by Hank Leukart
January 28, 2010
Exploring Forks, Washington on the Olympic Peninsula, the setting of a teen vampire novel.
Twilight fans stand in front of the Forks Chamber of Commerce and a replica of Bella's 1953 Chevy pickup truck. (view all Forks, Washington photos)
ORKS, Washington — I am walking down a Los Angeles sidewalk in November, wearing jeans, a polo shirt, and sunglasses, when I encounter hundreds of girls, mostly aged 12 to 22, camped out with tents and folding chairs. I walk by them for at least 10 blocks — a lot of walking for a car-obsessed city like Los Angeles — and as I pass, I notice them staring, whispering, and sometimes even shouting at me.
“Hey, want to join us?” a brown-eyed, dark-haired girl in jeans and boots yells suggestively at me.
“Are you in line too?” another one with a dark complexion asks me.
“You’re hot,” whispers a third, a carbon copy of the first two.
I’d be happy to brag and pretend that this experience is a typical snapshot of my everyday life in Los Angeles, but who would I be kidding? You’d never believe that anyway. I start to wonder what would make teenage girls fall instantly in love with me. It feels like they have mistaken me for a celebrity, but I’ve never been told that I look like any celebrity. (Okay, once, a girl told me that I look like Justin Timberlake, but I promise you that she was lying. I look nothing like him, and, needless to say, he would destroy me in a dance-off.) I begin to wonder if, by some miracle of fate, I have stumbled on a blessed clothing combination that makes me look drop-dead sexy. But then I catch a reflection of myself in a store window and realize that I just look like me.
“What are you guys waiting in line for?” I ask one of the girls. She looks up at me, playing with her hair and batting her eyelashes.
“It’s the premiere of The Twilight Saga: New Moon,” she says coyly.
Suddenly, everything makes sense to me. I have unwittingly walked into a mass of the most lust-consumed women in Los Angeles.
For those of you who are not in Twilight’s target audience (mostly teenage girls and middle-aged women), here’s an explanation: Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series — a collection of four books about introverted yet beautiful high school girl Bella Swan, who is trapped in a love triangle with mysterious and conflicted vampire Edward Cullen and shirtless underdog werewolf Jacob Black — has sold 85 million copies worldwide. Twilight is about teenage lust — and I don’t simply mean that lust is one of the series’ themes. I mean that Twilight is teenage lust. Read Twilight or watch the movie, and you’ll see what I mean. The most accurate, and most complete, plot summary I can provide for the first book is simple: “O.M.G. That vampire is so hot.”
I don’t mean to totally deride Twilight. Though I have read only the first book and watched the first two movies (to write this essay), I can attest that, her simplistic writing aside, Meyer captures the essence of teenage desire and isolation perfectly, in a way that resonates intensely with her almost-exclusively female audience.
So, when about two months after being mentally undressed by hundreds of girls on an LA sidewalk, my travel buddies Rich and Wendy suggest that we meet in Seattle after a business trip, the first thing that pops into my head is Twilight. Well, not exactly — I first imagine driving to Forks, Washington to go hiking in the beautiful Olympic Peninsula, near Seattle. But then, I think, Oh, that’s the setting of Twilight — and then I’m incredibly embarrassed that my brain has bothered even to store that information. Still, I’m curious. Maybe Twilight’s enormous success could make more sense to me if I give Forks a chance.
“Why don’t we go hiking on the Olympic Peninsula,” I say to Rich and Wendy — and then almost under my breath: “We can also go on a Twilight tour.”
They look at me incredulously.
“You know, ironically,” I quickly add.
They spend a few minutes mocking me, but they aren’t too surprised — I’ve dragged them on other off-beat adventures — we’ve bungee jumped from a bridge in the wilderness and investigated Area 51 before. By now, they’re used to — and, I like to think, even appreciative — of my harebrained trip ideas. That’s the thing with adventure — it’s addictive, but it’s also fulfilling, in a way that alcohol, drugs, and Facebook status updates are not.
Soon, the three of us are driving around the southern tip of Washington’s Puget Sound, from Seattle to Forks, in an oversized, white van (the rental car company gave us a great deal on it). At first glance, outsiders might assume that we’re a family on a road trip with a minivan filled with Twilight-obsessed tweens — except there are no tweens — just three adults who can barely remember which character is Edward (the vampire) and which one is Jacob (the werewolf).
Always eager to get a glimpse into pop culture niches, I turn on Twilight Series Theories, a podcast hosted by Twilight super fans and sisters Kallie Matthews and Kassie Rodgers that I have loaded onto my iPod in preparation for our road trip. I select an episode — in which Kallie, Kassie, and their listeners compare and contrast Twilight with Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice — because the description makes it sound like it might have intellectual overtones. In reality, Kallie and Kassie’s critical analysis is at a level that could seem intellectual only to a sixth grader, including commentary like: “For me, the fact that Twilight and Pride and Prejudice are in two different time periods, I guess, is what makes the difference, because people expect the heroine to be this strong, outspoken person, where Bella, she, you know, the book is from her perspective and she does end up being considered the heroine in the books. I don’t know. It’s just weird.” Rich, Wendy, and I can’t wait for it to end.
