The Secret History of BOB: Transmedia Storytelling and Twin Peaks
by Mark Yates
Abstract: [page 148] This article investigates the ways in which the transmedia epitexts of Twin Peaks—which include tie-in books, audio cassettes, collector’s cards, websites, and video featurettes—contributed to the development of Twin Peaks’ supernatural mythology. By focusing on the series’ supernatural antagonist, BOB, it argues that the epitextual media not only fulfilled its paratextual function of presenting and commenting on Twin Peaks but also expanded and complicated the show’s supernatural mythology through its uses of transmedia storytelling. Applying Gérard Genette’s paratextual methodologies and Henry Jenkins’ concept of transmedia storytelling to explore the transmedia epitexts of Twin Peaks, this article considers the ways in which these epitexts expanded upon the show’s supernatural mythologies to such an extent that the majority of their mysteries have remained unacknowledged within the show’s canon. Exploring these unacknowledged mysteries reveals a transmedia storytelling strategy that not only promoted Twin Peaks but also created an immersive narrative experience that both reinforced and complicated the show’s supernatural mythologies.
Keywords: epitextuality, intertextuality, paratextuality, trans-mediality
Over the course of twenty-eight years, Twin Peaks has evolved into a cult franchise whose creative content stretches across a variety of different media: television shows, a film, tie-in books, collector’s cards, audiobooks, a board game, websites, a hotline, advertisements, and video featurettes. This extra-canonical media not only fulfils its paratextual function of presenting and commenting on Twin Peaks but also expands and complicates the show’s supernatural mythology through its uses of transmedia storytelling. Twin Peaks’ epitexts expand upon the show’s supernatural mythologies to such an extent that the majority of [page 149] their mysteries—many of which center on BOB’s (Frank Silva) history—have remained unacknowledged within the Twin Peaks canon. Exploring these unacknowledged mysteries reveals a transmedia storytelling strategy that not only promotes Twin Peaks but also creates an immersive narrative experience that both reinforces and complicates the show’s supernatural mythologies.
Co-created by David Lynch and Mark Frost, Twin Peaks was pitched to ABC in 1988 and premiered on television in April of 1990. The Twin Peaks canon is usually considered to be made up of seasons one and two of Twin Peaks (1990-1991), Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992), and Twin Peaks: The Return (2017) only. These texts have assumed canonical status as a result of the direct involvement of Lynch in each project. Indeed, according to Andreas Halskov, Twin Peaks “was marketed almost exclusively as a product of David Lynch’s mind” (TV Peaks 54). Consequently, it is only Lynch’s credited works that have achieved canonical status.
Importantly, however, Twin Peaks has—since its inception—been a collaborative franchise, the contents of which have been produced by a number of alternative writers and directors.1 For instance, during seasons one and two, Twin Peaks utilized a total of twelve directors and six writers in addition to Lynch and Frost, each of whom, according to Frost, made “some great contributions” (qtd. in Dukes 55). Moreover, the writing credits to Twin Peaks’ feature-length film, Fire Walk with Me, are attributed to both Lynch and Robert Engels, notably without the input of Frost. For that reason, when exploring Twin Peaks, it is necessary to acknowledge the ways in which a range of individuals have contributed to the development of Twin Peaks’ supernatural mythologies and, perhaps more importantly, how these individuals—alongside Lynch and Frost—have shaped the reception and understanding of those mythologies by contemporaneous audiences.
The collaborative nature of Twin Peaks is especially apparent in regards to the transmedia content that surrounds the core entries in the series. No doubt, following the success of season one of Twin [page 150] Peaks, audiences were given access to a series of tie-in books and audiobooks which, while endorsed and overseen by Lynch and Frost, were written exclusively by individuals other than the co-creators. Of the initial merchandising of Twin Peaks between seasons one and two of the show—which began with the publication of Twin Peaks’ first tie-in book, Jennifer Lynch’s The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer (1990)—Frost recalls,
I had fond memories of some merchandise from shows I liked from the sixties. I got a briefcase from The Man from U.N.C.L.E. that was my proudest possession as a little kid and I just thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we could create some stuff that people really liked?’ So the book [The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer] became the first idea we developed. (qtd. in Dukes 51)
The success of The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer, which resulted in the work reaching number four on The New York Times paperback fiction best seller list, encouraged the co-creators to endorse the further merchandising of Twin Peaks. Consequently, The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer was followed by Scott Frost’s “Diane. . .” The Twin Peaks Tapes of Agent Cooper (1990), which earned Kyle MacLachlan a nomination for a Grammy Award. The following year, and succeeding the finale of season two of Twin Peaks, two books were published: Scott Frost’s The Autobiography of FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper: My Life, My Tapes (1991) and Richard Saul Wurman’s Twin Peaks: Access Guide to the Town (1991).
