When “The Secret History of Twin Peaks” was first announced, the book was pitched as “a novel that reveals what has happened to the people of that iconic fictional town since we last saw them 25 years ago and offers a deeper glimpse into the central mystery that was only touched on by the original series.” Finally arriving last month in advance of the long-awaited 2017 revival of the cult TV show, the book offers only a few glancing details of the former while delving deeply into the latter. Author and series co-creator Mark Frost uses the bulk of his narrative to weave the strange history of “Twin Peaks” throughout the larger tapestry of American history and the long legacy of occult conspiracies.
This is not a book for a “Twin Peaks” newbie — and the arcane subject matter makes it unlikely to appeal to anyone who isn’t already a fan. A casual watcher of the show will have better luck, as Frost aims more to recapture mood and tone rather than pay off any outstanding story points. And if you are a true “Peaks”-head, “Secret History” is overflowing with compelling windows into your favorite weird town, and will go great with black coffee, pie and all the creamed corn you can carry.
After some framing material that nods toward the series revival, the story begins almost two hundred years before the murder of Laura Palmer. Explorer Meriwether Lewis (of the famous Lewis and Clark expedition) has a strange encounter in the forest, complete with “lights in the sky, silvery spheres… fire that burns but does not consume” and more. He describes his experience in letters to President Thomas Jefferson, and includes a drawing of a distinctive ring that Lewis received. Lewis is merely the first of several real-world figures that gets tied into the mythology, and Frost goes so far as to connect the bizarre forces at work in the Washington woods to two staples for the conspiracy-minded — the Masons and the Illuminati. Enlarging the mythos to such occult grandiosity turns the book into something that will appeal to fans of both “Twin Peaks” and “The X-Files.”
“The Secret History of Twin Peaks” could be described as a transmedia novel: Not only is it a tie-in to a popular franchise, but the book itself takes for form of a dossier — a compendium of fictionalized primary sources, such as FBI case files, newspaper stories, journal entries, photos, and drawings. This dossier has been assembled by a person calling themselves “The Archivist,” and is shot through with notes and observations by a contemporary FBI investigator identified as “T.P.” These kinds of transmedia novels are not new; Mr. Robot’s Red Wheelbarrow tie-in is a recent example, with antecedents such as Sean Stewart’s “Cathy’s Book” or the J.C. Hutchins/Jordan Weisman collaboration “Personal Effects: Dark Art.”
This kind of book takes a greater level of focus and engagement from the reader than a typical novel, which limits its potential audience. If this is enough to keep you away, or if you just want to know the highlights, here are the most exciting revelations contained inside. Of course, this is spoiler territory for all of “Twin Peaks,” including this book, the prequel movie “Fire Walk With Me,” as well as potentially Season 3. Read with caution.
A Minor Character Becomes A Major Player
The long middle stretch of “Twin Peaks’s” second season featured a number of storylines and new characters that fans would charitably describe as “thin.” One barely-comic subplot centered on the marriage of femme fatale Lana Budding to elderly newspaper owner Dougie Milford. Dougie appears in only three episodes before passing away in his his newly-consummated marriage bed, and you’d be forgiven if you completely blocked out his existence.
“Secret History” reinvents Milford as an occult Zelig, a crucial player in many of the most important unexplained events in modern American history, and a character who would fit right in on “The X-Files.” According to the dossier that makes up the bulk of the book, after a boyhood encounter with the Black Lodge, Doug joined the Air Force; he was stationed at Roswell, and his experiences there led to him becoming one of the government’s chief investigators of paranormal phenomena, a prototypical “Man In Black.” Milford’s career included run-ins with Jack Parsons, L. Ron Hubbard and Richard Nixon before returning to Twin Peaks to run Listening Post Alpha, a classified program directed at monitoring the strange forces in the woods. Milford recruited Major Garland Briggs as his successor, and the end of the novel reveals Briggs as the mysterious Archivist.
Midway through the book, the story takes a break from threading Twin Peaks through every major strange event of the last two hundred years to focus on many of the characters we know from the series. And though there are no major revelations on the scale of Doug Milford’s importance, we do get to see how many of those people and relationships developed, such as the tangled web between Norma and Hank Jennings and Big Ed and Nadine Hurley. Also, Josie’s convoluted backstory is explored, including how she came to be part of the Packard family and the details behind Andrew Packard’s faked death.
