This Weeks Prompt:54. Transposition of identity
The Resulting Story:Dr. Klien’s Little Book
The loss or shifting of identity is a recurring fear, such that I do not terribly begrudge Mr. Lovecraft for giving us a three word prompt. A discussion of identity loss, however, must focus on two changes to identity that could be called transpositions. One is to lose identity to another, to have it stolen. Dopplegangers, changelings, pod people, and other such notions where someone pretends for a time to be the unfortunate victim. The other mode is to have more bodily seizure of identity. To suddenly be someone else, to be possessed or altered and granted a new identity.
The first variation has, as mentioned, something of a folkloric and popular culture history. The idea of creatures that take on the appearance of a living being, as a sort of apparition, appears in Irish folklore as a Fetch, an ominous shade that warns of death. Etiäinen are a Finnish manifestation of a guardian spirit that appears to be a person doing the actions they will do in the future. But these are not quite what we are looking for as a transposition of identity.
A more accurate idea of this sort of double might be in an old story(That was apparently written by Mark Twain, huh), the Prince and the Pauper. Here we have two individuals who look identical, and thus are able to (with some planning) take the place of each other. While that particular tale is lacking the sort of malice that switched identities often carry. We might consider the work of Merlin, who enchanted Uther Pendragon to assume the likeness of his enemy to lay with his Igraine, and thus conceive Arthur. Or the similar story of Zeus taking on the form of Alcemene’s husband in order to conceive of Heracles. More extended instances of taking on the form of others in order to spell misfortune are noted. A changeling, for instance, is a deception of a family with the intent of making off with a child.
To touch briefly on a scientific note, there is a mental disorder where one is obsessed with the notion that a friend or loved one has been replaced with a look alike. This Capgras delusion may be a good reminder that many of the accusations of individuals being replaced by some other, alien thing are not…not taken well, and may in fact be used by confused individuals to justify harming others.
Moving to the idea of transposition not away from the individual but onto the individual, the very first notion that springs to mind is demonic possession. I specify demonic to indicate an uninvited and unsought possession. There are a number of examples of this in popular culture, specific the Exorcist film that convinced many that Ouija boards are the devil.
Catholic possessions often culminate in destructive and suicidal behaviors. Early symptoms include speaking in tongues, exhibiting secret knowledge, blasphemous rage, and incredible strength. Possession need not be of individuals, but may be of animals or places.
An interesting potential character here is a number of demons in the Ars Goetia, who impose afflictions of the mind onto others. Twelve of the 72 reconcile friends, 11 make others fall in love, and at least one renders other men the subjects of the summoner. While this is less a transposition as the other stories, the altering of consciousness radically is as terrifying even if direct possession is not at the root.
However, exorcists date back at least to ancient Sumer, where we have assorted inscriptions for invoking the might of the sun god Shamash in order to combat possession. Possession in the sense of Sumer is not terribly developed. Ghost possession is a second possibility, more common perhaps. A ghost may end up possessing a living person of it’s own power, or be conjured for that purpose and inflicted on someone.
Some Hindu theories of possession do not treat it as a seizure of the body, but rather the cause of illness. There are a number of charms and wards against these included in one of the Vedas, linked to here.
Demonic or ghostly forces –and we would do well to remember that hell and the underworld are often very deeply related—can thus rewrite or transpose a new identity onto an individual, compelling them to be someone they normally are not.
But this is…perhaps not what Howard Phillip Lovecraft intended. He was always, at least in nomine, a man of science. The best analysis of this notion are tales like The Thing on the Doorstep. Here, the alluring power of the Waites family is described as hypnotic. Lovecraft was writing when hypnotism was gaining steam, although he personally might not have indulged much on the matter. Still, it was a new science that, while now discredited, promised access to the deepest portions of the human pysche.
It has yet to deliver, but the idea of brainwashing to create a new identity is common enough. For instance, we may observe a modern depiction of mass technological (in name) possession in Doctor Who. The Master, a master hypnotist, use medical machinery to convert all of earth’s populace into himself in a rather disturbing sequence in the episode End of Time.
The Manchurian Candidate and Jason Borne are other famous examples of new personalities onto people. The often horrifying to discuss brainwashing techniques, while how possibly nonexistent, have a place in the mind of genre writers at least as tools of recruitment and shifting of beliefs and even entire modes of thought for nefarious purposes. And this line of thinking lead me to a novel idea.
We have examples of these powers or tactics used to shape followers. But what of leaders? What if a cult tried to create it’s own chosen one, it’s own ideal leader, using these methods? Philosophers including Plato have discussed the idea of molding leaders through subversive means. The idea of a cult working to make someone, unwittingly and unknowingly, into their ideal leader may be an intreasting one to explore.
Real life examples of large scale magic might be found in the Bablaon Working or tulpa creation (although neither of these are actually, exactly, what we are looking for). There are number of tricks to be considered before carrying on. We should discuss of course whether to view this change from within the mind of the narrator or without. Within is more intimate, more horrifying maybe. But without gives us a fuller understanding of what has occurred. If looking from the outside, we can see the changes wrought and how different things have become with much, much more certainty.
If we were to start from within, it would most likely manifest in breaks in narration. Start with the character in one location, and then inexcpilcably time and space have passed without the audience or the narrator aware. Of course, having laid out this gimick in such detail, I am now inclined not to use it. Especially since, while mysterious, it relies a bit to much on the twist. Still, I have an idea in mind that will at the least be entertaining. Come next week to see what poor soul is lost!
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