What is the earliest example of a speculative fiction text (comic books included), where previous work by an author was overwritten to advance the narrative needs of a future work by that author?

I am not looking for unintended inconsistencies (e.g., Rowling's contradictions arising from "being bad at math"). Nor am I looking for examples of in-universe unreliable narration which is later revealed to have been told 'from a certain point of view' (e.g., Holmes' "death" at Reichenbach Falls, The Doctor's lies, etc.).

I am looking for an earliest example of intended contradiction of a significant portion of a earlier speculative fiction text by a single author; my interests are in "subtractive" aspects of retconning.

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    Maybe Doc Smith's 1948 Triplanetary revising and expanding his 1934 serial to fit the Lensman universe. I'm not sure how much the 1948 version contradicts or "subtracts" from the 1934 version.
    – user14111
    Sep 18, 2021 at 5:11
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    If this doesn't qualify then maybe the Hobbit edits?
    – Wade
    Sep 18, 2021 at 8:54
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    Although I am not sure why SH doesn't qualify; it was justified using in-universe unreliability of a narrator, but it was certainly the intent at the time for Holmes to have genuinely died. So you're looking for retcons that the author of which didn't bother to somehow justify? That would rule out the Hobbit too
    – Wade
    Sep 18, 2021 at 8:55
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    @Lexible, yes, I was quite peeved because I read your question on the phone in bed and decided to wait until morning before I answer it, and by then he had already beaten me. But he did probably better than I would have done, so, as you say, lovely answer. Sep 19, 2021 at 10:06
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    Gosh, I'm blushing here. I'd almost gotten there, but re-opened it in a hurry in the morning without proper time devoted to it. Thankfully Keith Morrison stepped in and added the missing details and clarification of the point. @EikePierstorff Sep 20, 2021 at 2:00

2 Answers 2


Originally serialized between 1869 and 1870, the events of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea(s) occur beginning in the year 1866.

Its sequel The Mysterious Island begins in 1865 with the escape of five Northern POWs from the Confederates during the Seige of Richmond, and when Nemo appears again (which is now 1866) he is startled to be recognized by at once by Smith, one of the escapees:

“It is nevertheless many years since I have held any communication with the inhabited world; three long years have I passed in the depth of the sea, the only place where I have found liberty! Who then can have betrayed my secret?”

“A man who was bound to you by no tie, Captain Nemo, and who, consequently, cannot be accused of treachery.”

“The Frenchman who was cast on board my vessel by chance sixteen years since?”

“The same.

The author wryly notes as omniscient and omnipotent narrator that:

The history of Captain Nemo has, in fact, been published under the title of “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.” Here, therefore, will apply the observation already made as to the adventures of Ayrton with regard to the discrepancy of dates. Readers should therefore refer to the note already published on this point.

The reference to Ayrton refers to Tom Ayrton, a character in the novel In Search of the Castaways who the characters find marooned on Tabor Island, where he'd been left as punishment for his crimes, and had spent many years there alone. The problem is that the novel In Search of the Castaways begins in 1864, while in The Mysterious Island the events of that novel are said to have begun in 1854.

So, to summarize, The Mysterious Island changed the events of Twenty Thousand Leagues from 1866 to about 1850 and those of In Search of the Castaways from 1864 to 1854.

  • Thanks for the clarification @Keith Morrison. Sep 19, 2021 at 14:47

I once asked What is Dr. Strange's source of income? and got a very curious answer.

In Strange Tales #147, Strange is in need of money and tells his servant Wong to do what RPG players do when they find a merchant, selling magical items at market price.

Strange tells Wong to go sell some items

Strange Tales #147 came out in August, 1966. Then on December of the same year #151 came out. The story had not advanced very much if I remember well - might still be the same day or week in the story - but again Strange was low in cash. This time he just magicked it out, possibly commiting a couple crimes against economy in the process:

Strange comits a crime against the economy by printing his own money, magically

#147 was written by Stan Lee alone, but #151 was written by Lee alongside Bill Everett. The latter was probably responsible for the magical minting that Stephen Strange could easily have done from the beginning.

Just now I noticed that in #147 Strange was also ordered by the authorities to fix the Sanctum Sanctorum or else, and he agrees with Wong's idea to invest money in the repairs. Then in #151 he once again magicks it out. So double retcon there.

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    Just as aside, wow, Strange was a bit of an arrogant ass from early on, wasn't he? Sep 19, 2021 at 4:51
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    I'd like a movie focused on the safety inspectors of the MCU. Ideally starring William Atherton. I don't know if this is a retcon he seems to have just changed his mind but it was awesome to read. Sep 19, 2021 at 6:11
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    @lucasbachmann Add William Macy to that, and I am in! Maybe with a cameo by Lilly Tomlin (a la I <3 Huckabees) as the head of the safety inspectors' division.
    – Lexible
    Sep 20, 2021 at 5:17

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