When the night has come, and the way is dark
And the moon, is the only light you see
I won’t be afraid, lala nomie, I won’t be afraid
Not as long, not as long as you stand by me.
(Stand by me – Ben E. King)
Without a doubt, the book from the Bookhouse Boys reading list included in The Secret History of Twin Peaks by Mark Frost that bears the largest amount of similarities with The Return is Stephen King’s 1978 novel The Stand (Lucy’s favourite book).
Not just the novel, but also the television mini-series adaptation from 1994 by Mick Garris: Mark Frost’s father Warren – otherwise known as Doctor Hayward in Twin Peaks – plays the role of George Richardson. Miguel Ferrer (Albert Rosenfield) also plays a role in the mini-series (Lloyd), and his first appearance during the narrative is accompanied by the 1983 ZZ Top song Sharp Dressed Man, heard at the Roadhouse in episode 15).
One could even go as far as claiming that this apocalyptic tale almost constitutes the intertextual framework for the new season of Twin Peaks. Some might say that this amounts to plagiarism, but what it truly is, as with sampling in music, is an exchange of sorts between works that are part of the global intertextual web. The Return is now as much part of The Stand as the opposite is true, and the dialogue between the two fictional universes gives depth and perspective to both of them. Besides, the fact that Mark Frost includes King’s book in the Bookhouse Boys reading list is a clear indication that he acknowledges the importance it played in his creative process.
So, in what way can The Stand be understood as a source (among others) of what happens in The Return?
First, the overall subject of both is very similar: these are both stories about the End of Time. The Stand is set in a plague-decimated USA, the result of a military experiment with chemical weapons gone wrong. Though this is perhaps less obvious at first in the new season of Twin Peaks, episode 18 clearly take us to a nightly realm devoid of people, situated at the source where (and when) reality crumbles. The Palmer house is depicted as the root of all evil and Laura/Carrie’s return home leads to the extinction of all (electrical) fires.
The geography of both also has a lot in common. Las Vegas, for instance, plays a central role in the two universes. This is the city where Randall Flagg, the ruthless drifter and supernatural madman who embodies evil in the book, “a negative man with no face” (p.1192), gathers his troops (similar to the Dark Lord of the land of Mordor, in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings). The Nevada metropolis is also described as Cibola by one of the characters (“Cibola, fabled City, Seven-in-One” p.711) – Cibola was one of the Seven Cities of Gold according to a Spanish legend. The mystical call of the city is reflected in its architecture: “A tall white building stretched up to the desert sky, a monolith in the desert, a needle, a monument, every bit as magnificent as the Sphinx or the Great Pyramid. The windows of its eastern face gave off the fire of the rising sun like an omen. In front of this bonewhite desert edifice, flanking its entranceway, were two huge gold pyramids. Over the canopy was a great bronze medallion, and carved on it in bas-relief was the snarling head of a lion. Above this, also in bronze, the simple but mighty legend: MGM GRAND HOTEL” (p.731-732). Gold, Silver and Alchemy playing such an important role in The Return, this does not come as a surprise, and Las Vegas is definitely portrayed by Lynch as a fabled place out of time, stretching between antiquity on the one hand (see for instance the beetle that appears on a slot machine, in episode 16) and the present on the other.
On top of this, the city (the largest one within the greater Mojave Desert) is blown to ashes by an atomic explosion (“The A-bomb, the Big One, the big fire, my life for you!… “Silent white light filled the world. And the righteous and unrighteous alike were consumed in that holy fire” p.1353-1354) highly reminiscent of the one that takes place in another desert, in episode 8 of The Return. In a way, one could argue that atomic bombs created holes into both texts, one leaking into the other and vice versa. This might be the reason why Dale and Diane drive the 430 miles from Las Vegas to Jornada del Muerto (Journey of the Dead Man) in episode 18, the spot close to which the first detonation of an atomic weapon occurred at the Trinity nuclear test site, on July 16, 1945.
