One of the most sustained and meticulous explorations of David Lynch’s filmography–with a real emphasis on Twin Peaks–arrived in the world in May 2019–In Dreams: A Unified Interpretation of Twin Peaks and Other Selected Works of David Lynch, by H. Perry Horton. Like Horton’s earlier book, Between Two Worlds: Perspectives on Twin Peaks, this latest volume inhabits a place between the lodge of Reddit otaku and academic researcher. At 520 print pages, In Dreams is formidable, it’s daunting; what awaits you if you crack open this massive monograph? To explore it and report back to 25YL, Andy Hageman and Rob King conducted vanguard readings, and to make their sojourns not simply of a solitary nature, they wrote the following review as a conversation.
What was innovative and productively surprising about In Dreams?
Andy: The scope of Horton’s metatextual timeline across most of David Lynch’s work, and various official Twin Peaks books, is in itself a formidable work. It’s one thing to, say, re-watch an episode of Twin Peaks and note that an image or object or camera motion or editing move echoes another one in a different Lynch work. But there’s sustained discipline and innovation in laying out a massive map as this book does. For readers who enjoy those moments in social media groups where someone posts side-by-side images or notes a discrete point of multi-text links, In Dreams will be a mind-expanding journey. It takes those Tweetable noticings and explores them with rigor and commitment that is deeply rare.
On two smaller scale notes, Horton’s analysis of Inland Empire is quite provocative. The interpretation of the séance scene is one of the most insightful pieces on the film that I’ve read. And, secondly, Horton’s claim as to what role Sam Stanley brings to Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, and therefore to Horton’s unified theory of the struggle at the center of this entire narrative, is intriguing. Readers who approach the book with the mindset that they want to hear out the argument through the full volume before countering and rejecting sub-arguments can find themselves opening up to loads of new perspectives, such as the one on Sam.
Rob: Andy, you’re absolutely right. It’s almost uncanny how extensive this fan theory is. He and I spoke when it was released in early June. You order a physical copy of this, and it’s weighing in at over 500 pages of single-spaced text. You can suddenly visualize how much time Horton must have spent on it and how dedicated he was to the task. And I think your comparison of it to an elaborate forum posting theory is a good one.
What is particularly innovative about it, I think, is how it veers from so many of the Twin Peaks texts that we have had previously–oral histories, academic critical essays, magazine compilations, guides to the series, transmedia tie-ins, and biographies. This is completely one fan’s extensive approach and interpretation to all of David Lynch’s works from film to painting, up to and including the tie-in books. The book is reaching for complete unification and achieves some powerful insights while perhaps unconvincingly establishing others. For our readers’ time, I am going to follow up on this with some major spoiler material to give them a sense of where I feel it accomplished both. And what I am willing to say upfront is that I would not want to read every fan’s individual exegesis on Lynch and Twin Peaks’ unifying ideas. I will admit that I maybe got a sense in reading this of why that is. It’s very exciting starting the reading. Then, a sense of how brash it is for an author to expect an audience to prescribe to such a sweeping proclamation creeps in. (I find myself having to read everything that comes out. So, this didn’t affect me as much.) Still, you can understand that he needed to make such concrete statements to formulate the whole, but it’s asking a lot of fans with their own interpretations to accept some of the statements as they appear here. In his excitement and total commitment to the interpretation, you feel the pace quicken with that excitement but suddenly feel like you’re reading outright fanfiction over interpretation.
There are definite payoffs for me here. These are just a few: I found Horton’s take on the trading of places from the Black Lodge between Caroline and Annie very compelling. That rings somewhat true for me. In this, he is claiming, per his overall interpretation, that while Annie’s body is what comes out of the Lodge, it’s Caroline that is there in spirit. So, Annie remains annihilated in the Lodge while Caroline is the one who returned, exclaiming once a year “I’m fine.” I admit that I ultimately believe that is Annie answering to the relief of Frost and Lynch that she’s fine as a closure to the twenty-five-year-old recurring question, but I could happily accept that Caroline came out with Mr. C and still find it compelling to my interpretation (ebook, loc 2,549). I tend to be a bit more literal in my interpretations of the characters. I feel that everything is happening exactly as portrayed, then I must work out the mysteries in that literal, “real,” structure. And if that rings true—I just wanted to lean into the pun—I also enjoy his ring theory. This is where he believes that the ring’s ultimate purpose is directional according to the sender. If MIKE bestows the ring with good intentions behind it, that will become its purpose for that recipient. If BOB or an evil doppelganger intention it, the recipient will suffer those intentions. That’s an innovative and surprising approach to the ring.
