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Multiple-Choice Past

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Three conflicting origin stories, and none of them is the truth.

"What is it with you? What made you what you are? Girlfriend killed by the mob, maybe? Brother carved up by some mugger? Something like that, I bet. Something like that... Something like that happened to me, you know. I... I'm not exactly sure what it was. Sometimes I remember it one way, sometimes another... if I'm going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice!"
The Joker, The Killing Joke

Have you noticed that some characters have different origins when different people are writing the story? Sometimes this is done on purpose, to give an air of Unreliable Narrator. Sometimes it's caused by repeated retcons. Sometimes it's just because the writers got it wrong, sometimes the result of a deliberate retcon, rewrite or by creators Armed with Canon. This trope is particularly common in comic books, as a single character may be written by dozens of writers over their history. Sometimes, as evidenced in the Trope Namer, it is also done in order to depict the character giving their backstory as being too insane to give a true account of their past, believing every single account they gave about themselves; or to cultivate an air of personal mystery, a common play by a Consummate Liar. Having messed-up memories due to a case of Laser-Guided Amnesia that isn't so laser-guided, Trauma-Induced Amnesia, and/or implantation of Fake Memories also works just fine.

Video Games occasionally invoke this as part of a starting conversation to decide what your basic character build will be like, which may be the first part of Story Branching. Other games make you play through one of several origin levels before the story proper begins — this is known as Multiple Game Openings.

Along with multiple authors, this is a feature of the earliest recorded myths, making it Older Than Dirt.

Compare Broad Strokes, Comic-Book Time, Continuity Snarl, Depending on the Writer, Expansion Pack Past, Negative Continuity, Schrödinger's Question, and Origins Episode. Sounds similar to but has nothing to do with Multiple-Choice Future.

Examples subpages:


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    Anime & Manga 
  • The end result of Zigzagging Tomato in the Mirror in The Big O. Roger was born after the Event in Paradigm, but thanks to his burst of Memory, is revealed to be a cop (or a major in the army) from before the Event who quit once the first Megadeus was discovered underground and became Big O's pilot at some point, but then, after a final burst of memory, it's revealed that he might actually a robot mass produced to pilot Big O units. It's made even more confusing when you realize that none of the memories from before the Event actually existed, and Paradigm City was a virtual reality, one which looks suspiciously like New York City. Good luck trying to sort out that mess...
  • A Certain Magical Index: St. Germain is a chronic liar who gives a different origin story and motive every time.
  • To keep the revelations nice and fresh the manga and video game adaptations of Code Geass seem to have this, especially in regards to CC and Marianne. Nunnally hints in one manga that they're all multiple timelines or realities by explaining how she saw the events of the original series happen in one of them.
  • Doraemon: Doraemon's backstory is constantly inconsistent in all of his appearances, however his backstory always involves his ears being bitten off by a mouse, causing him to turn blue as a result (he was originally colored yellow until his bitten off).
  • Dragon Ball:
    • The backstory of the Saiyan race was uncertain and contradictory for some time. Were they native to Planet Plant (later renamed Vegeta) or did they travel there from somewhere else? Did they coexist with the Tuffles for a long time or did war break out between the two races immediately? What provoked said war: King Vegeta's ambitions to rule the planet, or Tuffles treating Saiyans as lesser beings? Some of these questions would be answered in time; for example, it's now known that the Saiyans were originally from a planet called Sadala, but its destruction in a civil war forced the survivors to seek a new homeworld.
    • The explanation for the destruction of Planet Vegeta also fell into this. Raditz told Goku that it was destroyed by an asteroid, while in the anime, King Kai claimed that another Guardian summoned a storm of space debris to destroy it as punishment for the Saiyans' warmongering ways. It's later revealed that neither of these claims are correct; in reality, Frieza blew it up out of fear that the Saiyans would eventually produce a fighter powerful enough to challenge him and made up the "asteroid" story to prevent the surviving Saiyans from turning against him, and it's implied that King Kai was lying to Goku to keep him from seeking a confrontation with Frieza.
  • Hiruma from Eyeshield 21 is seen pulling this during a flashback chapter. Is his father a shogi player, a doctor, or a white-collar criminal? Apparently, it depends on what he feels like today. Eventually it is revealed he was an amateur chess champion.
  • A single-author example is Golgo 13; Taiko Saito prefers to keep his past a mystery, so there are several different histories for him.
  • The Lupin III franchise operates on a Negative Continuity basis, so characters have whatever backstory the writers feel like giving them. However, the writers do agree on some general principles, in a Broad Strokes sort of storytelling convention that explains the crew's Characterization Marches On as acknowledged Character Development. Notably, Episode 0: First Contact, The Woman Called Fujiko Mine and Lupin Zero all give completely different accounts of how Lupin and Jigen first met.
  • In Mobile Suit Gundam, there's an episode where Amuro returns to his hometown and reunites with his mother. According to a supplementary book, said hometown is located in the San'in Region of Japan. However, when the compilation movies changed the course of the White Base, it was moved to Prince Rupert, Canada instead.
  • A Team Rocket-themed episode of Pokémon Chronicles implied that Jessie and James didn't know each other before joining Team Rocket, but an early episode implied they knew each other fairly long before that. Hell, Team Rocket is full of these. Did Jessie go to nursing school or did she join a bike gang (though admittedly she could have gone to school after leaving the gang)? Did Jessie and James meet in the bike gang, at an academy they flunked out of, or when they joined Team Rocket? Was Meowth Giovanni's right-hand 'mon until Persian came around, or was he a servant?
  • One episode of Slayers Next has a chef who tells four different stories about his motivation for wanting to prepare dragon cuisine, one for each of the main characters. It is then subverted at the end when all four back stories turn out to be true.
  • In Sonic X, Maria's death changes every time. In episode 36 Maria is shot while running in the halls and survives to give Shadow a speech but episode 38 shows Maria lying on the floor already shot and then delivering the speech. Episode 37 has a completely different flashback, from the POV of Maria's killer, that shows Maria was shot right as she sent Shadow down to Earth (and with no dramatic speech either). The room also differs in each flashback. This is all chalked down to Shadow's memory being tampered with and his memory just being unclear after 50 years in stasis.
  • Excalibur in Soul Eater has a habit of telling long and rambling stories about himself with details that change as he's telling them. "It was the same day as today, Tuesday, or was it Wednesday, no I'm sure it was Monday. Anyways it was a fine Sunday and..."
  • Space☆Dandy from the show of the same name will happily give you the specifics of his past regardless of actual authenticity.
    • As the show goes on, it's implied that Dandy is remembering past selves and versions of himself from alternate timelines.

  • Grindhouse and Watercolors: For the sake of humor and drama, Aza's backstory (as well as every character) presented on his website are mostly false, drawn out in the form of an expansive, fictional world.

    Audio Play 
  • Blake's 7: "Solitary" gives us snippets of Vila's backstory, including a book-loving grandmother who read him Robin Hood, the fact that he used to sell amulets on the black market, and a childhood memory of Federation troops rounding up his schoolteachers and shooting them all. At the very end we learn that "Vila" is a gestalt being that absorbs identities, and all those memories are false. Or are they?
    Vila: To hangovers! Here's to getting merry! Here's to Roj Blake and his merry men!

    Comic Strips 
  • Bananaman: Why does eating a banana turn Eric Twinge into Bananaman? Maybe it's because he was sent to Earth from the Moon as a baby, and the crescent Moon is shaped like a banana. Maybe it's because General Blight concealed stolen Saturnium in a banana that was accidentally eaten by baby Eric. The second one makes more sense, but doesn't explain Bananagirl.
  • Calvin and Hobbes:
    • In the first strip, Calvin catches Hobbes in a rope trap and this is treated like their first meeting, but the cartoonist later changed his mind and decided that it was now unknown when they met. Hobbes once claimed that Calvin spent most of his infancy burping and spitting up, hinting that they knew each other since Calvin was a baby. Seeing as Hobbes might be just an Imaginary Friend, it's possible that Calvin simply imagined Hobbes knowing about his infancy, though.
    • Calvin's dad invokes this by telling conflicting lies about where Calvin came from. In one strip, he claims he and his wife bought him from Kmart, in another he says that Calvin was delivered by a pterodactyl, and in a third, he tells the truth (that Calvin grew in his mother's tummy).
  • Spoofed in this installment of Ink Pen.
  • Winslow in Prickly City rips off The Bible, Spider-Man, and The Godfather in telling Carmen his past.

    Fan Works 
  • The focus of a Fandom-Specific Plot with Fate/stay night fan works, basically, the plot answering "who was Shirou Emiya before the Great Fire of Fuyuki?" Two of the most notable examples are Fate/Reach Out and In Flight, with the idea that Shirou was originally the protagonist of the series each fic crosses over with. Because the fire completely changed his identity and personality, the end result for the plots involved is... Interesting, to say the least.
  • Pony POV Series:
    • Loneliness, the first Big Bad of the series. Is she a figment of Trixie's imagination? A Split Personality? A Draconequus? A piece of Discord's magic from his Discording? Something like Fluttercruel? A parasitic mental entity? An evil spirit? An Eldritch Abomination? A Spirit of Dark Magic? No one in universe knows and Word of God has no intention of ever revealing which if any is true.
    • Makarov. It's partly because he has the power to alter reality, allowing him to change the past, partly because he's constantly lying and exaggerating about himself. It completely gets on the Interviewers' nerves.
    Pegasus Interviewer: When we interviewed him, he praised his brother as some kind of amazing paragon of a warrior second only to himself just so when Dima 'died' it'd be more tragic! Now he's saying he was a coward?! Can't this idiot just bucking keep his backstory straight?!
  • In The Elements of Friendship, Discord tells a completely different story every time he explains his origin to someone.
  • In Sonic X: Dark Chaos, when Chris asks where Eric the Hedgehog comes from, Knuckles shrugs and says that Eric has a different (and "crazier") story every single time he's asked the question, so Sonic and friends gave up trying. Turns out every single one of them is true - not that Eric knows it, since he's pretty much insane.
  • In Lost and Better Off Not Found Harry becomes annoyed with people constantly questioning him about his pre-Hogwarts life and starts telling a different story to everyone who asks.
  • Peter Parker invokes this for laughs in Peter Parker: Intern. When the Avengers start wondering about how Spider-Man got his powers, he sets out to deliberately lie about it; so far, the origins of his powers include the internet and Castle Grayskull.
  • The Infinite Loops makes this trope kind of enforced: a part of the way the Loops work is that anything that wasn't explicitly stated in Baseline (i.e., a series' canon) is "Loop Variable", meaning it changes from one loop to the next; consequently, characters with a Mysterious Past will find that past being completely altered every Loop, which can be extremely disorienting for Awake Loopers. Cinder Fall was driven temporarily insane by having her past and motivations constantly changing, since her canon backstory wasn't revealed until eight-years into the show's run. Her fellow Remnant Loopers Ozpin, Torchwick, and Neo all suffered from this as well before their pasts "firmed up", but she was hit the hardest.
  • The MLP Loops: As a result of the botched nature of her self-awakening, Lyra gets several sets of contradictory Loop memories every time she Loops in. She eventually solves this by creating split personalities to handle her seperate backstories.
  • The Palaververse: The notes on Old Equestria says that Discord didn't stick to an origin story:
    The chaos spirit’s exact origins are unknown, and Discord himself offered up cheerfully contradictory accounts when asked at the time.

    Films — Animation 
  • The prologue of Ice Age: Continental Drift shows Australia being formed three times after Scrat accidentally breaks up Pangaea due to him scurrying around the Earth's core trying to get his acorn back. When Australia itself is first formed, it forms from land located right in the middle of Pangaea. But when Africa is first formed, it forms from land broken up from the southeastern part of Pangaea, just like how Australia formed in real life, and finally, when North and South America are first formed, it forms from land broken off the southwestern part of Pangaea!
  • The Lion King:
    • Scar has two Start of Darkness stories officially: His original story, as revealed in the licensed books A Tale Of Two Brothers, is that he was originally named "Taka". Taka resented the fact his father Ahadi chose his older brother to be the future king and not him. Mufasa was deemed the better choice because he understood the responsibilities needed while Taka was selfish and had too large of a temper. Taka tried to get his brother in trouble by getting a buffalo to attack him. One of the buffalos in the herd instead attacked Taka, giving him a permanent scar. His second origin story comes from The Lion Guard animated series. He was the previous owner of an incredibly powerful, magical roar ability and was the leader of the Lion Guard. The power went to his head and he ended up killing the other members of The Lion Guard. Due to this his powers were taken away, however he kept his hunger for power.
    • Timon's and Pumbaa's pasts are different between The Lion King 1 ½ and Timon & Pumbaa. The former is likely the canon interpretation as it is more in-line with the films compared to the Denser and Wackier series.
  • Chef Horst in Ratatouille has served a prison sentence, but nobody knows why because every time someone asks, he gives a different explanation ("I defrauded a major corporation." / "I robbed the second-largest bank in France using only a ballpoint pen."), none exactly plausible ("I created a hole in the ozone over Avignon.") and probably none true either ("I killed a man. With this thumb"). The thumb story comes back when he scares off former-Chef Skinner with it... with Skinner somehow being thrown out of the kitchen. There might be some truth in that one.
  • In Shrek, Princess Fiona says that a witch cursed her to turn into an ogress at night and locked her in a tower, while Shrek 2 says that she always turned into an ogress (though it's still possible that the curse happened the day she was born) and her parents locked her up.