Not easily deterred, I then try playing an episode of Imprint, another Twilight podcast hosted by four college students, Andrew Sims, Elysa Montfort, Matt Britton, and Laura Thompson. We expect that we’re in for another hour of torture, but after only 15 minutes, we’re totally hooked. The quartet discusses Twilight in a breezy yet intelligent way that manages to increase our interest in the books while also making us laugh, a lot. Their trick, of course, is that they don’t take themselves too seriously.
“Someone should cancel The View and give these guys a talk show instead,” I say.
“I wish they had taught my college English classes,” Wendy says.
Near the end of the first Imprint episode, during a discussion about the difficulty of book-to-movie adaptations, Elysa mentions, but doesn’t fully explain, a gruesome scene in Breaking Dawn.
“Wait, Edward bites a half-vampire baby out of Bella’s stomach?!” Wendy exclaims, horrified. “What is she talking about?”
“Uh, we’re not the people to ask,” Rich says, looking at me.
“We need to find out what this is about,” Wendy says urgently.
After four and a half hours of driving and Twilight podcasts, we arrive at The Miller Tree Inn (also known as The Cullen House after being so-designated by the Forks Chamber of Commerce), a bed and breakfast filled to the brim with Twilight-related props, complete with a whiteboard on the front porch showing updates on The Cullen’s whereabouts. (When we arrive, it says, “The Cullens are taking a hike in the woods.”) We walk past pictures of Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson (the actors in the Twilight movies), copies of the Twilight movie soundtrack, and even a display of 125 graduation caps: the eternally-teenage Cullens’ high school souvenirs described in Twilight. When we arrive at our room, we’re allowed to choose from a collection of Twilight-themed signs for our door (we choose “Edward’s Room.”) When Wendy sees a complete collection of the Twilight novels on the room’s desk, she grabs Breaking Dawn immediately.
“I need to find out about this baby-biting thing,” Wendy explains. She changes into her pajamas, plops down on the bed, and starts reading.
Rich and I look at each other. Maybe it’s a girl thing, he says to me, telepathically. Thank God we’re only here ironically, I respond, silently.
A Travel Guide to Forks, Washington
- DIRECTIONS: Forks, Washington is about a four and a half hour drive from Seattle, Washington. You can get to Forks by driving on I-5 North to Edmonds, taking the car ferry from Edmonds to Kingston, and then taking WA-104 to US-101 to Forks. If you prefer, you can avoid taking a ferry by driving south around the Puget Sound by taking I-5 South to WA-16 to WA-3 to WA-104 to US-101 to Forks, though depending on traffic and the ferry schedule, this can take longer.
- LODGING: In Forks, the Miller Tree Inn (a.k.a. The Cullen House, $105-$205) is the best place to stay for Twilight fans. The owners are remarkably friendly, the charming, comfortable house is filled with Twilight memorabilia, and the gingerbread pancakes with lemon sauce served for breakfast are worth the price of the room alone. If your budget is tight, you can also try the Forks Motel ($58-$150). This no-frills motel has spacious, comfortable rooms more than worth their price.
- TWILIGHT SIGHTSEEING: Tourists can easily visit all of these sights on their own (see the Without Baggage Twilight-sights map). However, for $39 per person, Dazzled by Twilight will take fans on a Forks tour, complete with hot chocolate and a cinnamon roll. The sightseeing is irrelevant; the real fun is being trapped in a tour bus with a gaggle of Twilight fans singing along to the movies’ soundtracks. For diehard fans (though probably not for reluctant tagalongs), the experience is worth the price.
- “Forks Welcomes You” Sign (seen on US-101 on the way into town): You’ll be sure to run into some tweens and their moms when you go to take photos here.
- The Cullen House (a.k.a. The Miller Tree Inn) (654 E Division St.): You can see Twilight memorabilia through the windows if you’re not staying here, but the fun is in the charming rooms and their yummy breakfast.
- Forks City Hall and Police Department (500 E Division St.): Tourists can take pictures in front of the “Forks City Hall” sign outside and the “Police Department” door in the lobby; there is also a small Twilight souvenirs display inside.
- Forks High School (411 S. Spartan Ave.): Twilight fans can take photos with the sign in front of the school, but be warned: the school doesn’t look like anything seen in the movies.
- Forks Outfitters (950 S. Forks Ave.): Lots of Twilight merchandise is available here, the place where Bella works part-time in the novels. You can also pick up Forks and Forks High School T-shirts and hoodies.