Collectively, these tie-in books—according to the promotional phrases used on their covers—promised to offer a “unique insight into Twin Peaks”(Frost Autobiography) by providing “important clues to the identity of her [Laura’s] killer” (Jennifer Lynch) and helping readers to “re-experience the mystery of Twin Peaks in an all new way” (Frost Diane). This advertising claims that the tie-in books introduce some clues about Twin Peaks not included in the show, contributing to readers’ understanding of the mythologies that underpinned Twin Peaks. Further, the contents of these tie-in books also introduce some mysteries of their own, many of which would [page 151] later be explored within the Twin Peaks canon itself.2 This feedback loop, of tie-in books referring to the canon and the canon referring to its tie-in books, functions through what might be described as the paratextual effects of transmedia storytelling.
Gérard Genette’s paratextual methodologies and Henry Jenkins’ concept of transmedia storytelling, each of which—when considered together—elucidate the narrative functions of Twin Peaks’ transmedia content. Genette defines the paratext as a “threshold” that exists “between the inside and the outside” of the text. The paratext is “always the conveyor of a commentary that is authorial or more or less legitimated by the author” (Genette 2). This increased authoriality materializes in a “number of verbal or other productions, such as an author’s name, a title, a preface,” each of which constitutes “the work’s paratext” (1). The function of the paratext is to exert an influence that shapes how the reader receives the text. Genette defines the desired effect of this influence as the paratextual message. Paratextual messages are transferred to the audience through what Genette describes as the peritext, which is concerned with the materiality of the text and includes “the cover, the title page, and their appendages” in addition to the work’s “material construction” (16), and the epitext, which Genette defines as “any paratextual element not materially appended to the text within the same volume but circulating, as it were, freely, in a virtually limitless physical and social space” (344). Epitexts can include promotional materials in “newspapers and magazines, radio or television programs, lectures and colloquia” (344-45). Taken together, the peritext and the epitext work to transfer a paratextual message to the audience that ensures the text is consumed in a way “consistent with the author’s purpose” (407).
Genette’s understanding of the paratext focuses on literature exclusively. However, Cornelia Klecker argues that “the distinction between peritexts and epitexts can be easily transferred to film and used as a descriptive device. Titles, subtitles, and title sequences fulfil the characteristics of peritextual elements and film posters and trailers belong to the category of epitexts” (404). These [page 152] paratextual elements “form a contract with the audience and establish expectations” (406). They do so because “paratexts heavily influence, even guide, the reading of texts” (411). Similarly, the creators of the media that contributes to a transmedia storytelling experience work “to shape our interpretations,” demanding “that we do research before we arrive at the theatre” (Jenkins 127, 106). Therefore, the ideas that inform the concept of paratexts can be extended to include the extra-canonical media produced as a part of a transmedia franchise.
Extra-canonical content—that is, texts not appended to the primary medium—can be considered as epitexts because of the ways in which these transmedia extensions promote and shape interpretations of the core text. Indeed, according to Jason Mittell, transmedia franchises problematize “the hierarchy between text and paratext, for in the most ideally balanced example, all texts would be equally weighted, rather than one being privileged as ‘text’ while others serve as supporting ‘paratexts’” (294). However, because “the financial realities demand that the core medium of any franchise be identified and privileged” (294), extra-canonical texts are usually considered to be secondary to the core entries of a series, assuming the paratextual roles of epitexts. Mittell concludes that it is
useful to distinguish between . . . balanced transmedia, with no one medium or text serving a primary role over others, with the more commonplace model of unbalanced transmedia, with a clearly identifiable core text and a number of peripheral transmedia extensions that might be more or less integrated into the narrative whole, acknowledging that most examples fall somewhere on a spectrum between balanced and unbalanced. (294)
The transmedia storytelling of Twin Peaks, then, seems to offer an example of unbalanced transmedia, within which the canonical entries in the series—seasons one and two of Twin Peaks, Fire Walk with Me, and The Return—are privileged as the core text. The media that is external to the core entries in the franchise, on the other [page 153] hand, might be considered as epitexts because of their paratextual abilities to influence and guide readings of the Twin Peaks canon, irrespective of their consumption being an optional choice on the part of the viewer.