    Films — Live-Action 


  • Benny Rose, the Cannibal King: The exact origins of Benny Rose are never given, with it, being left unclear if he was a Serial Killer before or after a fire that burned down the hospital he worked at. It's left deliberately unclear whether he always hunted and ate children or only started it to save himself from dying in the basement of the hospital after the fire but then gained a taste for it which he now continues. The novel does lean in the direction at the end that he was a normal person before the fire at the hospital, but it's still left up to the reader to decide which, if any, is the real origin.
  • A mild case: Lord Emsworth, of P. G. Wodehouse's Blandings, acquires another otherwise unmentioned sister in nearly every story. (He consistently has just one brother, though.)
  • Lucien of Character Issues continuously claims that his father died in a variety of ways, ranging from crushed by a TV to poisoned by an Elf-like creature which snuck into his house at midnight every night. Depending on the viewpoint, this is either hilarious or horrific.
  • Various authors have taken up the stories of Conan the Cimmerian since Robert E. Howard died. ("Barbarian" is a movie thing.) Some, such as Robert Jordan, have tried to remain consistent to the relatively vague timeline; others... not so much.
  • H. P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos has details that differ from story to story. Part of this is because several authors contributed to the Mythos and they sometimes had quite different views, but even the stories written by Lovecraft himself are not always consistent. For example, it is not clear if Mt. Kadath and the plateau of Leng exist in the real world (their only actual appearance is in the Dreamland stories, but they're mentioned as real world locations in other stories) or whether Cthulhu himself is a Great Old One or not (in "The Call of Cthulhu" he's mentioned to be one of Them, in "The Dunwich Horror" he's referred as Their "cousin"). This is likely because H. P. Lovecraft didn't give a damn about canon and frequently recycled names and concepts, but varied the details depending upon the particular story.
  • Philbrick, the shifty butler in Evelyn Waugh's Decline and Fall, gives a different version of his backstory to everyone who inquires. When the other characters confront him after comparing notes, he admits that he lied but adds that they'll never find out the truth.
  • Terry Pratchett said "There are no continuity errors in Discworld, just alternate pasts."
    • And then he went and justified it with Thief of Time.
    • In The Light Fantastic, the universe itself has a Multiple Choice Past; the Eight Great Spells of the Creator claim to remember the creation of the universe, but they all remember it differently. Fridge Brilliance when Eric reveals the Creator wasn't really involved in the creation of the universe, just of the Disc itself, so his spells wouldn't remember it directly.
      • An additional universe-creation explanation was given in Soul Music.
  • Doctor Who Expanded Universe:
    • In the Past Doctor Adventures novel The Infinity Doctors, the Doctor meets four Knights at the end of the universe, who don't remember their pasts but who each have a separate theory as to who they are: the last surviving Thals; a group of human/Gallifreyan hybrids; the only People of the Worldsphere who didn't Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence; or the High Evolutionaries. Since a couple of these theories involve Alternate Continuities to the BBC books, this may be interpreted to give the entire Whoniverse a Multiple Choice Past.
    • In the Eighth Doctor Adventures novel Sometime Never one of the Council of Eight, a group of antagonistic beings who resemble the eight Doctors, absorbs the Doctor's personality and flees in a timeship with the Doctor's granddaughter Zezanne. If you take the view (popular at the time but thoroughly contradicted later) that Gallifrey was Ret-Gone thanks to the EDAs' Story Arc, this provides an alternate origin for the First Doctor and Susan.
    • Unnatural History suggests that the Doctor's many contradictory origins — being loomed, having parents, being half-human, coming from the 49th century, etc. — could all be true. This caused considerable debate at the time.
    • Irving Braxiatel is first implied to be the Doctor's brother in the post-Doctor Bernice Summerfield New Adventures novel Tears of the Oracle, representing yet another version of the Doctor's origins, as he's unaccounted for either in Lungbarrow or the novels' implied backstory about the Doctor's parents (derived from an unproduced pre-TV Movie film script). He can be reconciled with them, but as noted elsewhere, that's not really the point.
  • The book Earth Children are Weird shows the protagonists of The X-Files as children, even though in the show proper, they met as adults at work. Enforced, since the book is non-canon and more of a parody of the series than anything.
  • The Emperor's Soul: Shai's Essence Marks allow her to give herself various alternate pasts, each with useful skills and knowledge. For example, one Mark causes her to have spent ten years learning martial arts from a Proud Warrior Race, another causes her to have studied politics and sciences rather than art and Forgery, and so on.
  • Forest Kingdom: In the Hawk & Fisher spinoff series, Hawk tells people all kinds of improbable stories for how he lost his eye, such as he pawned it or lost it in a card game. The truth (that he got clawed in the face by a demon) isn't revealed until his real identity as Prince Rupert of the Forest Kingdom comes out in Beyond the Blue Moon.
  • In Dukaj's "Ice", the main character (and pretty much everyone else) seems subject to this. It's actually used as a resurrection technique to revive Nicola Tesla!
  • Land of Oz:
    • Princess Ozma's backstory had retcons even within the books written by Baum himself. Originally the human daughter of Pastoria, she later claimed to be descended of the fairy lineage of Lurline. This creates confusion with her species. Is Ozma human, half-human/half-fairy, or fairy? Furthermore, The Marvelous Land of Oz claims that her father was the king of Oz, but was overthrown by the Wizard, who kidnapped baby Ozma and gave her to the witch Mombi. But after the Wizard's villainous deeds got negative backlash from readers, Baum retconned it in the next book, Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, so that Ozma's grandfather was kidnapped by Mombi, leaving Oz with no ruler until the Wizard arrived, and both her father and she were born and raised as Mombi's slaves.
    • In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, when the Tin Woodman was human, his sweetheart was a servant to a lazy old woman, who bribed the Wicked Witch of the East to get rid of him for her. In The Tin Woodman of Oz, she was a servant to the Wicked Witch herself.
  • Every story about Gruad Greyface in Illuminatus! agrees that he was a significant figure in ancient Atlantis, but very few agree about what he did there. Depending on who's telling the story, he could have been a high priest who invented human sacrifice or the first bureaucrat to invent tyranny. Less sinister portrayals state he was a great scientist who tried to spread the light of knowledge. He also may have founded the Illuminati, may have personally caused the destruction of Atlantis, and may either have been friends with the more-sympathetically remembered Lilith Velkor or ordered her execution. The Dealy Lama, who asserts he is Gruad surviving to the modern day, says he created most of these stories himself and the truth is fairly mundane, but taking anyone's claims at face value in this book is unwise.
  • Invoked by Moomin Papa in The Moomins. He was found in a newspaper basket, but was embarrassed about it in his youth and so lied to his friends that he was found in a basket of leaves or a bowl of flowers.
  • Peter Pan in the original Peter Pan book by J.M. Barrie. He tells Wendy of how after being adopted into Neverland, he tried to return home to his parents only to find the window locked and another little boy in his room, and he uses this as his justification for disliking adults. The narration of the book says something along the lines of "this may or may not be what happened; but it's how Peter remembered it at the time and thus he wholeheartedly believed it." There are also a few inconsistencies between his origin story in Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens and that in Peter and Wendy.
  • This applies to the entire reality in The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.: In order to achieve a change in the present, the time-traveling agents should change the majority of possible pasts that could lead to the current present. It can become rather complicated.
  • Jules Verne's Robur the Conqueror: François Tapage has a different explanation of Robur's backstory every time you ask him. None of which are compatible with any of the others.
  • A mystery novella serialized by the San Diego Union-Tribune newspaper during The '90s, wherein the Big Bad offered up a different explanation for the huge scar across his face in every installment. In the final chapter, it's revealed that the wound was merely the result of a nasty fall at a grocery store.
    • Vlad Taltos of the Dragaera novels tells each of his acquaintances a different story for how he lost one of his fingers, from a very heavy weight to a botched bare-handed parry to a run-in with a hungry dzur. As Vlad's adventures are published in Anachronic Order, readers had to wait a while to find out that he'd actually lost it while undergoing interrogation by Eastern torturers, which he never admits because he really doesn't want to remember the details.
    • And Campbell in My Sister's Keeper tells us various different stories about why he has his service dog, until at the end it's revealed that The dog can detect when he's about to have a seizure.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire has a lot of this thanks to that world's history mostly being based on legends. In-universe Sam made a game attempt to figure out the true history of the Night Watch, only to find out the organization had hit Legend Fades to Myth status centuries before anyone bothered to invent writing. It doesn't help that many myths have been updated with anachronisms, such as knights running around in the legendary era before the Andals invaded and made knights a thing in Westeros.
    • The Heroic Bastard Jon Snow's origin is the subject of conflicting theories in-universe, with his father Lord Ned Stark telling King Robert that his mother's name was Wylla (a wetnurse in service to House Dayne), yet Ned's wife Catelyn heard a rumor that Jon's mother was Lady Ashara Dayne, which Ned reacted to violently, and Queen Cersei believes this to be the case. Later, Ser Davos Seaworth is told a completely different tale by a Northern lord, in which Jon's mother was a fisherman's daughter who smuggled Ned to safety during Robert's Rebellion. Out-of-universe, many readers suspect that this is all misdirection and Jon is the son of Ned's late sister Lady Lyanna and the late Prince Rhaegar (who either abducted or eloped with her, depending on which character you listen to), which is confirmed as the truth in the TV adaptation Game of Thrones.
    • The books proper claim that House Lannister are descendants of Lann the Clever who is from the Age of Heroes. The appendices claim that they are Andals.
  • The Star Wars Expanded Universe gives Boba Fett as an in-universe/invoked example of this. While the viewer knows his true backstory, very few people in-universe know it and rumors have led to him getting numerous supposed origin stories, which Fett himself encouraged to aid his reputation. Amongst them include him being a stormtrooper who killed his commanding officer, a deposed leader of the Mandalorian people, and a law enforcement officer known as Jaster Mereel who was exiled from his homeworld for treason. Amusingly, it would eventually turn out that these various stories actually came about from chunks of Fett's actual origins; he's of Mandalorian descent, was once a law enforcement officer, killed his commanding officer, was exiled from his homeworld, and did work for the Empire. Also the name Jaster was actually the name of his adoptive grandfather.
  • In The Thirteenth Tale, one of the main characters is an author who tells a different life story every time she's interviewed. It's implied that she has difficulty breaking this habit, even when she starts out with the intention of telling the truth.
  • An odd case is the main character of This Immortal by Roger Zelazny, who time and again tells some different story about himself. The novel opens with Conrad/Konstatin's new wife finding out he's not twenty-something like she is, he's around eighty. Then other characters wonder if he's somehow connected to other Greeks named Konstantin, each with one brown eye and one blue eye, who happen to be even older, one of whom was a world-famous terrorist. Then more characters come into the story, and they have their own stories about his past. He's hundreds of years old, has never physically aged past 23, and he was every one of these people.
    • Either confusing pasts was a theme with Zelazny, or he just had trouble making up his mind when he was writing a story: the Chronicles of Amber involves dozens of "histories" for Corwin, and he spends much of the series trying to unravel which ones are true. (Adding to the confusion: Corwin is immortal, he can travel to as many worlds as he wants, there are "shadows" of him in a lot of those worlds, and he has about 15 siblings with similar powers who all lie and scheme and plot.)
    • Zelazny's Lord of Light mentions a woman who was Sam's "mother or daughter or wife, or perhaps all three," which seems tricky even with reincarnation. However, this turns out to be foreshadowing of the fact that the same woman, in three different bodies, may have ended up being all three to Yama. As Durga, she was of the correct generation to be Yama's mother; as Kali, she was Yama's wife; and, at the end, as the mentally damaged Murga, she is his adopted daughter.
  • Tolkien's Legendarium:
    • J. R. R. Tolkien never managed to come up with a satisfactory backstory for the Orcs; he had created them so his bad guys had some Always Chaotic Evil mooks, but this clashed with his Catholic beliefs that no free willed being could be pure evil. Origins for the Orcs include: corrupted Elves (featured in the published Silmarillion), corrupted Men (although this doesn't fit the timeline), intelligent animals (Contradictory to The Cirith Ungol chapter of Return of the King) or simply primitive tribes.
    • Also true of Galadriel and Celeborn — Unfinished Tales gives multiple drafts of their history that Tolkien wrote, with no clear chronology to tell us which version is the latest (and presumably most authoritative, though some versions cause other continuity problems) and with more notes that suggest Tolkien was planning on revising it again before the publication of The Silmarillion. We don't even know whether Celeborn was a Sindarin or Telerin elf, or whether Galadriel was actually part of Fëanor's rebellion or just went along because she wanted to carve out her own kingdom in Middle-Earth. And those are some pretty major differences.
    • Tolkien seems to have gone back and forth a few times on the issue of whether the Eagles and Huan were lesser Maiar, or regular animals uplifted by the influence of the Valar.
    • Gil-Galad is an infamous version of this regards to his parentage. He was at various times, a descendant of Fëanor, the son of Finrod Felagund, the son of Fingon (the version the published Silmarillion went with), or a son of Orodeth. Christopher Tolkien has admited that given the tangle he should have left his parentage ambiguous.
    • Celebrimbor was established as the grandson of Fëanor in The Lord of the Rings, but Tolkien apparently forgot this and came up with two new backstories in his later writings where he was either a Telerin silversmith who accompanied Celeborn from Aman or a Sindar descendant of Daeron.
    • Often repeated is some variant of: "Of this matter two things are said, the truth of which is known only to the Wise Ones who are gone . . . ."
  • In Warrior Cats, Rock's backstory/significance. Is he the Guardian of the Tunnels from the Ancients, the first Stoneteller, an immortal cursed to be unable to save the Clans from their fate, a ghost, the Keeper of the Prophecies, the Creator of The Three, or some combination of these things? Not even Word of God can decide.
  • Winnie the Pooh: The intro claims that the reason Edward Bear is nicknamed "Winnie-the-Pooh" is because he was (nick)named after a bear named Winnie and a swan named Pooh, which was the true explanation of how Christopher Robin Milne's teddy bear got his name But the story "Winnie the Pooh and Some Bees" claims that he was called Pooh due to the noise he made when he blew flies off his nose. Then, in My Friends Tigger & Pooh, Rabbit claims that "pooh bears" are a species of bear, which Pooh himself also hints at when he sings "...and I'm a pooh bear" in The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Most 30 Rock characters, due to the fact that most of the facts about their pasts are just throwaway punchlines ("My mother tried to send me to Vietnam to make a man out of me. I was 12.", "I definitely would have gone to my reunion, but the boat I was educated on sank.", etc.). If you try to compile them all together, they form a weird, somewhat contradictory, and definitely horrific image. The inconsistencies about Kenneth's past were turned into a Running Gag about him secretly being a long-lived immortal.
    • Lampshaded in Pete's case:
      Pete: Look at my life, Jack. My father was a congressman, I was valedictorian at St. Andrew's, an Olympic archer, fourth guitarist in Loverboy — as a teenager! It's almost unbelievable!
      Jack: If it weren't all true, I'd say it doesn't even make sense!
  • In the second season of The Aquabats! Super Show!, each episode has one of the Aquabats telling a story about how the group came together. Naturally, all of these stories contradict each other, and none is treated as being any less valid than the others (with the possible exception of Crash's).
  • Captain Peacock from Are You Being Served? could never quite keep straight his stories of just what he did in World War II. The most likely story, however, is that he was in the Royal Army Service Corps — the logistics division (he says it when pressed about it, and wears the RASC tie throughout the series). Important work, but not front-line combat.
    • Mr. Goldberg, however, offered a different story — he and 'Corporal Peacock' served together in a cushy job in the cookhouse for most of the war. Had Goldberg been fired, we might even have seen the photo to prove it.
  • Detective Kate Beckett of Castle has elements of this trope. Aside from conversational information for characterization, there are the things she teases Castle about that are never substantiated.
  • A Running Gag on Danger 5 is that we will frequently run into someone from Pierre's past, who knows him by a name other than Pierre. While it seems plausible enough within the show's universe that Pierre really has lived all of these lives, it's very unclear which of these best reflects who he actually is, what country he's even from, and indeed, whether "Pierre" is even his real name.
  • The character of John Black from Days of Our Lives. Originally, he was introduced as a guy with Identity Amnesia who'd undergone Magic Plastic Surgery as the apparent captive of a Big Bad. He escaped and took the name John Black from a sign on a wall. It was eventually revealed he was the Not Quite Dead Roman Brady and that was the role the actor was billed as for many years and lived through his "wife's" "death". Then they decided to bring back he original Roman/Marlena super couple, so it was revealed that "Roman" wasn't the real deal after all and went back to calling himself John Black. In the years since, he's had it revealed that he'd been a cop, private investigator, and a priest in his past. There have been at least two separate revelations about who his birth parents are. The current origin puts him as a cousin of some sort to Roman Brady and also related to the Big Bad. In the meantime, Wayne Northrop, the original Roman left the show again after a short time. That role was recast in a case of The Other Darrin and now played by someone who'd previously played a different role on the show. Then Northrop came back again in a completely different role.
  • Doctor Who:
    • The Doctor has multiple conflicting backstories, due in part to the evolving nature of the show. They might be from the 49th century ("An Unearthly Child" pilot), they might be a child born into privilege ("The Deadly Assassin") or from apparent poverty ("Listen"), they might have learned spiritual lessons from Time Lord hermits on the hill where they lived ("The Time Monster") or have been raised in the metropolis of the Capitol ("Invasion of Time"), have been woven as a young adult on a genetic loom, incorporating the biodata of the Other, an enigmatic Gallifreyan founding figure ("Lungbarrow") or been born half-human (the TV Movie), they might have had multiple incarnations before the First Doctor ("The Brain of Morbius", "Cold Fusion"), might have abandoned their family ("An Unearthly Child") or have some sort of relationship with their mother ("The End of Time"), might have built the TARDIS themself ("The Chase") or stolen it ("The War Games"), and their madness might originate from a childhood visit from Clara ("Listen"), staring into the Time Vortex as a child ("Utopia") or political issues forcing them to escape, with the time travel itself causing their madness along the way (audio drama "The Beginning" and the Gallifrey series). They could also be an adopted being possibly from another universe known as "The Timeless Child" who was used as the source of the early Gallifreyans' ability to regenerate, enabling them to become the Time Lords, and may have lived enough lives for all of these backstories to be true without them even knowing it entirely. ("The Timeless Children"). Sometimes they even have a Multiple Choice Future where they enounter what might be later regenerations (besides the ones that actually are), further evidenced with the Shrouded in Myth bi-generation process allowing more than one present version of them to co-exist in separate bodies ("The Giggle"). Some of these are reconcilable, others aren't, and overall the show doesn't care about nailing the character down like that, as it's not really the point.
    • Then there are the ones from the Sixties when the Doctor being a Time Lord hadn't been established yet, and which suggest rather different takes on their people - they might be something disguised as an Earth creature ("The Daleks' Master Plan"), they might be more than human due to too much time travel ("The Evil of the Daleks"), their regeneration might be a property of the TARDIS rather than an innate ability ("The Power of the Daleks"), etc.
    • There's also the "all of the above" option: "Unnatural History" proposes that the Doctor has multiple pasts in-universe as their timeline changes behind them, observing that trying to establish a single consistent origin isn't really what matters about them, they're not something to be contained like that, indeed perhaps they enjoy that they can't be easily figured out.
    • For a short time in the Eighth Doctor Adventures there were two versions of the Third Doctor's regeneration into the Fourth (the Reset Button eventually got hit, restoring the original regeneration).
    • Susan, the Doctor's granddaughter, receives this to a lesser extent, primarily as a result of expanded universe stories desexualising Gallifrey/the Doctor — if she isn't the Doctor's granddaughter, then she might be the Other's granddaughter, and thus the Doctor's via reincarnation ("Lungbarrow"), an orphaned descendant of Rassilon ("Birth of a Renegade"), the daughter of a Time Lord President ("A Brief History of Time Lords"), or perhaps the Doctor's granddaughter from a previous regeneration cycle ("Cold Fusion").
    • Doctor Who has explained away the creation of the Daleks in four different ways. Once in their debut story "The Daleks" (which didn't actually show it), a second time in a spin-off comic The Dalek Chronicles (which didn't contradict the first origin story), a third time in the short story We Are The Daleks! written by Terry Nation (which claimed that the Daleks were a future offshoot of humanity brought into existence early by Ancient Astronauts who transplanted them to another planet… yeah, everybody ignores that one) and finally in "Genesis of the Daleks".