- Bella’s Truck (Forks Chamber of Commerce, 1411 South Forks Ave.): The Forks Chamber of Commerce purchased a 1953 Chevrolet pickup truck, painted it red, added a “BELLA” license plate, and left it for photographs outside the Forks Visitor Center.
- Bella’s House (775 K St.): The Forks Chamber of Commerce designated this two-story house Bella’s and Charlie’s. It’s just a house.
- Forks Community Hospital (530 Bogachiel Way): In the novels, Dr. Carlisle Cullen works here and Bella is taken here after Tyler almost drives into her with his car. You’ll see a “Dr. Cullen: Reserve Parking Only” sign here.
- Dazzled by Twilight store (11 N. Forks Ave.): Here’s where you can pick up a Twilight T-shirt (or a bumper sticker, or cardboard cutout of Robert Pattinson).
- Treaty Line (7760 La Push Rd.): Here, a “No Vampires Beyond This Point” sign designates the start of the Quillayute Indian Reservation.
- First Beach in La Push (drive west on La Push Rd. until you can’t drive anymore): This is the setting of Bella’s trip to the beach with her high school friends, and it’s where she learns the history of the feud between vampires and werewolves from Jacob. More importantly, this stretch of coastline is one of the most beautiful sights in Washington State.
- Bella Italia (118 E. 1st. St., Port Angeles): Edward takes Bella to this (real) restaurant in Port Angeles, Washington in the first novel. Fans can even order the same mushroom ravioli that Bella orders in the book ($17, dinner only).
Falling in love with a teenage vampire cardboard cutoutA
fter eating breakfast adjacent to an enormous elk’s head in the Forks Coffee Shop the next morning, Rich, Wendy, and I head outside — through a door reading “Add your name to the Twilight wall of fame!” — jump into our Twilight road trip minivan, and drive toward Olympic National Park. We’re standing, in the pouring rain, at the trailhead for Cape Alava Trail, a 9-mile loop that takes hikers through dense, temperate rain forest to the Olympic Peninsula’s shore. In rain jackets and pants, we walk under a canopy of 200-foot tall, moss-covered Douglas Fir trees, until we reach a break in the forest. A powerful, freezing sheet of rain pounds us in the face, and we look out at untouched, prehistoric-looking coastline, with rocky, white sand beaches littered with dark, massive old-growth driftwood and a restless ocean surface broken by rain-drenched sea stacks sprinkled with green grass.
In Twilight, the Olympic Peninsula’s constant rain plays a major role, reinforcing Bella’s consistently dour mood. As Bella yearns for Edward’s attention, she describes Forks as “literally [her] personal hell on Earth” and complains that the rain “[makes] it dim as twilight under the [forest] canopy and [patters] like footsteps across the matted earthen floor.” She describes the Pacific Ocean as “dark gray, even in the sunlight.” She finds that the only way she can escape the dismal weather is through her lust, and eventually her love, for Edward. As the rain continues to pelt us and Wendy and Rich get ahead of me, I find myself empathizing with Bella. I can imagine how hiking in the rain could be a lot better with a devastatingly sexy female vampire. Well, minus the vampire part, I guess.
After our hike, we stop for dinner at Pacific Pizza, where I eat Bellasagna — which, you might be able to guess, is lasagna with a Twilight-themed name. Everything we see in Forks is Bellasagna: everyday objects rechristened in a half-assed attempt at a Twilight tie-in without any meaningful follow-through. I wonder if maybe these superficial attempts are a more accurate reflection of the book than I realize — I feel like I’m surrounded by perfunctory effort and teenage malaise.
After we eat, we decide to visit the Mill Creek Bar and Grill, where a Scottish singer-songwriter sings Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind,” Johnny Cash’s “Riders in the Sky,” and Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves in London,” all with changed, Twilight-themed lyrics. His new lyrics are underwhelming. But, by the end of the night, I’m embarrassed to admit that Rich, Wendy, and I are humming the chorus to “Werewolves in Forks.”
On the way back to our bed and breakfast, Wendy explains the plot of Breaking Dawn in the car: “After Bella and Edward get married, Edward has sex with Bella so violently that she is knocked unconscious,” Wendy says. It appears that she has become a diehard Twilight fan overnight. “Suddenly, Bella is pregnant, and her girl vampire-human baby becomes so strong that she breaks Bella’s ribs and spine. Edward decides to rip open Bella’s stomach with his teeth to save Bella and the baby. When the baby’s finally out, Jacob, who was previously in love with Bella, falls in love with Bella’s baby instead.”
“Jacob falls in love with a baby?!” I ask in disbelief. “That is the most insane piece of abstinence-only education that I have ever heard.”