Andy: Rob, I take your point on the sheer quantity of writing that comes to the buyers of this book. When my physical copy arrived, I was hesitant to start–my preference to date has been for collections of essays that generate their own internal conversations thanks to the inclusion of different voices in a shared space. That said, I found myself buzzing right through this book, often finding myself energized by the enthusiasm you mention that intensifies at moments when you can feel Horton’s own excitement emanating from the page. What made it rapidly readable was the fact that if you’ve screened and read the texts recently and/or internalized them quite well, you can bypass swathes of text that deliver synopses; meanwhile, for the texts with details I couldn’t so easily shake out of my sleeve, Horton’s recaps were an excellent assisting resource.
What did you find not thoroughly compelling, and why?
Andy: The “Unified Interpretation” aspect of the book, to my mind, actually got in the way of discrete insights that are in their own right quite brilliant and inspiring. To be more specific, by stating that as an argument, the book has issued a rhetorical challenge to persuade the reader to accept, yet large swathes of the book are synopses of the various Lynch works accompanied by insights geared to the scenes or characters themselves. Horton spends very little time, in fact, walking the reader through a rationale for the unified bit. What’s more, the book states several times that David Lynch is shown glimpses of this unified story, yet almost always this position that would be absolutely crucial to the central thesis of the book, is dropped in with little to no explanation. Perhaps symptomatically, these claims appear regularly with a promise to say more by way of explanation later in the book. The consistent postponement, and particularly the fact that the promised sustained articulation never arrives ends up undermining the book’s stated project.
That said, just as I’ve recommended venturing into In Dreams with a commitment to an open mind so as to find many small yet significant new perspectives, I’ll add that to do this probably requires the reader to bracket Horton’s molar idea that almost all of Lynch’s works are one story.
Rob: Right. So, the successes, like those I mentioned in my earlier response, are the kind of insights that I think you are engaging with when you mention the Sam Stanley thread, where he is a disruptive agent. They are successful notions that get lost in the over-large unifying goal of the book. One reason for that, I think, is that from the start there is a very Judeo-Christian—God vs Devil—dichotomy structure to the interpretation, which many fans will want to say the series inherently rejects. The set-up here is The Dreamer vs Judy, and that is integral to his unified theory. So, one I might point out, where I think the unifying principle derails a bit is in the Blue Velvet portion. It has a sense of BOB takes a vacation in Frank approach. I’m not saying it doesn’t work for his chronology from Eraserhead to here, but the question states it well. I just didn’t find it convincing or compelling. Then, and I must mention it, I could not find myself convinced at all that the Frogmoth was the inseminating essence of Laura Palmer. To me, I just couldn’t even reconcile that interpretation from what I saw, but I’m also very much aligned with ideas that can be found in David Titterington’s “Jumping Kokopelli” where he notes this proboscis of the Frothmoth in connection with the Jumping Man that we later see Sarah’s face in. That is part of the evil in my mind; it speaks to Sarah’s odd behavior and abilities in the early seasons. I admire Horton’s dedication to his interpretation, though, and I still think Twin Peaks fans who can’t get enough of this analysis and theorizing will still want to at least wrestle with ideas like this that are aplenty in this volume.
Andy: Rob, I’m with you on the dualism/dichotomy/binarism that is absolutely fundamental to Horton’s unified theory. Generally speaking, I find a lot of fan theories and analysis follow this road without hesitation, and it seems to me like a lure. For example, you can find a lot of theories and analysis that echo the notion that the towns of Twin Peaks and Deer Meadow are opposites or inversions. Yet these two towns have always struck me as deeply connected, as if, to borrow the insight of a good friend, they are both in the same hurricane, but it’s as if Twin Peaks is in the eye of the storm while Deer Meadow is currently taking the full brunt of winds and rain. Plus, the one time I’ve seen David Lynch in person, at the Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa, an audience member asked him during a Q&A session if he himself felt drawn to blonde or brunette women, and he said something to the effect of both, but it’s the redhead who’s truly on fire. On a more positive note, though, I appreciated how Horton’s idea of the Dreamer’s dreamt realms within realms and attendant flaws and vulnerabilities resonated with Gnostic narratives–a move that, to my mind, helps identify the magic elements of the Twin Peaks texts as collaborations between Lynch and Frost.