Henry Jenkins coined the term transmedia storytelling and defined it as a story that “unfolds across multiple media platforms, with each new text making a distinctive and valuable contribution to the whole” (97-98). A “good transmedia franchise,” Jenkins argues, works “to attract multiple constituencies by pitching the content somewhat differently in the different media” (98). As an example, Jenkins offers The Matrix (1999-2005) franchise:
The Matrix is three movies and more. There is, for example, The Animatrix (2003), a ninety-minute program of short animated films, set in the world of The Matrix. . . . The Matrix is also a series of comics from cult writers and artists. . . . The Matrix is also two games. . . . The consumer who has played the game or watched the shorts will get a different experience of the movies than one who has simply had the theatrical experience. The whole is worth more than the sum of the parts. (103-04)
A transmedia storytelling experience offers a series of stories that, while being set within the same fictional world, are portrayed in different forms of media. Each contribution to the transmedia franchise can be consumed in isolation or, importantly, can function as an entry point to the series, being used as a means to contribute to the audience’s accumulated experience and understanding of the franchise as a whole. Jenkins acknowledges that “there are strong economic motives behind transmedia storytelling,” resulting in both successful and unsuccessful transmedia franchises. In his view, “the most successful transmedia franchises have emerged when a single creator or creative unit maintains control” (108); an unsuccessful transmedia franchise, on the other hand, “typically generates works that are redundant (allowing no new character background or plot development), watered down (asking the new media to slavishly duplicate [page 154] experiences better achieved through the old), or riddled with sloppy contradictions (failing to respect the core consistency audiences expect within a franchise)” (107).
The success of the transmedia storytelling strategies employed in Twin Peaks are varied: while a single creative unit did maintain control of the epitextual content—namely, Lynch and Frost—a number of contradictions between the tie-in content and the Twin Peaks canon have been identified by both fans and scholars.3 For that reason, according to Halskov, the epitexts released during seasons one and two of Twin Peaks should be considered “as an early experiment with transmedia storytelling” (TV Peaks 167). Twin Peaks can be treated as an early experiment because it was not conceived of as a transmedia franchise from the beginning.
Instead, its expansion into alternative forms of media was probably driven by the economic potential of its growing popularity with contemporaneous audiences. Mittell, while exploring the economic motivations of transmedia storytelling, argues:
Even as television’s industrial structures shift toward more flexible measures of audience practices and engagement, the emphasis still remains on generating high ratings to generate the majority of revenues to fund both television and its associated forays into transmedia storytelling. The industrial edict to protect and strengthen the core business of watching commercial television creates a creative imperative as well: any television-based transmedia must protect the ‘mothership.’ . . . For the industry, some transmedia extensions might provide an additional revenue stream, but their primary function is to drive viewers back to the television series. (295)
Clearly, then, there are strong economic motivations for a network to expand a television show into a transmedia franchise. This motivation has resulted in a form of transmedia storytelling that Marie-Laure Ryan describes as a “snowball effect,” in which “certain stories enjoy so much popularity, or become culturally so [page 155] prominent, that they spontaneously generate a variety of either same-medium retellings or crossmedia illustrations and adaptations” (2). Therefore, the transmedia content produced during seasons one and two of Twin Peaks might be considered an early example of the snowball effect of transmedia storytelling: that is, while Lynch and Frost only marketed “things that captured the spirit of the show” and refused to be associated with any products that were “too commercial,” Twin Peaks’ epitexts were still generated as a result of the economic motivations of the show’s network (Dukes 153).
Following the cancellation of Twin Peaks in 1991 and the release of Fire Walk with Me in 1992, the Twin Peaks franchise remained mostly dormant until 2014 when Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery was released. The Entire Mystery included two pieces of tie-in media: The Missing Pieces (2014), which was made up of ninety-one minutes of unused footage from Fire Walk with Me, and Between Two Worlds (2014), a short video featurette that saw Sheryl Lee, Ray Wise, and Grace Zabriskie reprise their roles as Laura Palmer, Leland Palmer, and Sarah Palmer respectively. Soon after, Showtime announced that Twin Peaks would return as a limited event series which, following some delays, premiered in 2017. To coincide with The Return, three tie-in texts were released: Frost’s The Secret History of Twin Peaks (2016), which was published prior to The Return, the Search for the Zone (2017) website, which was launched during The Return, and Frost’s Twin Peaks: the Final Dossier (2017), which was published after The Return. The transmedia content that surrounded The Return, from The Missing Pieces to The Final Dossier, encouraged Halskov to argue that “Twin Peaks has gone from being an example of snowball transmedia to real transmedia” (“Individual Fingerprints” 6). Further, while discussing the idea of transmedia storytelling with Frost, Halskov asked, “Would it be fair to say that Twin Peaks, today, exemplifies a more strategic or conscious kind of transmedia storytelling?,” to which Frost responded, “I think Showtime is much more forward-thinking, and they completely get the show and the transmedial world of Twin Peaks” (7). The [page 156] narratives that make up the “transmedia puzzle” of the Twin Peaks franchise have, therefore, been produced both indirectly, through the snowball effect of early transmedia storytelling, and directly as a result of a more comprehensive understanding of contemporaneous approaches to transmedia storytelling during The Return (Halskov TV Peaks 168).