There are excerpts from Dr. Jacoby’s off-kilter book, “The Eye of God: Sacred Psychology in the Aboriginal Mind,” as well as his case notes on Nadine, Ben Horne, and Laura Palmer. We get the full story of when 7-year old Maggie Coulson disappeared in woods for several days, and how years later she would become a bride and a widow on the same night, before becoming the beloved character known as The Log Lady.
Interestingly, many of these backstories contradict details from the show. For example, according to the book, Norma’s mother was named Ilsa, and she died in 1984. However, the show featured an entire plot line with Norma’s mother Vivian, very much alive. When pressed on these mistakes via Twitter, author Frost cryptically replied, “All will be revealed in time.” (If you really want to fall down the rabbit hole, there’s a Google doc compiling all of the “alleged errors” in the book.)
Teasing Season 3
There are a few hints about the fates of characters after the final episode of Season 2, but most of them are concerned with the immediate aftermath and not with the long stretch of 25 years before the start of events in the upcoming third season:
- The end of Season 2 finds Agent Cooper trapped inside the Black Lodge, while his doppelgänger in the outside world is possessed by the evil entity known only as Bob, a cliffhanger that Peaks fans have obsessed over for the past quarter-century. “Secret History” ends with a tantalizing moment from directly after that scene. Major Briggs, our Archivist, had determined to reveal to Cooper the full history of his work with Doug Milford — the very dossier that makes up the bulk of the book. But when Briggs meets with Bob Cooper, he can tell that there’s something wrong with him, and holds back the information. Briggs is left in a state of alarm, and the dossier ends with an ominous, one-word conclusion: “MAYDAY.” Unfortunately, Don S. Davis passed away in 2008, so Major Briggs will not be appearing in Season 3.
- The side comments and footnotes throughout the book are revealed to be the work of a new character: present-day FBI Agent Tamara Preston, who was given the assignment by now-Deputy Director Gordon Cole. Preston writes that whatever happened to Major Briggs and Agent Cooper is classified as “many levels above Top Secret.” Though there is no confirmation in the scant publicity material for the new episodes, it’s probably a safe bet to conclude that Agent Preston will appear in Season 3.
- The Season 2 finale concluded with an explosion at the bank. According to the book, the explosion killed Andrew Packard and Pete Martell, while leaving Audrey Horne in a coma. Jack Nance, the wonderful character actor who played Pete, died in 1996, so it makes sense to end Pete’s story there. But Sherilyn Fenn is confirmed as returning in the role of Audrey; if she’s been in a coma for 25 years, it would make an interesting counterpoint to Agent Cooper’s otherworldly entrapment.
- After losing her brother and husband in the explosion, Catherine Martell finally sold the Packard Saw Mill to Ben Horne and became a recluse. Piper Laurie is not listed as one of the returning actors for Season 3, however if previous history is any indicator, she could still make a surprise appearance.
- For his unethical treatment of Laura Palmer, Dr. Jacoby’s license to practice psychology in Washington State was revoked. While he moved back to Hawaii, that may be temporary as Russ Tamblyn has been announced as appearing in Season 3.
- Hank Jennings, last seen refusing to grant Norma a divorce before being sent back to jail for violating his parole, was killed in prison. (Chris Mulkey is not slated to return for Season 3, but he does perform on the audiobook version of “Secret History.”
As befitting a “Twin Peaks”-related project, “Secret History” is loaded with puzzles, hidden clues and easter eggs:
- Red/blue 3-D glasses — one of Dr. Jacoby’s trademark accessories, of which he claims “Red suppresses the logical. Blue suppresses the intuitive” — can be used to reveal hidden dimensions of several images in the book, none spookier than this one.
- A picture from the Bookhouse, showing one book associated with each member of the Bookhouse Boys, contains a hidden message.
- Throughout the book, seemingly random words are underlined, although compiling them together has not yet yielded anything useful.
- This Reddit thread compiles most of the current theories about hidden messages and meanings in the book. Although you may have more luck using the Tibetan Method.
One of the hallmarks of transmedia franchise storytelling in our current era is that it conditions audiences to pay attention to––and prize––logical continuity. But logical continuity is not what makes Twin Peaks work; this is a storyworld that functions on pareidolia––the activating, manipulating, and deceiving our pattern-making tendencies to create meaning. If you can keep this in mind, then “The Secret History of Twin Peaks” is hugely enjoyable and a wonderful appetizer before the hopefully-sumptuous banquet awaiting us sometime in 2017.