Thursday, 29 March 2012

Why Do We Fear The Doppelganger?

When I was a kid, I had the same recurring nightmare that, it seems, I shared with most children. I would be in my house, where everything would seem fine. My mother and father would be there in the living room. I would leave for the kitchen...and there, standing at the sink, would be my mother. I'd know instantly that this was not her, my real mother was in the living room, this was some sort of monster or impostor, and when she turned around I could see the evil on her face. She would chase me back to my parents, or catch me and I would wake just as those hands that were not hers took hold of me.

But I wasn't alone in this. Talking to a few friends, I found that they had exactly the same type of nightmare. Even thinking about it now that dream still creeps me out, and it seems it's left its mark on my writing.

Tonight I read a post on Facebook which, summarising, said this - You hear a voice from the kitchen, your mother, asking you to come downstairs. On your way down you hear your mother calling from the bedroom, saying not to go down, she heard it too. Which do you believe?

Chills, right? Something so simple it borders on the cliché, but for some reason this really gets to me. Something which is not your mother, using her voice, screams malevolence. I'm not the only one who thinks so. Neil Gaiman's novel 'Coraline' features a young girl, the titular character, who, finding her way into a parallel world, discovers her 'Other Mother'. The main difference is that this Other Mother has buttons for eyes and means, in the end, to eat Coraline. A simplification of the plot, you understand, but there you have that old fear that one's mother is not who she says she is.

Let's widen the scope a little. In TV's 'Supernatural', there is an episode featuring the folkloric 'wendigo' - a creature into which humans could transform if they commit acts of cannibalism. The show's incarnation possesses one particular ability - the ability to mimic the voice of any human. Lying in wait in the woods, it calls out for help using the voice of one of the missing group. The group goes looking, and the creature devours them. In real-world Ethiopia, there is talk of a wolf-like creature called a 'corocotta' which has the ability to mimic the human voice, and lures its victims by calling them by name.

Sound familiar? In 'The Blair Witch Project', the antagonistic force in the woods calls out to the two remaining characters using the voice of their missing friend. It screams for help in the night, luring them into a trap. Therein, I believe, lies what is so unsettling about these dreams of the 'Other Mother'. It can also, I think, be seen in the folkloric changeling faery. A creature mimicking the voice, the appearance, or otherwise characteristic of what we know, what is familiar, what is safe. As human beings we, in our arrogance, consider ourselves to the apex of our ecosystem, so when something inhuman is able to mimic our voice, our intelligence, the thing that makes us human, it shakes us to our core.

I leave you with a personal note. In my story 'A Letter Found Amongst the Dead', a town is laid siege to by Knockers from the nearby mine. As usual it can be read on the left hand side of your screen, but I will quote a passage here:

The Knockers are on the roof again, clawing at the clay tiles, trying to get in. They call out with human voices, trying to lure us out, then cackle at their own cunning. They have learned our names, somehow, and call out to us using them, including the children.

The mimicking of the human soul - every writer has their major themes they revisit time and time again, and I think this is something that I will continue to write about. We write about both what we understand and what we hope to understand, so it is no surprise that our deepest fears creep their way into our stories too, whether they be the work of modern fiction or the whispered fears of our folkloric ancestry.

Until next time,



  1. ooooook this creeped me out just reading about the ideas behind the fright! what an excellent, excellent idea for plot development - can see where it has many applications, not just the horror genre.

    excellent post!

    1. Thanks Angela =) would love to see anything you write which is inspired by this idea. Just send it my way.

    2. What an offer! I'll see what I can do... :D

      I did just post a Five Sentence Fiction on my blog with the week's topic of "Wicked"....I must say, now that I look at it, that it was influenced by this post, as I completely just pulled it out of my left ear....after reading this. :)

    3. Excellent! I just read it, and will comment at the appropriate place.

  2. The dream of my mother- as my mother- but yet not my mother is terrifying. The concept not only makes for great fantasy fiction, but also deserves a psychological reading (when do I ever skip on a chance for this ;-)) I think it relates to an innate, fundamental need for nurturing. You want to trust your dream-mother, but she, the very embodiment of this trust, is transformed into something evil. The trust is broken, and if your dreams are anything like mine- the effect is quite crippling. The shedding of palpable reality experienced during dreaming means that things usually outside the realms of unaccustomed comprehension can be apprehended. I imagine this particular dream, which as you say is incredibly common, gives an otherwise impossible insight into the experience of desecration by entrusted adult or caretaker. Great blog by the way!!

    1. Also very true. The dreams always seem to centre around one's mother rather than father, which I think reinforces that idea of the fundamental need of nurturing. While I was -always- closer to my dad than I was to my mum, the mother as the primary nurturer is perhaps so ingrained that those dreams come out anyway. When this role is shattered, the effect really is crippling.

      Thanks for reading Joanne, and thanks for subscribing =) hope you enjoy the rest of the blog!

  3. As you know from last night, I really did enjoy this blog post. I think it has to do with the fact that I have always been fascinated by the Doppelgänger concept.

    I really cannot remember ever having nightmares to do with a doppelgänger mother; although I can understand why people would have these nightmares. Your mother is supposed to be your safety net, to care for you and not let any harm come to you. To imagine the "other mother" who would want to do harm to you is hard to digest. It gives me the chills just thinking about it.

    When I received that silly post about the mother calling out from two different rooms, it did really creep me out, not the best thing to read on your Facebook wall when you are on your lonesome. I do try not to let things fester in my little head or I would be a wreck living alone whilst Cameron is away. It is very easy to let your irrational fears come out to play and imagine that creak you heard was a stranger walking up your stairs!!! Luckily, it won't be my evil mother since she is now back in N.Ireland :P

    Wendigo also appears in Marvel comics. I am sure you probably are aware of this too :)

    I really love that you are finding inspiration from your nightmares/deepest fears. It clearly makes for excellent reading!!!

    1. Thanks Gem =) as I said, one's nightmares are an amazing source of inspiration and while I don't have them often anymore, I'm sure they will show themselves through my writing. So many of my stories have come from dreams, fully formed.

      Glad you enjoyed! Hopefully I can remember more of my nightmares of which to write about.

  4. On the subject of dreams, I once had a nightmare concerning Harpies. Mimicking the human voice, or more specifically, the singing skill. Only they were aged Harpies, as in they were reaching the end of their lives and attempting one last batch of humans to survive.

    Nightmares, my brother and I have discussed, aren't always bad. One of my best marked short stories at Uni was a nightmare I had.

    Have yet to have a 'Other mother' dream. You're dream feels a little more frightening than Coraline.

    However, another debate. When 'Philosopher's Stone' film was released, and it was rated PG instead of 12, my aunt said to me that some of the logic behind it is that children can deal with trolls, monsters and ghosts. What's possibly more frightening to them is the man at the end of the street. I can see the truth in that. My biggest fear when I was a child was actually Mrs Doubtfire. Because it showed the break up of a family. What happens in the realm of reality is always scary. Though the build up is worry. Unlike fantasy horror where the build up is labelled as creepy.

    1. Interesting stuff Chris. That the man at the end of the street is more frightening, well, I can see truth in that. We all know of someone in our area who, when we were a kid, we were terrified of. For me this guy has huge, grey hair and I swore carried around a knife. Look at Home Alone - all you need to do is watch the second movie, and the woman with the birds fits right into that theory.

    2. Realising onlt now I typed 'you're' instead of 'your'. Can be such a turn off.

      Also had one of those men. Should really try to keep it - he was a valuable character after all.