Genette’s ideas about the semi-official allographic epitext and the public authorial epitext can both be used to categorize the transmedia content of Twin Peaks. According to Genette, the semiofficial allographic epitext is “more or less ‘authorised’ by some authorial assent or even inspiration,” being “somewhat ‘remote-controlled’ by authorial instructions” (348). The tie-in content produced to promote Twin Peaks can be considered semi-official allographic epitexts. For example, the media released during seasons one and two of Twin Peaks, while not created by either of the show’s co-creators, were authorized by both Lynch and Frost at the time that they were released, guided by “authorial instructions.” Frost stated, “The promise we made to ourselves was that we didn’t want to do anything that was schlocky or cheesy, only things that captured the spirit of the show. We personally reviewed every product we were going to be associated with and I was certainly happy with what we came up with” (qtd. in Dukes 153). Lynch’s and Frost’s authorizations of Twin Peaks merchandise means that this transmedia content can, to varying degrees, be considered semi-official allographic epitexts.
Interviews with the authors of the tie-in books produced during the nineties have revealed that the involvement of the co-creators in the compositions of these works was extremely limited, but, at the same time, the co-creators did offer some guidance as a part of the collaboration. Indeed, Scott Frost claimed that he wrote “Diane. . .” and My Life, My Tapes because he “was the only body left standing at that moment. Everybody else was furiously trying to do the show,” meaning that he could only discuss the works “with David [Lynch] for a morning” (qtd. in Thorne “Risk Taker” 16-17). Likewise, Jennifer Lynch, while discussing the composition [page 157] of The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer (1990), recalled that Lynch and Frost “basically said, ‘Here’s who killed her, and you know the story, and now you write that diary,’ and I was given total freedom. . . . I’m still not sure my father’s read the entire [diary]” (qtd. in Bushman 9-10). The primary author of Twin Peaks: An Access Guide (1991), Wurman, shared a similar experience:
David and Mark—they didn’t have anything to do with it. I mean, he [Lynch] took some of the photos but it was really . . . difficult getting things out of him but then some of the writers all contributed ideas of what we could . . . research and write. . . . Most of them came out of Michael Everett and myself. . . . We just made up our own things. (qtd. in Durrant)
More often than not, it is only the tie-in books and audiobooks that are considered to be a part of the transmedia storytelling of Twin Peaks. However, there are additional forms of media that have been used in the promotion of Twin Peaks—including collector’s cards, board games, websites, and video featurettes—and it is necessary to acknowledge that these media have also contributed to the transmedia experience of the franchise, functioning as semi-official allographic epitexts.
The co-creators of Twin Peaks have also participated in what Genette describes as the public authorial epitext. This type of epitext “is always, by definition, directed at the public in general, even if never actually reaches more than a limited portion of that public.” It “may be autonomous and, as it were, spontaneous,” “mediated by the initiative and intervention of a questioner or interlocutor, as is the case in interviews and conversations” (Genette 352). Both of the co-creators of Twin Peaks—in addition to other writers such as Engels and Harley Peyton who made considerable contributions to the franchise—have participated in the public authorial epitext, usually in the form of an interview. For instance, Frost’s contribution to Reddit’s Ask Me Anything series offered some additional contextual information about several characters from Twin Peaks.4 However, the mediation involved in [page 158] interviews, along with the spontaneity of answers, can result in some problems in terms of the authoriality of the given information. Indeed, according to Genette, the public authorial epitext is
most often an epitext that is mediated, and doubly mediated: by the situation of interlocution, in which to a certain extent the questions determined the responses, and by the process of transmission, which gives the intermediary and the media apparatus on which he depends a sometimes very important role in the ultimate formulation of the ‘recorded remarks,’ depriving the author proportionally of control over his discourse—but not absolving him completely of responsibility. (356)
In other words, public authorial epitexts signal a lack of authorial control but, at the same time, these epitexts maintain authoriality as a result of these epitexts being generated from the author specifically.
Taken together, the semi-official allographic epitexts and the public authorial epitexts of Twin Peaks have, through their authorizations by both Lynch and Frost, contributed to the ways in which audiences have consumed and understood the transmedia world of Twin Peaks. By offering a case study that focuses on the supernatural history of BOB, I will demonstrate the ways in which the epitextual media of Twin Peaks has shaped audiences’ interpretations of this mysterious antagonist. Within the Twin Peaks canon, audiences were presented with a chronologically confused account of BOB’s history, beginning with BOB’s appearances in dreams or visions in Twin Peaks in 1989 and concluding with the possible creation of BOB during a nuclear test in New Mexico in 1945. It is clear that these revelations about BOB were disclosed slowly as a result of the circumstantial nature of BOB’s inclusion in Twin Peaks. At the same time, the gradual unveiling of BOB’s history contributed to the mysterious characterization of this uncanny antagonist, prompting contemporaneous audiences to seek out more information about the individual who murdered [page 159] Laura Palmer. Twin Peaks’ epitextual content, as a part of its transmedia storytelling strategy, fulfilled this desire, providing readers with additional information which—albeit indirectly—fleshed out the supernatural mythology of BOB’s origins. By exploring the relationships between part eight of The Return and a number of Twin Peaks’ epitexts, I will demonstrate the ways in which Twin Peaks’ epitextual media provided a contextual background for audiences that extended the canonical narratives of Twin Peaks.