      Terry Nation wrote a book in the late '80s that reconciled "The Daleks" with "Genesis of the Daleks." Basically, the Daleks in "The Daleks" were a prototype Davros made before "Genesis of the Daleks." Their city was an experiment to see if Daleks could function autonomously. After he left them alone and got buried in rubble in the Kaled/Thal genocide, those Daleks wrote Davros out of their official history, preferring to ignore the fact that an "inferior" being had created them.
    • The series explained in "The Three Doctors" that Omega created the Time Lords by creating a black hole artificially. "The Deadly Assassin" says Rassilon did it. Later stories have reconciled the two explanations (Rassilon and Omega were partners; Omega did the actual testing and got sucked into the black hole, Rassilon brought home the results).
    • Averted in New Who with the Cybermen: an alternative origin story, in which the Cybermen are invented on Earth by a wealthy human attempting to prevent his own death, is set in an alternate universe. The Mondas Cybermen don't show up until 2010 (not counting the museum piece in "Dalek").
    • In the 2017 series finale, the Doctor claims the various origins of the Cybermen across the show's media are actually a case of "parallel evolution". They're all true, as the Cybermen will come into being wherever the right technology exists.
      Doctor: They always get started. They happen everywhere there's people. Mondas, Telos, Earth, Planet 14, Marinus...
    • The Expanded Universe proposes two Mondasian origins for the Cybermen: Alan Barnes's Doctor Who Magazine backup strip "The Cybermen" has them beginning as cyber-augmented ape servants of Mondas's native Silurians, while Marc Platt's Big Finish Doctor Who audio "Spare Parts" has Mondas's native humans transform themselves into Cybermen in order to survive. In author commentary, Barnes has suggested it's possible that Cyber-civilisation has risen and fallen on Mondas multiple times, including "The Cybermen", "Spare Parts", and a scenario resembling Gerry Davis's unmade TV proposal "Genesis of the Cybermen".
    • Amy Pond complains to the Doctor in the short "Good Night" that she can remember two different pasts, one in which she was raised by her aunt and had "never had parents," and another in which she'd "always had parents" who raised her. Unusually, the Doctor points out, and Amy agrees, that it's all fine, that there's no problem caused by having two incompatible pasts — although Amy feels like there should be. She is, in fact, remembering an alternate timeline that actually happened, but then the entire universe got rebooted.
  • Friends: Done very subtly with Chandler. You get the basics of childhood (his mother was an erotic novelist, his father was a gay drag queen, they divorced when he was nine and sent him to boarding school) but what's confusing is their treatment of him. On one hand he talks about how his dad was too enthusiastic coming to all his swim meets, and you see his mom saying on national television that she loves him. Yet he also recounts how they preferred his imaginary friend to him, abandoned him on his first parents' day and were callous enough to announce their break up during Thanksgiving dinner. It's not clear if they were just Amazingly Embarrassing Parents who made poor decisions or uninterested and put him through Parental Neglect or full out emotionally Abusive Parents.
  • The Golden Girls tended to have extended families that varied over the years. Blanche seemed especially vulnerable to this. She was the middle of three sisters, then a gay brother appeared. She had three sons and a daughter, but two different daughters were named during the show's run. It is also unclear whether or not she was faithful to her husband George — one episode says yes, another says no. And don't anyone ask her age. Sophia also liked to make up preposterous stories about her past ("Picture it..."). These were played for laughs, usually inserting herself into trysts and feuds with famous people, and were (mostly?) made up.
  • Gotham does this with The Joker, but with a twist. Since the series is set when Bruce Wayne had yet to become Batman or face any of his iconic adversaries, the Joker doesn't actually exist yet, but Word of God is that one of the apparent Canon Foreigners will eventually become him... but we don't know which one. Is it the nameless comedian at Fish Mooney's club? Fish's own bodyguard, Butch? The murderous circus kid who can't stop laughing? Or even just some random kid who put on a discarded red hood?
    • In later seasons, there is an even more unique variation on this. Jerome Valeska (the laughing mad circus kid), goes full-on monster clown by the time he escapes from Arkham in Season 2, and is the Joker in all but name from Seasons 2 to 4. However, at the end of Season 4, it is revealed that he has an identical twin brother, Jeremiah, who appears to be his good counterpart until Jerome dies and drives his brother mad with laughing gas to get revenge on him, turning him into the show's true version of the Joker.
  • This was done intentionally on Green Acres. Each season featured an episode in which Oliver and/or Lisa tell the story of how they met, but it's always a different story.
  • In Heroes Sylar's reason for being a killer was changed so often, he probably doesn't know himself anymore why he is one: inferiority complex, "hunger" as side effect of his ability, being manipulated by the Company and finally simply being a psychopath. This may be justified by the notion that he was lying (and possibly lying to himself) about his motives.
  • On Homicide: Life on the Street Det. John Munch was a lifelong Baltimore native, well demonstrated as he was the only main character with a childhood flashback episode. This did not stop Law & Order: Special Victims Unit from making him a native New Yorker.
  • On one episode of I Love Lucy, Lucy casually mentions that she met Ricky on a blind date. Later, the first episode of The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour gives an extended depiction of how they first met, and it's a totally different story.
  • On Justified: City Primeval, Clement Mansell and Sandy Stanton have identified the Albanian Skender Lulgjuraj as a potential mark to steal money from. In "Backstabbers," Clement tells Skender that if his mother hadn't been carried away by a tornado, they'd be having this meeting in Lawton, Oklahoma. When Sandy asks how he's never told him this, he says it was a day like any other in which his mother was slaving away, hanging wash on the line, a pot on the stove inside. Then the wind picked up and the sky turned dark and ugly. They next thing they knew, she was above the fruited plain, teams of hounds out searching for her, but never found a trace. Later on in the season, in "The Smoking Gun," he tells his attorney Carolyn Wilder the same story, except in this version, he says his mother was indisposed because this is what people do, they let you down. He waited for the man in her bed to leave, not "the first asshole from Glenn Pool to be in her bed, but he was the last." After his car disappeared down the dirt road, he took his .22 and shot his mother in the throat because the last thing he wanted her to see before he told her to close her eyes tight and pulled the trigger was her son's face. He then tells Carolyn that maybe this story is just bull and that a tornado carried her away. Given everything else seen of him in the series, though, he probably did actually kill her.
  • The latter portion of the season of The Late Late Show that was hosted by Craig Ferguson was co-hosted by ... this. He gave many different conflicting accounts of how he died, over the course of the show, and once even accidentally gave two within a single episode. This prompted Craig to respond, upon hearing the second, with the joke "How the heck does someone drive a motorcycle into a shark?!" (The two accounts given that episode being first that he had died in a shark attack, and the second being a motorcycle accident resulting from failure to wear a helmet.)
  • Mentioned in-universe in one episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, in which a sex offender's psychiatrist tells Benson and Stabler that the offender in question was constantly telling contradictory stories about his past, to the point where she had no idea what his real backstory was.
    Psychiatrist: He was molested by his mother, or his mother was an angel. He moved around because his father was in the military, or he never knew his father. After a while, you realize he's just playing you.
  • Parker from Leverage has had several flashbacks to her past, which appear to all be true, but are somewhat contradictory: the first episode shows Parker, age 9 or so, running away from home after blowing up her foster parents after they yelled at her for stealing, another episode indicates that she was raised as an orphan, and another revealed she had a younger brother who was killed in an accident when she was twelve. All of these can be rationalized by her having one or more foster families, but it's still confusing.
  • MacGyver presented two completely different versions of the title character's original meeting with Pete Thornton: a first-season version told in passing to give the characters' relationship a quick backstory and sense of long-term depth, and a full-blown (and totally incompatible) second-season version, told in flashbacks, that formed the focus of an entire episode (Partners). The underlying reason was that the show had a new producer, the concept had been overhauled and Mac's backstory was rewritten to eliminate his association with the military. The retcon also added a retroactive Arch-Nemesis, Murdoc.
  • Married... with Children: Al and Peggy's marriage has a few different versions, but they all have alcohol and/or shotguns in common.
  • In The Mighty Boosh, Howard and Vince frequently flash back to their shared past - but without any continuity about what this shared past has been. At one point they insist they are the same age, at another that Howard is ten years older than Vince. Vince may have been raised in the jungle by Brian Ferry or he may have gone to school with Howard. It comes down to Rule of Funny, of course.
  • The Odd Couple (1970) had multiple episodes depicting how Felix and Oscar first met.
  • An in-show version in the Sanctuary episode "Hero" — a comics-loving ordinary citizen discovers a suit which gives him superpowers. When Magnus' crew capture him, he feeds Will a made-up origin that's a hodge-podge of The Juggernaut, The Phantom and Green Arrow. Will buys it, until his comic-book loving friend Henry tells him.
  • The Janitor from Scrubs has given many contradictory tales of his past, from massively different stories about his tortured childhood, to forgetting whether he went to Harvard or Yale. It's implied he does this largely to mess with J.D.
    • He is, however, a world-class track runner, capable of sprinting a hundred meters, with hurdles, in about ten seconds.
    • Then there are the hints he's just Neil Flynn, his actor, fallen on very hard times.
    • Best summed up in this exchange after a particularly long anecdote about how The Janitor learned sign language:
      J.D.: Was any of that true?
      Janitor: Someone would have to read it back to me.
    • Word of God is that the Janitor was originally going to be revealed as JD's hallucination in the finale; in the first season, he coincidentally avoids interacting with any other characters besides JD. However, once the show was renewed past the original two seasons, this plan was dropped, and the Janitor started interacting with other characters.
    • In lieu of the Janitor in Season 9, Drew seems to have taken his place as 'dude with weird past'. So far we know that he had a meltdown his first time through med school which ended with him in prison, dressed up in a 'very flammable' dinosaur suit as part of community service, has been married, never uses public bathrooms after spending a month living in a gas station restroom, his parents believe him to be dead, he has an ex-wife and stage-managed the Western leg of the `05 tour of Wicked.
  • In Smallville, Moira Sullivan, mother of Chloe Sullivan, has a past which varies slightly every time in her few appearances, the difference usually including the time when she left Chloe.
  • In Stargate SG-1, Jack O'Neill's backstory throughout most of the series was that he was ex-Special Ops, and O'Neill wore a master parachutist's badge and later a space and missile operations badge on his dress uniform but never pilot's wings, but in an episode of Season 8, Samantha Carter pointed out that he used to be a test pilot. This is likely an ass-pull by the writers, but given that he did pilot some experimental aircraft and that this backstory was never mentioned again, and that the only occasion when the viewers find out anything about O'Neill's background is when someone else mentions it, it's possible that Carter herself was mistaken.
    • Also, Vala's past. She was brought up on a nice planet with a conventional life (and fiancé) until she was chosen by Qetesh, OR she was sold to a weapons dealer and killed him to earn her freedom, OR she was brought up by her bitchy stepmother and conman father, and also how many times was she married? Vala is a habitual liar and loves to tell fanciful stories (especially in her earlier appearances, before her character development). The only things we know for sure is that she really was host to Qetesh at some point in her past, and she really does have a conman father. Beyond that, we may never know.
  • Star Trek:
    • The Borg are described by Guinan in their debut episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation as having been expanding and assimilating for countless centuries, but she doesn't give anything more specific than this. Star Trek: Voyager says that the Borg's own memory of their beginning is fuzzy as well. The Star Trek Expanded Universe has produced many mutually contradictory origin stories for them: The Star Trek Encyclopedia and Star Trek: Legacy say that they were spawned by V'ger, while Star Trek: The Manga and the Star Trek: Destiny novel trilogy each tell of different alien species accidentally creating them as a means of survival.
    • Doctor Bashir on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had about four different stories explaining how he first realized he wanted to be a doctor as a child (either he was inspired to become one after repairing his childhood teddy bearnote , he became a doctor to get over his fear of doctors, he was pressured to go to med school by his parents, or he went to med school after becoming a professional athlete didn't work out). This was later explained as a result of him trying to hide his actual origin story — he received illegal genetic enhancements as a child.
    • Garak also had a Multiple Choice Past. The second-season episode "The Wire" had him confess to three different, contradictory stories about why he's on the station, all of which are proven to be false (it's also not the only time he "explains" why he was exiled, and none of those stories hold water either). At the end of the episode, Bashir confronts him about it, only to have Garak declare that they were all true. The only thing in the series that is confirmed to be true about Garak's past is that he is the illegitimate son of Enabran Tain, former head of the Obsidian Order.
      Garak: My dear doctor, they're all true.
      Bashir: Even the lies?
      Garak: Especially the lies.
    • The non-canon book A Stitch in Time has Garak remember his childhood and the real reason he was exiled, while walking through the ruins of Cardassia. He killed a high-level official, who caught Garak with his wife (all three went to school together). Interestingly, his boss and father Enabran Tain actually ordered the assassination, but it was the semi-public way Garak did it that got him kicked out of the Obsidian Order.
  • Stephen Colbert's character shares some of his history with the actor (ten brothers and sisters, born in South Carolina) but the rest of it tends to change from episode to episode according to the Rule of Funny — including the names of his wife and children. Some fans have theorized that the character may be making it up as he goes along.
    • His book I Am America (And So Can You!) starts with his "first memory" involving a babysitter. A few chapters later, he off-handedly mentions that that he made that up.
  • Writers on The X-Files generally did a good job to keep the back-stories consistent, regarding what Mulder and Scully did before they started working on the X-Files and their family background, except when the ambiguity was the point. However, there was one deliberate change that did not please fans. Dana Scully's gold cross necklace, a frequent Tragic Keepsake and the symbol of her faith, has two possible origins. In Season 2 episode "Ascension", Mrs Scully says she gave it to Dana on her fifteenth birthday, and Season 5 episode "Christmas Carol" shows in flashback that teenage Dana and her sister Melissa both get their crosses for Christmas. The writers said they had known about the change, but they simply couldn't resist to use it in their Christmas Episode.

