Okay, so Laura Palmer’s prophecy to FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper was a year or two off, but we are definitely returning to the town of Twin Peaks and all of the Lynchian weirdness that surrounds it. Showtime’s Twin Peaks revival is set to air in Spring 2017 and co-creator Mark Frost’s gorgeous new novel is just the thing to get fans of the show—both OG and Netflix-generation—putting their heads together and theorizing about the fates of their favorite characters.
Frost’s book is almost everything a hardcore Peaks fan could want. Compiled as a “found” dossier with notes-within-margin-notes, new photographs, autopsy reports, book excerpts, newspaper clippings, and even a menu for the Double R diner, I really can’t state enough how physically lovely this book is (and appreciate what a nightmare it must have been for the production department to get in on deadline.)
The only thing it doesn’t—and can’t—contain is pretty much any new information that might be covered in the forthcoming TV show. Showtime’s filled with more secrets than a murdered high school girl. So instead of looking forward, we must look back. And we must look… up? Because The Secret History of Twin Peaks has an actual X-file at its center.
I loved the books-within-books package of The Secret History of Twin Peaks. It added just enough layers to intrigue but not so many as to frustrate, like J.J. Abrams’ 2013 novel project S. We’re welcomed to the dossier materials with a letter from FBI Regional Bureau Chief Gordon Cole to a special agent known only as “TP” until the very last page. The dossier was found in a locked box with margin notes from a mysterious character with a lot of government access known only as “The Archivist.”
Also worth seeking out is the audiobook version, featuring multiple original Peaks cast members reading in-character. There’s Coop, Hawk, Dr. Jacoby, and Jerry Horne as well as revival actor Robert Knepper. It’s a joy to listen to, but I still prefer the physical book and its hundreds of illustrations. The notes are also harder to follow without actually seeing the page layout.
And what The Archivist reveals is a deep dive into the malevolence of this tiny corner of America. The first record of Twin Peaks, Washington involves explorer Meriwether Lewis meeting a Nez Perce shaman and venturing into the Black Lodge, a location out of time and space (with some very iconic decor.) Let’s just say Lewis does not come back from the Black Lodge quite the same as when he entered. And he carries with him an iconic jade ring of unknown origin, engraved with the symbol of the Owl Cave. This ring will go on to become a plot point in Lynch’s prequel film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. But the ring must first travel across America for two centuries, worn on the hands of powerful and doomed men, from Chief Joseph to its last known bearer, Leland Palmer.
Another figure emerges that is as central to Twin Peaks as The Archivist: a rebellious young Air Force officer named Douglas Milford. In his old age, “Dougie” Milford was the publisher of Twin Peaks’ local newspaper and groom to a seductive, younger, red-haired witch in one of Twin Peaks‘ second season’s weirder storylines. But when we meet Milford in 1927, he’s haunted by memories of seeing a seven-foot-tall owl in the forest near his home and on a a fast track towards becoming the town drunk. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, he enlists in the Air Force and continues to get into trouble until he’s demoted and later transferred to… Roswell, New Mexico. In 1947. After witnessing the infamous crash site, Milford was assigned to investigate more and more UFO sightings, particularly around Washington State, a nexus of extraterrestrial and extra-dimensional activity.
He was the first Fox Mulder, the first Man in Black (not the kind on Westworld,) and, much like The X-Files itself, an ultimately tedious amount of The Secret History‘s time is dedicated to Milford’s UFO cross-examinations. At first I was deeply interested in this pseudo crossover material; it’s not only a history of Twin Peaks but also a catalog of America’s very real paranormal curiosities. There are sections devoted to Ray Palmer, editor of Amazing Stories magazine (no relation to Laura Palmer) and rocket scientist/general weirdo Jack Parsons, who seems to be a part of the cultural zeitgeist this year. Parsons, whose later years in California and his subsequent scandal with Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, is only barely fictionalized and I got a kick reading about Parson’s penchant for wearing a certain jade ring. President Nixon, too, came to wear that ring after Parsons’ death, but before the Watergate scandal broke. Did you know that Nixon and Honeymooners star Jackie Gleason met in secret and talked about aliens? Neither did I, but it really happened!
