Continuing my series on the various things that inspired and influenced me, I look today at Mark Frost and David Lynch’s seminal television series, Twin Peaks.
The Friday before Twin Peaks made its broadcast premiere in 1990, one of my college professors was excited. Despite having seen two of his films (Dune and The Elephant Man), I had never heard of David Lynch. My prof was excited due to Lynch’s reputation for weird material (Blue Velvet, Eraserhead) and couldn’t wait to see what he would bring to a television murder mystery. I was intrigued.
But I forgot to tune in.
The next morning, everyone was talking about it. Everyone had an opinion, good or bad, on this strange, new thing. This was the most buzzworthy television event I remembered since we all wondered who shot J.R.
I caught the rebroadcast and was instantly hooked. I’d never seen anything like “Peaks” with its strange characters, haunting music, and grim story line. When the third episode gave us the iconic dream with the dancing Little Man and people speaking backwards, I knew this was a very different show.
And I loved it. I watched every single episode as it aired, was crushed when it ended (although I could see it coming — ratings were tanking and so was the plot), was angered and thrilled at the cliffhanger series finale, and saw the film in the theater.
But as much as I dug Twin Peaks that wasn’t how it had a profound impact on my imaginative consciousness.
It was several years later when I noticed the show had been released to VHS. There was a boxed set of the whole series, but I couldn’t afford that. I had to buy the tapes one at a time, each containing four or five episodes.
This is where my Twin Peaks obsession really began. Probably because I had to collect the series, I paid close attention to virtually every development. I was binge-watching but only in regimented blocks.
But as a result of obsessively re-watching the show, I dug deeply into its mythos, its themes, and its style.
I sought out the ancillary material. I found a copy of Jennifer Lynch’s The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer and devoured it. It remains to this day the most frightening book I have ever read.
I got the other official materials — The Autobiography of Dale Cooper: My Life, My Tapes and Welcome to Twin Peaks. When a book of scholarly essays on Twin Peaks (Full of Secrets: Critical Approaches to Twin Peaks) came out, I bought it and read with passion.
And it was at this time Peaks’s signature surrealism started bleeding into my work. I ran a series of Vampire: The Masquerade campaigns in the early to mid-90’s, and they all featured strange otherworldly entities and trips to dream dimensions where clues were presented in the form of riddles.
In 1999, after working on it for three years, I published Heaven & Earth: A Role-Playing Game of Fate and Destiny. In it, I fused my two greatest obsessions, apocalyptic literature and Lynchian surrealism.
Set in the fictional town of Potter’s Lake, H&E was about the end of the world, and it featured possessing spirits like BOB, secretive magicians, ghosts, and angels and demons attempting to manipulate hapless mortals into choosing one side or the other. One reviewer said it looked like I was trying to reverse engineer what worked with Twin Peaks, and he was absolutely right.
In 2003, I began writing the novel that I would eventually publish as Little Red Riding Hoodie: A Modern Fairy Tale. While I had penned novels earlier in my life, this was when I actively began pursuing becoming an author.
It is perhaps no surprise, then, that my first book had heavy Twin Peaks influences. Sally, my protagonist, begins having strange dreams of giant dogs attempting to devour her. A mysterious, wolf-headed, cloaked figure makes regular appearances and becomes an antagonist. As the novel progresses, the images from Sally’s dreams manifest in reality.
To resolve the novel’s various conflicts, she must first pull a magical key (originally a ring) out of her dreams, and then use it to enter the parallel dimension she’s visited in her nightmares so she can at last defeat the monster.
The book becomes more and more Lynchian as it progresses, and it was digging into all the surtext of Twin Peaks years before that made it so.
LRRH is the seventh novel I’ve published, and it is by no means the only one with “Peaks” fingerprints. In the fourth Wolf Dasher adventure, Ghost of a Chance, the titular spirit visits Wolf in his dreams and gives him riddles to solve to help him catch the villain. The scene where he gets them is a direct homage to the Twin Peaks second season pilot, where The Giant appears to Cooper and tells him three things to help him solve the case. (There is another scene in GoaC, where the ghost appears to Wolf and uses The Giant’s line, “It is happening again.”)
In The Sword and the Sorcerer, my protagonist, Calibot, must enter his father’s tower to gain the powerful artifact, The Eye of the Dragon. The only way in is with the magical sword his deceased father has bequeathed him. Entering is more akin to breaching an other-dimensional portal than opening a door. Inside, the tower is a surreal landscape featuring non-Euclidean geometry, where getting from one room to the next requires solving magical puzzles.
And that’s only the surrealism. Twin Peaks’s theme that everyone has something to hide, that no one is innocent, plays through my work too. Few of my characters are pure. Most of them have some secret they guard, some motivation that makes them suspect.
I’ve seen most of Lynch’s films since really discovering his work in 1990, and his signature surreal horror shapes my thinking when I’m crafting the more disturbing scenes in my novels.
But it was Twin Peaks that really influenced me. A detective who used dreams to solve murders, a town full of people with secret crimes, an evil presence in the wilderness just outside town, secret societies, and strange creatures with unknown motivations lurk in my mind whenever I sit to write. Aside from Heaven & Earth, I’ve never written a direct adaptation of “Peaks,” but the specters of the show (coming back into style in 2016!) continue to infuse my imagination and create secret code in my fiction.
After all, the owls are not what they seem.