In part eight of The Return, titled “Gotta Light?,” viewers witness the possible creation of BOB during a nuclear test in New Mexico in 1945. Following a performance by The Nine Inch Nails at the Roadhouse, viewers are shown a barren landscape—presented in black and white—which, from a peritextual subtitle, is identified as “WHITE SANDS, NEW MEXICO,” on “JULY 16, 1945,” at “5:29 AM (MWT).” Within the landscape, the first nuclear weapon, codenamed Trinity, explodes. What follows is an experimental tapestry of images that leads to the Experiment, later identified as Judy in part seventeen of The Return, vomiting a white, viscous liquid. The liquid contains a black orb that houses the uncanny visage of BOB. John Thorne writes, “Ostensibly, this scene depicts Bob’s introduction to the world, showing where he came from and how he found his way to Earth. The narrative in part 8 implies that the power of the atomic explosion opened a door for Bob to pass through—and he did. Some have inferred this is Bob’s origin.” Importantly, however, Thorne concludes: “But that’s only one reading. We don’t know what is happening with Bob at this point” (“Drop the Big One Now” 14). In other words, while the atomic explosion in part eight of The Return documents the earliest chronological appearance of BOB within the Twin Peaks canon, the show does not confirm whether or not this appearance is presenting the creation of BOB. The epitextual content that surrounds Twin Peaks, however, can offer some insight.
Several references to BOB appear within the transmedia story of Twin Peaks. However, the origins of BOB as a part of the Trinity [page 160] test in 1945 are not mentioned explicitly. One of the few texts that refer to BOB’s origins with some specificity is the Twin Peaks Star Pics Cards, released in April of 1991. The Star Pics Cards, according to Mike Duffy, “faithfully pay tribute to the dizzy ‘Twin Peaks’ spirit,” and are directed towards “hopelessly devoted fans of ‘Twin Peaks.’” While the authority of the Star Pics Cards might be debatable, the cards function as semi-official allographic epitexts because they were authorized but not written by the co-creators of Twin Peaks. Indeed, during an interview in anticipation of the release of the Star Pics Cards, the media and advertising director at Star Pics, Julie Yolles, claimed that, “when we approached them, David Lynch and Mark Frost thought it was the greatest idea. . . . A lot of thinking went into this project to make it as creative as possible. Lynch-Frost Productions wanted to ensure that the cards captured the essence of what ‘Twin Peaks’ represents. Especially the quirkiness” (qtd. in Duffy). The fifty-eighth card of the Star Pics Cards focuses on BOB. Under strengths, BOB states that he is “able to inhabit human souls and, through them, act out evil. Punishment is the only acceptable form of retribution.” The only weakness listed by BOB is that he “cannot possess everyone.” Interestingly, under accomplishments, BOB reveals that he has “survived as long as man has been on earth.” His date of birth is listed as “from the beginning of time.” While contradictions between the Star Pics Cards and the Twin Peaks canon are plenty, additional transmedia epitexts support the idea that BOB, in some form, existed before the atomic blast in New Mexico.
The epitextual media that surrounds the core entries of Twin Peaks complicates the argument that part eight of The Return depicted the creation of BOB. Frost’s The Secret History, for instance, made several references to both the atomic bomb and White Sands, suggesting that BOB’s mythology was already established before 1945. Indeed, Peyton argued that “Part 8 (of the series) really seems to come right out of the book in a weird way” (qtd. in Grevas). The Secret History, then, can be used as a key to unlock the mysterious functions of the atomic explosion in part [page 161] eight of The Return, revealing its complex role in the supernatural mythologies of Twin Peaks. The shared histories of BOB, Judy, and The Fireman (Carel Struycken)—each of whom were present at or witnessed the detonation of the bomb—hint at how and why BOB appeared in the blast.
In a transcribed conversation between Douglas Milford (Tony Jay) and Jack Parsons in The Secret History, readers learned about the importance of White Sands as “a perfect medium” for summoning “messengers of the gods.” Frost writes,
JP: We saw things that maybe men aren’t supposed to see.
DM: Where was this?
JP: Out in the desert. The desert’s a perfect medium for summoning . . . an empty canvas, a beaker into which, under certain circumstances and with fearless rigor, you can create an elixir that will call forth . . . call them what you will . . . messengers of the gods . . .
DM: (I laughed nervously) Wow. What does that look like?
JP: Oh, they assume many forms. The grays, for instance. You know, Zeta Reticulans.
(Continues) The tall ones, now, the Nordic types, they’re different. More benign. Some say they’ve always been here. Supposedly they come from the Dog Star. . . .
JP: Ever been to Roswell?
DM: Roswell, New Mexico? As a matter of fact, I have.
