]

[In reference to a fan question about The Infernal City and Lord of Souls.]

"Yes, we consider the Elder Scrolls novels canon to TES lore."[6]

Does Bethesda consider Obscure Texts and developer comments as "actual lore" or "canon"?(24/11/11)

"It depends."[7]

Which is the canon ending to the Civil War in Skyrim? The Imperials or the Stormcloaks?

"As with other Elder Scrolls games(like the multiple endings to Daggerfall) the studio doesn’t really force one outcome as canon. That’d sort of diminish each player’s choice."[8]

Todd HowardEdit

I think we had an email conversation a couple months back; you were talking about how you relate lore to real-world history. Can you talk about how you look at the lore with The Elder Scrolls?

"Yeah, I think it's important that when you look at any—I think people want the answers, always, like, 'What is Truth?'—but what is Truth in the history of Earth? Truth is often written by the winners, and that there are always different perspectives on what happened in history, and so we do take that approach with the lore in Elder Scrolls, where all perspectives can be correct. But which one is more correct? That's why we get in these debates over, 'Hey, what is Truth?' And so, for us, it's sort of a priority. The truth in Elder Scrolls, primarily, is what you saw on the screen.

"Like, you can read a thousand books and say, 'There are no dragons,' and if a dragon comes up on the screen, well, you saw it happen in a game. But it's not just the current games; we've got to go back to Arena, and then what was on the screen in Arena? What was on the screen in Daggerfall? What was in the manual? You know, there's things where, in the manual of Arena—I think that's where they mentioned Sithis and the Dark Brotherhood—so that, for us, kind of trumps, well, these other references to what the Dark Brotherhood worships. And it is hard to keep track of all of that, but that's what gives it that kind of realistic for what it is flavor."[9]

What are some of your opinions on fan theories out there?

"I think that they're all good. Like I said there, people want to know truth, but even my perspective is one version of truth of what happened in the history of Elder Scrolls and so forth. I would tamper their desire to have all mysteries revealed, because mysteries are good for a fantasy world to have. [...] It's kind of what I said in the panel. "What's the order of priority?" If you saw it on the screen that's number one, that's the most truth. If you read it in the game, that's second truth. If you read it in an official thing outside the game, in the manual, that's the third. If you read it from a fan on the Internet that's way down there, that's like not on the list, right! But that's the main three. On the screen, something you see happen, regardless of what game it is or when it came out, that for us is the primary. A book in the game is second, and then a book that's official outside the game is third."[10]

So does that mean the flavor text in the new cookbook is canon? The author said she wasn't sure.

"Well I don't know how official that book is. It would be on the list, it would be down there. I don't know. I haven't read it. I know of its existence. But it would be on the list, but low, is what I would say. Why, what does it say?"[10]

Michael KirkbrideEdit

"Tamriel never belonged to Bethesda. It was the other way around. As for canon, it's really all interactive fiction, and that should mean something to everyone. That said, I appreciate and understand the stamp of "official", but I think it will hurt more that it will help in the long run. TES should be Open Source. It is for me."[UL 2]

"official canon"

"This concept doesn't exist. … Yup. Contributions here have already (or will) make it into games already."[UL 3]

Rich LambertEdit

What is it that makes The Elder Scrolls so unique and appealing to you? I.E. lore wise, gameplay wise, open-ended nature, etc.

"One of the things I love the most about Elder Scrolls is the lore is told from multiple perspectives... there isn't a single source of truth. That makes it feel much more believable and authentic."[11]

