“A wise man once told me that mystery is the most essential ingredient of life, for the following reason: mystery creates wonder, which leads to curiosity, which in turns provides the ground for our desire to understand who and what we truly are.” Thus wrote “the Archivist,” an individual who in the parlance of the Federal Bureau of Investigation would be regarded as “an unknown subject” who has compiled a dossier of one of the greatest mysteries of the late twentieth century, the town of Twin Peaks, though in fact the well-publicised events of spring 1989 are only the latest in a long line of oddities which can be traced back to the region.
Recovered from a crime scene in July 2016, the following month the dossier was passed in its entirety by FBI Deputy Director Gordon Cole to Special Agent Tamara Preston in order to analyse and evaluate the contents, some of which relate to widely recorded events, others pertaining to historic documents long considered lost or conversations and happenings either classified top secret or without reliable witness.
Though described as “a novel,” The Secret History of Twin Peaks adheres to that definition as much as the television show which gave rise to it sat willingly in any one pigeonhole which would have satisfied a network or marketing executive. Created by Mark Frost and David Lynch and broadcast from April 1990 to June 1991, both the show and the subsequent film, 1992’s Fire Walk With Me offered an inexplicable mix of warm familiarity, comforting aural and visual textures, and a broad and likeable ensemble of eccentric characters whose lives were cut through with incomprehensible horror and realisations of betrayals by the very fabric of the world.
Ostensibly promoted as a mystery itself, the investigation into the murder of high school prom queen Laura Palmer by FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper, every episode would further obscure the meaning of any discovery, the eventual unmasking of the identity of the killer becoming secondary to the question of what entity or force had compelled them to the act.
Containing documents dating as far back as 1805 and arranged with “a direct, if intermittent, sense of historical narrative,” those hoping to find answers within are undoubtedly misguided in their expectation in the first place, but in the initial stages it is a fascinating insight for those who do not know American history into the birth of a land which, despite how it presents itself to the world as “the home of the free” has always thrived on treachery, theft and gold panned from a river of blood and tears.
Akin to rewatching the original episodes, there is an urge to read and reread passages in order to hunt for clues, but like so much of life here is no guarantee the fragments will ever amount to anything yet the pursuit remains absolutely compelling. “Mysteries precede humankind, envelop us and draw us forward into exploration and wonder. Secrets are the work of humankind, a covert and often insidious way to gather, withhold or impose power.”
It is also the charting of the devastation of the indigenous people and the natural resources of the land by the white settlers; betrayed and removed from their ancestral land, Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce people warned there would one day “come a reckoning.” The Louisiana Purchase of 1803 was the handing over of 828,000 square miles which now forms fifteen of the present United States by France, but the land was not theirs to give in the first place.
Extant almost from the start is the jade ring last seen beneath the trailer of the murdered Teresa Banks, a talisman of the natives of the Pacific northwest which brings ill fortune to all who possess it, touching the lives of the explorer and politician Meriwether Lewis and the notorious James Wilkinson, first governor of the Louisiana Territory and later described as Theodore Roosevelt as “a despicable character.”
Through the diligence of the Archivist, evidence is presented of an undeniable thread of strange events, coincidence and tragedy in the vicinity of the Ghostwood and Glastonbury Grove, “the Night of the Burning River,” eighty seven years to the day before Laura Palmer was last seen alive, the three schoolchildren who went missing for a night in 1947 and could not account for the missing time but whose references to “owls” can be viewed in hindsight as a “masking memory” constructed by them to prevent recollection of what they really witnessed.
Ever present in the footnotes she has added, some confined to verification or estimation of the reliability of the sources, other more expansive, Agent Preston’s initial approach to the more fantastical elements of the record such as Lewis’ encounter with the “Sky People” which causes him to almost lose his mind recall another famous FBI field agent: “For the record, let me state that I am secular and skeptic by nature. Intimations of the supernatural are always easier to report or suggest than verify, particularly with events that took place over 150 years ago. Show me the science, please.”
Certainly there are enough unidentified flying objects to keep the X-Files overflowing, a great number of the documents pertaining to the actions of Doug Milford, known within Twin Peaks as owner/editor-in-chief of the Twin Peaks Post and estranged brother of long standing mayor Dwayne Milford, but whose previous career as an officer of the Air Force had brought him from Washington State to Washington D.C via Roswell, New Mexico, as part of Project Sign, Project Grudge and Project Blue Book.
With script credits on eleven of the thirty episodes of the original run, Frost knows the characters intimately and the most compelling section is the collection of documents from the Bookhouse, portraits of some of the best known characters from the show as seen by their closest friends as opposed to the impartiality of the Archivist, and he has captured their voices well.
Most moving is the single page confession which follows Agent Cooper’s file on Josie Packard, handwritten by Sheriff Harry S Truman, the words stained by the tears he could not contain, while Tommy “Hawk” Hill’s chronicles the abiding love of Ed Hurley and Norma Lindstrom, thwarted by the schemes of Hank Jennings who also destroyed the fragile Nadine Gertz in his spite, but it is also here the most egregious conflict with established events occurs, the statement that Norma’s mother Ilsa died in 1984 when in the show she was named Vivian, also known as food critic M T Wentz, and appeared in three episodes.
In light of this deviation, with the show having been pitched under the title Northwest Passage the question is raised of how much of the material presented, dating back to and echoing forward from those pioneering expeditions of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, formed the original background of the episodes and characters and how much was subsequently been developed and fitted into the existing chronology, which might account for this oversight on the part of Frost.
Excerpts from the Twin Peaks Post cover the courtship and brief marriage of Margaret Lanterman who as young Maggie Coulson was one of those children who vanished, whose volunteer firefighter husband died on their wedding day, and also one of the few glimpses beyond the second season, the report on the explosion at Twin Peaks Savings and Loan which occurred in the final episode.
When the unprecedented third season of Twin Peaks broadcasts in 2017 it will be twenty five years since the town was last visited. So far, details of the new episodes are scant and nor does The Secret History of Twin Peaks offer significant pointers with precious little material beyond the closing moments of the show; what it does contain is more in the nature of illumination rather than explanation, but with both Mulholland Drive‘s Naomi Watts and Inland Empire‘s Laura Dern confirmed to be appearing in as yet unspecified roles, perhaps one of the main functions is the integration of Special Agent Tamara Preston into the investigation which has been active for a quarter of a century.
The Secret History of Twin Peaks is available now from Pan Macmillan