Wonderful and Strange: Twin Peaks — The Literary Tie-Ins

Twin Peaks first aired on April 8, 1990. The bizarre murder mystery, created by Mark Frost and acclaimed avant-garde filmmaker David Lynch, first centered on “Who killed Laura Palmer?” as a catalyst that ballooned into so much more. The show’s first season ran eight episodes and the second ran 22 before being canceled, and then there was a spinoff movie in 1992, Fire Walk With Me, that operated as both a prequel and a sequel to the series. But after that Twin Peaks was seemingly gone for good, leaving the cliffhanger of Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) being replaced by an evil doppelgänger without any closure. Strangely enough, however, the show ended up fulfilling the prophetic words of Laura Palmer to a baffled Cooper, in his dream about the Black Lodge, that she would see him again in 25 years. In May 2017, Twin Peaks: The Return did indeed return and was greeted with delight by fans of the series and Lynch enthusiasts in general, even if they were once again left flummoxed by the goings-on of a small Washington state town.

What served as cold comfort for fans of the franchise in those long years between seasons two and three were little-known tie-in novels. Five official Twin Peaks books, as well as one audio-only collection of Dale Cooper’s tapes, have been released since 1991. Of these six, four were released during season two of the show, from 1990 to 1991, while it was airing. One book was released in 2016, whetting the appetite of long-hungering fans. And one book was released toward the end of 2017, functioning as a bookend of sorts for the series. And although none of these provide all the answers to the many strange and troubling questions raised by the television series and film, and some of them even tease out more questions, they do help fans to dig themselves even deeper into the world Frost and Lynch created.

This writer is one of those fans, but this is a relatively recent occurrence. I had never seen an episode of Twin Peaks before six months ago, although I’m relatively familiar with David Lynch’s oeuvre. Dune, Blue Velvet, Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive, these all offer up a palpable overview of the man’s sensibilities, concerns and style. So, although I can’t say I ever really understand what’s going on in a Lynch movie, I figured Twin Peaks would be right up my alley. And although the early ‘90s aesthetic and format proved a bit jarring at first, the high school soap opera aspects can be obnoxious at times, and most of the second season is best left avoided, it did indeed prove to be my jam. And having mainlined the original 30 episodes, the movie and the 18 additional episodes The Return provides, I was left with an empty void that Twin Peaks filled, for however brief a time. With that in mind, on the one-year anniversary of The Return, the discovery of the show’s supplementary material provided a temporary salve that’s worth celebrating.

The first Twin Peaks book, The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer, was released just two weeks before the premiere of the second season on September 15, 1990. Written by David Lynch’s daughter Jennifer Lynch (now Chambers), it’s written as if it’s the real dairy of Laura Palmer from the show. The diary, and missing pages from it, prove to be a major plot point, even playing an important role in The Return. The slim read, at 192 pages, covers Laura’s thoughts from her 12th birthday in 1984 up to her death. It deals with the mundane, from relationships and school, to the growing darkness in her life, including her theories about the identity of the demonic BOB that laid clues for the revelation in the seventh episode of the second season.

Buy The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer (Twin Peaks Books) from Amazon.com

The next two releases, “Diane…” The Twin Peaks Tapes of Agent Cooper and The Autobiography of Special Agent Dale Cooper: My Life, My Tapes had close ties. Both were written by Scott Frost, the brother of Mark Frost, and deal with the character at the center of the show (other than Ms. Palmer herself, of course). The former, released on October 1, 1990, was audio-only and consisted of newly-recorded messages by MacLachlan, in-character as Cooper, along with tapes from the show, all addressed to his secretary Diane (who was finally introduced onscreen as played by Laura Dern in The Return). It covers just before the show and continues up to just after Cooper is shot and recovers at the start of season two. MacLachlan was actually nominated for a Grammy for best spoken-word performance for his work. The latter was released May 1, 1991, a little over a month before the show ended the first time, and functions as a collection of transcripts of Cooper’s tapes from his entire life. It starts when he’s 13 and relates his education, early years in the FBI including partnership with Windom Earle, and concludes when Cooper is assigned to the Palmer case.

Buy The Autobiography of F.B.I. Special Agent Dale Cooper: My Life, My Tapes from Amazon.com

A third spin-off book, Twin Peaks: An Access Guide to the Town, was released a little over a week before the show ended on June 1, 1991. It works as a parody of a traveler's guide book, functioning as an in-universe "Twin Peaks Chamber of Commerce" guide, and is illustrated with photographs, line drawings, and color maps. This includes a history of the Native Americans around the area, the backstory of the Packard Sawmill, a list of specials at the Double-R Diner and even character bios. 

