Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Obscure Twin Peaks: Theosophy and The Devil's Guard

The Dweller Upon the Threshold?
In The Essential Wrapped In Plastic, I include a quote from Mark Frost about the origins of the Black Lodge and other supernatural elements found in Twin Peaks.  Speaking to the British newspaper, The Independent, Frost explained that Dion Fortune’s Psychic Self-Defense was “exactly where I got the Black Lodge from. The whole mythological side of Twin Peaks was really down to me, and I’ve always known about the Theosophical writers and that whole group around the Order of the Golden Dawn in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century—William Butler Yeats, Madame Blavatsky, and a woman called Alice Bailey, a very interesting writer.”

John Clute writes about the origin and tenets of Theosophy in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction: “The Theosophical Society is an occult organization founded in 1875 by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831-1891).  Blavatsky claims to have been accorded wisdom by the Hidden Masters, who have resided in a keep in the heart of Tibet, in a holy sanctuary known as Shamballah or Shangri-La.  The Masters’ messages to Blavatsky are an enabling, highly paranoid secret history, given to her to (among other things) justify the existence of the “inner government of the world”, i.e., the Great White Lodge of the Hidden Masters.”

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries a great many authors of high fantasy and weird fiction found creative inspiration from the Theosophical ideas.  These include H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Robert E. Howard. A lesser known writer named Talbot Mundy was also highly influenced by Theosophy.  In 1926, Mundy wrote a book titled, The Devil’s Guard, a pulp novel of high adventure and magic set in India and Tibet.  The book borrowed heavily from Theosophical canon.

Mundy constructs his tale around the struggle between the Black and White Lodges. He also throws in the idea of dugpas, bodily-possession by evil spirits, and the hallowed nature of the Dalai Lama. Many of these plot elements would find a new and wider audience when they re-emerged on Twin Peaks, sixty five years after The Devil’s Guard was published.

An Early Edition of The Devil's Guard

The first half of The Devil’s Guard is classic pulp adventure.  The main characters, Jimgrim and Ramsden, must make the dangerous trip to Tibet through blizzards and across mountains where they encounter bandits and conspirators, all of whom attempt to stop their entry into the country.  In the middle of the tale, Jimgrim and Ramsden are confronted by a menacing man who warns them not to continue their quest. This stranger seemingly appears out of nowhere.  Jimgrim and Ramsden soon discover that this man is known as a dugpa.

The dugpas, according to the novel, are master hypnotists who seek to take over the world.  They can “possess” the bodies (and minds) of others and easily dominate those with “weak wills.”  These kinds of people, the book states, “render themselves unable to resist the imposition of other wills on theirs.”

This explanation for the dugpas’ ability to possess others meshes perfectly with what happens in Twin Peaks. Leland Palmer was weak-willed and invited Bob inside him.  What’s more, Laura Palmer would have been targeted as a dugpa-host because, as The Devil’s Guard explains, dugpas control others by using “the self-destroying acts of whomever they would conquer.”  Dugpas will attempt to cultivate a person’s evil side.  The book elaborates on this point in a footnote, explaining that “sudden criminal outbursts of otherwise apparently sane people” can be attributed to possession by dugpas. Here, we see that a crucial piece of the Twin Peaks mythology—the possession of human beings by evil spirits— finds its roots in The Devil’s Guard (and by extension, Theosophy).

Dugpas, the book reveals, are agents of a place called The Black Lodge.  In Twin Peaks, Windom Earle also described dugpas as having access to the Black Lodge.  In fact, the dialog describing dugpas in both show and novel match exactly:  In The Devil’s Guard, dugpas are defined as “sorcerers who cultivate evil for the sake of evil!”  Earle, seen on an old video recording, explains, “These, uh, these evil sorcerers, uh, dugpas, they’re called . . . they cultivate evil for the sake of evil, nothing else.”

