I know that this site is the haven for anyone who loves to dig deep into their favorite Sci-Fi and Fantasy.

Even for a new visitor, from scrolling through this site shows that there's an awful lot of back stories to things like Star Wars, LoTR etc.

I understand that canon can often build to an intimidatingly large amount. With all the different back stories it could be very easy to contradict oneself by accident.

I know that in quite a few cases side-stories directly contradict each other. But, for me these are a harmless way for an author to do something different, something he could never have done whilst sticking to the original storyline. Which can be great.

My question is this; Is there anywhere in Sci-Fi or Fantasy where the author specifically (for their own fun) creates conflicting canon (only to a small extent)just to irk die hard fans like the users here?

  • 7
    I had an answer, up to the point where you added the motive "to annoy fans." How attached are you to that?
    – BESW
    Commented Sep 23, 2013 at 18:06
  • There are things like Star Wars Infinities which directly contradict canon in some cases, but these are definitively non-canon
    – The Fallen
    Commented Sep 23, 2013 at 18:10
  • 5
    – Kevin
    Commented Sep 23, 2013 at 18:46
  • 6
    Han. Shot. FIRST!!!! Commented Sep 23, 2013 at 19:15
  • 9
    I think the scope of this question needs to be defined a whole lot better. We're going to keep getting "me, too!" answers otherwise... (I have one of my own to add, and not from my comment above)
    – Izkata
    Commented Sep 23, 2013 at 23:52

6 Answers 6


I think the prime example of this is Douglas Adams. The three versions of the Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy - radio, book, TV, and indeed four if you include the movie, which was made well after his death but based on his plans - all gleefully contradict each other. Was the Restaurant at the End of the Universe on Magrathea, or the Frogstar? Did the business with the shoes happen on Frogstar or Brontitall? Was the super-black spaceship part of Disaster Area's act, or the Hagunennon admiral's flagship? And so on.

  • 3
    It makes me like his work even more. Why? Because why not :D Commented Sep 23, 2013 at 20:34
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    In fact Adams stated as much in the foreword of some of the hardcover bundle editions, stating things like "the fourth book, which contradicts everything that came before including itself".
    – jwenting
    Commented Sep 24, 2013 at 5:15

Yes. But not to screw with the consumers of the product. It is done to ease the creation of the character(s), either because of limitations in production, but usually due to a divergent or vastly different media environment. Other times to create economic transformation in a character or series.

At first glance, I mentally answer this with a resounding no. No one would intentionally create canon and then violate it. What would be the point of making it in the first place? But once I give it thought, there are plenty of examples of creating canon or determining one type of media canon while others are not. Each industry has examples of canon transformation or refutation.

The most common canon abusers in media would be the Comic industry. Both DC and Marvel the largest two comic companies have multiple examples of changing their universe's canon to reflect different readerships, viewerships, or media distributions.

DC Universe:

DC Comics constantly reboot their universe. The DC Universe has been rebooted a number of times since the beginning of the Silver Age of Comics (1970s) with the most notable being:

  • The creations of Earth 1 and Earth 2 (and their multiple universe theory)

  • The Crisis on Infinite Earths (the destruction of their multiple universes)

  • Zero Hour (tidying up after destroying multiple timelines)

  • Infinite Crisis (finalizing their destruction of their multiple timelines)

  • Flashpoint (refracturing their universe for profitability)

  • New 52 universe (back to multiple Earths for telling different types of stories)

  • Each of these reboots at DC was designed to deal with issues of conflicting canon that may have either been accidentally violated by lack of editorial mandate or intentionally violated with an urge to make characters edgier or take stories in different directions. These canon conflicts eventually lead to characters moving far away from their origins or are written to make those characters more inline with the original vision of that character.

Superman is a great character who exemplifies canon that is altered for media delivery:

  • While the canon for his origins tended to have certain elements: alien, born on a doomed planet, father a scientist, lands on Earth in the 20th century, many writers have taken that base and expanded, expounded or even violated the canon, sometimes subtly and others with great abandon, so much so, the character can appear very different.

  • Superman from the end of Silver Age was one of the most powerful of the well known and popular comic characters to have ever existed in comic media. Moving planets, traveling through time without a time machine, extinguishing entire solar systems with a sneeze.

  • The very same character in the DC Animated Series, Justice League (30 years later) is far less robust, routinely taking tank rounds and reeling for seconds while other heroes occasionally rescue him.

