Edward Mordrake was a 19th century English nobleman who had an extra face on the back of his head. According to the story, the extra face could neither eat nor speak, but it could laugh and cry. Edward begged doctors to have his ‘devil twin’ removed, because, supposedly, it whispered horrible things to him at night, but no doctor would attempt it. He committed suicide at the age of 23 by poisoning himself because he could no longer stand having to live with the face on the back of his head.
"The true tale of Edward Mordake (Mordrake) has been lost to history. His unusual case occurred early in medical history and is referenced only in tales handed down. Indeed, the tale of his life has become so muddled through the passage of time that no solid date of birth or death is evident to modern researchers.
The story always begins the same way. Edward is said be have been heir to one of the noblest families in England. He was considered a bright and charming man – a scholar, a musician and a young man in possession of profound grace. He was said to be quite handsome when viewed from the front – yet, on the back of his head there was a second face, twisted and evil.
In some versions of the story, the second face of Edward is a beautiful girl. This is an impossibility as all parasitic twins are of the same sex. Often it was said that it possessed its own intelligence and was quite malignant in its intentions. It has been said that the eyes would follow spectators and its lips would ‘gibber’ relentlessly and silently. According to legend it would smile and sneer as Edward wept over his condition. While no voice was ever audible, Edward swore that often he would be kept awake by the hateful whispers of his ‘evil twin’.
The story has always concluded with young Edward committing suicide at the age of twenty-three. The method of his death also differs, sometimes poison does him in and in other versions a bullet ‘between the eyes of his devil-twin’ puts him out of his misery. In both versions Edward leaves behind a letter requesting that the ‘demon face’ be destroyed before his burial, ‘lest it continues its dreadful whisperings in my grave.’Is the story of Edward true?
The 1896 text Anomolies and Curiosities of Medicine mentions a version of the story and Edward has been featured in many texts, plays and even music as the Tom Waits song ‘Poor Edward’ is based on the story. However, the tale was considered false for quite some time. It was simply too fantastic to believe and, obviously, many parts of the story simply do not make medical sense – years of retelling warped what was likely a very real occurrence.
How can one make the assumption that there is fact beneath this tale?
Chang Tzu Ping was discovered in China in the late 70’s or early 80’s. In his 40’s, Chang had been born with a second face consisting of a mouth, a malformed tongue, several teeth, a patch of scalp, and the vestige of other facial constructs. The throat and the lips of the second face could not move independently, but the mouth did reacted in tandem to Chang opening his.
Shortly after being discovered he was brought to the United States to have the second face surgically removed. The entire case was documented – including the surgery – on the 80’s television program ‘That’s Incredible’ - and yet there exists almost no secondary evidence of his existence. The operation was considered successful and Chang likely went home to his village to live the remainder of his life without his ‘devil face’.
It does not require a great leap of faith to conclude that the tale of Edward is based on some nugget of fact, perhaps he had something similar Chang’s condition – mutated by storytellers over time. Consider that the case of Chang Tzu Ping is relatively unknown despite only occurring a few decades ago or the strange tale of The Boy of Bengal. These are indeed very rare cases and the human mind has a tendency to classify the unusual as impossible – it often helps us sleep well at night.
Tom Waits’ song: Poor Edward