Nov 06

The Twin Dilemma

FT + The Brown Wedge27 comments • 641 views

Mark’s post on twins poses an interesting question – where did kid-lit twins vanish to? – and then lets it tantalisingly hang. So here’s two half-baked explanations!

i. A shift in the idea of kid-ness. When the heroes of childrens literature tend to come as fully-formed gangs – the Famous Five, the Pevensies, the Arthur Ransome kids – making two of said gang twins opened up a few marginal story possibilities. But it seems to me that now heroes in kid-lit tend to start more as loners who work their way – by luck or effort or magic – into companionship. If this is the current winning structure for kid-lit then twin protagonists clearly closes off story elements.

Ii. A shift in the idea of twin-ness. The focus of thinking about twins seems to have moved from an external one which saw them as largely comical (mistaken identity being the most obvious device), to an internal one in which the ‘psychic bond’ (whether real or actual) of twin-ness is emphasised more, and the comedy moves to spookiness.

A big counter to both of these is surely Mary-Kate and Ashley, twinnish screen heroines whose adventures I have never seen but appear to be entirely trad.


  1. 1
    Kat on 16 Nov 2006 #

    There has been a fair few kids telly sitcoms feat twins in recent years (discounting Hollyoaks as one of them had to change their hairdo so you could tell them apart): I watched Sister Sister all the blimmin’ time. Usual formula: the naughty one of the pair gets grounded & the other covers for her while she goes off larging it up on the town. I will think of some more in a bit.

  2. 2
    Kat on 16 Nov 2006 #

    Er aren’t there twins in Harry Potter? Ron’s brothers? I’ve only read one Harry Potter book so I’m not sure.

  3. 4
    Tom on 16 Nov 2006 #

    Yes – in the trad twin role of “played for comic relief” too. They’re pretty minor characters, though. And HP follows the “kid starts alone” model too – he only encounters all these colourful characters once he’s started building up his ‘gang’ (and then has to re-start every book!)

  4. 5
    Alan on 16 Nov 2006 #

    sherri and terri in the simpsons never had a proper story about them

  5. 6
    Kat on 16 Nov 2006 #

    And Luke & Leia!

  6. 7
    Alan on 16 Nov 2006 #

    hang on aren’t Leia and Luke twins??

  7. 8
    Alan on 16 Nov 2006 #


  8. 10
    CarsmileSteve on 16 Nov 2006 #

    Patty and Selma have had a few stories though…

  9. 11
    Stevie on 16 Nov 2006 #

    Also Pitt and Pliny in ‘Mason and Dixon’.

  10. 12
    Kat on 16 Nov 2006 #

    *dons statistical hat* In 2004, about 1 in 34 babies was born a twin or a triplet in the UK, in 1980 it was 1 in 52. Hi dere IVF! But remember there are two of them so it will be half that number “per pregnancy” I guess. Argh maths. BUT anyway, should we be getting MORE fiction abt twins/triplets nowadays than we used to?

  11. 13

    i refer you back to lucy fitch perkins for a reality check as to the meaning of MORE

  12. 14

    structurally, twins seem sometimes to serve the function of NOT CONTRIBUTING MUCH (bcz they only actually engage w.each other) at the same time as BULKING UP THE NUMBERS

    also: you don’t have to invent a “character” for them — their character is “twin”

    obv this doesn’t apply to perkins or to malcolm saville

  13. 15
    Pete on 17 Nov 2006 #

    Vis Mary-Kate and Ashley and/or the Sweet Valley High twins, these days the defacto personalities for female twins seems to be serious vs popular (or as was better expressed last night: brainy vs slutty).

  14. 16
    Alan on 17 Nov 2006 #

    Talking of popular, weren’t there studious v popular twins in the show Popular?

  15. 17

    alang was it you (or kat?) who wz a-arguin that the spate of twins-on-TV was an attempt to target the demographic spike?

  16. 18
    Alan on 17 Nov 2006 #

    don’t think it was me.

  17. 19
    Kat on 17 Nov 2006 #

    Also studious v rebellious in Sister, Sister. Makes for repetitive yet believable role-swapping storylines.

    Adult twins seem to crop up less in adult fiction than adolescent/child twins in kid-lit? I suppose adults are more likely to have separate adventures once they’ve left school, unless said adventures include TURNING EVIL and coming back to cause mischief (e.g. Derek in Sunset Beach…)

  18. 20

    turning evil!!

    ooh ooh there is also twins-as-swopsies = “the prince and the pauper” (twain) and erich kästner’s “lisa and lottie” (filmed twice as “the parent trap”)

  19. 21

    (kästner is grebt btw and something by him will feature in THRILLERS FOR KIDS at some point)

  20. 22
    Pete Baran on 17 Nov 2006 #

    There is a film on general release which has a twin plot.

    Though clones are much more interesting.

  21. 23
    Alan on 17 Nov 2006 #

    last night we noted that John Constantine and some other rub superhero comic character has an evil twin who dies before birth.

  22. 24
    Emma on 17 Nov 2006 #

    I think Neighbours has done an evil twins plot recently but I couldn’t keep up (this is due to only seeing 2 min snatches (arf) of Neighbours at any time rather than due to my great stupidity at not even being able to keep up with Neighbours. Or maybe not). I think the good one was in a coma and the evil one was pretending to be the good one but then the good one woke up. Or something.

  23. 25

    i possibly actually solved this riddle on ile but then forgot but i remember readin a book (possibly a series) when small about twinsd who were TINYWEE ie JUST FOUR INCHES HIGH and the world-historical hilarity that ensued

    i think they were german or possibly swiss — so i assume the book was translated

  24. 26
    Pete Baran on 17 Nov 2006 #

    As usual : wikipedia got there first:

    Which reminded me that there are both identical twins (both played by Jeffery Tambor) and fraternal boy/girl twins in sit-com Arrested Development.

  25. 27

    re wiki: no fitch perkins no credibility obv!

    (i realise it is my job to insert her)

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