  • His portrayals in The Adventures of Superman for television, the Adventures of Lois and Clark and Smallville, not to mention any of the movie appearances, of the Donner Superman, the Return of Superman or the Man of Steel movies, subtly alters the canon based on writer, editor and production company requirements.

Each of these media present a different canon, not normally to frustrate the viewer, but to give guidelines to the presentation of that character in that medium, in relationship to the expectations of writers, editors and directors for consistent portrayal of that character. This can mean a character's portrayal, powers, backstory, allies, and storylines may vary widely from medium to medium.

Marvel Universe

  • Marvel has multiple Earths and designate them with different numbers to indicate the canon expectations have been changed, thus making for an entirely different world where heroes we know can behave in wildly different fashions. If those heroes become popular, that entire spun off universe may exist as an entire separate product line.

Some of the most popular alternative universes have had their characters, or storylines folded into the main canon Marvel Universe, if those sub-universes are lost, destroyed or no longer being published for economic purposes.

  • Marvel Earth-616 is the mainstream and canon Marvel Universe. Every other universe defaults to this one for the canonicity of any events, superhero or ideas that are propagated elsewhere.

  • Ultimate Marvel Universe - Marvel Earth-1610 - is the home of a more modern and better integrated Marvel Universe where characters share a common origin, overall meta-theme and more regulated and controlled editorial model. This was one of the longest running and most successful experiments in deviation from the canon Marvel Universe.

  • The Age of Apocalypse and soon to be completed in movies, Days of Future Past were other successful spin-off universes that had both fan followings and affected the mainstream universe in a permanent fashion.

  • The Marvel Cinematic Universe: Earth-199999 - is the most economically profitable translation/transformation of canon in Marvel Comics history. The underlying universe has been rewritten and modernized moving story elements temporally (Stark creating his Armor in the Middle East rather than Vietnam) and integrating them more closely as in the Ultimates Universe.

Science Fiction (Movies and Television)

This transformation of canon can vary in television shows and movies where for example, different writers, creation companies, or producers alter canon to suit their preferences:

  • STAR WARS movies are considered canon, and television shows (such as The Clone Wars), are only slightly below in their canonicity. Many books are considered canon, but not all of them. Books fall below both Television and Film canon levels, and are on the same level of games. For more information, see here and here.

  • STAR TREK television series shows are considered canon, but none of the books or the animated stories published are. Movies are considered canon but fans vary in the canonicity claiming things created after the death of Roddenberry to have less canon.

  • Doctor Who's producers deny there being any canon at all. So anything written, produced for radio or television has the same level of canon or none at all.

  • Futurama sometimes changes its canon from episode to episode. But considering it a form of comedy television where no matter what happens during the show, it almost always resets to something like normal by the end.

  • JK Rowlings books are considered canon while the multi-million dollar movies are not. Rowlings forum responses are considered canon because they come from her, where many people hold information found in wikis to be suspect.

  • The struggle to maintain canon has proven to be something fans are more concerned with than the producers of media, who establish rules for ease of creation of media, not for maintaining consistency for consistencies sake. We have all found examples of broken canon within a show which is forgotten or retconned out of existence when discovered.

For a time, Marvel offered the ideal solution to the canon problem and their fan base. when a mistake was made in a comic, Marvel offered the famed NO-PRIZE to anyone who could explain away the error in a reasonable, yet Marvelous way. This was a great method of getting interaction and feedback from their fans as well as acknowledging they could make mistakes in their production.

  • 1
    +1 for the economic transformation. This can be evidenced as well by the Star Trek reboot, where they blew up Vulcan.
    – JohnP
    Commented Sep 23, 2013 at 19:54
  • I had to correct the Star Wars section, because the characterization that TV series were NOT canon was flat-out wrong.
    – The Fallen
    Commented Sep 23, 2013 at 19:55
  • One might also link to Which level of canonicity does the Star Wars Holiday Special hold, relative to other works? for that wonderful... thing which aired once (and forever made Chewy's father Itchy, and his son Lumpy)
    – user12183
    Commented Sep 24, 2013 at 0:24
  • Some definitely provide conflicting details in their "canon," as in my answer below. Other than that, great answer, Thaddeus.
    – FoxMan2099
    Commented Sep 24, 2013 at 2:41
  • fwiw - some of the info in this answer is now incorrect - specifically regarding Star Wars new canon (Disney) and Star Trek Animated Series canonicity
    – NKCampbell
    Commented Feb 15, 2017 at 22:58

Well yes, and the example I'm going to give is one you may not expect - Tolkien:

As a story, I think it is good that there should be a lot of things unexplained (especially if an explanation actually exists); and I have perhaps from this point of view erred in trying to explain too much, and give too much past history. Many readers have, for instance, rather stuck at the Council of Elrond. And even in a mythical Age there must be some enigmas, as there always are. Tom Bombadil is one (intentionally).