  • The Beatles gave varying accounts of where they got their band name from. John Lennon used to joke to reporters that he had had a vision of a man on a flaming pie who told him, "You are Beatles with an 'a'." In later years, he said that he had simply made it up in imitation of Buddy Holly's band, the Crickets. Other versions say that the name was suggested not by Lennon, but by early bassist Stu Sutcliffe. They were briefly known as the Silver Beatles, which may have come out of a suggestion to call them Long John and the Silver Beatles. Another theory comes from George Harrison suggesting that they got the name from the Marlon Brando film The Wild One, in which a motorcycle gang is referred to as "The Beetles."
  • There are various versions of *NSYNC's origin story. Chris Kirkpatrick being the founding member and Lance Bass being the last to join is indisputable, but stories as to how Chris first came into contact with Pearlman or how Chris and Justin Timberlake knew each other vary.
    • According to Lance's memoir and Backstreet Boys member Howie Dorough, Chris met Pearlman through Dorough, who attended college with Kirkpatrick. There have also been stories of Chris forming NSYNC after not making the Backstreet lineup, which Chris has refuted. The "official" story as told in VH1's Driven series is that Pearlman approached Chris after seeing him perform with The Hollywood Hi-Tones.
    • Pearlman also claimed JC Chasez had once worked for him as a personal assistant. The common narrative states Justin was the second member to be recruited, and then JC, followed by Joey Fatone. However, in the *N The Mix video, Justin also acknowledges JC and Chris having previously known one another through Chris's job at Universal Studios.
  • Gorillaz's bass player / leader Murdoc Niccals can't decide if he was an abused child that grew up in the 1960s/70s, or if he is an immortal being who has watched time since its very beginnings. Then again, you get a different answer from him on generally anything, depending on how knackered he is.
  • The origin of the band name Chumbawamba. Explanations that they gave involved it being a particularly coherent string found in the results of a Monkeys on a Typewriter experiment; that it was the mascot of a defunct football team, Walford Town; that it was derived from the chanting of African street musicians that two of the band members overheard while busking in Paris; or that one of the band members had a dream in which they needed to use the bathroom and weren't sure which one to enter because one bathroom was marked "chumba" and the other "wamba". Eventually they conceded that it doesn't mean anything and they just wanted something that would never become dated, and what better way to avoid tying yourself to a particular era than to name yourself utter gibberish?

