The word doppelganger comes from the German language, but the concept—of a person discovering the existence of their double, either natural or supernatural—long predates the coining of the German term. In Irish folklore, the word “fetch” was used to describe the phenomenon. (Sorry, Gretchen…you weren’t too early to make fetch happen, you were too late.) The earliest recorded tales of “doubles” go back as far as ancient Egypt. While my novel, Dead Ringers, plays with the idea of encountering your double and realizing they’re doing a much better job of living your life than you are, and has a lot of evil twists along the way, it definitely shares some DNA with earlier doppelganger stories. Some “evil double” stories you might want to check out include:
“William Wilson” by Edgar Allan Poe — A classic Poe short story in which a man meets his double, but in this case, the narrator himself is the sinister one and his mirror image is only trying to save him. Still a grim little piece from the master.
Human Remains by Clive Barker — A modern classic of human pain and self-doubt, in which a prostitute meets his double, amplifying his vanity and selfishness until his indulgence drains everything of value from him.
Shatterday by Harlan Ellison — This tale is more about a man splintered in two than it is about a man encountering his double, but the forced reflections on the choices we make in our lives echoes in all three of these stories, as well as in Dead Ringers.
The next time you look in the mirror, take a little time to wonder who, exactly, is looking back.
Meanwhile, show us your own evil doppelganger in the Dead Ringers Photo Contest. Enter by Tuesday, November 10th and win a brand new Kindle Paperwhite and two signed hardcover copies of Dead Ringers (for you and your evil double), and also have a character named after you in my next novel. Enter now!