A Tale of Twin Queens of Hearts

I’ve been thinking about why we love the art we love. In some of my most formative encounters with creative work, like Lolita, trauma fueled the attraction; in others, such as butoh dance, I was lured by an exotic vibration that turned familiar with time. But for Twin Peaks and The Tale of Genji, two of the works that shaped and soldered me, both trauma and the tension between exotic and familiar fostered my love. And this contemporary television series/movie franchise and this 1000-year-old Japanese novel are both obsessed with doubles.

When I first read The Tale of Genji in college, a friend remarked on the theme of the double. Its protagonist, Genji, loses a forbidden love to taboo (she’s his stepmother) and religion (she takes the tonsure), so he grooms her very young niece to take her place. In the novel’s radical last third, the antihero Kaoru replaces Oigimi, a lover who dies, with her half-sister Ukifune. My friend observed, “Twin Peaks is the same story when it comes to Dale Cooper’s infatuation with Annie,” a young woman and love interest who resembles his dead beloved, Caroline.

I was always more of a fan of the first season of Twin Peaks and the film, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me—and since 2017, of the 18-episode arc of The Return. So the second season of Twin Peaks and Cooper’s romance with Annie Blackburn, played by a frightened-looking and too-young Heather Graham, never really registered with me. That is, it didn’t until Queen of Hearts: A Twin Peaks Fan Film premiered on YouTube in 2021. A four hour, multi-year labor of love written and directed by Cameron Cloutier, Queen of Hearts tells the story of Annie in parallel with that of Caroline Earle, the doomed lover of Cooper and wife of his partner, Windom Earle.

Windom Earle killed Caroline after learning of her affair and would later kidnap Annie. The second season of Twin Peaks left Annie’s fate uncertain, and The Return only mentioned her once, through a diary entry by Laura Palmer. But Queen of Hearts celebrates, revives, fleshes out, and ultimately redeems the character.

For me, it also created a dazzling series of doubles. Twin Peaks and The Tale of Genji. Oigimi and Ukifune. Twin Peaks and Queen of Hearts. Annie and Caroline. I have little experience with fan films, but watching Queen of Hearts, it occurred to me that they are a doubling, too, of the source material by its retelling, and a doubling of the artwork and its fans as well. For me, too, there’s the doubling—or dozen-ing—involved in my repeat reads of The Tale of Genji and viewings of Twin Peaks.

Maybe the theme of the double is prevalent in literature, television, and film because that is how we experience art: in pairs. As a viewer/reader/audience and creator, as a medium and subject, as a first read and an always-returned-to read.

If you would like to watch Queen of Hearts, the first act can be found here: