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:
- A ghostly double of a living person, especially one that haunts such a person.
- An evil twin.
- A remarkably similar double; a lookalike. This kind of doppelganger is also known as a ‘twin stranger’.
- (fantasy) A monster that takes the forms of people, usually after killing them. The changeling is one such monster. 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? Neil Gaiman’s Coraline is of the changeling tradition, as is Outside Over There by Maurice Sendak. Tales about changelings were collected by the Grimm brothers, for instance in ‘About A Woman Whose Child They Had Exchanged’. (Spoilers in the title, much?) This collection of links gives an excellent overview of the changeling mythology from Germany, and offers handy hints on what to do to prevent your newborn being swapped out for an ugly, crying one. (Get yourself a pair of men’s trousers. Masculinity fixes all kinds of woes, y’all.)
“Children’s literature is full of representations of children who aren’t ‘real’ children, children who are fakes, counterfeits, frauds of some sort. In our contemporary culture, where the child has such an angelic status in many ways, we invest so much in our children…The counterfeit child he deals with in film and literature is a stand-in, a changeling child, a fake, a fraud, an adopted child or orphan in books and movies – any child a parent did not expect to raise, Bruhm explained. The ‘counterfeit child’ is the notion children are not as innocent as they seem, and they, in fact, know more about the world than adults perceive them to.”
I’m sure I’m not the first to float the theory that mythology around changelings is an outworking of post-natal anxiety, nowadays known as post-natal depression/anxiety. There’s a fairly common (and completely unexpected) disconnect between the expectation and reality of new motherhood. Separately, babies are hard work. Throughout history, mothers must have asked, “Did I really give birth to that?”
DOPPELGANGERS IN PICTURE BOOKS
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.
DOPPELGANGERS IN SERIES MIDDLE GRADE
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?
DOPPELGANGERS IN FILM
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.