    Myths and Religion 
  • In any body of mythological stories, this tends to happen over time as multiple authors have their own ideas, and whole towns or regions may have different versions of a story.
  • Arthurian Legend comes down to us in the form of many different stories by many different writers, and it seems like many of them were not particularly concerned with being consistent with earlier stories; modern writers also tend to do whatever they darn well feel like when writing about them.
    • One thing everybody knows is that King Arthur had a magic sword named Excalibur. There are two famous stories in which Arthur gets a magic sword: in one, he pulls out The Sword in the Stone, and in the other, he receives it from the Lady of the Lake. Different writers have dealt with this in different ways; one variation is that Excalibur and the Sword in the Stone are indeed two different swords, and the Lady of the Lake gives Excalibur to Arthur some time after he becomes king.
  • In Classical Mythology, different authors gave different parents to many heroes, monsters and deities, and told events in their pasts differently. The Kabeiroi, Kouretes, and Korybantes, related sets of minor deities, had several different genealogies and origin stories. Humanity itself had separate creation myths in different cities, along with different explanations for how they got fire, writing, and so forth.
    • There were two stories of why Hephaestus had a bad limp: either he was born lame, or Zeus threw him off of Mount Olympus during a quarrel and he was injured in the fall. Homer told both versions in The Iliad.
      • A third holds that Hera gave birth to him without Zeus being involved at any point, but Hero took one look at her ugly newborn and hurled him off Olympus.
    • Aphrodite has three mutually exclusive accounts of where she came from. One version of her myth says she's the daughter of Zeus and the titaness Dione, the second version says she was created when Ouranos' severed testicles landed in the sea and the third version (the most obscure version, mostly exclusive to the Spartans and a few others) doesn't completely specify her origins, but depicts her as a goddess of both love and war instead of just love.
    • Athena was either born from Zeus alone, or she is the daughter of Zeus and his first wife Metis (in both origins, she still bursts out from Zeus's head, but for different reasons).
    • There are several myths concerning different accounts of what Dionysus was doing in the mortal world before he joined the rest of his family in Olympus. Some say he was a wanderer who walked the Earth and teaching mortals about winemaking, others say that he was a madness-inducing conqueror who developed a mad cult of debauchery who brought chaos to whoever opposed Dionysus, other origin stories have varying accounts of those events and other origin stories don't mention what he was doing before becoming a god at all.
    • Several monsters in Greek mythology are also prone to this. Arachne and Medusa are good examples. In well-known versions of their stories, they both got screwed over by Athena and got turned into monsters out of anger and spite (Arachne for mocking the gods, Medusa for being raped in a temple of Athena). However, earlier versions of those stories instead suggest that Athena didn't turn Arachne into a spider out of anger or spite, but for other reasons (because in those versions, Arachne committed suicide after their weaving contest and when Athena learned this, she decided to resurrect Arachne by turning her into a spider out of respect and pity). And earlier versions of Medusa's story suggest that her origin has nothing to do with Athena or Poseidon and that she was always a gorgon.
  • Ancient Egyptian authors also differed on the parentage of various gods. This isn't surprising, given that such family relations were often more a matter of local cult rather than "myth" as such. By the end of the New Kingdom, many gods were worshipped in threesomes identified as husband, wife, and son, and temples in different regions used different combinations of gods.
  • Nobody can agree on the origins of the Kuchisake-onna, or Slit-Mouthed Woman, a monster of Japanese urban legends and folklore. Some say she was the wife of a cruel samurai who mutilated her when she had an affair. Others say she was the victim of a horribly botched dental procedure. Still others say she was disfigured by a romantic rival who was jealous of her beauty. And then there are the claims that she's not a ghost at all and was never human; rather, she's a youkai and the slits are her natural mouth.
  • Seeing as Santa Claus is a Public Domain Character, there are many different stories about how he came to be. Some say that he was Saint Nicholas, some say he inherited the title of Santa from his father, and there are many other origin stories. See also: The Santa Clause.
  • In Islam, Iblis is said to have been banished from Heaven after refusing to bow to Adam, saying he was an inferior being. Depending on the account, he is either a Fallen Angel, an evil jinn, or something else entirely. People who believe in the jinn background see Iblis as such thinking that angels have no free will and exist only to serve God. While there are verses in The Qur'an saying that angels do not disobey Him, they never actually clarify if it's because of a lack of free will, or if it's something angels choose to do on their own.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • The childhoods of The Undertaker and Kane (who are half-brothers) have come to be subject to this. The original story was that The Undertaker was an arsonist who burned down his parents' funeral parlor, killing both parents and leaving Kane horrifically disfigured. Other versions, however, pointed to Kane as being responsible for the fire.

    Puppet Shows 
  • The first three Muppet films gave completely irreconcilable versions of how the Muppets came together and became stars. (The first one has a Framing Story that calls it "approximately how it happened", and both it and the sequel reminds us all the way through that this is just a movie).
    • The Muppet Movie establishes that Kermit went on a journey to Hollywood in dreams of becoming a star, meeting Fozzie and the others along the way.
    • The Great Muppet Caper had Kermit and Fozzie portrayed as identical twin brothers working for a newspaper along with Gonzo and the three investigating the theft of jewels belonging to Lady Holiday. After the flight to England, Kermit meets Miss Piggy and is initially misled into thinking she is Lady Holiday, with the rest of the Muppet cast met at the Happiness Hotel.
    • The Muppets Take Manhattan establishes that Kermit, Fozzie, Miss Piggy, Rowlf, Gonzo, Camilla, Scooter, Dr. Teeth, Floyd, Zoot, Animal and Janice went to the same college and aspired to put on a Broadway show shortly after they graduated.
  • Sesame Street has one for Oscar the grouch in the same episode, namely the Christmas special. A woman claims that Oscar was nice and positive as a baby but became mean and grumpy as he grew older. However, Oscar claims that he's always been mean and grumpy. At least for the grumpiness, the idea that he was grumpy from birth is supported by his niece, Irvine, who's about one and a Bratty Half-Pint, which is said to be normal for grouch babies.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Various examples throughout the history of Dungeons & Dragons:
    • Done with the entire species of illithids (aka Mind Flayers). One of the earlier versions says that they're mutants outcast from a long-gone human society in the Astromundi crystal sphere (solar system). Another version puts them as emerging when parasites from "the Outside" entered the game's reality and began bonding with and mutating humanoids, and went on to rule an interstellar empire millennia ago which has since fallen. An old Dragon magazine article depicts them as invaders from an alternate Prime Material Plane, trying to reshape whatever world your characters are from in the image of their homeworld. A later version says they're from the future and traveled back in time to escape a nameless enemy that was destroying them, and to prepare better for that enemy while in the past. It's ultimately left up to the Game Master to decide which of these is the "truth," or if perhaps they're all successive layers of lies used to disguise the illithids' origins and that the latest retcon is just another lie. However, in the 4th Edition rules, Mind Flayers are once again from the Far Realm — beyond the borders of the universe. This certainty may be only because there haven't been enough years into the new edition to let their webs of deceit get fully developed yet, however.
      • An interesting but ultimately unrelated note on the time-traveling origin: A person can still take "Heritage" feats, special character options that indicate one's bloodline co-mingles with that of the relevant race/species (Fey Heritage, Draconic Heritage, etc) for Illithids. For most heritage feats, this implies an ancestry speckled with Interspecies Romance. However, in this case Illithid Heritage actually means you're actually one of the ancestors of the Illithid bloodlines.
      • An issue of Dragon had an "Illithid Bloodline" feat, but it stated that the bloodline didn't come from illithids themselves. Rather, it came from escaped slaves who were experimented upon by the illithids. A clever storyteller might decide the two possibilities aren't mutually exclusive...
    • The game's 4th Edition default setting Nentir Vale does this with pretty much all of the deities. Fairly justified; they've been around for so long that the details of their origins are wrapped up in legends.
      • And then there's the Raven Queen. Depending on what you look at, she's a True Neutral goddess of death as part of the life cycle, an evil former consort of Nerull who overthrew him to gain his title as God of the Dead and now plots to destroy the other Gods so she can gain that title that she believes is rightfully hers rather than her lesser title of Goddess of Death, or a selfish and power-hungry goddess that epitomizes the reason True Neutral is now Unaligned.
    • Nobody truly knows where Gas Spores came from, though since they resemble Beholders to a startling degree, the prevailing theory is that they came from parasitic fungi that fed on the corpses of Beholders and were changed by the latent magic of the aberrations. However, other theories posit that they were created on purpose by beholder mages, illithids or even myconids.
    • The origin story for Strahd von Zarovich, the Ravenloft setting's most iconic villain, has been recounted in two novels, four to six adventures (depending on whether or not updates count), and dozens of fragmentary anecdotes throughout the product line. Not only do they contradict one another in numerous details, but it's openly acknowledged that many such accounts are propaganda and that Strahd himself probably doesn't remember (or want to remember) the truth anymore. Plus, there's a completely separate and irreconcilable version of Strahd in Ravenloft II: The House on Gryphon Hill that even the publishers wrote off as a Riddle for the Ages.
    • Some of Demonlords And Archdevils have so many different origin stories through various edition's retcons, that it became incorporated as a part of their appeal to make them more ambigious.
      • Asmodeus has at least three origin stories, most of them being at least somewhat contradictory. He was a general in war against Demons, who begun taking more ruthless approach, eventually manipulating Gods into forming Pact Primodial and giving him his own realm, that became the Nine Hells, through a lot of Loophole Abuse. Or he was an angel tasked with guarding Tharizdun's prison, but he was corrupted by demon Pazuzu, slayed his own patron god and was cast out into Nine Hells for his treachery. Or Asmodeus we know is merely a projection of an entity at the very bottom of Nine Hells - Ahriman, colossal divine serpent who co-created the multiverse, before fighting his partner over control for it, and now seeks souls to regain his true power. All of those origins tie creations of Nine Hells as we know it to his origin, but there are also tales claiming they existed before he showed up and kicked out the previous ruler, who is sometimes said to be Satan, sometimes Lucifer and sometimes Zargon.
      • Belial and Fierna. Are they rivals or working together as a team? Or is Fierna just a puppet ruler and Belial is true power behind the throne? Are they lovers? Siblings? Father and daughter? Do they actually share title of Archduke of Fourth, something that shouldn't be possible, or is one of them Archduke and other their consort? Or maybe they're just two forms of one shapeshifting entity? There is material to support all of these interpretations and more.
      • Graz'zt, Demon Prince of Lust, is either a son of Pale Night or a former Archduke of Hell who lead an invasion into Abyss, got trapped there and eventually decided to rebel against Asmodeus and establish his own dominion. Or he is actually a double agent, secretly carrying Asmodeus' orders. Each of these theories exists separatelly to a question whenever or not Asmodeus is his father.
  • Games Workshop games:
    • Warhammer:
      • The origins of Voland, the leader of a notorious mercenary company, are the subject of wild theorizing, due in large part to him keeping a tight lid on the subject. The more sedate speculations assume him to be a disgraced noble from the Empire, some believe him to be the Emperor's bastard son, and the wilder theories include one where he's the child of the Fay Enchantress of Bretonnia and a one-pig named Eric.
      • There are two conflicting accounts of the Amazons' origins, both of which have issues. One, presented in White Dwarf 307, has it that they were favored servants of the Old Ones, created to be their undying servants and left behind to guard the sacred places when Chaos came and the Old Ones vanished. This version conflicts with the Lizardmen's claims to the same status, which are backed by their eldest members having personal memories of this origin. The other, also from White Dwarf as well as the Lizardmen 5th Edition codex, has them as a cadre of Norse warrior women who left Skeggi behind over an ideological conflict with the Norse men, who wanted them to Stay in the Kitchen, and settled the Amaxon river, where they took to using jungle drugs to extend their lifespans and armed themselves with stolen Lizardman artifacts. This fails to account for there being encounters with the Amazons recorded long before Skeggi existed. One possible solution claims that the Skeggi women were not the original Amazons, but were instead inducted into the preexisting Amazon culture to bolster its fading numbers.
    • Warhammer: Age of Sigmar: Opinion is divided amongst the scholars of the Mortal Realms as to the origins of the Gargants. Some think they are the degenerate dependents of a race of titanic builders while others theorise that they are the offspring of the zodiac godbeast Behemat. There is even a theory that they are refugees from somewhere outside the Mortal Realms. As for the Gargants themselves, they generally view themselves as Behemat's heirs.
    • Warhammer 40,000:
      • The God-Emperor has had a number of official backstories over the years. Originally he was created by a group of incredibly powerful shamans in the year 8,000 BC. Newer versions keep the 8,000 BC date but drop the shamans. Then there's the possibility that the Emperor was actually born in the Age of Strife (26,000 AD or so). The current backstory, and Horus Heresy series of novels, mention all of the above (with the second being what he told Horus), but have him intentionally obscuring the issue even before ten thousand years of conflicting dogma.
      • Primarch Alpharius as befitting to a character that thrives on secrecy and mind-games has five different origin stories. All of them are lies, but all have a grain of truth... Or so we are told. He also has three stories of his death, and no one knows which (if any) of them is true. It's made more complicated by the fact that he has a Backup Twin, whose fate is similarly mysterious, and thousands of body doubles.
      • As a means of explaining some of the changes that the C'tan have gone through over the course of the various editions of the game, the 8th Edition Codex: Necrons mentions that the in-universe knowledge of the C'tan is often fragmentary and contradictory, with even the records held by the Aeldari in the Black Library, on Ulthwé and on Alaitoc being unable to agree on hard facts.
      • Nobody knows where the Legion of the Damned comes from, but in-universe, the prevailing theory is that they are the remains of the Fire Hawks Chapter, who were declared lost in the Warp in 983.M41, with the Bell of Lost Souls being rung a thousand times for them. Sightings of the Legion stretch back to before the Fire Hawks vanished, but since time does not necessarily flow in a linear fashion in the Warp, this is not proof against the Legion being the Fire Hawks.
  • In Nomine: Alaemon, the Prince of Secrets, has gone through a great deal of work in obscuring his past, which is a subject of guesswork and confusion in-universe and out. Superiors: Rogues to Riches presents three possible and mutually exclusive origin stories for him — a Fallen Mercurian once in Litheroy's service, who now seeks to undo the work of the Archangel of Revelation; a former Balseraph of the Game sent to capture the real Alaemon, who has been pretending to be his mark to hide the fact that he let him get killed; and an extremely deep-cover agent for Heaven — each of which would explain why his life is ruled by secrets and paranoia. Even his Superior when he was a common demon isn't certain — he likely worked for Asmodeus, but it might just as well have been Malphas or Kronos.
  • New World of Darkness: Multiple explanations are given for several aspects of the game world so that the Storyteller may pick and choose which ones she likes.
    • In Changeling: The Lost, for example, there are several possible reasons for why the Gentry may kidnap humans and how the True Fae come to be:
      • Their existence in Arcadia was actually totally devoid of emotion or nuance until they experienced the Glamour from human proximity,
      • Or they're actually constructs of wild magic and chaotic emotions, and exposure to humans gave them sentience,
      • OR they're actually what remains of the mages who climbed the Celestial Ladder and entered the Supernal Realm, but their imperfect human desires ran amok and destroyed their humanity.
      • Or they're latecomers to Arcadia of unknown origin, and will one day leave.
      • Even if one (or more) of the above are true, it didn't explain how there could be so many of the True Fae until you read the supplement book that says that Changelings who reach Wyrd 10 and Clarity 0 are likely to become True Fae themselves.
    • So far, we have two separate explanations for The Tunguska Event: a Promethean tried to summon an arch-qashmal, or one of the Knights of St. George tried to summon a Faceless Angel. Or that those are actually two versions of the same story...
    • And then there's Atlantis. Atlantis could have been a real ancient city ruled by mages, or it could be an allegory made real by the minds of Awakened souls, or it could be a far-future event whose collapse was felt eons in the past. The sourcebook mentions that some members of the Free Council believe Atlantis is a lie that the other factions made up to justify their dominance.
    • And the Uratha have so many tales of lost Pangaea it's not worth sorting here.
    • Also, in contrast with the Old World of Darkness, where they had a defined and known origin, vampires in the New World of Darkness have long forgotten exactly how they came to be, meaning each faction has its own ideas of their origin. (Indeed, there's a fair case to be made that vampires have multiple origins.)
    • Was the first Frankenstein created by Victor Frankenstein, as in the original novel, or was he created by Mary Shelley and John Polidori from the remains of the last of the previous choler-aspected Lineage, the Amirani? Dark Eras Companion explicitly brings up this trope in a sidebar, declaring it's up to the Storyteller to decide the circumstances around the Frankensteins' creation.
    • On a similar note, did the first Zeka start being created in 1945, beginning with the Trinity bomb test, or did they originate before that?
  • In Paranoia, what exactly was the nature of the catastrophe that destroyed human civilization and confined the remains to Alpha Complex? Whatever Friend Computer says it is this week! (It was probably Communists)
    • Actually, what is known about the catastrophe, that is constant between all of the various distortions, half-truths, and outright fabrications, is above your security clearance, citizen. Have a nice daycycle!
  • Rotted Capes, probably unintentionally, has some of this in its backstory. It's generally consistent that the turning point in the zombie apocalypse was when the setting's main hero team, the Protectors, were overrun by the entire audience of hundreds of newly-turned undead at an outbreak in a music hall. In the story text at the beginning of the book, they were defeated because of a surprise attack from the Titan, basically the setting's equivalent to Superman, because he'd become an evil zombie. Other tellings in the same book, including the version on Titan's own character sheet, say it was the other way around, where the Protectors being zombified was what led to Titan's own transformation to the undead, because before then there weren't zombies powerful enough to hurt Titan and make him vulnerable to the bite-transmitted virus.
  • World of Darkness gamelines tend to play with this. In Werewolf: The Apocalypse, pretty much everything regarding the how and why of the War of Rage, the creation story of the Triat, and the birth of the were-races are told from the point of view of a member of whichever race the book you're reading is about, and so every version is from an Unreliable Narrator.
    • Similarly with Vampire: The Masquerade, which isn't surprising, given the Kindred raise Unreliable Narrator to an artform. The primary account of vampire origins is the story of Caine, and it's the one that's treated as essentially true by the setting. But there's no consistent account of what happened after Caine became a vampire, how many of the Second and Third Generations there actually were, or how each of the clans came to be — not to mention that some clans, like the Ravnos and Setites, have versions of their origins that say they arose independently of Caine.
    • Beckett's Jyhad Diary throws in what the Laibon, the African vampires, have to say on the subject, holding that vampires have been around as long as humans, and that Caine, though historically significant, was not the first vampire. One Laibon NPC says he cursed himself with vampirism, rather than being Embraced by another.
    • There's also the Rasputin situation. Numerous historical characters were written into the Old World of Darkness. Two different writers used Rasputin as a character, not knowing about the other's use of him, and their versions had two different backstories. When this discrepancy was pointed out, the company decided to run with it. Several writers began using Rasputin as a character, giving him a different backstory each time. These multiple versions of Rasputin became one of the unsolved mysteries of the original World of Darkness, though Wraith: The Oblivion tried to reconcile them by saying that Rasputin is actually a body-hopping wraith who likes possessing various supernaturals, while Vampire: The Masquerade suggested the Rasputins know about their other versions, seeing themselves as "brothers", and that there's a terrible truth behind them.
  • 13th Age has a supplement called the Book of Ages, detailing a total of 14 previous ages, from which the GM is encouraged to mix and match from to keep the players guessing.

