Richard’s Ring

One of the most mysterious elements of the Twin Peaks universe is probably the golden ring associated with the Lodge entities. First seen in Fire Walk with Me, its centrality has only become more important with The Return and Mark Frost’s new books. While its exact role and significance remain something of an enigma, its origin can nonetheless be traced to one of the most grandiose and unforgettable pieces of art from the end of the 19th Century, – and through it, to various Germanic and Nordic legends and mythologies: Richard Wagner’s Ring cycle (Der Ring des Nibelungen). Composed of four operas written between 1848 and 1874, with a total running time of over 15 hours, Wagner’s tetralogy is basically one continuous story told over four evenings: one preliminary evening – The Rhinegold, and three main evenings – The Valkyrie, Siegfried, and Twilight of the Gods.

This cycle can be translated as The Ring of the Nibelung, the Nibelung in question being the dwarf Alberich. Interestingly, the owl ring appears closely associated with The Arm in Twin Peaks, played by Michael Anderson, an actor of a small stature. Alberich originates in Germanic (The Nibelungenlied) and Old Norse heroic legends and his name means “ruler of supernatural beings”. In Norse mythology, he is known as Andvari and lives underneath a waterfall. In Wagner’s Ring, Alberich is the chief of the Nibelungen race of dwarves and the main driving antagonist.

The Ring’s story begins at the Rhine river, where Alberich steals the gold from the Rhine Maidens (three water nymphs, Woglinde, Wellgunde, and Flosshilde) by forsaking love. With this gold, he forges a magic ring that grants its owner the power to rule the world. But Wotan, leader of the gods, steals the ring from Alberich, who curses it. Whoever wears it from this point onward meets a tragic end. Wotan is in turn forced to give up the ring in payement to giants who have built his palace, the Valhalla. He then designs a plan to regain control of the ring through his grandson Siegfried, son of Siegmund and Sieglinde. In Unwrapping the Plastic, I had already noted that the theft of the (golden) Garmonbozia in Fire Walk with Me is highly reminiscent of what takes place in The Rhinegold.

Siegfried slays the giant-turned-dragon Fafner, before falling in love with the valkyrie Brünnhilde, Erda and Wotan’s child, whom he has saved, following the song of a woodbird, from a rock surrounded by magic fire on which Wotan had cursed her to sleep eternally because she disobeyed him. The cycle ends in tragedy as Alberich manages to have his son Hagen get Siegfried killed before Brünnhilde takes the ring and tells the Rhinemaidens to claim it from her ashes, once fire has cleansed it of its curse. She “works the deed that redeems the World.” Flames flare up in the Hall of the Gods and the gods are consumed in the flames.

The Ring‘s ending is linked to the concept of Ragnarök found in Norse mythology. Ragnarök, described in the Poetic and Prose Edda, is a series of events and natural disasters leading to the submersion of the world in water. After these events, the world will resurface anew and be fertile, the surviving and returning gods will meet and the world will be repopulated by two human survivors. The cyclic nature of the Eddic eschatology is mirrored in The Ring of the Nibelung as the tetralogy starts and ends with the Rhine Maidens and their golden treasure.

It is easy now to see how this reflects the action that takes place in season 3. The cyclicality of The Return, often noted (see my previous posts), mirrors that of the Ring. Season 3 is very much the story of an apocalypse leading to a renewal of the universe, in an endless loop (see the Möbius strip “drawn” by Phillip Jeffries in part 18). The various characters of the series echo those depicted by Wagner: the Fireman is akin to Wotan, Senorita Dido to Fricka, and The Arm to Alberich, while the versions of Cooper and Diane in the Red Room can be linked to Siegmund and Sieglinde. The reincarnated aspect of Cooper, the one who ends up driving Laura back to Twin Peaks in part 18, can be seen as akin to Siegfried, while Laura/Carrie, whom he found sleeping on a rock surrounded by fire (Odessa and/or Twin Peaks when wrapped in plastic) and who is supposed to redeem the world, appears to be the perfect Brünnhilde. She is the one who starts Ragnarök with her shriek, who mounts her horse Grane and rides into the flames, bringing things to a new beginning, back to balance. It is also worth noting that when she first appears wrapped in plastic, in the series’ pilot, she is also evocative of one of the Rhine Maidens. The Wind River in Twin Peaks is many things at once, reminiscent of the Ganges, the Nile, and the Rhine.

As for the characters directly linked to evil in Twin Peaks, one could argue that BOB is meant to represent Fafner the dragon (Fire Walks with Him? BOB was “born” from the Experiment, whose eggs produce the reptilian/amphibian Frogmoth), while Mr. C is somehow evocative of the giant wolf Fenrir, who does not appear in Wagner’s Ring. In Norse mythology, Fenrir was bound by the gods because of a dream of Odin’s announcing that the wolf would be there at the end of everything, Ragnarök. This is reminiscent of what takes place in part 18, when Mr. C is locked in a cage in the Fireman’s palace, right before returning to Twin Peaks. As for Judy, could she be Jörmungandr, the Midgard Serpent, Thor’s nemesis? Cooper could indeed be associated with Thor in this fight (as well as Freddie Sykes, whose green glove is akin to a hammer). During Ragnarök, Jörmungandr will thrash its way onto land, spraying poison to fill the air and water, advancing beside Fenrir, whose eyes and nostrils will blaze with fire. BOB and Judy could very well represent this devilish duo described in the Prose Edda.

