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A horse is a horse...of course, of course?

Jordan Cole

Glastonbury Grove
Sep 22, 2022
139
211
Hey friends!

Last year I got into a quite bizarre argument on the Twin Peaks reddit about the White Horse that went on for days, and it felt like everyone was kind of against me. I'm curious what you think.

Not to focus on the argument, but the crux of it was that people on the reddit continuously spoke of the horse as a "symbol." I don't know where it started but somehow the idea that "horse equals heroin" or "horse equals death" because a quite pervasive meme among Twin Peaks fans. I remember reading that myself when I first watched the series on DVD. Cornpone, the youtube account who does excellent Twin Peaks videos, even stumbled in this one aspect when discussing the horse, dismissing it as an obvious symbol and not wondering about its role in the Mythology.

In my opinion, Lynch does not really work in such one-to-one symbolic language. I think he gets ideas, images, and he has themes he wants to explore in his head (negativity, loss, exploitation, love, darkness, etc), but it's not so clear cut as "I will put a horse in there as a symbol." (Note: Mark Frost very well may operate in this way, but the Horse notably only appears in Lynch-directed works.)

The major problem with the "symbol" idea is that season 3 firmly establishes the Horse as a Lodge Being (though I feel many could have guessed it was already, the harsh spotlight on it evoking Bob and the Giant's appearance in season 2 of Twin Peaks.) In season 3 we see the Horse literally "behind the curtain" of the Red Room (what could THAT mean!?) This to me was a jaw-dropping reveal (the Horse is REAL!! that many fans seemed to ignore. Even today I rarely see it mentioned.

In episode 8 we hear the Horse (I like to think that it is THE horse) at the end, as the Woodsman walks off into the darkness, after delivering a poem all about a horse being the dark within.

In episode 18 we have horse imagery all over the place; a white horse in front of Judy's Diner, horse shoes and photos of horses along the diner wall, a white horse in front of a blue plate (an eye? The Earth? A pool of water?) at Carrie's house.

The headline coming out of these episodes is this: the Horse isn't (merely) a symbol, or part of Sarah's imagination, it's a character! So with that being said, our job as Twin Peaks dorks should be to try to figure out the character's role in things, just as we wonder about The Jumping Man, or Bob, or the Woodsmen, etc, etc. It's a character just like Maddie or Nadine or Pete or the Fireman.

I will extend this further, and stop me if I'm going into loony territory: I believe all of the horse imagery in episode 18 is meant to make us think of "the white of the eyes and dark within" as Cooper and Carrie are driving down the highway and suddenly ominous bright headlights appear behind them. Is this a giant Horse spirit chasing them, following them, spying on them? Nothing conveys "the white of the eyes and the dark within" like this:

Screen Shot 2018-06-04 at 1.06.16 PM.png

Is the Horse an agent of Judy, a spy? Is the Horse another form Judy takes? Is the Horse more powerful than Judy, the one behind the curtain? Did the Horse pick up the Woodsmen at the end of episode 8 and carry them home? Is the horse imagery in episode 18 conveying the idea that while Carrie is in this world, the Horse is keeping an eye on her (this is how I see it, if you hadn't guessed.) Was the Horse keeping an eye on Sarah during Bob's attacks? Can we somehow figure the Horse is good? Warning Sarah? Protecting Carrie? Crying out over what the Woodsman did in episode 8? Maybe...but I can't help thinking of the Horse as another scary Lodge entity, and that a goal of episode 18 was to reenforce this idea. And the other question: why don't I ever see other Twin Peaks fans thinking of the horse in this way? What about you all?
 

AXX°N N.

Great Northern Hotel
Apr 14, 2022
82
185
I'm sure I'd be liable to disagree with some symbolic interpretations, but it's worth noting that Lynch puts the horse into symbolic terms. It features in two poems:

The Log Lady introduction he wrote: 15/30: Woe to the ones who behold the pale horse
And of course the Part 8 woodsman's you mention.

The Log Lady's creates a very strong connection through its language to the biblical pale horse which death rides, and Peaks isn't shy of biblical imagery via angels, Briggs reading verses, among others. I think this is enough to support a "the horse = death" reading, although I agree that's not where the reading should end, and that framing it as a symbol only is sort of a thought-terminating cliche.

But it gets complicated when we have characters that are proxies. Naido is Diane, the Little Man from Another Place is part of Mike, Owls are vessels for BOB, the Jumping Man is connected to the Palmers somehow, etc., etc. When the horse is consistently put into symbolic context, through poems, visual signifiers (a figure, a spring toy), it's hard not to take it as some kind of coded figurant, warning, key code.

I think the horse is most evocative as presented--extremely abstract recurring motif. It never talks, so I'm not sure I see the point in trying to tease out its potential machinations. If anything it's unnerving because it has such an ineffable angelic and yet imposing presence. It reminds me of how I feel watching Au Hasard Balthazar--it's using the inherent ineffibility of animals in an interesting way and stubbornly sticking to it.
 