    Theme Parks 
  • Disney Theme Parks:
    • The backstory to The Haunted Mansion is basically whatever the cast members decide it is that day. Spin-off material has attempted to clarify things, but not without invoking this trope (particularly with regards to the backstories of certain characters).
    • The burning cabin on Tom Sawyer Island was originally due to an Indian attack. As The Savage Indian fell out of favor, the backstory was changed several times before it became a regular cabin.
  • The soundtrack played at Great America's roller coaster "The Demon" variously traces the ride-possessing demonic entity's origin to the Louisiana bayou, the bottom of the Hudson River, or debris from a battle between alien spaceships that crashed in the Southwest.

  • Cobra Commander, the Big Bad of G.I. Joe, has had multiple origin stories. G.I. Joe: The Movie made him a snake person scientist from an ancient civilization called Cobra-La sent out to destroy humanity, whereas every other version has had him human, but also with wildly different backstories. G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero (Marvel) had him as a former used car salesman with an ax to grind against Snake-Eyes, when the future Commander's own brother, Dan, got drunk and caused an accident that not only took Dan's own life, but also that of Snake-Eyes's family; G.I. Joe (Devil's Due) kept the same origin as Marvel, but modified it to where the Commander and Snake-Eyes did know each other before the accident and the Commander turned on Snake-Eyes after he refused to kill a corrupt judge who ruled against Dan; G.I. Joe (IDW) has the Cobra Commander mantle as a Legacy Character; the live-action movies made him a former solider named Rex Lewis who once served in the army alongside Duke and is the brother of the Baroness; and G.I. Joe: Renegades reimagined the Commander as a Corrupt Corporate Executive using the alias "Adam DeCobray" who is in poor health.
  • LEGO Castle:
    • Cedric the Bull, the main villain of the Knights Kingdom 1 sub theme of Castle, has two completely different backstories depending on what you read. A US Lego Mania Magazine says that he used to be one of King Leo's knights who got a little power hungry and betrayed the king wanting to rule the kingdom for himself. However according to a story book called Medieval Mischief and Mayhem, the manual for the PC Creator Knights Kingdom game and a flash book from the theme's old and now gone website instead states that he's the 13th son of an unknown king(thereby making him a prince)of a land faraway from Leo's kingdom. Then when the king died he left his land to be divided up and ruled by his sons, all the princes got a share of land except for Cedric which resulted in him traveling far away from his homeland, going rogue, finding Leo's kingdom and developing an obsession of taking over and ruling Leo's land for himself. While is not clear on which is the canon backstory it possibly is the latter one due to it being used in three different sources while the former one is only used in one source. Plus the latter story does make Cedric a more interesting villain and it kinda makes you feel a little sorry for him, the former story is rather bland, cliche and makes Cedric sound waaay to similar to Vladek from the second Knights' Kingdom
  • Transformers:
    • Given that continuity in Transformers is, well, pretty tangled, Multiple Choice Canon is more of a rule rather than an exception, meaning aspects like the origins of the Transformer race differ between franchises and even series within said franchises (e.g. the G1 cartoon claims the Quintessons made the Transformers, while the concurrent Marvel comic established the godlike Primus as their creator).
    • Then you have characters like Unicron. Originally, he was a random planet-eating Transformer with no backstory (until the cartoon claimed he was made by an ancient space monkey). Then Simon Furman's run on the The Transformers (Marvel) turned him into a godlike Satanic archetype opposed by a being named Primus; this interpretation caught on more in later adaptations than the original Primacron story. However, Unicron (as well as a few other legendary figures) was once established as a "multiversal singularity", which basically means that every depiction of him across the franchise was the same individual... before the concept was done away with almost a decade later and every iteration of him became a different individual with a different past. Does your brain hurt yet?
    • The Dinobots are also known for various origins on if they where pre-existing Autobots or not and how they got their namesake Dinosaur modes. The original cartoon explained they were built by Wheeljack and Ratchet based on fossils found in the Autobot base. The Marvel Comics said they were an existing subgroup of Autobots who were on the Ark and were given their Dinosaur modes by the ship's computer to fight Shockwave in the Savage Land note  with the dinosaurs inspiring their beast modes. GI Joe Vs The Transformers Marvel has the Dinobots being Autobots being sent back in time and given their Dinosaur modes to fit into the past. Spotlight: Shockwave reveals the Dynobots were Autobots with a personal grudge against the titular Decepticon scientist who tracked him down to prehistoric Earth and adopted Dinosaur modes to protect from the Energon Radiation.
    • That's just for the G1 incarnations of the group. The Beast Machines toyline had the Dinobots as a group of Maximals reformatted by The Oracle with their Dinosaur modes coming from the fact The Oracle used Dinobot's spark. Transformers: Animated had them as Dinosaur animatronics turned into attack drones by Megatron then accidentally becoming self-aware thanks to the Allspark Key. Transformers: Fall of Cybertron had them be Autobots who were captured and given their Dinosaur modes by Shockwave based on his observations of prehistoric Earth. Transformers: Age of Extinction had them being the ancestors of modern Cybertronians who based their Alternative Modes on Earth's Dinosaurs. Transformers: Robots in Disguise (2015) had them being a subspecies of Tranformers who had the modes naturally similar to the Insecticons of Transformers: Prime.

