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In the movie industry there is at least one example (Star Wars) of a franchise where early installments were edited post factum to fit the canon of future releases. However, it is quite hard to edit previously released movies, so you cannot introduce major changes to the plot. But it should be much easier to rewrite a book in order to align it with modern works.

Has there ever been a major book that was re-released to fit into a newer canon? A hypothetical example would be Tolkien rewriting The Hobbit to make it compatible with the Lord of the Rings series.

closed as off-topic by Valorum, amflare, Edlothiad, DCOPTimDowd, Skooba Apr 25 '18 at 19:02

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    Yes, "hypothetical." – jwodder Apr 25 '18 at 15:22
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    A note for all the people posting answers. A good answer to this question will look like "Yes, here are 2-4 examples". You don't need to list every author who ever retconned, and neither should you add a one off example. – amflare Apr 25 '18 at 15:40
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    Curious, did you already know about the Hobbit rewrite or was it a lucky guess? Just wondering why you referred to it as a hypothetical. – Darren Apr 25 '18 at 15:46
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    @Valorum I can't find the word "all" in the question. Question does not ask what are all the books that have been edited to include retcons. It is not a list question, it is a yes/no question. The consensus seems to be that such questions are on topic. – user14111 Apr 25 '18 at 22:55
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    @user14111 - Bad questions attract low quality answers (and lotsa them). – Valorum Apr 25 '18 at 23:41
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Tolkien literally did just that:

In the first edition of The Hobbit, Gollum willingly bets his magic ring on the outcome of the riddle-game, and he and Bilbo part amicably. In the second edition edits, to reflect the new concept of the ring and its corrupting abilities, Tolkien made Gollum more aggressive towards Bilbo and distraught at losing the ring. The encounter ends with Gollum's curse, "Thief! Thief, Thief, Baggins! We hates it, we hates it, we hates it forever!" This presages Gollum's portrayal in The Lord of the Rings.

Tolkien sent this revised version of the chapter "Riddles in the Dark" to Unwin as an example of the kinds of changes needed to bring the book into conformity with The Lord of the Rings, but he heard nothing back for years. When he was sent galley proofs of a new edition, Tolkien was surprised to find the sample text had been incorporated. In The Lord of the Rings, the original version of the riddle game is explained as a "lie" made up by Bilbo under the harmful influence of the Ring, whereas the revised version contains the "true" account. The revised text became the second edition, published in 1951 in both the UK and the US.

Source: Wikipedia

Stephen King also rewrote large sections of the first Dark Tower book:

King revised The Gunslinger in 2003. In his introduction to the new edition, King stated that he felt the original version was "dry" and difficult for new readers to access. He also made the storytelling more linear and the book's plot more consistent with the series' ending. Other changes were made in order to resolve continuity errors introduced by later volumes. The added material was over 9000 words (35 pages) in length.

Source: Wikipedia

TV Tropes calls these Orwellian Retcons, and has a number of other examples from literature.

  • Also the Star Wars novelization, I believe. – Todd Wilcox Apr 25 '18 at 18:01
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Orson Scott Card has frequently rewritten earlier works. For example Treason is a rewrite of A Planet Called Treason, and he reworked Hot Sleep first into The Worthing Chronicle and then again into The Worthing Saga. Not much of that was for the purpose of fixing continuity errors, but I'd be pretty sure that there were some fixes of that type.

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    he updated Ender's Game at least once to better reflect the internet age, if not more, as well – NKCampbell Apr 25 '18 at 15:53
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    He talked about this in his most recent blog post. Early in my career, I began to rewrite some of my first books, until my wife finally pointed out that I really wouldn't have much of a career if I kept rewriting the same five books over and over. Also, I'll just add here that although he's talked a lot about plans to make major edits to Ender's Game to bring it in line with the later books, he still hasn't ever done so. – ibid Apr 25 '18 at 15:56
  • He has modified a few things in Ender's Game, like the name of first colony where Ender is governor. – Jack B Nimble Apr 25 '18 at 16:12
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As a matter of fact, Tolkien did rewrite The Hobbit to make it compatible with LotR. The rewrites were not large, mainly to the "Riddles in the Dark" chapter. There's a good discussion here.

Another approach -- more widely used, I suspect -- is not to change the words of the older books, but to later reveal the "secret history" that was really going on so as to change the history without changing the story. This is often done by just showing that the narrator was naive and unaware of the full facts. Look, for instance, at the recent series of book X of Worlds (where X is "Fleet", "Juggler", "Destroyer", "Betrayer" and "Fate") by Larry Niven and Edward Lerner. This is a parallel history to most of Niven's earlier "Known Space" stories (and includes many of the same characters and places) but it pretty much completely upends what we thought we knew.

Asimov did much the same when he decided that nearly all his novel-length SF was set in the same universe.

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As already noted, Tolkien did this, revising The Hobbit to make it consistent with The Lord of the Rings.

The next most prominent science fiction/fantasy author to do this may be Stephen King, who rewrote his post-apocalyptic novel The Gunslinger to make it fit his later conception of his series The Dark Tower. Per Wikipedia:

King revised The Gunslinger in 2003. In his introduction to the new edition, King stated that he felt the original version was "dry" and difficult for new readers to access. He also made the storytelling more linear and the book's plot more consistent with the series' ending. Other changes were made in order to resolve continuity errors introduced by later volumes. The added material was over 9000 words (35 pages) in length.

Some changes include:

Roland suffers a dizzy spell at the beginning, a reference to his cyclical quest.

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Arthur C. Clarke never rewrote his early stories, but he would "retcon" elements of early books in sequels to bring them in line with advances in scientific knowledge, or events of later books. This is particularly visible in the 2001 / 2010 / 2061 / 3001 series.

And this is probably not what you have in mind, but L. Ron Hubbard rewrote "Dianetics" to bring it in line with later developments in Scientology.

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Raymond E. Feist did a preferred edition of Magician that was mainly to publish it in hardback, but did fix a bit of references and introduced places that were going to be important later. To quote his discussion from his website:

I wrote no new scenes, but I did add a couple of references that had been generic in the original that made them specific in the [Author's Preferred Edition]. When Charles tells of the Minwanabi betrayal of the Acoma, I had know [sic] in gereral how that was going to fit into a book (if I wrote it) of the other side of the war, but I hadn't named the characters by then. That allowed me to retrofit the references so things would mesh better.

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