Earle continues:

“Now this, this ardent purity allows them to access a secret place where the cultivation of evil proceeds in exponential fashion, and with it, the furtherance of evil’s resulting power! This place of power is tangible and as such it can be found, entered, and perhaps utilized in, in some fashion. The dugpas have, have, many names for it, but chief among them is the, uh, is the Black Lodge.”

In The Devil’s Guard, much of what is revealed about the Black Lodge and dugpas comes from another of the novel’s characters, a mysterious Tibetan named Lhaten who befriends Jimgrim and Ramsden.  Lhaten knows as much as he does about the Black Lodge because he is, in fact, an agent of The White Lodge. This revelation establishes a very clear black-white conflict in the book and provides a foundation for the story’s plot.  This same foundation is used in Twin Peaks.  Major Briggs mentions the White Lodge to Cooper in episode 17.  In episode 18, Hawk provide more details:

“My people believe that the White Lodge is a place where the spirits that rule man and nature here reside.  There is also a legend of a place called the Black Lodge, the shadow-self of the White Lodge. The legend says that every spirit must pass through there on the way to perfection. There, you will meet your own shadow-self.  It is said, if you confront the Black Lodge with imperfect courage, it will utterly annihilate your soul.”

But the similarities between book and series don’t end there.  Lhaten explains that the White Lodge has a representative in the outside world -- the Dalai Lama.  In episode 2 of Twin Peaks, Cooper reveals he once had a dream about the Dalai Lama and the “plight of the Tibetan people.”  This dream changed Cooper’s life and ever since he longed to see the Dalai Lama reunited with his people in Tibet.

As the story in The Devil’s Guard progresses, Jimgrim and Ramsden eventually become trapped in the Black Lodge.  In the end, they must find a way to defeat their enemy (a former associate, now turned evil), and escape.  Battles and chases ensue and, unlike Twin Peaks, the novel concludes with a definitive ending.

Clearly, The Devil’s Guard could have been an influence on the creators of Twin Peaks. Mark Frost or David Lynch may have read the book long ago and it made an impression. We know, however, that Talbot Mundy was drawing many of his ideas from Theosophy, as was Mark Frost when he was crafting the second season of Twin Peaks.  Perhaps the striking similarities between Twin Peaks and the Devil’s Guard are mere coincidence, the two works simply share a point of origin in what John Clute calls the “enormous, entrancing honeypots of mythology, cosmology, fairytale, speculation, fabrication and tomfoolery” that is Theosophy.  Whatever the case, the ideas of the Black and White Lodges, and dugpas, and Dwellers Upon Thresholds, found new life in the mysterious world of Twin Peaks.  Will this mythology be further explored in the new Showtime series?  We shall see . . . . 

A Theosophical Symbol
(A version of this article first appeared in Wrapped In Plastic 3, (February, 1993). For more illuminating info on Twin Peaks, check out The Essential Wrapped In Plastic: Pathways to Twin Peaks.)

Friday, May 20, 2016

Catherine E. Coulson - An Appreciation

Catherine Coulson on the cover of Wrapped In Plastic 49

Last year, the Twin Peaks community suffered a terrible loss with the death of Catherine E. Coulson, who played the Log Lady (i.e., Margaret Lanterman) in the series, and in the film, Fire Walk With Me.

The Log Lady was, of course, one of the most memorable characters from the show.  She embodied many things about Twin Peaks. At first, she seemed to be simple comic-relief (evident from her first appearance, in the pilot, where she repeatedly flips a light switch on-and-off to quiet the large group of townspeople in the town hall). But her importance in the narrative grew as the series progressed.  It was soon evident that the Log Lady knew many things about forces surrounding Twin Peaks; that she was privy to secrets and arcane knowledge about “the evil in these woods” that no other character could ever know.  In effect, The Log Lady became akin to Tom Bombadil in The Lord of The Rings, a character who ostensibly exists outside the main storyline and who sees the world in such a unique and fundamental way that the exigencies of plot don’t really apply.  The Log Lady was free to enter and the leave the narrative at will, dispensing advice and secrets and warnings when she deemed necessary. (She even performed this role in the Georgia Coffee commercials, in which she confirmed the truth of certain matters and later instructed all the characters to “Watch” at a crucial juncture.)