The car they drive (a 1970 Belvedere?) might be the same model Stu Redman and Tom Cullen drive on their way back from Las Vegas (“maybe God had left this battered ‘70 Plymouth here for them, like manna in the desert” p.1374), a car they abandon in front of a motel reminiscent of the one in The Return, episode 18 (“The motel with the star on it was the Grand Junction Holiday Inn… He pulled in and killed the Plymouth’s engine, and so far as either of them knew, it never ran again” p.1384).
But the similarities do not end here, by far. Beyond this, the United States as a whole appears to be the stage on which both dramas take place. Randall Flagg (otherwise known as the Dark Man, the Walkin’ Dude, the Tall Man, or the Man of the West – Tom Cullen, under hypnosis, goes further: “His name is Legion. He is the king of nowhere” p.1019; Glen Bateman even adds: “Call him Beelzebub, because that’s his name too. Call him Nyarlathotep and Ahaz and Astaroth” p.1326 – in The Final Dossier, Mark Frost via Tamara Preston explains that BOB is really Beelzebub, formerly Ba’al, and the links to Lovecraft are made clear when one reads Kenneth Grant’s Beyond the Mauve Zone) is described as a “tall man of no age” in old blue jeans, denim jacket and old cowboy boots. His silhouette, as portrayed in the television mini-series, recalls that of Mr. C in The Return (when Flagg conceives a child with Nadine, his chosen bride, she thinks: “You become a stranger to yourself, an olive-skinned Doppelgänger, a psychotic Vampira with pale skin and fishslit eyes” p.1088). His clothes and eternal smile (“There was a dark hilarity in his face, and perhaps in his heart, too, you would think” p.214-215; “No soul, but a sense of humor. There was that; a kind of dancing, lunatic glee” p.425) are very similar to those of BOB (“their real faces, their underneath-faces, were monster faces… That kind of monster was called a werewolf” p.1243).
The following description of his eyes recalls the woodsman’s litany about the well, the water, and the white of the eyes on the radio: “His eyes seemed to grow larger and darker. Looking into them was like looking into wells that were very old and very deep” p1199). A couple of pages later, we actually read: “Sparks began to jump from his hair, as if somewhere inside him a cyclotron had hummed into life, building up an electrical field and turning him into a battery. His eyes blazed with dark fire” (p.1202). It’s worth remembering that in episode 11, Hawk speaks of a black fire related to black corn.
The motif of the all seeing eye in relationship to Flagg (“He had developed a sort of third eye… He was able to send it out, to see… almost always” p.1221), besides its association with Mr. C. and the Illuminati (of importance in The Secret History of Twin Peaks) is to be linked to the omnipresence of surveillance in The Return (cameras everywhere, people spying on others). He is a nightmarish presence that haunts the book (“It would be funny if he was just a mirage, wouldn’t it? Nothing but a bad dream in our collective consciousness” p.1323).
Flagg was briefly in touch with a certain Mr. Oswald in 1962 (p.218), an interesting fact when considering the role of the Kennedy assassination in the series. His magic trick besides Lloyd’s cell, when he turns a black stone into a key and vice versa, is reminiscent of Red’s sleight of hand with a penny during his meeting with Richard Horn.
He has the ability to shapeshift, as BOB when he turns into an owl: “for behold he comes in more forms this his own… the wolf… the crow… the snake” p.815; “He never dies… He’s in the wolves, laws yes. The crows. The rattlesnake. The shadow of the owl at midnight and the scorpion at high noon. He roosts upside down with the bats. He’s blind like them” p.1403). His link to technology is stressed several times, as is Mr. C’s – see for instance all the tech equipment that surrounds the glass cube set in the New York loft (“Maybe he’s just the last magician of rational thought, gathering the tools of technology against us” p.922).