Mark Frost’s interest in everything mythological is no secret, so the various connections made in this post do not seem far fetched. The possibility that he may have leaned on Wagner’s Ring cycle in order to elaborate some of the elements at work in Twin Peaks appears to make sense because of the tetralogy’s close links to Germanic and Nordic lore. It would be interesting to know if Frost really likes opera, specifically those composed by Wagner. But it is worth remembering that Wagner’s links to mythological subjects does not end with his Ring. Most of his operatic productions, starting with The Flying Dutchman (1841) and up to Parsifal (1882), are based on stories with a mythic undertone, and one may wonder if these have not also made it into the script for The Return.

I have already discussed in another post the links between Twin Peaks and The Flying Dutchman. The Dutchman’s Lodge visited by Mr. C is akin to the ghost ship cursed to sail the seas forever, wrapped in mist, and love relationship between the Dutchman and Senta (who ends up throwing herself into the sea, claiming that she will be faithful to him unto death) is reminiscent of what takes place between Cooper and Diane.

Also, the story of the Flying Dutchman is closely connected to the Cape of Good Hope, off the coast of South Africa, where the vessel was lost. When one looks for the longitude and latitude coordinates on a world map corresponding to the two main numbers cited in The Return, 430 and 253, one ends up locating a point close to the above mentioned cape (to be contrasted with the other evil cape linked to the show, Cape Horn, south of Argentina).

The plot of Tannhaüser (1845) revolves around the 14th-century Minnesingers and the myth of Venus and her subterranean realm of Venusberg, where the eponymous knight and poet spends a year. The longing for his earthly home is nonetheless overwhelming, but many years have passed in the world during his absence. The story follows his return from this orgiastic realm to his true home in Wartburg, and his true love, Elisabeth. The opera begins as follows: “Oh, that I now might awake! In dreams, it was as if I heard a sound… the joyful peal of bells… The time I have sojourned here I cannot measure. I see no more… the nightingale that foretells me the spring”. The omnipresence of Venus statues in the Black Lodge connects it to Venusberg.

Wagner’s next opera, Lohengrin 1850), can also be linked to Twin Peaks. Lohengrin, whose identity remains a mystery for most of the opera, was the son of Parsifal, the knight who found the famous Holy Grail. Similarly, Dougie Cooper’s identity is also a mystery, for the police and for himself. Parsifal (1882) was Wagner’s own version of the knight’s story, loosely based on Wolfram von Eschenbach’s epic poem. References to Arthurian legend are plentiful in Twin Peaks (Merlin’s Market, Glastonbury Grove, etc.) and it would not be surprising if Lynch and Frost had picked up a few things from either of these Wagnerian operas.

Interestingly, the Grail in Wolfram von Eschenbach’s poem is not the traditional cup or dish, but a stone with miraculous powers. It is called Lapis exillis, which in alchemy is the name of the Philosopher’s stone. This is worth pointing out because Laura is may represent the Holy Grail in the series, as evidenced by the similarity between her representation in the opening credits and the following painting. She is Cooper’s Grail, the reason for his quest, and she is also the object/person who will restore balance to the world. As mentioned above, von Eschenbach describes the Grail as a stone, which lets us think that Laura might be the “tools” used by the Fireman to kill two birds at once (BOB and Joudy?). Also, the Grail Castle is known as Corbenic (or Monsalvat), a word with Welsh origins meant to represent a cornucopia (horn of plenty). This might very well be the device hung to the ceiling in the Fireman’s palace, through which Laura’s orb is sent to Earth in part 8.

Tristan und Isolde (1865) and The Mastersingers of Nuremberg (1868) are the two remaining operas of Wagner not yet mentioned (notwithstanding his earlier works). Tristan’s story was adapted for the screen by Jean Cocteau, one of Lynch’s favorite artists, in 1943 for a film by Jean Delannoy called… The Eternal Return. In the original tale, Tristan’s love is split between two versions of Isolde/Iseult: Iseult the Blond and Iseult of the White Hands. One may wonder if Diane and her Tulpa are not representations of this dual version of Isolde.

As for The Meistersingers of Nuremberg, the links with Twin Peaks are less obvious. The opera nevertheless focuses on a series of philosophical themes largely inspired by the works of Arthur Schopenhauer (1788 – 1860), one of particular interest being the relation between dreams and artistic creativity. In Act III, we can hear for instance the following song:

Awake! the dawn is drawing near;
I hear a blissful nightingale
singing in the green grove,
its voice rings through hill and valley;
night is sinking in the west,
the day arises in the east,
the ardent red glow of morning
approaches through the gloomy clouds.

Now, I can only recommend that you watch one (or several!) of the various versions available online of the above-mentioned operas. They are all beautiful, and Wagner’s music is absolutely sublime. There are other echoes of Twin Peaks that can be found within these operas, but I wanted to summarise what I consider to be the main junctions between the two creative universes.

A good start consists in watching the Ring‘s cycle, perhaps with Boulez and Chéreau’s version, one of the most acclaimed in Bayreuth:

Then, take a look at Wagner’s three Romantic operas, The Flying Dutchman, Tannhaüser and Lohengrin:

As noted above, Lohengrin and Parsifal are both connected to Arthurian lore, so why not continue with Wagner’s last opera?

Tristan und Isolde could be your next stop:

Finally, one should watch Wagner’s slightly atypical opera The Meistersingers from Nuremberg:

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