A doppelganger is an apparition or double of a living person. It comes from German, and translates literally from ‘double walker’. In fiction there are four main types of doppelangers:

  1. A ghostly double of a living person, especially one that haunts such a person.
  2. An evil twin.
  3. A remarkably similar double; a lookalike. This kind of doppelganger is also known as a ‘twin stranger’.
  4. (fantasy) A monster that takes the forms of people, usually after killing them.

 

Mr Monkey and Mr Monkey stuck together, from the Japanese picture book Kuttsuita by Miura Tarou

Mr Monkey and Mr Monkey stuck together, from the Japanese picture book Kuttsuita by Miura Tarou

Our picture book app Hilda Bewildered makes use of a doppelgänger, who may or may not exist in the real life of the story. The purpose? To demonstrate the theme: That there is really not that much difference between rich kids and poor kids other than circumstance of birth. Or as I heard Julian Fellowes say in an RNZ interview, in his experience there are genteel, good-looking and smart people to be found at every level of society.

Hero and the Imagined Self from Hilda Bewildered

Hero and the Imagined Self from Hilda Bewildered

The ghost writer of this Alfred Hitchcock novel from 1978 used the concept of the doppelgänger in a very camp way. Read accordingly.

But we all have doppelgangers, if you expand the concept a little.

WHAT IS A DATA DOPPELGANGER?

If you’ve ever taken more than a brief glance at the ‘personalised’ advertising directed at you by companies such as Facebook, you may identify with the following:

Google thinks I’m interested in parenting, superhero movies, and shooter games. The data broker Acxiom thinks I like driving trucks. My data doppelgänger is made up of my browsing history, my status updates, my GPS locations, my responses to marketing mail, my credit card transactions, and my public records. Still, it constantly gets me wrong, often to hilarious effect. I take some comfort that the system doesn’t know me too well, yet it is unnerving when something is misdirected at me. Why do I take it so personally when personalization gets it wrong? 

The Atlantic

DOPPELGANGERS IN FILM

The Double Film Poster

A clerk in a government agency finds his unenviable life takes a turn for the horrific with the arrival of a new co-worker who is both his exact physical double and his opposite – confident, charismatic and seductive with women.

See this list: 20 Films About Doubles And Doppelgangers. Can you guess the most famous one?

The double/doppelganger is a subcategory of the trickster archetype. (Click through for a mindmap of tricksters in storytelling.)

DIFFERENT SPINS ON THE DOPPELGANGER

Freaky Friday is a story which has been adapted numerous times for film. The Freaky Friday body swap is a different take on the doppelganger.

RELATED TERMS

Changeling: You may be familiar with the film starring Angelina Jolie. See John Truby’s breakdown — for him the film didn’t work. Did it work for you?

Twins are also used a lot in storytelling. Often one is evil; other times both are evil, and since two minds are better than one by an order of magnitude, this is useful for storytellers.

RELATED LINKS

 Goodreads List of Changelings and Doppelgangers

Goodreads List of Doppelgangers in general fiction

Goodreads List of Trading Places: YA