Randall’s main rival – the 108 years old Mother Abagail, a prophet from Nebraska not unlike the Log Lady (“In my dreams I saw myself going west. At first with just a few people, then a few more, then a few more. West, always west, until I could see the Rocky Mountains” p.632), who establishes a much more liberal society around herself on the other side of the Rockies, in the Boulder Free Zone, thanks to powerful dream messages (“she has a… a kind of aura about her” p.803) – lives in a farmhouse surrounded by corn fields, reminiscent of Garmonbozia: “the mystic corn that was rooted shallow in the earth but wide” (p.603); “He did sleep a little, and the dream that came was one he had had before recently: the cornfield, the smell of warm growing things, the feel that something – or someone – very good and safe was close. A sense of home” (p. 239).
Interesting “coincidences” occur throughout the novel, such as on page 138: “Past Silver City and roaring through Cliff, the road now bending west again, just the direction they didn’t want to take. Through Buckhorn and then they were back in the country God forgot”. The covert countermeasures by the Government to stop the spread of Blue (not “rose”, but the code name for the mutated superflu virus that decimates the world) are activated by the word “Troy”. In addition to the fact that Laura’s horse was also named Troy (see her diary), the famous city from The Iliad plays a role in episode 18, associated with the Palmer house. More on the subjects of Laura and the Trojan Horse here.
The West certainly plays a major role in both The Stand and The Return. Besides Flagg’s cowboy look, many references to the West are planted throughout the novel (as in Wallace Stegner’s 1971 Angle of Repose, another Bookhouse Boys choice), such as: “They all believe in the Code of the West – a quick trial and then up the rope. It was the way out here until 1950 or so. When it came to multiple murderers, it was the only way” (p.227) or “I don’t think any of us want a frontier society here in Boulder” (p.982).
The barge-trains towed out and dumped into the Pacific, full of the dead bodies of the plague victims (p.258), might be connected somehow to the many intermodal containers seen throughout the series – first on a train, then in Buckhorn, and finally behind Judy’s diner (episode 18). Are we witnessing a hidden apocalypse in The Return? Or could these intermodal containers be used to carry huge quantities of Garmonbozia to Judy’s? It is worth noticing the presence on some of those of the Maersk star, which catches the eye of Dale/Richard in episode 18. The Danish firm has been the largest container ship and supply vessel operator in the world since 1996. The founder of the Maersk corporation was a devout Christian who attached a blue banner with a white seven pointed star on both sides of the black chimney on the steamship “SS Laura” (built in 1875) when his wife recovered from illness. The heptagram is a traditional symbol for warding off evil – but more interestingly, in the context of The Return, it is used in the symbol for Babalon in Thelema.
Furthering the intertextuality elements from The Return, The Stand actually mentions Charlotte’s Web (p.396), Richard Nixon (“We used to watch Presidents decay before our eyes from month to month and even week to week on national TV – except for Nixon, of course, who thrived on power the way that a vampire bat thrives on blood” p.780), The World According To Garp (“The world, he thought, not according to Garp but according to the superflu. This brave new world” p.830), The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (“the Wicked Witch of the West, or some Pentagon assholes, visited the country with a great plague” p.836), Alice in Wonderland (“she was… afraid that she might see Harold’s grin hanging over her shoulder like the grin of the Cheshire cat in Alice” p.876), the Robert M. Pirsig’s book (“Beside the drink was an ashtray with five pipes in it, copies of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” p.926), the Kennedys (“facing a 3-D picture of John and Robert Kennedy against a background of gold-edged clouds. The legend beneath proclaimed BROTHERS TOGETHER IN HEAVEN” p.1016)… all titles and themes featured on the Bookhouse Boy’s reading shelf and in The Return.
The mixing of levels of reality is also stressed in the book, as in the following sentence: “At first Nick was able to divide this fantasy from reality, but as time passed, he became more and more sure that the fantasy was the reality” (p.503).
The twister Nick and Tom encounter in the book can be linked to the various sky vortexes from The Return, which in turn relate to the one from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, as well as to Marcel Duchamp’s Rotoreliefs.