The next morning, the three of us, a family with a 12-year-old daughter, and a Twilight-obsessed 22-year-old woman named Jenny with her husband in tow, meet for a guided Twilight tour outside Dazzled by Twilight, the town’s largest Twilight souvenir shop. Travis, our guide, directs us to a Dazzled by Twilight tour bus (license plate: “DAZZLE1”). Gloomy songs from the Twilight movie soundtracks emanate from the bus’s speakers while Travis tells us that Forks residents used to be mostly loggers. But these days, he says, the town’s economy is kept afloat by the nearby Clallam Bay and Olympic Corrections Centers and tourists visiting to see Twilight sights and the Olympic National Park. Then, he takes a passenger poll to find out who is on Team Edward and who is on Team Jacob. (Twilight fans tend to divide themselves into two camps — pro-vampire or pro-werewolf — though some choose to remain on Team Switzerland.)
“Team Edward!” I yell, because, well, I’m trying to fit in. I don’t really know what team I am on, or should be on, but I decide that I don’t want be on the team with a dude who’s in love with an infant. Twilight super fan Jenny looks at me, disgusted. Apparently she’s on Team Jacob — and feels very strongly about it.
Then, Travis stops the bus outside a small, nondescript house.
“This is Bella’s house,” he says. Except, it isn’t, because Bella is a fictional character and never actually lived in Forks. Even the Twilight movies weren’t actually filmed in Forks. The only reason we’re stopping at this house is because the Forks Chamber of Commerce designated it Bella’s house.
I notice that ice skates are hanging next to the door, and I say that this seems strange, since Bella’s character is famously clumsy and nonathletic. Jenny, who previously decided that she hated me for being on Team Edward, suddenly heartily agrees with me. Somehow, I’ve won her over.
Our tour continues in this manner, with Travis taking us to “The Cullen House,” “Jacob’s house,” Forks City Hall (“Where Charlie, Bella’s dad, works!”), the Forks Community Hospital (“Where Dr. Cullen works!”), and Forks High School. We even visit the Forks Timber Museum, where the Forks Chamber of Commerce has parked a replica of Bella’s red 1953 Chevrolet pickup truck (license plate: “BELLA”). The delighted teenage girl and Jenny have their photos taken in front of every attraction. Rich, Wendy and I do too. I feel like I’m in a college semiotics seminar, in which a professor blows every student’s mind by explaining that we live in a postmodern world filled with floating signifiers. Meanwhile, Travis keeps driving our tour bus to signifiers — but when we get out of the bus to look around, I realize that nothing means anything. Bellasagna is everywhere. The rain continues, drenching us, with no signs of sunshine. I feel like a confused teenager, disconnected and lost. I start to wonder if Travis’s Twilight tour is working on me in a way I had never expected.
Travis drives us to the (real) Quillayute Indian Reservation, with Anya Marina’s melancholy song Satellite Heart, from the The Twilight Saga: New Moon movie soundtrack, oozing through the tour bus. (Don’t miss this totally emo video for it.)
I’m a satellite heart
Lost in the dark
I’m spun out so far
You stop, I start
But I’ll be true to you.
As I listen, the song makes me think of the hundreds of women, camped out on a Los Angeles sidewalk in November, flirting with me. I think that maybe I’m starting to understand Twilight better. Adults mock young love lust because it seems so overwrought, so unsophisticated, and so naked. But Twilight seems to suggest that maybe adults are wrong — maybe love is the exclusive playground of the young and unjaded. Maybe Edward and Bella have to stay teenagers forever because that’s the only way love can exist forever.
(Then again, maybe Stephanie Meyer is just trying to remind teenagers that if they have unprotected sex, they may end up creating super babies that break girls’ spines. Her message is not totally lucid.)
When Travis drives us across the Treaty Line, where the Quillayute Reservation’s land begins, we all get out of our tour bus and go into a small restaurant, which has cinnamon rolls and hot chocolate waiting for us. Inside, standing next to the restaurant’s “Twilight Menu” (which includes the Bella Banana Split), we see cardboard cutouts of Edward Cullen and Jacob Black (represented by Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner). Jenny grabs the cutout of Edward, squeals, brings him over to her table, and demands to have her picture taken with him, I mean, it. I watch, in utter shock, because I’m positive she was a member of Team Jacob.
“I felt bad for Jacob, because no one went with his team,” she explains apologetically. “But, really, I’m in love with Edward.”
Then, in my weekend’s strangest moment, I see her gaze deeply into the golden eyes of the cardboard cutout of a teenage vampire.
You know that glow of longing you only see behind a young woman’s eyes when she really, really loves someone? That’s what I saw. For a moment, they were two teenagers.
Maybe the glow was ironic.
Without Baggage thanks Dazzled by Twilight for generously donating Breaking Dawn tour tickets.
A cardboard cutout of Edward Cullen (a.k.a. Robert Pattinson) stands behind a restaurant menu in Forks, Washington.