The Secret History of Twin Peaks

secrethistoryFor those of us who love Twin Peaks down to our bones, the arrival of new material set in its singular realm is monumental. The forthcoming premiere of the first new episode of the show in 26 years is the main event, but co-creator Mark Frost’s new novel, The Secret History of Twin Peaks, has snuck in ahead to be the first to bring this world back to life.

New Twin Peaks material is significant compared to other cult properties because Frost and David Lynch have wisely restricted what has been produced. Apart from 30 episodes and feature film Fire Walk with Me, only three approved tie-in books and an audiobook exist to date. No new Twin Peaks material has emerged since 1992 except for Lynch-produced Log Lady episode introductions and the 2014 release of deleted scenes from Fire Walk with Me.

This is because, unusually, Lynch and Frost own the property themselves. Given the gradual rediscovery of the show over the last decade and Hollywood’s eagerness to strip-mine established properties, a studio that owned Twin Peaks would presumably have returned to the well already, with or without its creators.

But the resulting drought in new material and Lynch and Frost’s apparent lack of interest in returning to Twin Peaks left us convinced that what we had was all there would ever be. Twin Peaks was a finite creative work, its afterlife offering only ongoing analysis and rediscovery through the eyes of family and friends. We would while away the years interpreting this elliptical and confounding text, certain its creators would never fill in the gaps or provide a resolution to one of the cruelest unresolved cliffhangers in all of television.

The Secret History of Twin Peaks is the first sledgehammer taken to that status quo. A static text has come back to life, finally allowed to develop the many new elements introduced late in season two and in Fire Walk with Me. And Frost has returned to this universe with commitment and gusto: Secret History is a dense and intricate work.

Although billed as a novel, it’s not a typical one. Secret History presents the contents of a dossier discovered at a 1992 crime scene by the FBI, comprising a cache of documents assembled by the mysterious Archivist, who comments on the material throughout. Another layer of commentary is provided by an FBI agent in 2016, directed by Gordon Cole (Cooper’s boss in the series, played by Lynch himself) to assess the dossier and verify its provenance.

The dossier’s purpose is to determine the history of Twin Peaks and the land it stands on, but with a particular agenda that we have to intuit as we read each document. Starting with the Lewis and Clark expedition and continuing through the underbelly of 20th century political history, Frost expertly weaves fact and apocrypha into the Twin Peaks mythos. A reader not steeped in American history will be unsure whether or not certain parts are his own creation. Particularly thrilling are the moments where, having perhaps questioned Frost’s judgement in incorporating certain elements more reminiscent of another 90s cult TV show, you realise it does all curve back to what we know of Twin Peaks but gives the show’s wide-ranging arcana a new context and framework. This book generates a hunger to learn more about 20th century American history, official and otherwise.

Lynch and Frost are creators with divergent interests and sensibilities, which makes their successful collaboration all the more rich and strange. But their separate, intermittent periods of active contribution to the original series made these differences became noticeable. The more instinctive and primal surrealism of the Red Room is a far cry from the pragmatic, tangible oddness of Project Bluebook, Windom Earle’s arcane interests, and the mysterious abductions. The contrast is made plain in the series finale, when Lynch returned to the series and pulled the rug from under these elements and redeployed them as instruments of his more intuitive and inexplicable vision.

Because Lynch and Frost have written all the new episodes together, we can expect a show that reflects both of their sensibilities. But in an overdue counterbalance to his absence from Fire Walk with Me, Frost first gets to present his own unfiltered, Lynch-free take on the world of Twin Peaks for the first time. Mysteries involving government projects and document trails are back, and he clearly cares about knitting all the existing elements together in a fashion Lynch likely doesn’t. Frost reminds us of how much of Twin Peaks and its world must have been the product of his methodical creativity.

Arguably, seeking cohesion and narrative logic in Twin Peaks is to miss the point, but Frost still leaves much unsaid. The object of investigation – the show’s mythology – remains an unknowable mystery. But he does care about cohering the various perspectives that exist on the mythology, to line up the witnesses we know alongside new ones into a unified force that sharpens our focus on the sinister abyss he and Lynch want us to gaze into.

Some of this streamlining won’t be controversial. To his credit, Frost incorporates elements of Fire Walk with Me despite not being involved with the film. We still don’t know how he feels about it other than he wanted to move the story forwards rather than backwards. Nonetheless he finds a way to sew those elements into his tapestry. All aspects of Twin Peaks, not only the less popular elements of season two but even the film Frost had nothing to do with are being swept into this march forward to bring evolution and resolution to a long-unresolved story.

That said, some elements have been contentious. Fans have spotted a number of inconsistencies with the original series. Some may be ambivalent or unwitting retcons, which would be unfortunate. But some are so egregious it seems impossible that they aren’t purposeful. Has the dossier been tampered with? Or has history somehow been altered? Secret History is therefore worth reading not so much to glean what season three might feature as what it might not.

A tie-in book from one of the creators of a property is rare, especially one so fiendishly detailed and elaborate. The Secret History of Twin Peaks is a gift for ardent fans, but also an absorbing and creepy epistolary novel for anyone with a basic familiarity with the show. This isn’t the Lynchian slant on the series you may be used to, but Frost confirms that his own is just as intrinsic.

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