The quest on which the four main male characters from The Stand go (“You are to go west… you are to go on foot… he is in Las Vegas, and you must go there, and it is there that you will make your stand” p.1144), during the last third of the book, is not unlike Dale’s journey, always followed by Arthurian references (Merlin market, Lancelot Court, the Excalibur, etc.), white knight at the service of princess Laura against the fire dragons BOB and Judy. One could argue that it’s in the west, in Twin Peaks, that Laura as Carrie makes her stand (the shriek) in front of her family house, this nexus of evil. Is she the sacrificial lamb slaughtered to save the rest of us? (“God always asks for a sacrifice. His hands are bloody with it” p.1422). Unless this is a reference to Asian mythology (Journey to the West, by Wu Cheng’en).
Interestingly enough, the hike to Las Vegas (“a purging process” p.1299 – this is actually associated with electricity in the novel: “think of yourself as a battery… Your brain runs on chemically converted electrical current… what we’ve done is to strip off the accessories. We’re on charge” p.1300-1301) taken by the four men from the Boulder Free Zone via Grand Junction follows exactly the line drawn between Las Vegas and Yankton, where Mr. C. is imprisoned (Las Vegas can also be understood as a prison of sorts for Dougie). Also, Stu and Tom’s trip back to Boulder is of course a return.
The dreams everyone have in this post-apocalyptic USA are interpreted as follows by one of the main protagonists: “they seem to presage some future struggle… We’re being given the means to shape our own futures, perhaps. A kind of fourth-dimensional free will: the chance to choose in advance of events” (p.678). This of course resembles a lot what happens in The Return, especially the sequence when Andy is teleported to the Fireman’s place and gets to see a few images from the future. Some end up being slightly different when the time comes, especially the way Lucy deals with Mr. C in the sheriff’s office. “There are all sorts of dream interpretations, Freud’s being the most notorious, but I have always believed they served a simple eliminatory function, and not much more – that dreams are the psyche’s way of taking a good dump every now and then… But lately, I’ve had an extremely bad dream… It’s like no other dream I’ve ever had, but somehow it’s like all of them. As if… as if it were the sum of all bad dreams. And I wake up feeling bad, as if it wasn’t a dream after all, but a vision” (p.421) Besides, notions of a Fourth Dimension are omnipresent in Twin Peaks, as I discuss in my book Twin Peaks: Unwrapping the Plastic (2016).
I also regularly mention the importance of sewing in The Return, in relationship to intertextuality of course, but also to Penelope’s role in The Odyssey. The Stand has something to say on the subject: “He suddenly felt that he had joined some bizarre sewing circle of the human spirit… or perhaps they had only, after a brief pause, begun once again to make a large shroud for the human race” (p.831).
When Harold Lauder thinks about his work as a writer, he suddenly sounds very similar to Mr. C: “it was the best writing he had ever done in his life and the deciding factor was his want – no, his need. His need to have someone else read, experience, his good work” (p.1010). Let’s not forget that the television mini-series (for which King wrote the teleplay) opens with another quote by T.S. Elliot’s The Hollow Men (see Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ‘72): “This is the way the world ends. This is the way the world ends. This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper”.
Once again, as contemporary doomsday preppers would argue, “the shit hit the fan” and the world is about to end. Dale and Laura’s trip to the end of the night in episode 18 leads the series to its logical eschatological conclusion, one in which the only thing that remains is life in the Lodges, above phenomenal reality. In a sense, Carrie’s shriek is akin to the atomic explosion in Las Vegas from The Stand – it consumes the righteous and the unrighteous alike, in order to reset the world. The in-between reality of Richard and Linda disappears and the one from season 3 is slowly rewritten to follow a new course in which Laura Palmer never died, as proven by Tamara Preston’s report (The Final Dossier).
More about this subject, about the other books from the Bookhouse Boys reading list, and about The Return in general in my upcoming book Twin Peaks: Squaring the Circle, to be published in 2019!
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