Twin Peaks: The Forest of Symbols

Setting the screen for shows such as Picket Fences (1992-1996), The X-Files (1994-2003), Six Feet Under (2001-2005), Veronica Mars (2004-2007), Pushing Daisies (2007-2009), The Killing (2011-2013), and games like Alan Wake (2010), Mark Frost and David Lynch’s Twin Peaks (1990-1991) was easily the oddest hit show in television history. Set among the trees and mountains of my beloved Pacific Northwest, the show hosted themes of dangerous dreams, reckless teens, and the paranormal, parallel, and perpendicular. With recently debunked rumors of its return and a Blu-Ray release imminent, it’s time to go back into the woods.

The Black Lodge

How in the hell this show was ever a hit is one of its many mysteries. Twin Peaks invaded the living rooms of America just as the Zeitgeist was shaking off the awkward, neon discomfort of the 1980s. The world was “wild at heart and weird on top,” in the words of Barry Gifford, and even if everyone knew it, no one was saying it. We let Frost and Lynch make our unease explicit. Collective pre-millennium tension notwithstanding, our anxiety never really relented.

Incest and child molestation are as American as apple pie. Or should I rather say cherry pie, the dessert choice of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks? Leland Palmer is the all-American Dad if there ever was one, so it’s more than appropriate that he is the one to be possessed by the evil spirit BOB, and to rape and murder his daughter Laura. This deed is necessarily something of a ritual, the founding gesture of the American nuclear family. — Steven Shaviro, Doom Patrols

twin-peaks-guideRitual abounds in Twin Peaks. Its liminality, the “between and betwixt” of Arnold van Gennep and Victor Turner, is evident in Laura Palmer’s double life, “none-more-purposeful” (Neofetou, 2013, p. 77) Special Agent Dale Cooper’s limbo while investigating her death, the transubstantiation of BOB, and his toggling of Leland Palmer’s consciousness. The ephemeral existence of the Black Lodge is itself a flickering signifier of ritual. The coffee and doughnuts, the family dinner, even the recording and sending of messages are imbued with the gestures of ceremony.

The time of Twin Peaks wasn’t run by social media and cellphones. Secrets traveled via letters and landlines, diaries and cassette tapes. The latter of these played very important roles in the show and helped define the drama surrounding the two main characters. Laura Palmer’s secret diary and Special Agent Dale Cooper’s microcassettes respectively recorded the weaving mysteries of Laura’s short life and their postmortem unraveling. Both have been published as companions to the show. In addition, Frost and Lynch collaborated with Richard Saul Wurman to put together an Access Guide to the town of Twin Peaks. More than mere merchandising, these books prefigured the internet-enabled transmedia narrative of many 21st-century television shows.

Twin Peaks: Fan Phenomena

The newly published Fan Phenomena: Twin Peaks, edited by Marisa C. Hayes and Franck Boulègue (Intellect Books, 2013), expands the between and betwixt of Twin Peaks-inspired writings by fans and crtics alike. It’s the first such collection aimed at fans rather than academics. For instance, In his Fan Phenomena essay, Andrew Howe catalogs the cultural artifacts of the series: posters, coffee cups, dolls, sculptures, and so on, while David Griffith confronts the show’s misogynist aspects with waves of feminism, what Diana Hume George (1995) facetiously calls a “double-breasted approach”(p. 109). Fran Pheasant-Kelly explores the physical spaces of Twin Peaks, and there are three Fan Appreciation interludes in between the essays. It’s a must for any fan of the franchise. Fan Phenomena collections are also available for Star Wars, The Big Lebowski, Doctor Who, The Hunger Games, Marilyn Monroe, and Audrey Hepburn, among others.

Fan Phenomena: Twin Peaks is yet another testament to the lingering legacy of Frost and Lynch’s vision of fucked-up family life as well as the power of good television.


Frost, Scott. (1991). The Autobiography of F.B.I. Special Agent Dale Cooper: My Life, My Tapes. New York: Pocket Books.

George, Diana Hume. (1995). Lynching Women: A Feminist Reading of Twin Peaks. In, David Lavery (Ed.), Full of Secrets: Critical Approaches to Twin Peaks. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, pp 109-119.

Lynch, David, Frost, Mark, & Wurman, Richard Saul. (1991). Welcome to Twin Peaks: Access Guide to the Town. New York: Pocket Books/Twin Peaks Prod./Access Press.

Lynch, Jennifer. (1990). The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer. New York: Pocket Books.

Neofetou, Daniel. (2012). Good Day Today: David Lynch Destabilises the Spectator. Winchester, UK: Zero Books.

Shaviro, Steven. (1997). Doom Patrols: A Theoretical Fiction about Postmodernism. New York: Serpent’s Tail, p. 147.

Turner, Victor. (1967). The Forest of Symbols: Aspects of Ndembu Ritual. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Turner, Victor. (1969). The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure. New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

von Gennep, Arnold. (1961). The Rites of Passage. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.