Vedic

Sparkwood & 21
Apr 19, 2022
13
31
Via Roberto Calasso's Ardor, the aśvamedha, or "The Horse Sacrifice" was a highly significant Vedic event.

Lynch has also spoke of Georges Franju's Le Sang des bêtes where a horse is efficiently dismantled.

I think it's something which has multiple resonances.


EDIT

Found the text in Ardor I was looking for:

"What is the horse? It is one of Prajāpati’s eyes that had swollen up and then fallen out."

“Prajāpati’s eye became swollen; it fell out: from it was produced the horse; and inasmuch as it swelled up (aśvayat), that is the origin of the horse (aśva)"

"Through the sacrifice of the horse the gods restored it [the eye] to its place; and verily he who performs the horse sacrifice makes Prajāpati complete."
 
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Jordan Cole

Glastonbury Grove
Sep 22, 2022
139
211
So I should maybe clarify what I'm saying, which is that I'm not saying the horse can't be a symbol, but to think of it in a similar way as say, Bob. Bob is a symbol/metaphor to larger themes of abuse and darkness within us or denial or what have you (yadda yadda yadda!) But we can also talk quite literally about Bob, his origins, his motivations, his character and his place in the mythology (which I admit, is more interesting to me. I find the emotional/metaphorical ideas powerful but I almost don't like talking them out loud too much, if that makes sense?) I rarely...ok, I've never seen the horse spoken of in this way, and I find it incredibly fascinating to do so!

I do think when Lynch writes "Woe to the ones who behold the pale horse", there's now a double meaning happening there, the symbolic meaning (i.e. read your bible, kids!) and a hint at the mythology: the horse is not a good being for Sarah to see, and (looking to the future at season 3), we should have our eye on it because as a Lodge being, it's up to no good, in a story context. I wouldn't be surprised if Lynch had more plans for the horse way back then.

I think Lynch tends to use symbols and metaphors that are more personal to him and from his own life, as opposed to Frost's tendency to use symbols and references that are specific parts of history, other cultures, other mythologies, books, poems, etc (I just checked and the horse IS in the original script for episode 14, so this could have been conceived of by Frost.) I'm not saying Lynch never does that, I just think he tends not to as much as some may think. I of course could be totally wrong! It's just what I gather from interviews, his book, his stories and anecdotes, his paintings, etc.

The horse being an animal and never talking I've noticed has stopped some from interpreting its place in story mechanics, but the Jumping Man never talks too, and other Lodge weirdness seems so abstract and hard to pin down on a story level, but that usually doesn't seem to stop anyone! I think season 3 is implying the Horse has some sort of intelligence and important role in things.
 

eyeboogers

RR Diner
Apr 14, 2022
45
53
Revelations 6:8 "And I saw, and behold, a pale horse, and its rider's name was Death"

The horse appears whenever someone is about to die, has recently died (the assassinated gangster in "What Is your name") or in risk of dying.
 

Jordan Cole

Glastonbury Grove
Sep 22, 2022
139
211
I think the same can be said about many characters or visuals though! A lot of people die in Twin Peaks, especially by the time we're in season 3. Though I don't think its appearances in season 3 correlate very specifically with death. It's at the end of episode 8, long past the deaths that happen at the radio station. It's in the midst of episode 2, I believe, in the Red Room (does anything really die there? I guess Windom Earle did.) It's referenced all over episode 18 which feels more like a stale purgatory than a death.

I don't mean to be dismissive, I just personally think "is about to die, has recently died or in risk of dying" is way too vague for a solid or conclusive interpretation. Tons of characters are at risk of dying, and so many die in random scenes here and there during season 3. The only one that really feels strongly aligned with death specifically and immediately in the same sequence is the one that appears before Maddie's death. Everything else is too disconnected.

In Fire Walk With Me the horse does not appear before Laura's death (as, in not immediately before), but before an assault/appearance from Bob in Laura's room.

I'm afraid I don't find much interesting about the general horse=death idea. It's too broad for me, maybe too easy, and not engaging with its role as a Lodge (or whatever term you like) entity, and ignoring a lot of its appearances, whether literal or through visual clues (ep 18).
 
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Mr. Reindeer

Waiting Room
Apr 13, 2022
278
493
I agree that like most of the Lodge entities, the horse functions on both a symbolic and literal mythology level. The horse is probably one of the more obvious symbols besides Bob himself, and I think was clearly drawn from Revelation probably by Frost (although Lynch has been known to read the Bible for inspiration and has said a biblical passage inspired part of Eraserhead, and he also read the Bible when he was stuck for ideas on INLAND EMPIRE; but as you say, the idea originates in Frost’s script). But I do think it exists in a literal mythological sense as well as some kind of Lodge entity. The horse neighing sound at the end of Part 8 is pretty sinister and creepy.
 

