Orwellian Retcon

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

"I talked to my friend and colleague Seth Schoen about the Ubuntu Software Center selling proprietary software, and he pointed out that it goes directly against the Ubuntu Manifesto. I looked it up and read it, and it sure seemed that way to me. Only now I can’t seem to find a copy of it. The only reference to the manifesto that I can find on ubuntu.com is in some documentation on an old release [...]"

A sort of Retcon achieved not by putting out sequels that change the official story, but by actually going back and changing it in the original work, so that subsequent printings of "the same" work are actually different.

May happen as the result of deciding after that fact that something was Unfortunate Implications, Dude, Not Funny, or Too Soon. But could also be caused by Flip-Flop of God, Science Marches On, or various legal issues such as copyright. So like many tropes, this can be for good or for evil.

Prime source of Adaptation Displacement for more recent fans. May lead to a Limited Special Directors Ultimate Edition. Possibly may lead to a Broken Base. See also Creator Backlash, especially if the original version is taken off the shelves.

Named, of course, after George Orwell, specifically Nineteen Eighty-Four, where the main character's job at the Ministry of Truth is to rewrite old newspaper articles to hide the government's flip-flopping on political issues.

Contrast Death of the Author, Canon Discontinuity. Not to be confused with Orwellian Editor.

Examples of Orwellian Retcon include:

Anime and Manga

  • Lucky Star has a minor example: Konata was originally portrayed as a cool Gamer Chick, but was soon changed into an down-to-earth, sort-of-pervy Otaku Surrogate. When the Yonkoma were collected into volumes, Yoshimizu changed Konata's lines in some very early strips to make her image consistent. Because this change was very early on in the series and Yoshimizu discussed that in the Omake, it is not as displeasing.
    • Parodied in a later omake, which consists of several "What if"-strips. One of them is "What if episode 1 was drawn today", which is simply a reprint of the strip just as it was published in the first volume.
  • The original dubbed airing of the "Dungeon Dice Monsters" mini-arc of Yu-Gi-Oh! used the original designs for the Dice Crests. For no adequately explained reason, all subsequent airings used Conspicuous CG dice with a completely changed set of Crest markings. Fortunately, the American board game version and its Game Boy Advance adaptation used mostly the original designs, with only the Magic Crest changed to a circle with a lightning bolt in the center.
  • Pokémon Special gets a lot of changes and revisions when its chapters get collected into tankobon form. Makes sense, as the manga gets serialized in three different magazines and out of order to boot, not to mention the mangaka often adds new details to incorporate whatever new features that had since been released from the new games.
  • A minor one in Viz Media's English edition of the One Piece manga involves a particular character being called "Zoro" in early printings of the first few volumes, later being changed to "Zolo" to match 4Kids! Entertainment's dub of the TV series. However, Zolo stuck for Viz even when FUNimation later changed his name back to Zoro in their own dub.
    • Done in reprints of the volumes to Whitebeard's flag as the Swastika (the Nazi symbol) was off limits to use.
  • The Japanese home video release of the original Fist of the North Star changed the ending of the final battle so that Kenshiro's final battle with Raoh ends in a stalemate rather than losing like in the original theatrical version. Even though the theatrical ending was used for all the international releases, it didn't get to be featured in any of the Japanese home video releases until the DVD release in 2008 and even then it was only available as a bonus feature in first-print editions of the DVD.
  • In the anime adaptation of Art of Fighting, Yuri Sakazaki was originally voiced by Japanese pop singer Ayumi Hamasaki, who also appeared in a series of live-action promos for Art of Fighting 2 in Japan. When the anime was re-released on DVD in Japan, all of Ayumi's dialogue were dubbed over by Kaori Horie, Yuri's actual voice actress in the games, since Hamasaki wanted a great share of the royalties for the DVD sales.

Comic Books

  • X-Men Classic was a reprint comic of the early adventures of the "All-New" team. Some of the reprints were edited to conform with more recent interpretations of the character. E.g., when Nightcrawler was visiting Banshee's ancestral castle, his ability to (explicitly) turn invisible in darkness was edited so that he's merely very hard to see (i.e., you can no longer see the background through his body).
  • The characters in Aliens were renamed, and the stories retitled, when Alien 3 made them inconsistent with the movie series.
  • The Archie Comics Sonic the Hedgehog special issue Sonic Firsts reprinted a few old stories, with Princess Sally recolored to look more like her modern design and all references to "Boomer" replaced with "Rotor" (whose name was changed early on to match the animated series).
  • DC Comics has done this a few times in the past. For example, in Supergirl's first story with the Legion of Super-Heroes, the following dialogue occurred when Supergirl figures out that the Legion who wants to induct her into their club is the same one that inducted Superboy.

Original printing (from Action Comics #267):
Lightning Lad: Not the same ones he knew, although we have the same names...
Saturn Girl: We are the children of the three young super-heroes who befriended Superboy! We are carrying on the Legion's traditions...
Reprint (from Action Comics #334):
Lightning Lad: You're hitting on all cylinders, Supergirl!
Saturn Girl: We've admired Superboy...and you! That's why we made this trip!

    • A second example concerns Jonathan and Martha Kent. In Superman #161, a story was printed where they go to a remote island and accidentally unleash an incurable centuries-old virus on themselves, explaining how they died. However, when the story was reprinted in Superboy #165, they were drawn significantly younger. This is because twenty issues prior, a story with a Truman Show Plot was printed where the producer, concerned with his viewers not accepting an old couple with a teenage son, made the senior citizens of Smallville younger, Pa and Ma Kent among them.
  • The original print of The Amazing Spider-Man #125 shows a "snap" sound effect when Spider-Man catches Gwen Stacy with his webbing while falling, implying that the sudden whiplash caused her neck to break, thus killing her. Reprints of the issue in trade collections omitted the "snap" effect, leaving the cause of her death ambiguous.

Fan Works

  • When Durandall wanted to Retcon something in Kyon: Big Damn Hero, it was easiest for him just to go back and change the chapters themselves. Usually, this was only applied to character names.


  • The Star Wars Special Edition included, along with updated special effects, various edits to connect it to the prequel trilogy. Then there was Greedo firing at Han Solo, which was done so that the film could retain its PG rating. (Later reissues further changed it to them both going for their weapons at the same time.)
  • Director Michael Mann suppressed copies of the original theatrical cut of The Last of the Mohicans after some fans expressed displeasure at removal of scenes and music from the director's cut which Mann decided he didn't like ten years later. Various character-driven scenes were excised and action scenes added; complicating things, choice bits of dialogue were edited in, but the overall length of the film didn't change due to the volume of cuts. Altered sound design consisted of recycled bits of soundtrack, with the volume turned down. To this day, the theatrical cut is only available in Europe.
  • The original showings of Star Trek: The Motion Picture had dialogue describing the VGER cloud as being "82 A.U. wide". Subsequent prints and the DVD release edited the dialogue slightly so now it is described as being "2 A.U. wide", which better fits with the established canon for how fast the Enterprise travels under impulse power over the timeframe of the movie.
  • The phone number in Bruce Almighty was not originally an example of the 555 trope; Universal digitally altered all releases after the original theatrical print because the original number turned out to actually belong to people in various area codes. Even more confusingly, although the English audio track was overdubbed to match the new number, the French dub on the DVD wasn't, no doubt leaving many Francophones confused as to why the number on screen didn't match the one read out by Bruce.
  • The film of Return of the King changed the time of day for Pippin finding Merry on Pelennor Fields from the theater version to the DVD version. Pretty gratuitous.
  • Several movies from Disney Animated Canon have had this done to them:
    • The Lion King:
      • Early plans for the movie included a musical number called "Morning Report," but this was scrapped before the theatrical release. "Morning Report" was later added to certain home editions and to the 2002 IMAX release, but wasn't included in the 3D re-release from 2011.
      • In one scene in the original VHS and LaserDisc releases, a dust cloud kicked up by Simba seems to form the word "SEX." Although the animators claimed that it actually said "SFX" (special effects), the scene still got removed from later editions.
    • Aladdin:
      • The opening song describes the Middle East as a place "Where they cut off your ear if they don't like your face." People understandably got pissed about the Unfortunate Implications of that line, and the line was later changed to "Where it's flat and immense and the heat is intense."
      • At one point in the movie, Aladdin gets attacked by the tiger Rajah and says, "Come on...good kitty, take off and go...". Due to other, simultaneous noises (possibly Rajah snarling), it's hard to understand what he says, and some people said it sounded like "Good teenagers, take off your clothes." The line was later changed to "Down, kitty" in the DVD release, no doubt because it was easier than convincing someone actively looking for prurient material that they were mistaken.
    • Fantasia: In one scene in the original film, several young black centaurettes with donkey bodies (the one with the most screentime was nicknamed Sunflower) are seen performing menial duties for the beautiful Aryan centaurettes and for Bacchus. Needless to say, later audiences considered this unacceptable, and Sunflower and friends have mysteriously disappeared from all releases after 1969. (A comparison between part of the original and current versions of the Pastorale segment can be viewed here; see 1:00-1:04, 2:12-2:16, 2:19-2:23, 2:56-3:06, and 7:58-8:15.) The two lighter-skinned zebra centaurettes who attend Bacchus got some of their scenes trimmed as well, including a scene where one is trying to help the very drunk Bacchus down from a gazebo. Recent versions have also clipped a few seconds from the Night On Bald Mountain segment because of brief views of nude demons.
  • In the original release of Traffic, the drug czar's daughter, a teenage drug addict, attends Cincinnati Country Day School, a private prep school in the Cincinnati, Ohio area. Amid protests from school administrators who objected to the association of the school with drug use, the reference to the school was scrubbed from the DVD release and TV broadcasts.


