Written by Eden H. Roquelaire for Twin Peaks Freaks.
Warning: Contains spoilers for Twin Peaks seasons 1 and 2, and the film Fire Walk With Me.
Dedicated to the memory of Catherine E. Coulson, who lent her brilliance and uniqueness to Twin Peaks, which has effected and inspired all of us fans for decades. Rest in peace.
“Welcome to Twin Peaks. My name is Margaret Lanterman. I live in Twin Peaks. I am known as the Log Lady. There is a story behind that. There are many stories in Twin Peaks – some of them are sad, some funny. Some of them are stories of madness, of violence. Some are ordinary. Yet they all have about them a sense of mystery – the mystery of life. Sometimes, the mystery of death. The mystery of the woods. The woods surrounding Twin Peaks. To introduce this story, let me just say it encompasses the all – it is beyond the “fire”, though few would know that meaning. It is a story of many, but begins with one…”
Margaret Lanterman, a.k.a. the Log Lady, is one of the most iconic characters from the series, along with Dale Cooper and Laura Palmer. She was the distributor of abstract wisdom, and had a strange connection to powerful forces. Her character is of a great importance that was never fully understood. David Lynch chose her to serve as a sort of guide to take us through Twin Peaks: Why is that? How did she obtain so much knowledge about the town and the woods? In this article, we will pay tribute to the wonderful Catherine Coulson by analyzing the character she so perfectly brought to life.
I carry a log – yes. Is it funny to you? It is not to me. Behind all things are reasons. Reasons can even explain the absurd. Do we have the time to learn the reasons behind the human being’s varied behavior? I think not. Some take the time. Are they called detectives? Watch – and see what life teaches.
When we are first introduced to the Log Lady in Twin Peaks, she is presented almost as a gimmick; something to laugh at. We learn rather quickly, as Cooper does, that this is a mistake. Margaret is a keeper of knowledge, and gives the protagonists essential clues in their mission. Her primary purpose is to serve as a link between the developed town and the spirits of untouched nature. The character is played by Catherine Coulson, who, you may know, has been a close personal friend of David Lynch’s since his film school days in the 1970s. You might not know, however, that at the time Twin Peaks was first written, the concept of the Log Lady was not a new one to Lynch: As early as the 70s, he had planned to make a series called I’ll Test My Log with Every Branch of Knowledge. The character was written for Coulson, who Lynch met while working on Eraserhead.
“I had this idea during Eraserhead that I described to her and Jack (Nance) and and whoever would listen. And it was called I’ll Test My Log with Every Branch of Knowledge! It’s a half-hour television show starring Catherine as the lady with the log. Her husband has been killed in a forest fire and his ashes are on the mantelpiece, with his pipes and his sock hat. He was a woodsman. But the fireplace is completely boarded up. Because she now is very afraid of fire. And she has a small child, but she doesn’t drive, so she takes cabs. And each show would start with her making a phone call to some expert in one of the many fields of knowledge. Maybe on this particular day she calls a dentist, but she makes the appointment for her log. And the log goes in the dental chair and gets a little bib and chain and the dentist X-rays the log for cavities, goes through the whole thing, and the son is also there. Because she is teaching her son through his observations of what the log is going through. And then sometimes they go to a diner and they never get to where they’re going.”
-David Lynch (Source: Lynch On Lynch)
Right away, from this synopsis, we can see the connection between the Log Lady and obscure knowledge, told in strange ways. But what is the truth behind the Log Lady? Why does she carry a log in the first place? Why does the log seem to communicate with her? And how? And what is the point of her transmitting these obscure clues to people?
So, let’s begin taking our closer look into Margaret, a.k.a. the Log Lady. She clearly knows more than we know:
I grew up in the woods. I understand many things because of the woods.
So right away, we get the idea that she has lived in Twin Peaks for all of her life, at least since she was a little girl. Through her extensive experience with it, she formed a sort of intimacy with the woods, and learned some of its secrets. However, she also says that there are many things she “mustn’t say,” and then directs the viewers’ attention to the fact that her fire place is boarded up, so there will never be a fire in there. Of course, fire, in Twin Peaks, is virtually synonymous with BOB. So just what did she learn from the woods? Perhaps she was privy to the comings and goings of Dugpas? Did she maybe meet BOB? We aren’t given any real evidence that she did, but her husband most likely has.