    Visual Novels 
  • In some ways, this is the entire premise of Higurashi: When They Cry. Except all choices wind up being true.
  • One Running Gag in Monster Prom involves Polly responding to a dangerous stunt or situation by cheerfully claiming that it's how she died. One of her hidden routes reveals her true cause of death: she was killed in a car accident when her father drove while drunk.
  • Inverted at the end of Really? Really! with Asa's hair length. Kaede asks whether Rin prefers Asa's hair short or long and allows you to choose which one you prefer. A few in-game minutes later, Asa appears with the hair length that was chosen, despite being nowhere near Rin and Kaede when the answer was chosen.
  • Subverted in Tsukihime: with each separate route, the minute-but-important details of Shiki's childhood appear to change or even be downright inconsistent with the other routes. Only after finishing all the routes can the actual backstory be inferred, by piecing together the revelations and details from each route (like a convoluted puzzle).
  • In Umineko: When They Cry, we're presented with two different versions of Beatrice's past, one fantastic and magical and one more mundane and rather tragic. It's all but stated that the latter is her true past.

  • Plot Hole (yes, that's his real name) from Acrobat, during a story that was supposed to tell his secret origin, told multiple stories, ripping off the origins of Superman, Batman and partly Spider-Man, making Plot Twist a villain in every single one - they don't match with each other, or Plot Twist's origin, and hint that Plot Hole doesn't even know what his Arch-Enemy really looks like. The only thing he's sure is that he was somehow created by Plot Twist, but even that cannot be found as absolute truth, because he's obviously obsessed with him.
  • Dimanika from Dan and Mab's Furry Adventures ascended either by destroying a star, somehow turning a Phoenix Oracle male, or from a pie eating contest.
  • Exterminatus Now: Lothar Hex has given multiple explanations for his creation as a cloned echidna and for his cybernetics, though after his adopted father appears in the comic he gives the truth Lothar stepped on a land mine.
  • In this Super Stupor webcomic, a character is grieving that her background was retconned (you know, it never happened), yet she still remembers it.

    Web Original 
  • Doctor Insano, enemy of Linkara and Spoony is this trope. He has so many multiple origins, including ones where he's Spoony from future, where he's Canadian science geek Wayne Schlumper, and where he was a woman before Linkara punched the fabric of The Multiverse, that when people tried to put it together in any continuity, Word of God said there's no continuity. There is only Insano. (So far he's been a failed clone of Spoony, from the future, a different person, the same person but not somehow (left unexplained), and an alternate personality that was given up "in the past". All of these origins are equally canonical.)
    • In CR's overview of Insano, he theorizes that there's really three of them — one a time-travel duplicate generated by Time Compression who violently tries to kill Spoony, one a clone made by Linkara who lives with Spoony and is more friendly, and the alternate personality. He finishes by guessing that Original Spoony also had an Insano persona, and thus there could be a fourth, Black Lantern Insano as well.
    • According to To Boldly Flee, Insano and Spoony have always been separate people, and Spoony's ability to transform into Insano in Kickassia was a temporal anomaly retroactively caused by the Plot Hole. Of course, this is just yet another alternate backstory.
  • Since her core gimmick is that she exists in an infinitely large number of incarnations across The Multiverse, all of whom have a telepathic link and consider themselves ultimately one being, any individual version of Jenny Everywhere might have her own origin story and ancestry. Additionally, there is no real agreement on how Jenny Everywhere as a whole came to be, with many stories hinting at different answers (or non-answers). The Secret Origin of Jenny Everywhere highlights this by providing a completely straightforward origin story for Jenny's multi-dimensional nature, only for the last page to reveal it was an in-universe comic-book based on Jenny's fame, which the real Jenny is only "sorta" accurate.
  • In the League of Intergalactic Cosmic Champions, Tacoman had several different backstories, Mr. Absurd had two.
  • In one Legion of Net.Heroes story, a Cosmic Entity decides to rewrite a mortally-wounded Squid Boy to both save his life and make him easier to use as a character. (The LNH has never had much use for the fourth wall.) As part of the process, Squid Boy (now Squidman) is asked to describe his origin story. Since Squid Boy dated from the very early days of the LNH when the whole thing was a joke, he'd never actually had an origin story, and suggested several possibilities before finally settling on one, which locked it into continuity as his actual origin.
  • For the tenth anniversary of Longbox of the Damned, some episodes would end with Linkara sitting around a campfire telling the many stories that have surrounded Moarte over the years. Just a few examples include a former comic artist who made a Deal with the Devil, a horror host who died an a fire, a demon of stories who wishes to elevate humanity to the same level as himself, and a monster who lures children in with stories to eat them.
  • SCP Foundation: Dr. Clef has alternatively claimed to be a Reality Warper who accidentally destroyed Challenger, Biblical Adam, and Satan.
    • The Foundation itself according to SCP-001 propositions. In fact, according to the article, it's possible that two or more of the different stories are true at the same time.
    • Also, there are at least three different origins for the Chaos Insurgency.
    • SCP-106 has three origin stories: "The Young Man" suggests he was once a Corporal in the British Army in World War One; "Once But Not Now" suggests he is the last survivor of a race of inter-dimensional predators who preyed on humans since prehistoric times, he is trapped in a confusing and terrifying prison and it is implied he will soon die and render his species extinct; "Until Death" suggests he is what Dr. Robert Scranton eventually turned into.
    • SCP-682 gets a new origin practically every time it appears, being everything from a child of the Scarlet King to the Anthropomorphic Personification of a state between life and death to the mount of the Horseman of Death to a projection of a higher-dimensional being to a human rendered immortal by dark rituals to simply a very strange form of wildlife. And that's not even getting into the question of why it hates humanity so much.
  • There is no single definitive version of The Slender Man Mythos. Even his appearance, though built around a basic template, varies from story to story. The central tenet is simply the Rule of Scary. This extends to Slendy's origin story. If it comes up it will completely contradict another story's idea of it. This is probably the reason most stories avoid giving Slender Man a definitive origin (that and to avoid a Voodoo Shark).
    • Marble Hornets season two features the protagonist doing this (badly). Jay goes through three contradictory stories explaining his presence in the hotel to Jessica, much to her confusion, and, eventually, disbelief. The real answer, of course, is that he doesn't remember. And Jessica doesn't remember how she got there either.
    • The Slender Man fic By the Fire's Light features an origin for the Slender Man that might only be retroactively true since people in-story believe it. Whether the Slender Man existed before this in its current form in-story is left up to debate.
  • Used as an alternative to All Myths Are True in Tales of MU, as seen in the myths of different races.
  • Unwanted Houseguest: "Victim Of Acquired Taste" provides several possible origins for the Houseguest.