  • Ender's Game originally had the main character use the N-word and Russia was depicted in a different light (it was written during the Cold War). Before Orson released an edited version he told all of his fans that if they sent their copies of Ender's Game to him he'd send them back free copies another, not yet released, book of his. What did Orson do with the copies he received? Destroyed them.
  • When The Lord of the Rings came out, The Hobbit was changed to agree with it about how Bilbo got the ring from Gollum. This was touched on cleverly in the text. It was implied that the version recorded in the first edition of The Hobbit was the same as the false account that Bilbo told the Dwarves and recorded in his book. Bilbo later confessed the truth to Gandalf, then Frodo learned of this from Gandalf and edited his uncle's book. Thus the idea Bilbo lied being out-of-character isn't dodged but made meaningful, since Gandalf found the idea of anyone giving up the ring to be very suspicious.
  • Philip K. Dick's novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was originally set in 1992. After Blade Runner was released, subsequent printings changed the year to 2019.
  • Clarke rewrote the first chapter of Childhood's End to avoid The Great Politics Mess-Up.
    • However, he does also include the original first chapter in some editions.
  • R. A. Salvatore changed some details of Drizzt's backstory in later drafts of the Icewind Dale trilogy so as to better fit his expanded conception of the character's origins in The Dark Elf Trilogy.
  • The chronologically last book of the Enchanted Forest Chronicles, Talking to Dragons, was written first. When it was republished, some minor changes were made to make it agree with the other books.
  • Stephen King rewrote and expanded large portions of the first volume of The Dark Tower to "better fit in" with the later books. This included retconning all of the villains from Roland's past as the same guy. Since The Dark Tower as originally written is composed in a style unlike King's later works, and features call backs to story elements that were never expanded on in the finished work, Your Mileage May Vary on the result.
  • King's The Stand was originally set in 1980. Subsequent printings were set in 1985, then the uncut version in the 1990s (with references to AIDS and a few other cultural changes).
  • In one of the more famous examples in literature - at least among Trekkers - Della von Hise's Star Trek: The Original Series novel Killing Time was released and then almost immediately recalled when it was discovered that the author was a former K/S Slash Fic writer, and that this comes through blatantly in the original text of the novel. The next edition had the worst of the subtext edited out, but original copies can still be found on eBay and in used bookstores, and many K/S fans actively hunt them out.
  • Small-scale example: Any reprint of the early Eragon books now marks them as the Eragon cycle instead of the Eragon trilogy.
  • The previous publisher of Avalon: Web of Magic went bankrupt. In the switch to Seven Seas Entertainment, the author revised the books to avoid plot holes and ridiculous behavior.
  • The original Oompa-Loompas of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory were black, specifically mentioned to be from Darkest Africa. After numerous people pointed out the Unfortunate Implications of Willy Wonka as a slave owner, later printings changed them to the white and somewhat hippie-ish inhabitants of Loompaland.
    • Additionally, the character of Veruca Salt was originally known as Veruca Cruz.
  • Later editions of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone were edited to make Nearly Headless Nick's claimed age match with the age given for him in Chamber of Secrets.
    • In the first printing of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, a mistake made by Rowling's editor made it so the order in which the shadows of Harry's parents come out of Voldemort's wand contradicts the order in which Voldemort said he killed them, launching a thousand Epileptic Trees. This was corrected in later editions.
    • In the original edition of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, it's a minor plot point that prefects can't take house points. However, this contradicts an earlier scene in Chamber Of Secrets in which Percy takes points off Ron. Later editions of Phoenix altered the dialogue so that the rule is that prefects can't take points off other prefects.
  • In Narcissus In Chains by Laurell K Hamilton, the hardcover version of the book contained a scene where the main character was raped. (It was nonviolent.) All other editions of the book have had edits made so that it's merely questionable as to how willing she was (Mostly dialogue changes so that she's not flat out saying "no I don't want to.")
  • The Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys series underwent a major retcon of their first stories beginning in 1959. Ostensibly to remove dated slang and racist stereotypes, this led to a realization that some stories simply fell apart otherwise, so more than a few of the books were completely new stories with nothing but the title being the same.
  • A reissue of Huckleberry Finn in 2011... without the n-words. Sigh.
  • In The Lorax there was originally a line that joked about how polluted Lake Erie was. Some environmentalists pointed out to Dr. Seuss that there were efforts to clean up the lake. So reprints have changed the Lake Erie line. It can still be heard in the Animated Adaptation however.
  • According to The Other Wiki, Superfudge, the second of the "Fudge" books by Judy Blume, was edited in later reprints to, among other things, replace references to The Muppet Show, Sesame Street, and The (original) Electric Company with references to the Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon.
  • Jurassic Park was slightly edited after The Lost World was published to remove reference to Dr. Malcolm's death, to support his retcon back into existence for the sequel.