The Log Lady explains, in bits and pieces, how her husband, a logger, was killed in a fire in the woods the day after their wedding. It was “not a friendly fire.” Because of this, she has a deep fear of fire. She says that “fire is the devil, hiding like a coward in the smoke.” One night, before his death, her husband brought a jar of scorched engine oil, and told her it was “an opening to a gateway.” He may have gotten this from the woods, or he may have been taking it to the woods, instead. Either way, whatever he was doing with the oil must have been what triggered his meeting with “the devil.” Most likely, he was trying to open the gateway to the Black Lodge, for whatever reason, and seems to have succeeded. From the Lodge came BOB, who killed the logger with fire.
It may be that after his death, the Log Lady’s husband became trapped in the Black Lodge, or otherwise entered this realm in spirit form. A popular theory says that he is one of the lumberjacks seen above the convenience store in Fire Walk With Me.
If this is the Log Lady’s husband, it suggests some intriguing things: Firstly, it implies that he plays a larger role than we might suspect. Rather than being a hapless logger who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, he could be a wise man or even an occultist with great knowledge of the woods and the goings on therein. Most likely, his meeting with BOB was intentional. Could he have been attempting to make a pact with the Lodge beings, similar to what Windom Earle was attempting? Only, perhaps he wasn’t planning on making this pact for evil, as Earle was planning on doing. Perhaps he wanted to deal with the Lodge beings in order to learn more about them, and use that information positively.
Another common theory is that the Log Lady’s husband is inside the log that she carries. When you consider the fate Josie met at the hands of BOB, this makes a lot of sense. It seems that in Twin Peaks, wood can be used as a receptacle for spirits. Notice the name of an important patch of woods in town: Ghostwood. That about sums it up, doesn’t it? If we know that Josie was trapped in the wood of the Great Northern Hotel after being murdered by BOB, it only seems reasonable to conclude that the Log Lady’s husband could have become trapped in the wood of a nearby tree. Likely, BOB came upon him in the forest, while he was chopping wood, killed him, and perhaps trapped his spirit in one of the logs that was left behind. The Log Lady, having a deep connection to the woods, was able to sense this, and took the log with her. Through it, he is able to psychically communicate with her, providing her with crucial information, which she passes on to the appropriate source.
Another interesting connection is between Margaret and Major Briggs. Both seem to have been abducted by aliens/angels/beings from the White Lodge, and left with interlocking symbols on their skin. This implies that Margaret, her husband (through the log), and Major Briggs are being used as agents by the White Lodge: The log (Margaret’s husband) tells Margaret to tell Briggs to deliver the message he received from the deep space monitors, which is a warning to Agent Cooper (“The owls are not what they seem”). This would make all of them agents of good, influenced and aided by the White Lodge.
As for the markings or “tattoos” left on the Log Lady and the Major, it would seem that they, too, are meant as clues, to help lead Cooper (or another agent of good) to the map within Owl Cave, and in turn give them the location of the opening to the Lodges.
An interesting point of note is Margaret’s surname: Lanterman. It sounds similar to “lantern,” implying illumination; someone who lights the way.
Margaret’s dwelling place in her cabin in the woods made her an excellent person to keep watch over anything taking place there: The actions of the Dugpas, the movements of the owls, and other strange phenomena. Perhaps she had experiences similar to Leland’s as a child, and this began her lifelong connection to the nature spirits around her. Through this, she was able to achieve her own kind of zen, and learn many secrets. However, she could not pass on all of these secrets, as not all knowledge is meant to be passed on at once. After all, a path is formed by laying one stone at a time.
Margaret seems to have been chosen by the White Lodge, through her close relationship with the woods. Both she and her husband developed a deep connection and understanding of the woods and the spirits that dwell there, and, in turn, the woods and the spirits became familiar with the two of them. Perhaps the White Lodge spirits sensed a purity of heart in Margaret and her husband, and that is why they were “chosen” to help act against BOB. Margaret understands the dangers of the owls, the power of nature, and the terror BOB’s fire. This made her a powerful agent of good for the White Lodge, and a valuable ally of Cooper’s. Her participation will be sorely missed in the new season, but her presence will continue to be felt in Twin Peaks.
“There is a sadness in this world, for we are ignorant of many things. Yes, we are ignorant of many beautiful things – things like the truth. So sadness, in our ignorance, is very real. The tears are real. What is this thing called a tear? There are even tiny ducts – tear ducts – to produce these tears should the sadness occur. Then the day when the sadness comes – then we ask: ‘Will this sadness which makes me cry – will this sadness that makes my heart cry out – will it ever end? The answer, of course, is yes. One day the sadness will end.”
-Margaret Lanterman, the Log Lady