Jordan Cole

Glastonbury Grove
Sep 22, 2022
139
211
Episode 8 has a lot of great stuff but the real final thing that exploded my brain was hearing that horse. And so distant, and in the pitch black desert...Terrifying. It's the first time it hit me that the horse was not a good thing.

I guess what inspires this post is it seems to me like the horse is the only thing in all of Twin Peaks that people reduce to just a symbol and don't treat as if its literally there, and ask questions about why its there in the story. I got torn apart on the reddit for saying this! People thought it was ludicrous that the horse wasn't just a symbol or Sarah's imagination (yes, even after season 3), as if the show just did that sort of thing all the time.

Just saying its there because it represents death...to be frank, I...don't even think Twin Peaks or Lynch's storytelling functions that way at all. I may be forgetting something, but there's not usually just visuals put in to just represent something else...usually what you see is what you are getting and there's a firm foundation in the story, the mythology, and reality of that world/s, even with the use of metaphor and symbolic references to various things. Things don't just sort of float in to represent things and then go away. I'm always surprised when the horse is talked of in this way, even by some of the most mythology-obsessed Twin Peaks fans!

After season 3 I'm pretty firmly in the "the horse may have represented death early on, but it no longer does" camp. It's a lonely camp! I really think the idea behind the horse evolved way past the "death" thing starting around FWWM, and was fully figured out by season 3, much like many aspects of the show kept evolving and were built upon after small hints and early ideas.
 

Jordan Cole

Glastonbury Grove
Sep 22, 2022
139
211
I know! I always think of Twin Peaks. Actually, I work as a background actor and the past week I was on a show that used a lot of horses, including a white horse. I just stared at that white horse a lot!
 

meadowlark

Sparkwood & 21
Dec 11, 2022
13
10
Probably a little off topic, but Belle and Sebastian have a song called "Judy and the Dream of Horses".
It's a great song, as well. I think it's quite "self-referential". An ordinary girl called Judy writes a song called "Judy and the Dream of Horses". She shows it to one of her friends...
 

meadowlark

Sparkwood & 21
Dec 11, 2022
13
10
Via Roberto Calasso's Ardor, the aśvamedha, or "The Horse Sacrifice" was a highly significant Vedic event.

Lynch has also spoke of Georges Franju's Le Sang des bêtes where a horse is efficiently dismantled.

I think it's something which has multiple resonances.


EDIT

Found the text in Ardor I was looking for:

"What is the horse? It is one of Prajāpati’s eyes that had swollen up and then fallen out."

“Prajāpati’s eye became swollen; it fell out: from it was produced the horse; and inasmuch as it swelled up (aśvayat), that is the origin of the horse (aśva)"

"Through the sacrifice of the horse the gods restored it [the eye] to its place; and verily he who performs the horse sacrifice makes Prajāpati complete."
At the start of one of the Upanishads, it mentions a kind of cosmic horse, stretching across the sky. One of its eyes is like the Sun. The horse is a symbol of the cosmos. The quote has been translated from Sanskrit to English as:

"Om. Dawn is the head of the horse sacrificial. The sun is his eye, his breath is the wind, his wide open mouth is Fire, the master might universal. Time is the self of the horse sacrificial..."

At Carrie Page's house, there is an image of a white horse against a blue circle. The circle could be a mandala: another symbol of the Cosmos. The characters who see a vision of the horse are really seeing the Cosmos.
 

Jordan Cole

Glastonbury Grove
Sep 22, 2022
139
211
I'm still more interested in what the horse's literal function is as a Lodge being and its connection to Judy than whatever it may be a symbol for. In my view, the tokens of the horse spread out around episode 18 are symbols...for the horse!
 

AXX°N N.

Great Northern Hotel
Apr 14, 2022
82
185
It strikes me that although the Native American mythological elements of the series have been forefronted so often throughout the material, old and new, no one here (including me) has drawn a connection between the horse and the way horses were regarded in Native American culture. Symbols of power and use for what they allowed re: mobility and venerated for it ..... when you connect this to Laura's own personal relationship with a freed and later tragic horse, a strange overlap occurs--innocence, death, freedom, power, tragedy--and they all sound like a word cloud that embodies Laura Palmer.
 

secretlettermkr

Glastonbury Grove
Apr 12, 2022
166
153
I'm still more interested in what the horse's literal function is as a Lodge being and its connection to Judy than whatever it may be a symbol for. In my view, the tokens of the horse spread out around episode 18 are symbols...for the horse!
a horse cant be a symbol for a horse, in any case may be a SIGN, not the same thing
 

Jordan Cole

Glastonbury Grove
Sep 22, 2022
139
211
a horse cant be a symbol for a horse, in any case may be a SIGN, not the same thing

I'm saying it's representing the character of the horse, similar to how hearing the jazzy Red Room theme brings to mind the little man. As opposed to the little horse tokens being a symbol for ___metaphor/cosmic/etc___. I'm saying I think the purpose of those is to explicitly make you think of the actual horse character from the show/FWWM.
 
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