Live-Action TV

  • An episode of Law & Order featured a mass murder at a bar called "The Velvet Room". After the owners of an actual New York bar of that name sued, the episode was redubbed to change the name of the bar to "The Vivant Room".
  • The picture of Penny and Desmond in the Lost episode "Orientation" originally showed Henry Ian Cusick with a model who was not Sonya Walger. On the DVD, the photo has been digitally altered to include Walger (and was edited for the rerun as well).
  • The re-filming of earlier episodes of Seinfeld when Frank Costanza was recast.
  • Averted on Babylon 5. After Melissa Gilbert played John Sheridan's (Bruce Boxleitner, Gilbert's real-life husband) wife Anna in a pair of fourth-season episodes, J. Michael Straczynski considered doing a reshoot with Gilbert of an earlier second-season scene featuring Anna Sheridan (originally filmed with a different actress), but it never actually happened.
    • Interestingly enough, the refilmed footage is clearly visible, as there was a flashback. Also lampshaded in the Director's Commentary.
  • At the beginning of the Heroes third season episode "I Am Sylar", the "Previously On..." segment shows a scene in which Danko instructs Sylar to shapeshift into Agent Taub for a while. However, this never actually happened "Previously on Heroes". It was, in fact, an entirely new scene that according to the writers was written and shot for the sole purpose of being placed in the recap.
  • The 2004 Battlestar Galactica became infamous for including deleted scenes in its "Previously On" sequences, or just throwing in extra dialogue when a character's face wasn't visible.
  • Sons of Anarchy inserted a line in a "Previous On..." wherein the character of Cherry who had been explicitly Put on a Bus to Canada is told she will be "safe in Ireland," to set up her three episode guest appearance while the club goes to Oireland.

