10 April, 2008

Pilgrimage for Twilight

I’ve just finished the Twilight series for the second time in two weeks (there will be a fourth and final book coming out in August that I am very eagerly awaiting) and as I tend to not just read but instead obsess over things, I decided to create a Twilight playlist, listen to nothing else for two weeks, check out every message board, fan site and photo gallery associated with the novels and their forthcoming movie, and plan a pilgrimage to the sites mentioned in Twilight. Namely Forks, La Push and Port Angeles, all in Washington State. Twilight, in short, is about a girl, Bella Swan, who moves from her mother’s place in Phoenix, AZ to her father’s in Forks, WA. She ends up falling in love with a boy named Edward Cullen who just happens to be a vampire. He and his family (6 other vampires) consider themselves ‘vegetarians’ (meaning they only drink the blood of animals, not humans) and they, too, reside in Forks due to the plentiful overcast days. Nearby on the Quileute reservation in La Push, WA, Bella’s best friend, Jacob Black is dealing with his own mythical dilemma as he discovers that he is a werewolf, and is the eternal enemy and predator of the vampires. Much drama, heartache, love, adventure and joy ensues as outside vampires plot Bella’s death, Edward and his family accept her as one of their own, and she deals with questions of love, life and the impending eternity as a vampire.

I was supposed to spend this week on the set of Twilight which is being filmed around Portland, OR, but the person I was supposed to be shadowing quit her job last week (quit Twilight! I know! Craziness!) and kind of left me stranded. So I'm definitely disappointed about that, I'm still hoping to contact someone on the set to see if I can reschedule (let me know if anyone has any links!) but I'm trying to make the best of it. Before that disappointment surfaced though, I wanted to check out the real towns of the Twilight series so I could compare the book to the real locations, and compare those to the film representations. So I packed up for a couple of days and took off for the Olympic peninsula of Washington.

Heading off of the I-5, I meandered through seaside towns, withered logging villages and vast expanses of the Olympic National Forest until I arrived in the little town of Forks, Washington, population 3,175. It was later in the day than I had hoped it would be, so I decided to drive through the town of Forks and go to the beach at La Push first, then circle back and explore Forks more thoroughly.

La Push is the reservation where Jacob Black lives; friend of Bella Swan and werewolf of the Quileute tribe. I turned onto La Push road and encountered a whole lot of nothing for about 14 miles. It was a pretty, wooded road with pines arching over the pavement, but there were no signs of human life until the actual town of La Push. ‘Town’ may be stretching it. La Push is filled with one family homes, trailers, a tribal heritage center, a chapel or two, and a number of run-down buildings. You could walk from one side to the other in about ten minutes and pass mostly homes. You won’t find any Seven-Elevens or McDonalds here, although there were a number of signs for smoked salmon, and a new general store where you could purchase snacks, Quileute memorabilia, gas and firewood to use in the new adjacent campground and RV park. Also springing up next to the RV park is an Oceanside resort. La Push seems to be emphasizing their tourism possibilities and utilize their unique heritage and gorgeous beaches.

Although different than I imagined it- as actual places always are from your imagination, after a few minutes it was easy to visualize Jacob walking out of one of the small houses down to his garage, or to picture Bella on First Beach waiting for him to meet her. Bella’s cliffs are just down to the left, and while I didn’t find a trail to them, I have no doubt that one exists and perhaps the more adventurous of the area have thrown themselves off of them in a lark of recklessness. It is certainly more touristy than I thought it would be, although that may be a very recent development. I pictured La Push to be very private, off the beaten track, where heads raised when any car rolled into town, and almost an exclusive place where everyone knew everyone else and I would certainly stand out as the only white person within miles. Not so. They seem to be inviting the outside world with open arms and encouraging ‘infiltration.’ At least I felt like I was infiltrating. It didn’t feel like the quiet, secluded, and sacred place that I imagined for Jacob and his pack.