Ted PetersonEdit

"I'm merely challenging your assumption that Pete's words can only mean that Oblivion's lore is fact and unambiguous. The only thing Pete said is that the postings in this forum should not be taken as official lore. The stuff in Arena, Daggerfall, Battlespire, Redguard, Morrowind, Tribunal, Bloodmoon, and Oblivion are official lore ... and not unambiguous."[UL 4]
"I have never said [the Trial of Vivec is canon]. It might turn out to be, but I actually subscribe to the spirit of the much maligned phrase of Pete's that it's not canon unless it's in the games. The trial and the RP that sprung from it, which continues on in the "From The Ashes" thread, have definitely influenced some lore that subsequently appeared in Oblivion and in the PGE."[UL 5]
"I would like to propose that instead of there being a black-and-white distinction between canon and non-canon, loreists refer to Primary and Secondary Sources. A Secondary Source, such as a comment from MK or a reference in the Trial or RP, may be 100% accurate and become a Primary Source when it is later published in a game; it may remain a useful reference, such as a scholar's commentary on Shakespeare, which is informed and likely true, though not actually part of a play or sonnet; or, it may be disproved on later Primary Source evidence."[UL 5]

"If there are so many radically different accounts of certain historical events, how can any researcher possibly tell which accounts are true and which are not? Furthermore, does this not mean that there is no unanimously accepted history of Tamriel?"

"Are there events, personalities, and histories that are in contention? Certainly. Does that mean that there are no facts that are generally accepted amongst the people of the Empire? Not at all. [...] I don't see history in Tamriel as a completely formless mass with no tentpoles or points of reference. It may be impossible for a historian to be conclusive, but that does not mean that history as a whole is a lie. The truths are there, if you look."[UL 6]

[In reference to the Daggerfall Unity project, a fan-made recreation of Daggerfall in the Unity engine.]

"Obviously since Daggerfall Unity isn't an official product, what I write won't be canon, but I would like it to have some value both to the developers and to the players of the game now perhaps being introduced for the first time to TES 2. [...] Any thoughts, directions, or ideas would be appreciated (with the usual caveat that even if your idea is brilliant, I might go in a different direction)."[UL 7]
"Great questions all around, and again, to be clear, since I'm not a Bethesda employee anymore and DF:U (which I encourage everyone to check out) is not an official Bethesda game, whatever I write is not going to be canon. But if it makes sense and is perhaps surprising too, then I feel my job is done."[UL 7]

Ken RolstonEdit

[In reference to a supposed database used by Mark Nelson and others to keep track of the "canonical" lore internally.]

"I know of no secret database held by Mark. I consider the Imperial library and Unofficial Elder Scrolls Page as authoritative. We had a lot of crackpot 'Franchise Mysteries', but I don't recall ever formally documenting them. That was their great charm... we never really wanted to record a singe Real Truth, and preferred to maintain the crackpot ideass as a sort of communal collective unconscious."[UL 8]

Lawrence SchickEdit

"Elder Scrolls is different from most fantasy campaign worlds, right? I mean, the typical paradigm, you know - George RR Martin with Westeros, Tolkien with Middle Earth, the familiar D&D worlds of The Forgotten Realms or the world of Greyhawk - those all have histories and backgrounds that are all laid out and they've all got some lore-daddy who decided everything and everything is 'this is how it is', so everything works within the envelope of things that are already decided.

"Elder Scrolls - Tamriel - does not follow that paradigm. In Elder Scrolls, all lore is delivered not from on high by revelation, but from people who live their lives in the game, in the world of the game, and based on their beliefs. So that does two things for us: It means the lore always carries not just information about what the person is talking about, but also information about the person and their culture. Because the way the lore is delivered tells you how they believe things actually work in the world.

"What this means, of course, is that people have different viewpoints - these viewpoints sometimes contradict each other, and so sometimes we have players saying "alright, this person believes that, and that person believes this other thing, but which one's the real thing?" Well… it's not a world like ours. In a world like ours, where you can sort of trust in science and say "well yes, people have different beliefs but I know there is an objective reality." This is a world of myth. This is a world where reality is actually changeable, where the Divines can change not only what happens going forward, but what has happened in the past. So, you know, the idea there is an objective reality behind all these different people's opinions is not necessarily the case in the world of Tamriel. So listen to what all these different people have to say, make up your own mind, make up your own beliefs about what happened and you're as liable - since you're playing in their world and you're playing a character in their world - what you think happened is as legitimate as what that NPC thinks."[12]