Newspaper Comics

  • It's very common for books of newspaper comic collections to revise, edit, or just outright omit comic strips the artist disliked on first run. Since it's quite difficult to track down "original" strips as they first ran in newspapers, this is one form of media where Orwellian Retconning can be almost undetectable and thus extremely successful.

Professional Wrestling

  • Ever since the World Wrestling Federation were forced to change their name to World Wrestling Entertainment in 2002, they've made sure to remove all references to the letters WWF and the "Federation". This is partly because of not being allowed to use the acronym for legal reasons, and wanting to make the rebranding as absolute as possible. Which means that older wrestlers like Randy Savage are referred to as "former WWE wrestlers", even if their runs with the company took place long before the name change, and making edits whenever a wrestler or announcer mentions "WWF" on DVD releases of pre-2002 footage. Averted on the UK licensed DVDs which, through some legal loophole, can be released unedited.

Video Games

  • While most content updates in City of Heroes added new missions and story arcs, there were occasions when the developers went back and redid existing missions that were badly designed (making them very unpopular with the players) or that were contradicted by later changes to the game lore. For example, the infamous Positron Task Force was completely rewritten from the ground up after years of overwhelming negative feedback from players.
    • This also could happen frequently with the Mission Architect feature as it was possible for the author to edit a story arc that they have published without taking it down and republishing. The arc still had the same ID number and player ratings, but could very well have been changed into a completely different story if the author so chose.
      • Sometimes this was necessary as an exploit fix could have unintended consequences for authors who didn't try to write farming missions and had to make changes to fix their damaged story arc.
  • A couple of changes were made to Portal for its ARG leading to the announcement of Portal 2. Specifically the ending was altered and a series of radios were added to the game with an accompanying achievement to find the locations where all the radios received a signal.
  • Fallout 3 had some changes made by its "Broken Steel" DLC (and by extension the Game of the Year Edition). Mostly to address complaints about the ending.[1] Although you still have to do it yourself if you want to be "good".
  • The later ports of the MSX2 versions of Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake renamed many of the characters specific to those two games. The re-releases of Metal Gear 2 in particular also changed all of the realistic character portraits into ones that done similarly to the drawing style of Metal Gear Solid illustrator Yoji Shinkawa, since some of the portraits in the MSX2 version were trace-overs of real-life celebrities. Even the Virtual Console release of Metal Gear 2, which is otherwise an emulation of the MSX2 game, uses the Shinkawa-style portraits.
  • The 10th anniversary re-release of the Wesker's Report documentary removed the line in which Wesker claims that Sherry is in his organization's custody. This was meant to Foreshadow a plot development that never came to be.
  • The GBA re-release of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past rewrites Link's Uncle's dying speech to remove the infamous "Zelda is your..." line.