The log image from Catherine Coulson's "business" card.  She often gave these to fans.

So important was the Log Lady that David Lynch essentially reimagined her as an ambassador of Twin Peaks when he created “The Log Lady Introductions” for a later rebroadcasting. These introductions have since become a fundamental part of the show—an essential element of the overall mythology.

Catherine Coulson embraced this ambassadorial role in real life.  She was a tireless advocate for the series, and was one of the warmest, most generous actors in the show’s vast ensemble. Anyone who ever met or spoke with Catherine Coulson found this to be true.  She loved Twin Peaks and she loved and appreciated the fans.  In one of our interviews, she told Wrapped In Plastic, “Twin Peaks fans are really wonderful.  They are very, very respectful people. They are polite, they are helpful to each other, they are just very a lovely and intelligent group of human beings.  It is a real pleasure to talk to them.”  Another time, she said, “What a wonderful thing to become a cult figure in your forties. First of all, I get to talk about Twin Peaks, which is a great world, and I get to talk about my friend, David, who is a great guy. He’s just a terrific human being. What more could a girl ask for?”

Catherine Coulson always supported the work Craig Miller and I did on Wrapped In Plastic. She actually promoted the magazine from time-to-time, going so far as to once mention us in Variety (which was a thrill). She understood our passion for Twin Peaks because she shared that passion. This may be why she was so approachable, why she understood the enthusiasm and love so many people had for the series. Yes, she may have been an actor on the show, but, deep down, she was also the show’s biggest fan!

When the full cast for the new Twin Peaks was recently released, I was most happy to see Catherine’s name on the list. What a great treat it will be to see the Log Lady again! Thankfully, she was able to participate in the new show before her untimely passing.  I don’t expect her part to be much (perhaps she will simply introduce episodes once again). But Catherine Coulson will be there—the Log Lady will be there—fulfilling her role as the indisputable representative of Twin Peaks.


Catherine Coulson at the 1993 Twin Peaks Festival, Issaquah, WA.

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Obscure Twin Peaks: Reports and Notes about Unusual Twin Peaks History and Mythology

 Installment 1

Welcome to The Obscure Twin Peaks!  Joel Bocko was reading my new book and wanted to know more about the Florence Gould Seminar that is mentioned in the text once or twice.  Here’s a report about that event, which took place just one week after the airing of episode 14 (where Leland was revealed to be Bob).

On November 17, 1990, Florence Gould Hall in uptown Manhattan hosted a fascinating seminar entitled "Return to Twin Peaks." This was a moderated discussion featuring a number of Twin Peaks personalities. 
            The seminar was advertised in an issue of Soap Opera Weekly (probably sometime in late September/early October of 1990).  The advertisement was small and the seminar quickly sold out. (The venue only accommodated about 400-500 people.)
            On the stage, in the auditorium, stood four round tables with chairs, red table cloths, and candles.  The dim lighting, candles and Twin Peaks music playing over the loudspeakers provided an otherworldly ambiance to the room. 
            A group of people emerged from behind the stage curtain and took their places at the four round tables.  (Who these people were, and why they were there, was never explained. They were likely VIPs, lucky enough to share the stage with the Twin Peaks guests.)  An announcer introduced Mimi Torchin, editor of Soap Opera Weekly and an avid Twin Peaks fan, who would be the moderator for the upcoming panel.  She spoke briefly about the phenomena of Twin Peaks and then introduced Mark Frost, Jennifer Lynch, Dana Ashbrook, Wendy Robie, James Patrick Kelly, and Catherine Coul­son.
            Ms. Torchin provided most of the discussion topics and asked a majority of the questions.  Many of these questions were di­rected to Mark Frost and Jennifer Lynch.  Both talked about David Lynch, with Frost noting that he and David drank a lot of coffee as they wrote Twin Peaks. 