Something is missing…
Andy: Of course, in order to discern what’s missing, one must attend to one’s heritage. In my case, that means Iowa. Naturally, then, what’s missing is The Straight Story. In part, I list it as missing because I’d really enjoy the chance to read Horton drill down on this particular film. I consider it one of the most unsoundly underappreciated films by Lynch, and I’d love to see what Horton, who’s got such acute Lynch vision, would find and lead the rest of us to consider. In part, I list The Straight Story because I recall an interview with Robert Engels in the magazine Wrapped in Plastic where he says one Twin Peaks idea that had been considered was that MIKE and BOB came from a planet of corn. Well, drive across Iowa and you might think you’ve arrived on that planet. Plus, drive to Fairfield, Iowa, surrounded by all that corn, and you’ll find the Maharishi University of Management–one of the highest-intensity Transcendental Meditation places in North America, and a place near and dear to David Lynch.
Rob: I think I understood how The Straight Story was omitted in this interpretation, but I see your point. The corn connection might have been a missed opportunity. Per the overall war in this interpretation, the heaven of The Dreamer, the Hell of Jowday, I preferred the omission over trying to make the piece fit as we see in the Blue Velvet portion.
Andy: I hear you. Making The Straight Story fit might have constituted such a leap in logic that Horton would’ve lost readers at that point, especially as it’s in the introductory set up to the whole book. Still, the exclusion of it hints at how the book is more concerned with plot events than with various other harmonics across the works of Lynch (and to some extent Frost) that are not directly bound to cause-effect dynamics and antagonisms. After all, Alvin’s story is one of gazing into the nighttime sky while listening to insects buzzing and chirping as part of coping with nuclear family struggles and being haunted by violence.
How did In Dreams change Twin Peaks: The Return for you?
Andy: Horton’s book engages the weird temporalities of Twin Peaks that become crucial and crucially apparent in the latest season. It may not be surprising that some of the important work Horton does on this topic takes place when he thinks carefully through Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me. That the film plays a key role in the latest season is a widely shared position, but Horton presents specific theories, grounded in compelling justifications, for how various Twin Peaks texts occur in alternate timelines. I especially appreciate Horton’s claim that the general arc of the timelines is knowable and known to Jowday and what the book calls The Dreamer, but that because the ends remain open to flux and change, the biggest-level struggle in Twin Peaks is a race to be the first to tie all the timelines together. Even if you don’t or don’t want to buy into the precise formulation Horton gives this drive to control the various timelines and pull them together, you’ll discover yourself confronted with a hypothesis to test that extensive and demanding. And that’s a pretty great experience for a cultural study like this to offer.
Rob: Absolutely. I find his thoughts on the timeline really engaging, but I don’t think it changed The Return for me. Per the idea that The Dreamer is in a spiritual war with Jowday and that they have agents (Blue Rose Taskforce, The Fireman) to achieve their agenda as Jowday has agents to achieve its (Leo, BOB, etc.), his interpretation supports its own underpinnings. I guess I would say that I found his threads very entertaining, but I wasn’t so far convinced that I abandoned my preconceived notions. I don’t think that’s the author’s intentions either. This idea is established that Laura is a weapon that can be primed, armed, and let loose as a bomb in the dream.
“Suffering is the gunpowder to the weapon of Laura; the more she has, the more powerfully she will explode, and The White Lodge needs her packed to the eyeballs with it if she is to destroy Jowday” (Horton, 487).
While recognizing that “we live inside a dream” when we talk Twin Peaks, I always find myself ascribing more agency to Laura Palmer. The Return is Cooper’s journey, yes, but it is also Laura’s in my mind. I always find myself picturing Lynch and us as an audience like the husband/poet in Aronofsky’s Mother! who will not let his wife die. She will have to succumb to his desires and failures over and over again. That’s where I’m at with Laura personally, and I’ve planned on writing that out, which I will soon. That said, for the purposes of this book, which I’ve said has a kind of fan fiction sense to it and not just pure theory, the Laura bomb works fine. I should also state, again, that I’m not sure Horton really hopes to change anyone’s minds with this book. He seems to want to present his unique approach as its own novel.