"Tamriel is a world where all history, past and future, is described in the ever-shifting texts of the mysterious Elder Scrolls, which tell always of what might be rather than of what is. And this is a uniquely suitable setting for a multiplayer online game that hosts players of many cultures and backgrounds. What could be better for characters in a role-playing game than an expansive world of many different cultures, each with its own history and myths, so you can be whoever you want to be? That sounds great—but what should your character believe is really true? Since all the stories of this world come from characters in the setting itself, and you can listen to them and read their books, you can decide that for yourself. And whatever that is, it's as right as any other character's beliefs, player or non-player, because your character lives in the same world they do.

"And what your character does, and says, and believes, becomes part of that world. For you, and whoever else shares the experience, what happened is now part of the lore. The non-player characters are all there, ready to share their stories with you, but it's you who makes those stories live, because your character has agency and meaningful choices where the NPCs do not. Moreover, what your character does persists for you, and the stories you’ve told and the experiences you've shared with your friends live on in your own memories. You just added to the history of Tamriel.

"And not just in your memories, because Tamriel is a world that continues in constant development, and where that world goes next depends upon what you did and how you reacted to it! The game devs pay close attention to what you liked and what you didn't. Recurring characters like Razum-dar and Naryu Virian don’t come back because the game devs think they should, they recur because YOU told the game devs that your experiences with those characters were significant and memorable. What you do in Tamriel, and how you feel about what you did, steers the direction of future development."[13]

Leamon TuttleEdit

Kind of an interesting question, that also got posted on the forums… I guess from a lore perspective, would we ever consider community written, or community inspired, lore. Like having them be part of the process in a way, or do we strictly keep it pretty in house.

"We keep it in house, for the most part, because we don't want to, you know, step on anybody's toes. We don't want to steal things from people. And I think we've got a lot of really great ideas now. That said, one of the cool things is that when we create something, there's a response to that. And that response is almost never what we expect. Which is really neat. When I did Truth in Sequence, which is the Sotha Sil sermons or whatever, I had a very clear idea of what I was getting across. "This is obvious," whatever. And then it made it out into the world, and all the folks out there in the lore community were picking it to pieces and saying "it could mean this, or it could mean this," and I was just blown away. I was like, "oh my god, it totally could mean that!" [...]

"It's amazing. It's this weird, kind of miraculous thing that happens, where you create something, and you send it off into the world, and it lives its own life, and people look at it and they interpret it one way or they interpret it another. [...] As writers, it's our job to create things that people can debate. If we create something, and we say, you know, "this is absolutely how it is," and we write this solid, irrefutable thing, then we failed. Because then people say, "that's clearly the truth," and the debate is over. [...]

"It's a fine line. You want to provide lore that's interesting and that people can really think about, but you also want to use a light touch and let people come to their own conclusions. When somebody sees something in a way that's fundamentally different from a way that I see it, but I wrote it, that's really encouraging. That means that we've done something right."[14]

What advice did outgoing Loremaster Lawrence Schick give you before he left? Did he pass on his hat, literally?

"Lawrence also told me — told all of us, really — to use a light touch. I think all of us have an inherent desire to kind of set things in stone. We want a firm foundation to build on. But part of the genius of Elder Scrolls is its ambiguity. As the Loremaster, he had ample opportunity to force his authorial will on the material, but he didn't. He urged us all to give the lore some breathing room — to keep things open to interpretation. It's very good advice, and I plan on following it!"[15]

You've mentioned that you read fan theories and works frequently - has one ever inspired you to add something based on it, or made you change something you were working on?

"Not consciously, no. I've had my head in TES lore for a long time, and my theories are pretty much locked down at this point. But this kind of leads into the points Lawrence made in his farewell address. Even as the Loremaster, my personal theories and perspectives on the lore are not authoritative. Good lore should allow ample room for interpretation and debate. If I write something that brooks no opposition and comes off as totally irrefutable, I think I've failed as a writer.

