Review: The Secret History of Twin Peaks

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Review: The Secret History of Twin Peaks

Time to get a slice of cherry pie and pour yourself a cup of damn fine coffee (and hot!) This Sunday brings us the long-awaited continuation of the Twin Peaks series, twenty-five (well, twenty-six)(almost) years after the original series ended, leaving us with many, many unanswered questions.

In preparation for the new episodes, Mark Frost has given us The Secret History of Twin Peaks. The murder of Laura Palmer may have focused the world’s attention on Twin Peaks, but the more her mystery unfolded, the more clear it became that this little town’s weirdness goes way back.

With all humility, by the authority vested in me by my own confidential charter, this correspondent has endeavored to carry on the work begun by Captain Lewis: the spirit of fearless inquiry into enduring mysteries applied in the search for ancient truths that transcend and defy conventional wisdom. This dossier represents the fruits of that labor.

I’ll start out by saying that if you’ve never watched Twin Peaks but have always been curious about this little two-season series from the early nineties, then this book…is most definitely not for you. Mark Frost is a talented writer with a flair for the mysterious and off-kilter, but this is a story that will mostly only appeal to those people who are familiar with the show (and the movie Lynch made as a sort-of-prequel.) There are a lot of shout-outs to familiar characters here; the rest is just weird.

We start with a memo from Deputy Director Gordon Cole, assigning Special Agent T(redacted) P(redacted) to analyze a dossier that was found very recently at an active crime scene.  Few details are given about the dossier, except that it may have something to do with a decades-old crime that one Special Agent Cooper was investigating. Agent TP’s assignment is to study the dossier and then determine the identity of the one who originally compiled the documents: the Archivist.

What follows is a collection of correspondence, journal entries, newspaper clippings, photographs, and many other items from a history that spans from the letters of Meriwether Lewis, through the personal journals of one of the first “Men In Black”, and right up to events at the end of Agent Cooper’s investigation of Twin Peaks. All of this is heavily footnoted with TP’s increasingly bewildered commentary.

The third and fourth victims simply disappeared without a trace and were never found. It’s late, it’s dark, and I’m now turning all the lights on in my office —TP

The letters and journal entries from Lewis (part of a hitherto unknown span of time when he was separated from his traveling companion, William Clark) are an effectively creepy exploration of a section of the Northwest that runs parallel to a “spirit world”. The dossier goes into great detail about the opposing forces of the Masons and the Illuminati, the unhappy end of Governor Meriwether, and the even unhappier end of the Native American tribes in the area. Interspersed with this are seemingly random appearances of a strange green ring, and a cave, and the repeating element of owls.

The dossier also touches on the founding of Twin Peaks itself, and the start of the feud between the two prominent founding families, the Packards and the Martells. From there, we meet Douglas Milford (remember Douglas? Remember Lana? Don’t worry, that particularly annoying storyline is summed up in less than a chapter), and his brief career as the town’s ne’er-do-well that ended when he became an agent of a secret branch of the government, first assigned to investigate UFO’s, and then to cover up their existence.

The section with Douglas Milford and his lifelong career takes up at least a third of a book, and I have to say it gets very dry in places. Everything’s beautifully documented, but still, dry. It’s helped by the fact that every part of the book includes real historical figures and events, with only the element of Milford added to stand in the shadows and arrange for people to have unfortunate accidents. The Maury Island Incident is a well-known hoax (sorry, I should put quotes around that: “hoax”). Richard Nixon and Jackie Gleason did share a fascination with UFO’s. The inventor of the first rocket engine was obsessed with opening a gate to another dimension and he really was a successful cult leader, right up until his science-fiction-writing best friend made off with his fortune and his girlfriend and ran away to Florida to start his own religion. Yes, that science-fiction writer. Yes, that actually happened.

The Secret History of Twin Peaks - coverThe real candy for me though, and the reason I wanted to read the book in the first place, is all the recent history of Twin Peaks. We get to see how Pete Martell and Catherine Packard met and began their loveless marriage (well, loveless on Catherine’s part, probably). There’s the full explanation (written by Deputy Hawk) of how Big Ed and Norma could have ended up in loveless marriages to other people while being tragically in love with each other (short version: it was mostly Hank’s fault). And we get more background on Josie, how she conned Andrew Packard into a loveless marriage (the heck is up with all the loveless marriages in this town?), and the real reason she arranged to be a young immigrant in a tiny Northwest logging town.

And of course there’s the Log Lady, with a beautiful piece written by her longtime friend Robert Jacoby (brother of Dr. Jacoby, naturally). If you didn’t love the Log Lady before, you’ll adore her after this, her and her tragic story and her beloved log.

The last section of the book summarizes the events of the original Twin Peaks series, as seen through the eyes of the Archivist (who’s identify we do finally learn. And I’d guessed it wrong.) and the remorseful Dr. Jacoby. Douglas Milford makes his undignified exit, the Archivist passes the torch on to his replacement, and Mark Frost gives us a tiny glimpse into what happened to some of the characters right after the series, with just a hint of a much larger conspiracy.

But I can tell you these things are part of something even bigger, something old and dug in, and it’s been here all along. Watching us. More than that. Manipulating. We’re all so caught up with our own petty preoccupations we can’t see what’s got its hand stuck up the back of our shirts.

Does this book explain everything? Heck no. There are a couple of inconsistencies in the character histories that make me wonder how much David Lynch will stick to everything the book leads up to, or if he’s going to take the new series on a completely different tangent. It’s a fun book for the fans though, and now that I’ve read this and finally watched the movie Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, I feel like I’m finally prepared for whatever the new series throws at us. Well, as prepared as someone can be for anything Lynch comes up with.