After taking a dozen or so pictures of various aspects of La Push, I returned to Forks, stopping first in the tourism office as I figured that they would know about the Twilight books and be able to give me some idea about how they have reacted to their town being the epicenter of a battle between mythical races and a new pilgrimage location for avid fans. I pulled into the parking lot and a huge sign covering the majority of the main window proclaimed, “We (heart) Bella and Edward.”

I took this as a good sign.

There was a couple already talking to the gentleman who was attending the center, so I wandered around the one room looking at fliers and the small collection of knick knacks that Forks had to offer. It was mostly information about logging, the National Forest and fish hatcheries, but there were two racks of handmade jewelry called ‘love bites’ that consisted of everything from necklaces to key chains that all contained hearts and two red rhinestones somewhere on the heart signifying a vampire bite. There was also a sign on the wall proclaiming “Forks is ready for Twilight!” and another one stating “Vampires thrive in Forks.” I couldn’t help but chuckle. The gentleman was free at this point and I told him about my interest in the novels and the effect that they have had on the town. His eyes glimmered at my first mention of the books and he raised his arms above his head as I finished my sentence, clearly impatient to tell me all about Forks and Twilight. He handed me a packet of Twilight Sites in Forks (which consisted of the outdoor store, the drug store, the high school, and the police department), and a binder called The Twilight Lexicon that one of his coworkers had put together. It was filled with all of the local articles published about Twilight since the books’ release and information on the upcoming film. There were pictures of the main actors, interviews with the author and the local librarian, and letters that had been sent to Bella Swan, Edward Cullen, or Bella Cullen care of the Tourist Center. The town was obviously enthused about its place in the Twilight world.

So much so, that on September 13, 2007 (Bella's birthday) the town celebrated Stephenie Meyer day, celebrating the author who brought attention to their two stop-light town. Fans of Edward and Bella flocked to Forks and received a ‘hunting permit’ describing the Twilight sites, and a list of local businesses that were participating. The town’s police chief acted as Charlie Swan for the day and handed out PB & J sandwiches, the pharmacy handed out cloves of garlic, the Thriftway handed out plastic vampire teeth and sold black hats with ‘Vampires thrive in Forks’ embossed on them, and the convenience store printed black shirts with the words “My last Twilight. I was bitten in Forks, WA” in silver ink. Of course I bought a t-shirt, and I even contemplated heading to Sully’s Burger House for a Bella Burger or to the Subway and getting a Bella Special. Some members of the community seemed a bit miffed about the extra attention and the influx of out-of-towners taking pictures of the high school or the beach in La Push, but most were enthusiastic and pleased that their town had a special place in the hearts of Twilight’s fans.

It was certainly not a town that I would have gone out of my way to see, and it didn’t have any attractions to lure people into it but that was more endearing than anything else to me. It was nice to see the town just as it was; just as Bella and Edward experienced it. I’ve seen some screen shots from the film and now know that they are going for a cleaner, brighter, almost New-England looking town, although it was filmed in Oregon; the school in the film is a big, classic brick building as opposed to the dated and very small high school in Forks, and the houses for the film are quaint, comforting homes and not missing a chimney, they don’t have a Big Wheel in the front yard and the majority of the buildings are probably permanent in the film and not mobile homes.

I’m glad to have seen the original Forks, however, because I think it gives a more complete feel of the alienation that Bella must have felt upon arriving. This whole town was just a smidge bigger than my high school was. I couldn’t imagine coming from a diverse and cultured city like Phoenix to this isolated, quiet, and somewhat run-down town where the biggest event is the ‘Rain Festival’ in mid April. After visiting Forks however, I could imagine it a little bit better. It was clear to me the kind of house in which Bella lived, the limitations she really encountered for dress shopping, and I found it difficult to grasp the idea that you’d have to drive at least an hour to get to the nearest movie theater let alone a major airport. The one, tiny airport in Forks is generally used as a drag speedway; they move the cars to the side when a plane needs to go through, “but that doesn’t happen very often,” as the gentleman at the tourism office informed me.

