How creepy is that moment in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone when the weedy Professor Quirrell reveals that he’s host to the evil Lord Voldemort? Too weak to live as a human being, yet unable to die, the Dark Lord exists in a half-life as a parastic presence on the back of Quirrell’s head – hidden under his turban.
But what if this scary imagining had its basis in fact? And what of the strange tale of Edward Mordrake...?
In the early 19th century, a baby was born into the aristocratic Mordrake – or Mortdrake – family. The baby boy, Edward, was heir to one of the most noble families in England, and was raised with all the privileges of titled birth.
As a child, Edward was said to have been charming and sweet-natured, and he grew to be well-educated and intelligent, and a highly talented musician.
But, although the handsome young man seemed to have everything that a wealthy family and a good education could provide, he was also darkly troubled.
For Edward had apparently been born with a vestigial face on the back of his head, a condition known medically as diprosopus craniofacial duplication – an extremely rare congenital disorder, where parts or all of the face are duplicated on the sufferer’s head.
Although Edward was said to be handsome when seen from the front, the second face was apparently ugly, evil and twisted. Some versions of the story say that the second face possessed its own malignant intelligence – that the eyes would follow people and the lips move silently. In others, the second face is that of a beautiful girl.
According to the story, the second face would appear to take delight in Edward’s distress over his condition. The story also has it that the face couldn’t eat or speak, but it could laugh and cry.
The young man is said to have begged doctors to remove his ’twin’, because, although no voice was ever heard by others, Edward was convinced it whispered horrible things to him at night, disturbing his sleep – but no doctor would attempt it.
Eventually, in complete despair at his torment, the young Edward was said to have taken his own life, aged 23, with poison. However another, more dramatic ending to his story is that he shoots his ’evil twin’ between the eyes, thus killing himself, too.
In both versions, tormented Edward leaves a suicide note, begging that that the ‘evil face’ be destroyed before his burial, in case it should continue to whisper its malice to him should it go with him to his grave.
Word of mouth
The real facts about the unfortunate Edward have been lost in time and, being so early in medical history, there is no documentation of his case. The only information about him comes from word-of-mouth tales, handed down and most probably exaggerated with each telling. However, although not much written evidence – and no actual photos – of Mordrake exist, strangely there were wax figures made in his likeness.
So is the story of Edward Mordrake true? The tale was considered fiction for some time, and obviously, many parts of the story don’t make medical sense – yet years of retelling may have warped what was likely a very real occurrence.
In the late Seventies or early Eighties, a man named Chang Tzu Ping was born in China with a second face – a mouth, tongue, several teeth, and other traces of facial features. The throat and the lips of the second face didn’t move independently, but his mouth moved at the same time as Chang moved his.
Chang was taken to America, where he had a successful operation to have the second face surgically removed. His case, and the surgery, was documented on the Eighties TV show, That’s Incredible.
Another well-known case of diprosopus is that of Lali Singh, a baby girl born in India, in March 2008. Lali had complete cranio-facial duplication – two sets of eyes, two noses and two mouths. But, instead of being shunned, the baby was revered as the reincarnation of several Hindu deities. She died in hospital aged just 2 months, following medical complications.
So it seems that the case of Edward Mordrake may well be based, in some part, on fact. The condition really does exist, although it is extremely rare. However, as to Edward Mordrake’s torment by his ‘evil twin’ and his subsequent suicide, there may perhaps never be any verification.
It is said that poet and writer Charles Lotin Hildreth may have actually first created the story of Edward Mordrake in an article purporting to be factual, published in 1895 in the Boston Post. The article lists a number of cases of medical abnormalities, such as a mermaid, and a man with a spider-like body. Hildreth claimed to have found the cases in the archives of a scientific society.
The idea of dual personalities and ‘twins’ – often malign – and sharing one body, seems to be a theme that holds a deep fascination for us. And it runs through religion, art, literature, movies, music and even poetry.
From early times, the duplicated human face and the duality of human nature is a powerful image. The Roman god Janus, usually pictured as having two faces, was deity of beginnings, endings, transitions and time. January was named for him – a time to look ahead to the New Year, while also looking back on the old.
Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde:
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is a short novel by Robert Louis Stevenson, first published in 1886. In the book, the good Dr Henry Jekyll has, as his alter ego, the evil Edward Hyde.
The Portrait of Dorian Gray, the 1890 tale by Oscar Wilde, tells the story of a young man who sells his soul so he will remain forever beautiful. He lives a life of sin and debauchery and remains untouched, while his portrait ages and becomes hideous.
Two-Face is a character first making an appearance in DC Comics in 1942. Once an upstanding District Attorney, Harvey Dent is driven insane after an underworld boss throws chemicals at him during a trial. One side of his face hideously scarred, he adopts the ‘Two-Face’ persona, becoming a criminal obsessed with duality.
Chained Together For Life:
The 2002 song by Tom Waits song actually tells Edward Mordrake’s story.
Did you hear the news about Edward?
On the back of his head he had another face
Was it a woman’s face or a young girl?
They said to remove it would kill him,
So poor Edward was doomed.
The face could laugh and cry.
It was his devil twin.
And at night she spoke to him,
Things heard only in hell.
They were impossible to separate,
Chained together for life.
Finally the bell tolled his doom,
He took a suite of rooms and hung himself and her from the balcony aisle.
Some still believe he was freed from her,
But I knew her too well.
I say she drove him to suicide,
And took poor Edward to Hell.
American Horror Story:
In one episode of this TV chiller, a character inadvertently summons the shade of Edward Mordrake who, if invoked, is said to appear to take a soul back to Hell with him.
Now see a trailer of an indie movie about the strange case of Edward Mordrake, and the waxwork of his head: http://edwardmordrakemovie.com