JP: We were near there. In the desert. A place they call Jornada del Muerto.
DM: That’s near White Sands, isn’t it? . . . That’s where they tested the bomb. (254-55)
During this exchange, Parsons identifies the desert of White Sands as an “empty canvas” which—through the use of “an elixir” or, more specifically, an atomic weapon—can be used to “summon” two types of “messenger”: “the grays,” otherwise known as “Zeta Reticulans,” and “the tall ones . . . the Nordic types.” Neither messenger appears to correspond to BOB. However, further sections from The Secret History strongly suggest that the Grays refer [page 162] to Judy’s race and the Nordic types refer to The Fireman’s race of Giants. Indeed, during a meeting with Richard Nixon, Milford documents his first encounter with one of the Grays, the appearance of whom corresponds with the visual depiction of Judy in both part one and part eight of The Return. Milford describes,
We were looking into a very dimly lit room that appeared to be empty. Then, in roughly the center of the room, I realized a shape, small and pale, appeared to be sitting or squatting, turned away from us, showing only a grayish-greenish-white spiny back. Then it disappeared entirely. Moments later it reappeared, as if a concealing shadow—or magician’s cape—had simply passed over it. . . . I wasn’t exactly sure of what I saw, beyond a vivid impression of large oval black eyes, pinched to the point of non-existent mouth and nose, and a smooth bulbous head. Then it was gone. (Frost, The Secret History 293)
It is likely, then, that Judy is one of the Grays. Similarly, the description of “the tall ones” offered by Parsons—and, indeed, by Milford in his youth—corresponds with the appearance of The Fireman throughout both Twin Peaks and The Return. The motivations of and relationships between the Grays and the Giants are, therefore, important to consider because both of these races were present during BOB’s appearance in the nuclear blast.
The Secret History makes a number of references to both the Grays and the Giants. For example, Milford’s journal entry from 1958 details a series of rumored meetings between alien races and President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the contents of which indirectly suggest the motivations of both the Grays and the Giants.5 Milford states that the first meeting, which took place at Holloman Air Force Base, was between Eisenhower, whose “Lockheed Super Constellation” had landed on “a closed far runway,” and the Giants, whose craft had landed nearby. Although “no eyewitness directly verifies the rumor that personnel from one craft then entered the other. . . . One wild report that something was exchanged—referred to in one confidential memo as ‘The Yellow [page 163] Book.’ Reported to be advanced technological ‘viewer’ that displayed pictures of objects in deep space” (Frost, The Secret History 274-76). The “advanced technological ‘viewer’” would later be seen in part eight of The Return where it is used by The Fireman, in 1945, to observe BOB’s appearance in the atomic blast. Milford’s journal entry also highlights the Giants’ concerns about nuclear weapons: “One source says Ike rejected ‘offer’—these ‘Nordic types’ apparently made their offer contingent on U.S. giving up nukes” (276). Clearly, this “offer” was the result of the events depicted in part eight of The Return, wherein a relationship is established between the detonation of atomic weapons, Judy, and BOB—the latter of whom is positioned as an adversary to the Giants when The Fireman, during the second season of Twin Peaks, helps Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) to unmask Laura’s killer. After meeting with the Giants, Eisenhower had a “second meeting” with the Grays “who made no such demands and offered their tech in exchange for access to ‘genetic material.’ That source says second offer accepted” (276). The technology offered to Eisenhower by the Grays is not specified, nor are the reasons why the Grays desire access to genetic material.