(Letter 144)

And of course, in the tale of the Elessar in Unfinished Tales, where two different histories are deliberately given, with the classic explanation:

of this two things are said, though which is true only those Wise could say who now are gone

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    I don't think Tolkien applies, because his fiction is presented as a rendition of actual retellings of a history. This means that any intentional errors and enigmas are not inconsistencies in his fiction, but rather in the history written by him as an imaginary historian. I won't downvote for this though, since it's really splitting hairs and more of a philosophical discussion. Commented Sep 23, 2013 at 21:41
  • I'm inclined to agree, and I don't think I'd dispute a downvote, but overall I'm not sure that the original question is a good question - I'm mulling over a VTC because to me it seems to fall too close to the "list"/"me too"/"invites discussion" category.
    – user8719
    Commented Sep 23, 2013 at 23:05
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    This is probably the best example of the inconsistencies being done deliberately though. Commented Jan 23, 2014 at 16:51

Well, I can think of one example where in-universe canon is conflicting.

I haven't played The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall myself, but I have read some of the lore. The interesting thing is that the player can make different decisions, resulting in different endings. Now when you play the Elder Scrolls games that come after Daggerfall, which of these endings are canon?

All of them!

In the TES universe, time (associated with the dragon god Akatosh) can break, and that is called a Dragon Break, and also happens on other occasions in the TES lore. So essentially the timeline splits for a while, then joins back together, making the in-universe historians' job pretty confusing.

  • 2
    The Discworld books also do this, especially in Thief of Time. As Pratchett says, "There are no inconsistencies; occasionally, however, there are alternate pasts."
    – Micah
    Commented Sep 23, 2013 at 21:23
  • I heard Diablo 1 had something along these lines too, all three heroes were the one to defeat Diablo. Commented Sep 24, 2013 at 0:49
  • @MooingDuck well if we expand the answer to anything with multiple endings, then we should probably go over to the Arqade, the video game stack site… unless we're eating at The Restaurant at The End of The Universe. Commented Sep 24, 2013 at 2:45

It happens all the time.

Sometimes it is done for effect

When Dungeons and Dragons released their Points of Light setting, they deliberately allowed various authors to contradict timelines, events, and geographies. This was done to emphasize the idea that the GM is free to change things himself; previous edition settings sometimes suffered from players interrupting to tell a GM that his setting was wrong because it didn't match the published material. Points of Light went out of its way to contradict itself so that this wouldn't be as big of a deal.

More often it is done for practical reasons

The film Stargate stated that their travel through the Stargate took them to a planet in another galaxy. In order to make their explanation of the later TV show's conceit (that the Stargate could travel to multiple locations) work, they shamelessly retconned the planet Abydos to be one of the nearest planets in the Stargate network, with no mention of the "another galaxy" claim made in the film. Since the series also asked us to believe that Kurt Russell had turned into Richard Dean Anderson, we were generally willing to give the galactic handwaving a pass.

Sometimes it is done to avoid fan guesses being right

There are numerous examples of authors changing their minds about the Surprise Conclusion of a story because they saw fans guessing it already on the Internet. Sometimes this involves a retcon, or ignoring something they'd previously established to set up the now-abandoned surprise.

  • stargate authors I think were just sloppy, and especially comparing the movie with the series, which had in large part different crews, isn't helping either.
    – jwenting
    Commented Sep 24, 2013 at 5:18

Yes, an author who intentionally provides conflicting in-canon information is Gene Wolfe. This is the case because of his literary experimentation with two devices, (A) the unreliable narrator, and (B) point of view. The most prominent example is probably his series, The Book of New Sun. In this series, specific "facts" can turn out to be conflicted or variant. Ideas or details will be presented one way and then later re-presented differently. And it's on purpose. And yes, the reader is left with two conflicting versions of a fact, detail, event, or whatever, which is actually more "real" than you think at first glance.

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