    Western Animation 
  • Archer's origins are left deliberately vague. In "Double Deuce", Archer is stated to have been born in Morocco while Malory was running from Nazi spies (around 1938), one of his possible fathers was an Italian executed by an Operation Gladio operative for speaking out against fascism and was about six or seven when World War II ended. He's also shown listening to Woodhouse read a telegram from Malory about Operation Ajax in 1953, which would make him 15, but he looks younger than that, and "Once Bitten" states he was six when Malory was involved in the CIA-backed Guatamalan coup d'état, which took place in 1954, which would place Archer's birthdate in 1948. One possible explaination is an Alternate History.
  • It's implied in an Arthur episode where Buster "saves" a cat on a tree, called "Buster Baxter, Cat Saver", that Buster invokes this trope when he lets heroism get to his head. Buster is seen bragging to some reporters about how he got the cat down, Francine mentions that she's starting to get bored with Buster's heroism stories, and then Binky arrives and says that he's not bored of his stories, as they're "always different."
  • The Batman version of Killer Croc, who is either a former carnival freak, government experiment, or the result of voodoo.
    • When D.A.V.E. is asked what his villainous backstory is, he begins rattling out a bunch of mutually exclusive backstories taken from various supervillains. He soon realizes that he's a computer program only a couple days old.
  • The Beetlejuice animated series hasn't been consistent on whether Beetlejuice used to live as a human and ended up an inhabitant of the Neitherworld after dying or was born undead and lived his whole life there.
  • Big City Greens: There isn’t a definitive answer as to how Alice lost her leg. One time, she claimed that she danced it off, while another time, she claimed that a doctor “took it” from her.
  • In the Cars Toons series, Mater, the resident Cloud Cuckoolander, always boasts about his past where he was involved in something big such as being a famous racer, a spy, a firefighter, or an elite detective. Lightning never believes his claims, but the end of each episode always proves that every single one of Mater's narratives is a true story.
  • In Codename: Kids Next Door, Father's original backstory (an Ancient Conspiracy that Numbuh One had figured out and told his class (to their disbelief) instead of a report on the Declaration of Independence) had him as Mr. Wigglestein, the first adult — adults being the creation of kids themselves — to employ discipline (by spanking a kid who refused to stop demanding him to play "Giddyup"/"Horsie"), leading to the exile of the adults to Cleveland. Operation: Z.E.R.O. retconned this, instead making him the cowardly, disgruntled brother of the eponymous legendary operative. He's also revealed to be Numbuh One's Evil Uncle (and by proxy, this makes Sector Z/The Delight Children from Down the Lane his adoptive cousins and Grandfather his actual grandfather), as Numbuh Zero is Numbuh One's Bumbling Dad after a case of Laser-Guided Amnesia.
  • Darkwing Duck is given at least three mutually incompatible origin stories over the course of the series (one of which was something he rather obviously was making up as he was telling it). Word of God says this was a deliberate invocation of Rule of Funny — and if they'd had more episodes, they'd have written even more...
  • The Fairly OddParents! has several instances of characters having multiple backstories that contradict each other.
    • Timmy's mom and dad have several different versions of how they met. When it was first shown in "Father Time", it was stated that they began dating as kids and became a couple when Mr. Turner gave her a trophy he won. "The Secret Origin of Denzel Crocker" instead established that Mrs. Turner dated Dinkleberg until college, when Mr. Turner got her on the rebound. Other episodes say they met through a "threatmantic" letter ("Information Stupor Highway") or that Mrs. Turner met Mr. Turner in the sporting goods department (which she tells Timmy in "Who's Your Daddy?")
    • It is established in Abra-Catastrophe! that Timmy was stuck at home with his parents for the first eight years of his life. This is at odds with "The Good Old Days" showing in a flashback that the last time Timmy's parents let his grandfather Pappy look after him while they left the house rather than Vicky was when Timmy was an infant and the first part of Wishology having Timmy bring up that he's had a crush on Trixie since they were in kindergarten.
    • Mr. Crocker's origin as revealed in the appropriately titled "The Secret Origin of Denzel Crocker" is that he used to have Timmy's fairy godparents Cosmo and Wanda as his fairy godparents when he was a kid, but lost them and therefore grew up to become the insane and ill-tempered adult we know him as because his fairy godparents' existence was inadvertently revealed to the public by Cosmo (as well as a time-traveling Timmy). This is contradicted by "Birthday Bashed" showing young Crocker with a different set of fairy godparents who left him when he became too old to have fairies and "Let Sleeper Dogs Lie" once again depicting him with Cosmo and Wanda as his godparents (in addition to having Sparky when he was a puppy), losing them this time because they had to leave him on his 11th birthday.
    • In-universe, comic book hero The Crimson Chin has two origin stories. One, described in the show, is that he was a talk show host bitten on the chin by a radioactive actor. Then, in a Nickelodeon Magazine comic involving Timmy following the Crimson Chin's Rogues Gallery through different incarnations of the comic, they eventually go to an origin story where he was an alien sent to Earth as a baby. Cosmo expresses confusion at this, bringing up the radioactive actor origin, which Timmy says is a Retcon that they had to come up with invoked"after the lawsuit".
  • Joe Swanson from Family Guy originally claimed that he lost the use of his legs when he fell off a roof chasing the Grinch and broke his legs. Many seasons later, he reveals that he lied out of shame and that a drug lord shot him in the legs repeatedly.
    • The founding of Quahog. Originally, it was stated that the town's founder was thrown overboard for being a Motor Mouth, only to be saved by a magic clam, who gave him advice about founding a town where they washed ashore. A later episode claimed that the former was just a legend, and the real founder (one of Peter's past lives) was a commoner who recently wed into money, but was exiled to the New World by a lecherous king, where he ended up founding the town with his fellow exiles.
  • In Futurama, the circumstances of Bender's "birth" change every time the event is brought up. Additionally, he either went to "bending college," where he majored in bending and belonged to a robot fraternity, or had his knowledge programmed directly into him by a "bending school" on the assembly line that produced him (he's also mentioned attending high school). What does remain consistent is that he was only four-years-old at the start of the series, so the experiences he had must have unfolded quickly.
  • On Goof Troop Max and PJ met at age 11 (shown in "Everything's Coming Up Goofy" and "Good Neighbor Goof" and mentioned in "Goodbye Mr. Goofy" and "Pistolgeist"). Except that "Wrecks, Lies, and Videotape", "Tee for Two", "Goof Troop Christmas", and "Tub Be or Not Tub Be" all suggest that Max and PJ have always known each other. The backstory is irrelevant to most things except for the nature of Max and PJ's relationship—namely, the first backstory provides an explanation for PJ's Undying Loyalty towards Max; the second does not. This can be a little jarring considering "Tub Be or Not Tub Be" supports the second backstory and features an undyingly loyal PJ and a relatively unsympathetic Max.
  • On Invader Zim, Ms. Bitters gives multiple back stories, such as imploding in a spaceship when she was a child and being a fairy princess in a magical forest (before running into a bug zapper). According to Word of God, however, she's always been in the same place she is now; the "skool" was actually built around her.
  • Jem:
    • Jerrica Benton (AKA: Jem) either inherited Starlight House from her father, or lived there with Kimber (her sister), Aja, and Shana all her life. In fact, it may have even been both.
    • There is a possible Series Continuity Error, made noticeable by the fact the two episodes are from the same season. In "The Stingers Hit Town", Riot mentions that his father was stationed in Germany and that he went to high school with Rapture. In his limelight Villain Episode, "Riot's Hope", he is shown to having not met either of his bandmates until he was an adult stationed in the military. He saw Minx perform with her old band in Germany then joined himself and eventually met Rapture when the three of them later.
  • On Jimmy Two-Shoes, Lucius VII froze his father, Lucius VI, making him a psuedo Self-Made Orphan. Exactly how always varies. At first it was because they had a heated argument, then because Lucius VI lost a bet, then because Lucius VII's talking bird told him to.
  • Kaeloo: Subverted. Mr. Cat's life before coming to live in Smileyland, and why he went there. For example, in one episode he explains that he was raised by a salmon after being tied in a sack and thrown in a river, but another one says he ran away from home because of his abusive family. Though all of the backstories he's given are sad enough to give him a Freudian Excuse, and a reason for being as psychologically messed up as he is. However, the fifth season explains that his true backstory is the one about running away from his abusive family, and the other ones are lies that he made up on purpose to avoid having to talk to his friends about the abuse he faced.
  • A minor one in The Loud House regarding when Luna got into rock. We know that it was during a Mick Swagger concert, but in "For Bros About to Rock", she claims to have been a seventh-grader (so about thirteen), but in the official podcast, she says she was nine.
  • Several of the Mighty Mouse theatrical shorts involved giving him an origin of some sort, and these varied greatly.
  • A running gag in The Penguins of Madagascar involves Manfredi and Johnson, two penguins that Skipper continually cites as examples of what could happen if someone doesn't follow his orders. Almost all of these wildly different stories imply their deaths, and the other penguins will corroborate them, so what actually happened is difficult to determine. The fact that they are seen alive (but not well) in the finale only raises further questions.
  • Subverted with Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz's many Freudian Excuse backstories in Phineas and Ferb. The details of Doofenshmirtz's past may initially seem like contradictory backstories, but they're occasionally shown to belong to a coherent, if crowded and somewhat confusing, timeline, most clearly laid out in the episode "This Is Your Backstory."
  • Pinky and the Brain had four different episodes with flashbacks to the duo's childhood and when they were first genetically altered. They all contradict each other.
  • Rocko's Modern Life: Rocko is stated in some episodes to have known Filburt as a kid, and in another, he says they met Heffer in high school. In other episodes, though, he apparently left Australia and came to O-Town as an adult. Word of God says that the latter is definitive and anything else is just the characters misremembering, though does suggest that Rocko may have briefly spent some time in the United States as a child, with said memories prompting his later immigration.
  • Rugrats: In "Moving Away", it's stated Tommy met Angelica and the other babies that year, but "A Step at a Time" has Chuckie claim he met Tommy a year ago. Perhaps the Pickleses moved away the previous year and then moved back, and Tommy, due to his young age, couldn't remember the others.
  • Scooby-Doo:
    • When did Shaggy get Scooby? In A Pup Named Scooby-Doo, it was apparently when the former was about ten or eleven, though one episode showed Shaggy as a baby with a similar-looking dog (though that possibly wasn't Scooby). In the movie, he was still a teen when he adopted Scooby, but in What's New, Scooby-Doo?, Scooby is shown when Velma was five (and so Shaggy would've been about seven).
    • Scooby also has a multiple choice past regarding his name. In SCOOB!, Shaggy named him after Scooby Snacks, but The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo claims he was named after the noise he made when he was a puppy.
  • The Simpsons not only has a multiple choice past for pretty much every character, but even a multiple choice future. As the show exists in a floating timeline however, this is pretty much unavoidable. Heck, one of the show's flashback episodes was set throughout the 90s... the decade which started right along with the show itself. Talk about trippy.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants mostly has Negative Continuity with the occasional character return or Continuity Nod, so unsurprisingly it runs into this. Details such as the origin of the Krusty Krab, Patrick's family background, and how Sandy came to Bikini Bottom will vary from episode to episode. The most notable example is the relationship between Mr. Krabs and Plankton. Though earlier episodes had implied that they met as adults and were rivals from the onset, "Friend or Foe" later Retconned this to having met as kids and been friends until an argument over the formula split them apart. This version of events then became one of the few things set in stone whenever the topic came up in future episodes.
    • There are also many versions on how Mr. Krabs got the Krabby Patty Secret Formula: one has him tell it was an old Krabs family recipe, the other as passed to him from his grandmother, an entire episode showing that his then-friend-now-enemy accidentally made it, and so on and so forth...
  • The TaleSpin episode "The Time Bandits" (itself a Recycled Script from DuckTales (1987)) says that Rebecca inherited Higher For Hire from her father, despite the Four-Episode Pilot having introduced her as buying Baloo's air cargo company after it was foreclosed upon.
  • In The Transformers, the Constructicons had no less than three wholly separate and contradictory origins in the cartoon alone. First, that they were built on Earth by Megatron in 1985. Then, that they were Autobots from Cybertron reprogrammed by Megatron millions of years ago. Then that they were Decepticons who built Megatron in the first place years before that.
  • The Venture Brothers gives several varying explanations for both the origin of Phantom Limb and how Billy Quizboy ended up with a robotic hand, with the Monarch's being the most plausiblenote . When Dr. Venture finally asks him about it, point blank, Billy merely replies "Excellent question. I have no idea."
    • They later gave them both a definite past. The Monarch's version, while not complete, did get most of the facts rightnote . The comment about him not knowing ended up becoming a Cerebus Retcon because of this. Turns out he doesn't remember because OSI wiped his memory. When Billy learns of the deception, he rather suitably flips the fuck out.
  • Xavier of Xavier: Renegade Angel tends to give conflicting accounts of various events of his life. One flashback ends with his own death and noting in the present day that it would've been tragic if any of that had happened.

    Real Life 
  • In various interviews, Yul Brynner gave several inconsistent accounts of his early life to make himself seem mysterious to the public.
  • Raymond Burr told several mutually contradictory stories about his past over the years, stories that got increasingly improbable over the years. He was allegedly six feet tall by the time he was twelve, and worked as a ranch hand in New Mexico through his teen years; at the same time, he travelled Canada and the US as an actor; at the same time, he was a regular performer on San Francisco radio shows; at the same time, he was a member of the Civilian Conservation Corps, and so on. He also told stories of having been married (pre-fame) to a woman who died in a plane crash in 1943, and that his son died of luekemia at the age of 10 in 1953; he allegedly took his son on a year-long world tour before his death. No records of any of this exist, no one ever met the wife or son, and multiple sources show that Burr was working steadily in Hollywood during the supposed year-long tour. It's generally assumed that Burr felt he had to make up stories to cloak his homosexuality, which would have been career-destroying if revealed during the height of his fame. Producer Dean Hargrove explained: "I had always assumed that Raymond was gay, because he had a relationship with Robert Benevides for a very long time. Whether or not he had relationships with women, I had no idea. I did know that I had trouble keeping track of whether he was married or not in these stories. Raymond had the ability to mythologize himself, to some extent, and some of his stories about his past ... tended to grow as time went by."
  • Over the years, comedian Dave Allen's act incorporated a huge number of different stories about how he came to lose part of his left index finger.
  • Leon Redbone is notorious for giving various stories of his birthdate and his parentage, as well as claiming authorship of many songs which existed prior to his probable birth.
  • Joe Kucan became Kane from a scratch off lotto ticket. He won a special election. He won a carnival game. He found the prize in a crackerjack box. He was in the right place, at the right time. He was the Dramatic Director on a project with almost no funding. Using employees was cheaper than hiring actors.
  • Meat Loaf often tells people how he got that name, only he never tells the same story twice.
  • In The Ragman's Son, Kirk Douglas said that while Robert Mitchum loved to tell stories about his youth, the facts would be different every day.
  • The origins of baseball are subject to this trope, as it's hard to exactly pinpoint A. When/where the first game of baseball was played, B. Whether a sport referred to as "base ball" in early documents from The American Revolution was an early form of the current sport, or just a similarly-named but unrelated sport, or C. Which game counts as the first "official" game: any of the games played during The American Civil War, the early game played at Hoboken, New Jersey (depending on whether this early version counts as a version of the modern game or just a precursor), or perhaps an unknown, unrecorded game. The game played at Cooperstown, supposedly organized by Abner Doubleday, is now considered fictitious, but it used to be considered a contender to be one of the great game's possible origins. Many historians view all of these early games as being partial examples of the game we know today, but that the game evolved a bit with each one.
  • Pinball designer Kevin Kulek became this when it was discovered he was making pinball machines themed on the Predator films without approval from 20th Century Fox: Sometimes, he would say he misinterpreted the permission he received from Fox, and sometimes, he would say he never received permission at all.
  • Tullimonstrum is so strange that palaeontologists can't agree on whether it was a vertebrate or an invertebrate. For over half a century, the creature's classification remains a mystery, despite countless theories put forth. Was it a proto-fish? Or a lamprey? Mollusc? Arthropod? Perhaps a conodont? Whatever Tullimonstrum was, it's anatomy is so unusual that it will significantly expand the diversity of whatever taxon it is apart of.
    • On a similar note, Nanotyrannus is hands-down the most polarizing member of the Tyrannosauridae family of theropod dinosaurs thanks to a controversial debate amongst palaeontologists on whether its fossils represent a distinct genus, young T-rexes‭ ‬or even a dwarf species of another genus. However, significant recent evidence leans towards the three critical skeletal finds of Nanotyrannus being those of juvenile T-rexes‭.
  • Twitch streamer Grand Poo Bear does this as a Running Gag — whenever people ask him where his screen name comes from, he always comes up with a different, ludicrous story explaining its origins. (Answers include: it being a name passed down from generations, him coming from a circus family who wanted his act to be him fighting a bear despite being five years old, being called that by a voodoo woman, being a child actor who was called "bear" due to being cranky, but eventually softened and became "Poo Bear"...)
  • The time between Ho Chi Minh's first stay in France and his education in France is this trope according to him. He claims several jobs such as working for a wealthy family in Brooklyn, working as a line manager for General Motors, and working as a pastry chef in England just to name a few.
  • Like many Soviet era politicians, the biography of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko is malleable, to say the least. Among the more absurd elements is Lukashenko's claim that his father died fighting in World War II, despite the fact that Alexander Lukashenko was born in 1954.
  • William Fisher, brother of British First Sea Lord Sir John Arbuthnot Fisher, earned himself the name "Uncle Bill" for the large number of nieces he claimed to have, all unique and many never seen more than once. They were almost all young women he was seeing, whom he introduced as such to deflect suspicion.
  • Hank Azaria had several different stories about how he originated his voice as Apu in The Simpsons, with some stories suggesting that the producers asked him whether he could do an Indian accent and others suggesting he himself decided to make Apu an Indian-American due to the script for Apu's first episode, "The Telltale Head", simply identifying him as "Clerk".


Video Example(s):


Know How I Got These Scars?

The Joker has multiple stories about how he acquired his mouth scars.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (14 votes)

Example of:

Main / MultipleChoicePast

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