Edward Mordrake was said to have been a member of one of the noblest families in England and was due to inherit quite a large sum of money. He was mild and genteel, a quiet sort with a sensible disposition, a scholar, and a musician and was said to be quite handsome when viewed from the front. However, when Mordrake turned his head, spectators would look upon a most upsetting visage. You see, on the back of Mordrake’s head was another face. From thehumanmarvels.com: “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’. It is said that Edward begged many doctors to remove this “demon head” from his skull. It has also been said that Edward lived completely isolated from everyone else. He thought the best way to carry on his life was to stay away from everyone. This isolation even included his own family members.”
The tale of poor Edward Mordrake comes to an end when he chooses to take his own life. In some versions, Mordrake chooses poison to end his torture. In others, a bullet between the eyes of the demon face does him in. There is no date of birth nor is there a date of death for Mordrake, but the tale tells of him leaving a letter asking for the destruction of the demon face prior to his burial so that it would not continue to torture him in death.
Though the story of Edward Mordrake has been retold many times and has even been featured in the 1896 text “Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine,” many think the tale is too fantastical to be believed. Medically, many parts of the story don’t make sense or are impossible. For example, in some cases, it is said that the demon face was female, an impossibility as all parasitic twins are the same sex.
Left: Edward Mordrake (https://www.thehumanmarvels.com/from-the-archives-edward-mordake-poor-edward/) Note: The photo is actually that of a wax interpretation of Mordrake’s deformity and not an actual image of the man himself.
Right: Chang Tzu Ping (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AfFDPC8rFR0)
Chang Tzu Ping, a man from a rural village in China, was born with two faces. More specifically, Ping suffered from fetus in fetu, a condition that caused a parasitic twin to grow inside his face. Ping was actually supposed to be a twin, but instead, his twin developed inside him within the womb. The end result was a partial mouth and tongue on the side of his face with several teeth. A black mass almost in the center of his right cheek was found to be the location of the second twin’s would-be brain. Ping also had a hump on his back, likely more remnants of the parasitic twin. Amazingly enough, Ping lived with the condition for many years, losing a potential wife in an arranged marriage when she saw him on their wedding night and isolating himself in the fields of his small village out of shame for his condition. Ping was eventually discovered by a renowned surgeon and, upon meeting with Ping and his family, took on his case. Ping’s right ear was permanently disfigured from the removal surgery, but overall his condition is greatly improved.
Although Ping’s parasitic twin was not on the back of his head as is the case with Mordrake, it is possible to be born with such a deformity. I mean, given that this case was so widely publicized and was featured on television (an episode of That’s Incredible, 1982) including parts of the actual removal surgery, I can’t imagine that Ping’s condition was a farce. In fact, Ping isn’t the only example of a condition called Diprosopus.
From Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diprosopus):
“Lali Singh was born March 10, 2008 to Sushma and Vinod Singh in Saini, Sunpura Sohanpur village, near Delhi; the birth was delayed by dystocia caused by her large head, and her birth in a hospital was facilitated by her mother’s receiving an episiotomy. She was one of the very few infants with diprosopus to survive well past birth. She might have been the only known living individual with complete facial duplication. Her facial features included two pairs of eyes, two noses, and two mouths (but only one pair of ears). She was seen as the reincarnation of the goddess Durga, who is sometimes depicted with many limbs and eyes.
Sushma and Vinod Singh declined an offer from local doctors to evaluate their daughter through CT or MRI scanning. Without diagnostic imaging, it was not possible to know the full extent to which the child’s condition might have affected her brain and other vital structures in her head and neck. Thus, any estimation of her ability to thrive or even survive could be only speculative, though Lali’s family described her as functioning normally. It is also unknown whether neurosurgeons or craniofacial surgeons, if consulted, would have had feasible solutions to offer with respect to corrective surgery. A local doctor told reporters that the baby should be considered a healthy child who currently was living a normal life, a previously unknown occurrence among sufferers of the disorder.
Lali’s two middle eyes suffered from corneal opacity due to abnormal anatomy of the facial muscles, which prevented her from properly closing those eyes. (Before, it was wrongly blamed on camera flashes.)
A cleft palate caused difficulty feeding her under village conditions. A poor diet of bottle-fed sugar solution and diluted milk, allowed to drip down her throat as she could not suck properly because of the cleft palate, weakened her condition, and vomiting and infection started. Admission to hospital was delayed by discussion (including taking her back home from hospital) among her extended family and her village’s headman. Finally, her parents, alarmed at her illness and dehydration, defied her other relatives and took her back to hospital, where under proper medical treatment including antibiotic and a saline drip she started to improve, stopped vomiting, started drinking milk and defecating normally; but 6 hours later, at two months old to the day, she died of a heart attack. She was buried in her village, as is usual in Hinduism with children who die very young. Later a temple was built at the village in her memory.
Faith Daisy and Hope Alice Howie (May 8, 2014 – May 27, 2014) were born in Sydney, Australia, to parents Simon Howie and Renee Young. Faith and Hope shared one body and skull, but had complete duplication of the facial features, as well as duplication of the brain; both brains joined to one brain stem. Young and Howie had learned at 19 weeks gestation of their children’s condition, but opted not to terminate the pregnancy. The children were born 6 weeks prematurely and appeared to be doing well, able to breathe unaided several days after their birth and they were observed to sleep and cry at different times. They died 19 days following their birth due to unknown causes, although some sources indicated that the girls died following an operation for unknown reasons.
Few two-faced animals have survived due to associated internal organ abnormalities and brain abnormalities. One of the most famous was Ditto, a pig. Ditto was raised to adulthood, but died of pneumonia caused by food inhalation when breathing through one muzzle while eating with the other.
Cats with the condition are known as ‘Janus cats’, after the Roman god. In July 2006, a 6-year-old male Janus cat called “Frank and Louie” from Millbury, Massachusetts, USA, received publicity. In their case, only one esophagus (and possibly only one trachea) was functional and aided survival. In September 2011, when Frank and Louie were 12 years old, it was announced that they will appear in the 2012 Guinness Book of World Records as the longest-surviving Janus cat on record. In 2014, Frank and Louie died at the age of 15.”
More on Mordrake?
I’ve searched the internet for information on Mordrake, hoping to find a date of birth, the location of his childhood home, or a connection to the English family to which he was an heir. The information just doesn’t exist. What does exist is a massive Google list of results on Mordrake and urban legends. It does make me wonder how much of the Edward Mordrake story is true. After all, the medical anomaly (though rare) does exist. How unrealistic is it that a man like Mordrake could survive with such a deformity to the ripe old age of 23? The fact that this placement of the “demon face” is impossible doesn’t really lead me to believe that someone like Mordrake has never existed. More likely, someone was born with a deformity and an urban legend was created. It’s indeed creepy to think that Mordrake’s “demon face” muttered dark thoughts constantly and would often give an evil smile independent of Mordrake’s face.
Is Edward Mordrake’s urban legend simply a sensationalized version of the very true story of Chang Tzu Ping or some other similarly afflicted individual? Is there a kernel of truth to Mordrake’s suffering and condition? We often fear that which we don’t understand. Perhaps we’ll never know, but I’m sure that this tale will survive for many years to come.
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