While part eight of The Return does establish an intimate relationship between BOB and the Grays, the nature of this relationship remains unclear. The Final Dossier explores this relationship with more specificity, suggesting that both BOB and Judy, as one of the Grays, originated at the same source, sharing a history that predated 1945. During Tamara Preston’s (Chrysta Bell) investigation into Phillip Jeffries’ (David Bowie) pursuit of the individual named Judy—as referenced in the canonical Fire Walk with Me—Tamara “discovered something . . . carved into the wall of his [Jeffries’] former Buenos Aires hotel room, near the phone, beneath a layer of new wallpaper that was added in 1997. It appeared to be the same name, but the spelling was different: Joudy” (Frost, The Final Dossier 121). The altered spelling of Judy is significant, and relevant to the exploration of BOB, because [page 164]
Joudy, it turns out, is also the name of an ancient entity in Sumerian mythology. (This dates back to at least 3000 B.C.) The name was used to describe a species of wandering demon—also generically known as an utukku—that had ‘escaped from the underworld’ and roamed freely throughout the earth, where they feasted on human flesh and, allegedly, ripped souls from their victims, which provided even more meaningful nourishment. They particularly thrived while feeding—and I quote—’on human suffering.’ These beings were said to appear in both male and female forms—’Joudy’ indicated the female, and the male was known as ‘Ba’al’—and, while they were considered beyond dangerous individually, if a male and a female ever united while on the earth, the ancient texts claimed, their resulting ‘marriage’ would create something far more perilous. As in: the end of the world as we know it. A few centuries later, Ba’al becomes better known, in both Christian and Islamic sources, as ‘Beelzebub,’ a false god, or, as he’s known more generally and generically today, the devil. (121-22)
Here, in an extract that builds on Gordon Cole’s (David Lynch) revelation about Judy in part seventeen of The Return, Tamara reveals the history of not only Judy but also of BOB. She states that Joudy “is also the name of an ancient entity” or “wandering demon” who fed “on human suffering,” nodding towards the ways in which the inhabitants of the Black Lodge consume garmonbozia: that is, a form of spiritual energy—depicted through the symbol of creamed corn—which is generated from the pain and sorrow of humanity. Further, Tamara also documents that, in the same way that the name of Joudy was modernized into Judy, the name of Ba’al was modernized into Beelzebub. It seems possible, then, that the name of Beelzebub was later modernized even further, being shortened to just one syllable and replacing one vowel with another, transforming Beelzebub into BOB.6 Therefore, from Tamara’s research, it can be concluded that both BOB and [page 165] Judy—or, in the very least, their species of Grays—did predate the atomic blast in 1945.7
The historical accounts of BOB and Judy offered in both the Star Pics Cards and The Final Dossier extend the narratives presented about the histories of these characters in the canonical entries of Twin Peaks. Similarly, through the transcribed conversations between Milford and Parsons, The Secret History advances the claim that the desert, specifically White Sands in New Mexico, might have been used as a canvas to summon rather than to create. Taken together, these epitexts complicate the argument that the Trinity test resulted in the creation of these supernatural beings, indirectly proposing that the atomic blast—whether intentionally or not—functioned as a gateway through which BOB and, possibly, Judy travelled to New Mexico.8 The location of BOB’s and Judy’s origin in time and space, however, remains unclear.9 Thus, while it is clear that the epitextual content of Twin Peaks worked to extend the narratives presented in the canonical entries of the franchise, these epitexts also embraced the irresolution that—over the course of three television seasons and a film—became integral to the narrative structures of the series. Together they showcase a transmedia storytelling strategy faithful to the approaches of its core texts.
The transmedia content created to promote Twin Peaks has, through its paratextual influence, shaped and guided audience interpretation, establishing a series of expectations which—while not always fulfilled—have extended and complicated the supernatural mythologies at the heart of Twin Peaks. Epitextual media such as the Star Pics Cards, The Secret History, and The Final Dossier interact with the canonical entries of Twin Peaks, equipping audiences with the knowledge needed to both anticipate and question the information presented to them on screen: while no definitive conclusions can be made, the contextual information offered in these epitexts result in audiences being aware of the importance of the atomic bomb in White Sands before its inclusion in The Return. Further, these epitexts also explore the relationships [page 166] between BOB and Judy with a level of specificity not included in the canonical entries of Twin Peaks, revealing that both of these entities were a part of the same ancient and possibly alien species. Epitextual media—while an optional source of information on the part of the viewer—is central to the understanding of the supernatural mythologies of the franchise: its transmedia storytelling strategies embrace the forms of irresolution central to the narrative structures of Twin Peaks.
1. Robert Engels emphasized that Twin Peaks “was so collaborative” (qtd. in Ryan 15).
2. Philip Segal, the former programming director at ABC, stated: “One of the big linchpins [of conflict with the network] was this diary and the intent to produce the diary as a book that you could purchase that would reveal the inner secrets of Laura Palmer. It made the network crazy! The idea the book contained more information than the show just spiraled them off the planet even more” (qtd. in Dukes 152).
3. For example, John Thorne, after listing a number of alterations that were made to the world of Twin Peaks in Frost’s The Secret History of Twin Peaks, argued that, “for many fans (this author included) the initial reaction to The Secret History of Twin Peaks was one of dismay. On the surface, Mark Frost seemed to have forgotten many of the details of Twin Peaks and had fashioned a book that seemed slip-shod and dismissive of the narrative he helped craft 25 years ago” (“Full of Mystery” 7).
4. For example, Frost discussed the reasons that Bobby Briggs (Dana Ashbrook) and Shelly Johnson/Briggs (Mädchen Amick) divorced, including information that has not been acknowledged in the Twin Peaks canon or in its epitextual media: “They raised Rebecca together but slowly grew apart, as young couples often do. Amicable divorce, shared custody. Shelly’s weakness for ‘bad boys’ never went away, but infidelity was not the root cause for their breakup” (“I’m Mark Frost”).