Program Guide for the Return to Twin Peaks Panel (with admission ticket)
(Note the misspelling of Catherine Coulson's first name)

A week earlier, the show had revealed that Leland, possessed by Bob, had killed Laura Palmer.  Ms. Torchin took a poll of the audience to see how many people had guessed the identity of the killer.  Over half the attendees raised their hands.  Mr. Frost provided a few details about the Bob plot, explaining that Leland did not know he was possessed.  He promised that more details about the relationship--and Laura's knowledge of it--would be revealed in the next few episodes. 
            Jennifer Lynch spoke quite a bit about her book, The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer.  She talked about the basis for the his­tory of Laura's life before she died and explained how she came up with some of the material in the diary.   Much of it, she said, came from consultations with her father and other writers from the show.  She also visited shopping malls to observe tee­nage girls.  When asked about home life with her father, Ms. Lynch told a funny story of how David once constructed a minia­ture volcano on the dining room table.  For weeks, the family had to eat around this model volcano.
            Dana Ashbrook (who nervously shifted in his chair throughout the seminar) spoke of his early acting career and noted that his older sister was also an actress.  Ashbrook thought it was funny that his character, Bobby Briggs, was supposed to be a punk and a jock combined.
            Wendy Robie, whose character Nadine believed she was 18 years old, said she hoped one day Nadine would notice the eye patch she wore and try to figure out what had happened to her.  Upon hearing this, Mark Frost smiled and pretended to make a special note in a pocket notebook.  Ms. Robie also revealed that the many figurines adorning the shelves of the Hurley house on the show were all disfigured or handicapped in some way (a one- legged dancer, a woman with an eye patch, etc.). 
            Catherine Coulson, after apologizing for not bringing the Log Lady's log with her, spoke of her long-time working relation­ship with David Lynch.  She recounted the now famous story of how Lynch, when working with Coulson on Eraserhead, said that he would someday cast her as a lady with a log in a television show called "I'll Test My Log With Every Branch of Knowledge."  She spoke more about her interpretation of the Log Lady, but was careful not to give too much away regarding the mysteriousness of the character.
            David Patrick Kelly spoke briefly about his character, Jerry Horne, and Jerry's relationship with Benjamin Horne, but had little else to say.
            As the seminar drew to a close, Ms. Torchin took questions from the audience.  Many people were eager for answers to puz­zling loose ends in the story and directed their questions to Mark Frost, but he revealed very little.  When asked why Sarah Palmer saw a horse the night of Madeleine's death, however, Frost explained that the white horse signified death.  Other particip­ants quizzed Frost on some of the show's possible errors, but did not receive any enlightening answers. (Frost was at a loss, for example, when asked about the discrepancy regarding Jacques Renault’s blood type changing between seasons one and two.)
            After only a very few questions from the audience, Ms. Torchin thanked the panel of guests for attending, and the semi­nar was over. 

(This is an edited and revised version of an article by Lorna Thorne that first appeared in Wrapped In Plastic #6.)

Get more interesting facts and history about Twin Peaks in The Essential Wrapped In Plastic!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Essential Wrapped In Plastic Now Available on Kindle!

A few people have asked if my book would be available as an ebook.  The answer is--yes!  The Essential Wrapped In Plastic is for sale on Amazon as a kindle ebook.

The great thing about the electronic version is that you can search the text (the book does not have an index).  Now you can look for terms, characters, and people you might want to reference.  So, if you were waiting to get the book in this version, now you can!

(Right now, the kindle version and the paper version of the book are not linked on the Amazon site, so you need to search for the title in the kindle section.  Hopefully, the two pages will be linked soon.)