Andy: I really appreciate your insight into what feels like the objective of Horton’s book. I’m pretty impressed, frankly, with how adept he is at swerving well wide of the kind of fan-boy viciousness that’s all too common across media fan communities. It’s like Horton is so deeply comfortable with the work he’s done, that there’s no impetus to promote himself as superior to other fans or theorists or scholars. Rob, you helped put a finger on this element of Horton’s approach that I think is really rare and really a treasure in itself.
What did you make of the transmedia approach In Dreams presents?
Andy: The first thing that comes to mind regarding transmedia is the chapter called “The BOB Series.” Given the increasing attention and acclaim that David Lynch is receiving for his paintings and lithographs, etc, it makes sense to place those works into critical conversation with his cinema. Horton provides exciting close readings of the artworks that evoke BOB that is worth reading on their own terms as art critique; this gets even more interesting as Horton links them to BOB in Twin Peaks. One thing that makes the chapter function so well is that it’s rather liberated from the massive unified thesis. Instead, the reader gets to see Horton extrapolate from a different media new visions of who and what BOB is and what his motives might be.
Thinking of transmedia storytelling, I see real value in placing the Twin Peaks books, cinema, and television together. Yet, I’d prefer to see this done with more attention to the distinct capacities of each media. When analysis appears to isolate content from form, it misses some vital opportunities. Plus, I’d be very interested to read more from Horton on why the different components of this unified story were encoded for us in different media. Were the films and tv and lithographs and paintings revealed differently to Lynch according to his theory? If so, why? Or, in this theory, did Lynch have autonomy in selecting the media for each installment? If so, does the theory posit that he selected consciously or not with particular ends in mind?
Rob: That’s interesting. While I know there are fans out there who prefer to ignore the books, I tend to think of the series as a unified transmedia experience. I’m a sucker for the books and reconciling the information they supply. That angle added to my enjoyment of Horton’s approach, where I came to his book really wanting to see him tie the films and narratives together. I think he was successful in following his own threads, and while I agree that the “BOB series” was a fascinating analysis on its own, that particular chapter, I felt, was a distraction from the unified thread Horton was attempting. While it shows his openness to examine all of Lynch’s art, I think that task was at once overwhelming while undermining some really successful connections. Honestly, one of the most impressive usages of the transmedia was his ability to tease them apart for a chronological experience that kept me apprised of every character’s role in a decade or time period. I really enjoyed that the structure of In Dreams supplies a timeline of the narratives–while this is happening in Blue Velvet, this is happening to Laura according to the diary, and this is where Cooper is at according to his autobiography.
Andy: Two last thoughts to share.
First is that even as I definitely recommend the book for people who love noodling over Twin Peaks and Lynch’s art more broadly, I felt that it omitted consideration of what Twin Peaks and the other texts do–the kinds of work they perform in the world–by thinking exclusively about what the texts mean. To illustrate my point, when the character Jade came up from Twin Peaks: The Return, the book focused solely on things like the rhyme that her name creates with the ring; left out of the picture are the intersectional matters of race, gender, and exploitation that the character broadcasts and that an essay like Melanie McFarland’s in the book The Women of Lynch explore in-depth.
Second is that I offer gratitude to Horton for doing all this work and sharing it with the world. The chronological timeline of Twin Peaks: The Return, alone, is extremely valuable as a resource, much less what ultimately equals a compendium of tropes and signatures, remainders and reflections. I read the book; it’s on my shelf; and I know I’ll return to it again and again for its moments of brilliant connection.
Rob: Yeah, fair points. I’m right there. While I might have complaints if I’m being critical, I find this book yet another great resource for the Twin Peaks portions alone. As I continue to write about approaches to the transmedia series and its power to invoke really surprising responses, I’m going to come back to this book. This is a great example of fandom’s paratextual content. Once an audience engages with the original material and then reaches out for a conversation about it with other fans, that extended output becomes every bit a part of the Twin Peaks and David Lynch experience. Yeah, I think Horton’s thoughts, as well as frighteningly thorough narrative here, fit really nicely into that textual structure. So, if you pick up a copy of this book, I would encourage you to know that you are, by my estimation, buying an entertaining fan novel but that it will certainly supply you with some valuable additions to your broader Twin Peaks dialogue.