5. The inclusion of Eisenhower in The Secret History is significant—and was possibly expected by dedicated audiences of the transmedia franchise—because Eisenhower had been mentioned in public authorial epitexts prior to the release of the book. After the [page 167] release of The Missing Pieces, Engels, who co-wrote Fire Walk with Me, revealed:
I think in the original, original draft [of Fire Walk with Me], there was this whole thing from 1954. I’d have to go look it up to be sure, but there was this whole thing that took place, the inauguration night of [President] Eisenhower. There were insects on this kitchen table, and somehow the Garmonbozia was there (chuckles), or the corn was there. If my memory serves me correctly, we got that idea because I think it’s Eisenhower’s inauguration, they actually stop the inauguration ball for a half hour, because it was the same night that on I Love Lucy where she had her baby. That was the episode, so everything stopped, so the world stopped. So maybe that’s what we were thinking (laughs), there’s a journey. (qtd. in Buchanan)
Consequently, Eisenhower’s appearance in The Secret History demonstrates an interactivity between a public authorial epitext and a semiofficial allographic epitext, with the former establishing a series of paratextual expectations which would later come to fruition in The Secret History.
6. The suggestion that BOB is the devil has appeared throughout Twin Peaks. Laura, in her Secret Diary, admitted that, “sometimes when I have to see BOB, I think I am with Satan anyway” (19).
7. The familial relationship between BOB and Judy is also explored in The Secret History when Parsons reveals his desire to “summon into human form the spirit of a figure central to the Thelema pantheon, the goddess Babalon, known as ‘the Mother of Abominations.’” Additionally, “the weekend just before the UFO incident at Roswell” in 1947, there was “an effort to open a second gate that they’d found in the desert in order to bring across an entity he called ‘the Moonchild.’” The words used to describe the entities that Parsons wished to summon, “Mother” and “Moonchild,” are telling because they establish a familial relationship between these beings which, in part eight of The Return, plays out on screen through Judy’s unconventional birthing of BOB (259-61).
8. The possibility that part eight of The Return depicts the opening of a portal between alternative locations—and possibly between worlds—is supported throughout both the canonical and epitextual contents of Twin Peaks. Most notably, during the penultimate episode of season two of Twin Peaks, Cooper travels through what [page 168] the Log Lady (Catherine Coulson) describes as an “opening to a gateway” which, according to Cooper in episode twenty-eight, is “a door” that “exists at a point in time and space.” The way in which the doorway between Glastonbury Grove and the Black Lodge exists “at a point in time and space” is important because, throughout the remaining texts of Twin Peaks, the concepts of time and space become integral to the development of the mythologies that surround the functional aspects of locating and travelling through the portals that act as the doorways between both sublunary and supernatural locations. For example, in both the canonical Fire Walk with Me and the epitextual Missing Pieces, Jeffries enters an elevator and, in the process, travels across both time and space, moving from Buenos Aires in 1987 to Philadelphia in 1989.
While the nature of portals remains unclear in Twin Peaks’ canonical entries, The Secret History focuses on portals extensively. Indeed, during Tamara’s research into the correspondence that took place between Aleister Crowley and Parsons, she notes how Crowley had argued that the Hell Gate, otherwise known as the Devil’s Gate in Arroyo Seco in Pasadena, was one of the seven gateways to hell which were located on Earth. Equipped with this epitextual knowledge, dedicated audiences of the transmedia franchise of Twin Peaks might have expected The Return to explore these gateways further.
9. The possibility that BOB’s journey through the atomic blast originated at an alternative point in time and space is suggested by Bill Hastings’ Search for the Zone—a website which, after being mentioned by Hastings in part nine of The Return, was soon discovered to be an accessible epitext. Hastings’ homepage states that “this site is a journal of my (and my partner’s) fascination with multidimensional/time travel.” Further, Hastings writes:
We will have to reconcile with the question that if someone from outside our familiar world gains access to our plane of existence, what ramifications will that entail? There might be forces at work from deep dimensional space, or from the future…or are these one in the same? Think of the events that could have splintered time? The things that could have laid the seed for a starting point for this development? Perhaps technological innovations or the assassination of President Kennedy?
Here, Hastings explores the possibility that “someone from outside our familiar world,” who could be from “deep dimensional space” [page 169] or “from the future,” may have gained access to “our plane of existence.” BOB’s and Judy’s origin in time and space, then, might have been from an alternative time period or from a planet other than Earth. Further, through Hastings’ series of rhetorical questions, this epitext seems to suggest that it was the atomic blast that acted as the “technological innovation” that “laid the seed for a starting point” which would later result in an “event” which “splinted time”: namely, Cooper removing Laura from the primary timeline of Twin Peaks by preventing her death in part seventeen of The Return.
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---. “Risk Taker: An Interview with Scott Frost.” Wrapped in Plastic, vol. 73, 2005, pp. 14-18.
Twin Peaks. Created by David Lynch and Mark Frost, ABC Broadcasting, 1990-1991.
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MLA citation (print):
Yates, Mark. "The Secret History of BOB: Transmedia Storytelling and Twin Peaks." Supernatural Studies, vol. 5, no. 2, 2019, pp. 148-170.