The only aspect of this UFO lore that felt actually relevant to Twin Peaks was the abduction of two local youths in 1947. One was Carl Rodd, played by Harry Dean Stanton in Fire Walk With Me and the other was Maggie Coulson, i.e. the future Mrs. Margaret Lanterman, i.e. The Log Lady. Whether it was actually aliens or the Back Lodge inhabitants that made these children disappear, we never know. And I love it. I also loved the notes taken by a doctor who examined Maggie once she reappeared in those cursed woods: Donna Hayward’s grandfather. Finally, the years directly before the TV series and movie are covered along with the town scions and local legends.
There’s the corrupt Horne and Packard families, the enterprising Renault family—those dastardly French-Canadians who brought drugs to Twin Peaks—the no-good Jennings, the aforementioned Hayward doctors, etc. Even the Jacoby brothers have their defining family trait, being intellectual by nature. One writes feature stories for the Twin Peaks Gazette, included here, and the other is known for coming back from a stay in Hawaii with a love for loud shirts, LSD, and trippy psychoanalytical treatises, also included here. Is Frost suggesting that dynasty has a destiny or is it just lazy world-building, like “Slytherin” being shorthand for “dark wizard?”
While some aspects of this filled-in backstory felt a little too clean, others added depth. The story behind The Log Lady’s log is as heartbreaking as you’d expect. Josie Packard’s autopsy report and criminal record in Hong Kong was even more frightening than we first guessed. Deputy Tommy “Hawk” Hill was finally given an actual tribal background—Nez Perce, like Chief Joseph—and a chapter written in his own voice that makes him seem much less generic. We even learn he’s a fan of gonzo journalism when we see a picture of the Bookhouse Boys’ actual bookshelf! (Definitely one of my favorite photo spreads in the novel.) Are you shocked to learn the lamest teenage heartthrob ever, James Hurley, has only read one book in his whole life? I feel validated for hating him now!
Some things fans will likely never get to know more about. Special Agent Phillip Jeffries, we learn, graduated at the top of his class with Gordon Cole. But we still can’t talk about Judy or where he went. And as Jeffries was so memorably played by David Bowie, we won’t get any closure in the revival either. Lots of the cast passed away since the series finale of Twin Peaks, including Lynch regular Jack Nance (bumbling Pete Martell,) The Log Lady, and Don S. Davis, who played Major Garland Briggs. Other cast members are very openly returning for the Showtime series, including Kyle MacLachlan and Sherilyn Fenn as fan fave Audrey Horne, all grown up. Thus, Frost had some extremely strict non-disclosure agreements to work around. We know Audrey and Dale are alive. But that’s it.
As a reviewer, I’m sympathetic, but as a fan I’m bummed we get so very little information on what’s been happening in Twin Peaks since 1991. By the book’s final big reveal—the identity of The Archivist and the name of the present-day special agent examining the dossier—does what it must: leaves readers asking even more questions. How many of these will be answered in 2017 remains to be seen. But I was left with a newfound interest in The Archivist and a powerful desire to re-watch Twin Peaks with the knowledge I now have.
Which is all to say, The Secret History of Twin Peaks has a not-so-mysterious motive: damn fine marketing.
The Secret History of Twin Peaks is available now from Flatiron Books.
Theresa DeLucci is a regular contributor to Tor.com, covering book reviews, gaming, and TV, including HBO’s Game of Thrones. She’s also discussed entertainment for Boing Boing, Den of Geek, and Wired.com’s Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy. She is a graduate of the 2008 Clarion West Writers’ workshop, and her short fiction has appeared in ChiZine. Follow her on Twitter.