"What I find really miraculous is how people can take a piece of text that I've written and find something in it that I never even considered. I'm a firm believer in the idea that art exists on its own, separate from the artist. The intentions of the writer — while potentially interesting — are ultimately kind of irrelevant. What matters is the text itself. So, when I see a fan lay out a compelling argument that is A) totally consistent with existing lore and the text itself, and B) completely at odds with my own thoughts of the subject, it's an amazing feeling. Every answer we provide should prompt more questions. Questions lead to contemplation and debate. Keeping that excitement and exploration going is basically the whole reason we do this stuff!"[15]

How much is your work influenced by the community?

"I think it's always wise to keep the community's desires in mind. [...] While we don't make a practice of including community-generated content in the game, we certainly enjoy some of it, and might provide space in official lore to keep the accuracy of the community member's work an open question."[16]

In his farewell letter, Lawrence Schick mentioned how "the lore is yours." Do you have anything you'd like to add or amend to that sentiment?

"I think it's spot-on. Even as the Loremaster, my personal interpretations of the lore are not authoritative. It's our job to provide multiple, conflicting perspectives and encourage people in the community to draw their own conclusions. How you choose to connect those dots (or not connect them) is entirely up to you.

"All creative enterprises—books, movies, games, etc—should ideally serve as jumping off points for the next great idea. When you lock an idea in amber and insist that it remain exactly the same, and that it conform to your personal preferences, you're basically strangling it to death. The Elder Scrolls belong to everyone, and as long as we provide inspiration for your creative expression and fan-debates, I'd say we're doing the job well."[16]

[Posted from his personal Twitter account.]

"I've been receiving a lot of lore questions from the community on Twitter recently. It's really great to see your theories and ruminations! Unfortunately, I can't provide answers personally via social media. The Elder Scrolls is a unique franchise in that the lore is always delivered through a figure in the universe itself. By answering questions personally, I would be enforcing a top-down authoritative answer. This runs counter to the subjective, unreliable nature of our lore."[17]

[In reference to questions about intentionally ambiguous aspects of the lore]

"Haha! These are spectacular (and very specific) questions, that I can't answer without upending the relationship between you and the unreliable narrator. I'm sure you'll find a million theories on the teslore reddit and elsewhere."[11]

What are your thoughts on the more obscure aspects of lore, like Michael Kirkbride's writings and forum roleplays?

"Are you kidding? I love obscure lore! I'm a big fan of the 36 Lessons, and I love reading reddit apocrypha, etc. TES is an amazing franchise, and it's always exciting to see enthusiastic fans participating in its continued growth."[11]

MiscellaneousEdit

The following quotations, while from official sources, have unknown authorship.

@TESOnline – The Elder Scrolls Online
"We are working closely with the Bethesda Softworks team to ensure all #ESO lore is historically accurate and canon-appropriate."[18]
"The events in #ESO are canon, but the game is a new MMOG (not ES6). Bethsoft will continue to make great single-player ES games!"[19]
"#ESO is canon. We work closely with Bethesda to ensure ESO honors existing Elder Scrolls lore. More here: http://ow.ly/f5Gto"[20]
"Yes, #ESO is canon. We work closely with Bethesda to ensure that all lore in ESO is historically accurate & canon-appropriate."[21]
[?]

See alsoEdit

External linksEdit

References

Notice: The following are unlicensed references. They are not copyrighted by a ZeniMax Media company, but can still be considered part of The Elder Scrolls lore and are included for completeness.
  1. General:Douglas Goodall Interview
  2. Reddit: I am Michael Kirkbride. Ask Me Anything.
  3. Reddit: How to tell between the fanfic and actual lore posted here?
  4. The Imperial Library Forums: Amulet of Kings
  5. 5.0 5.1 Ted Peterson's Posts
  6. Interview With Three Writers
  7. 7.0 7.1 The Imperial Library – New Book For Daggerfall Unity
  8. Les 20 Ans Des Tes En Interview
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