Buy Twin Peaks: An Access Guide to the Town from Amazon.com

After a substantial gap of years, The Secret History of Twin Peaks arrived on October 29, 2016 as a dossier-style novel written by series co-creator Frost. This lead-up to the revival takes the form of documents, letters, clippings and notes, and explores bizarre happenings in the small town throughout its history. It analyzes the mysteries of the town, starting with the journals of Lewis and Clark, deals with Native American legend and UFO sightings, and builds up to the event of the second season. Much like The Final Dossier, it’s annotated by new character Special Agent Tammy Preston (played by Chrysta Bell on The Return), and even includes journal entries that tie up unresolved threads from the series. The audio book in particular is a treat as it features original cast members—Kyle MacLachlan, Russ Tamblyn, Michael Horse, Chris Mulkey and David Patrick Kelly—along with new actors Amy Shiels, Robert Knepper, James Morrison and even Mark Frost himself.

Buy The Secret History of Twin Peaks: A Novel from Amazon.com

Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier, also by Mark Frost, was released October 31, 2017 and functions as a follow-up to The Secret History of Twin Peaks and to the show itself. The novel is presented as being written by Special Agent Preston and is addressed directly to FBI Deputy Director Gordon Cole (a recurring character from the show’s original incarnation and The Return, played by David Lynch himself). It fills in details of the 25 years between the second and third seasons, and expands on some of the mysteries raised in the new episodes. For instance, Audrey’s ambiguous and seemingly arbitrary subplot that flashes to her screaming into a mirror suddenly is possibly answered by the book when it’s implied she’s been put into a mental hospital. And characters like Donna that don’t play into The Return at all are provided fully fleshed-out stories that provide a bit of finality. Unfortunately, Chrysta Bell doesn’t reprise her role for the audio book, but Annie Wershing (24) does the character justice.

There is a chance, in fact, that The Final Dossier will be the last bit of new material from Twin Peaks and the farthest along this timeline the story will ever proceed. It takes place in the immediate aftermath of the show, and David Lynch apparently announced at a Twin Peaks: The Return “For Your Consideration” event on May 2, that also featured Kyle MacLachlan and Laura Dern, that “This is the ending. It’s right there. You all just saw the ending.” The book does offer up the curious instance of Preston realizing some of the material she has written is either changing or fading. This ties directly into the events that end the series, and while it certainly helps cement the strange phenomena that Agent Cooper experiences in those last few episodes, it doesn’t really clear any questions up.

Buy Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier from Amazon.com


This brings us to the question of validity. In the end, all of these books are essentially the Twin Peaks expanded universe, and expanded universes have been known to be superseded or negated entirely by later, more relevant material. In most of those cases, such as with the original Star Wars books and comics and video games, there is an expectation that there won't be any more episodes or movies. These Twin Peaks books, however, were produced either during the show or in coordination with the show and its creators. There’s also the fact that most expanded universes are written by authors that aren’t directly affiliated with the source material, but these writers have close ties. There’s family, in the case of Jennifer Lynch and Scott Frost, or the creators themselves in the case of Mark Frost.

And most importantly, the books are presented as intradiegetic material, meaning they exist within the universe of Twin Peaks. The popular term for this that has caught on in fandom is Watsonian, as opposed to Doylist. This is, of course, in reference to the original Sherlock Holmes books written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but always with the framing that the books exist in-universe as written by Holmes’s companion Dr. John Watson.

As a newcomer to the series, my experience with Twin Peaks is a little different than others. I had access to the entirety of the show all at once as it was already over. So I wasn’t left with the agonizing cliffhanger from season two for years and years. If I had been, supplementary material like these books, especially the lifeline of The Secret History of Twin Peaks, might have been a flickering candle in the darkness. As is, I appreciate that they’ve helped to extend the experience just a little bit longer, and help me feel even more immersed into the strangely alluring world that Frost and Lynch crafted over almost three decades.

Image of Twin Peaks: A Limited Event Series [Blu-ray]
Director: David Lynch
Starring: Kyle MacLachlan
Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Bart Bishop

Column by Bart Bishop

A professor once told Bart Bishop that all literature is about "sex, death and religion," tainting his mind forever. A Master's in English later, he teaches college writing and tells his students the same thing, constantly, much to their chagrin. He’s also edited two published novels and loves overthinking movies, books, the theater and fiction in all forms at such varied spots as CHUD, Bleeding Cool, CityBeat and Cincinnati Magazine. He lives in Cincinnati, Ohio with his wife and daughter.

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