Web Comics

  • 8-Bit Theater: Thief's uniform turns red shortly after he changes class to Ninja. Then it turns black to make him more like a traditional ninja (and because Fighter and Red Mage are already very, very red). When the other warriors call him on it, he claims it's always been black... and when that comic went up, the author went back and edited every single page in which Thief is wearing the ninja uniform (even some very old pages, where Thief is wearing the ninja uniform in Flash Forwards or Imagine Spots), to make that uniform black.
  • There is a device in City of Reality that is made to do this and this alone. It is brought to Reality by a thief who uses it to predict the every move, and later used by Hawk, who uses it to be "perfect" at everything, until it falls back into the thieves hands. Later, it turns out it was causing freak storms threatening Reality.
    • The same device is later used by the reader in a dark Choose Your Own Adventure in Magic World.
    • And then used by saboteurs trying to steal crystals from all the worlds at once. The first time, they failed due to the high security, but the second time around, they knew exactly what to do. The characters are still dealing with the fallout.
  • Schlock Mercenary quotes from a book called The Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries. Originally, this was The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Pirates, until Franklin-Covey, owners of the actual Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, noticed and sent what can only be described as a very polite cease and desist notice.
  • The print release of early chapters of El Goonish Shive changed a few things (which were later changed in the archive as well), such as Grace's reaction to Tedd's invitation (first version didn't fit her Innocent Fanservice Girl character), Susan's reaction to meeting "Ellen" fElliot (first version sounded really out-of-character, with Susan calling "Ellen" "cutie") and a conversation between the same fElliot and Sarah.
  • In Erfworld, Bogroll's special ability was Regeneration and Deletionism was a school of magic for Naughtymancy along the Numbers axis, but was completely changed in the archives and books so that Bogroll now had Fabrication and Naughtymancy/Numbers was now "Retconjuration". Deletionism and Regeneration now only exist in the memories of fans (and the wiki).
  • Starslip was originally called Starshift Crisis, but copyright issues with StarShift: The Zaran Legacy caused the starshift (the in-universe transportation method) to be retconned as the "starslip", and all references in the archives were changed.
  • The author of Meaty Yoghurt had previously written another comic featuring a character with an odd eye. After feeling that an eye scar in Meaty Yoghurt was too reminiscent of this character, she redrew all the character's appearances with a lip scar instead.
  • In Gunnerkrigg Court, a few bits of dialogue in the first two chapters were quietly changed, a year or two after they first went up. For example, on this page, "homme de fer" was changed to "tin man" because Tom thought the French was gratuitous. Oddly enough, some further changes were made for the first volume of the print edition, but these weren't incorporated into the online archives.
  • Homestuck. Andrew Hussie stated that the playable human characters are supposed to be a-racial, so readers could imagine them as any race they prefer. When a reader pointed out an old page on which one of these characters was referred to as a "white rapper", Hussie went back and replaced the word "white" with gibberish.[2] He later changed it back.
    • Occasionally panels are posted with unintentional errors, which are quietly corrected by the author shortly afterward. For example, when the Bec's Head Base first appeared it had the Sgrub logo. It was quickly changed to the Sburb logo. Another, more recent example was in a flash where the deceased Nepeta was shown without the Prophet Eyes of dead characters. This was also corrected, dashing hopes of a resurrection.
    • Overlapping with Cut Song: A dispute with a (now former) member of the music team caused a few existing flash animations to be re-done with new music. In another example, a composer had his songs removed from the fifth music album after he was caught plagiarizing.
  • The Adventures of Dr. McNinja‍'‍s "Issue One Half" and "There Is A Raptor In My Office" originally had Doc dealing with a villainous Ronald McDonald and the McDonald's corporate empire. "AWOL MD" has him showing up again as Donald McBonald - going from Enemy Mime to straight-up Monster Clown as a result - and both the previous issues were altered to feature "McBonald's" references.
  • Invoked but averted when Bedivere stops being Gender Flipped in Arthur, King of Time and Space; the characters say it'll only happen as long as no-one expects the management to go back and redraw all the previous strips s/he appeared in.
  • John Troutman has been very careful to remove all trace of his earlier comics (except for Vigilante, Ho! and the second-incarnation Sporkman strips) from the Internet, to the point that the FAQ for Mary Elizabeth's Sock has a question of whether the characters have been seen before, to which he responds that some of them have been in Lit Brick and Sporkman (neglecting to mention nearly all were in, and most originated in, Basil Flint, P.I., Andiewear, Felicity Flint, Agent From H.A.R.M., Flint Again, and/or Flat Feet and High Heels).

Western Animation

Other Media

  1. The biggest one being why you couldn't send in one of the several companions you might have following you at the time who were either immune to radiation or blindly loyal/brainwashed enough to obey you into a radioactive area to save the day (one of which had already used his immunity to radiation to retrieve a MacGuffin from another radiation flooded area when you first met him)
  2. The author has stated he had done this as a joke.