So after visiting the high school, the park, the police station, the medical center, the outfitters, grocery store and driving down all of the side streets (about three deep on either side of the main road), I figured I’d drive the 53 miles to Port Angeles and find a motel there for the night instead of Forks. Not that Forks didn’t have a plentiful supply to choose from- the Forks Inn, Dew Drop Motel and about a dozen others, but I wanted to attempt to have dinner in the Italian restaurant that Edward took Bella to in Port Angeles.

The drive from Forks to Port Angeles was probably the prettiest stretch of my trip. It was raining, and foggy, but that just further set the atmosphere of a secluded, mysterious and untapped location. The single-lane road wound around mountains, in and out of the protected woods of the Olympic Forest, and along the coasts of still lakes. It was easy to believe that there was no civilization within miles of my little rental car, and I half expected to catch a glimpse of a vampire on the hunt or a werewolf prowling. Small signs of life started popping up along the highway (the occasional tavern amongst the plentiful fish hatcheries), and then as I crested a hill, there before me was a Shell station to welcome me into Port Angeles.

The Port part of the name is definitely the prominent feature of the town. It was filled with motels, quick-bite restaurants and a developed Oceanside block of seafood restaurants and tourist shops. As it is the major place to catch a ferry to Victoria, BC, people tend to not spend a lot of time there.

There are two main streets: first and third (both one way, so you go up one and down the other). And the town is probably a mile or two in length with the actual downtown area being about three square blocks. This part of town was very pleasant. Classic architecture, unique shops, a wine store, nice cafes, and a few restaurants that were definitely a step up from Tom’s Roadhouse grill or the general McDonald’s. I snapped my pictures of the waterfront and meandered the downtown's few streets. There was a well stocked bookshop with both new and used books, artsy greeting cards and bacon vs. tofu action figures so I had a good time in there. I did find Bella Italia, the restaurant Bella and Edward went to after he saved her from the ruffian attackers of Port Angeles. Sadly, there was no mushroom ravioli on the menu though. And lastly, before I returned to my motel on the edge of town I was lucky enough to have the clouds break up a bit over the mountains and catch a few glimpses of snowy peaks and craggy cliffs.

The towns were fairly close to what I was picturing if not a little more run down than I had expected; and I’m sure the movie will ‘clean them up’ a little bit, but I rather enjoyed seeing the true places. I think their rough exterior made it easier to see the more pleasant aspects of the towns, like the close community, the attention to public spaces, the improved efforts to promote the towns (all three had extensive construction occurring and enthusiastic and well-stocked tourism offices), and the rough aspects only added to my understanding of Bella’s feelings in Forks. I was able to glimpse the starkness, the limitations and the isolation but also see how that could enable her to flourish as herself, and certainly why it made a safe haven for the Cullens.

It’ll be interesting to see how the film shows other aspects of the town, and I’m really curious as to how Stephenie Meyer chose Forks as she’s from Phoenix. I suppose its as good a place as any when you’re looking for a small town, overcast skies, and a location that is completely isolated from the majority of society! All in all, it was a great pilgrimage; it's given me a new depth to my research and has made it a more personal experience and not just an educational exercise!

Keep checking in... I hope I can complete some more pilgrimages and experiences in my other works too -New Zealand for the Hobbit? Why not!? Certainly Oxford for His Dark Materials and London and Scotland for Harry Potter... we'll see what happens with on-set exposure too... fingers crossed!


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...


I'm an admin on the Twilight Lexicon and I was wondering if you minded us linking your story on our website. Also, can you tell me what exactly was in that binder called "The Twilight Lexicon" that the Forks site was giving out?



Anonymous said...

Hello, this tuesday for spring break my friend and i are going to make a pilgrimage for Twilight as well. Thank you for letting me know what to excpect!!

Stirling Duck said...

Lovely Pictures. I currently live in Scotland, and see Harry Potter places every week. :-)

Anonymous said...

I've recently gone to Forks as well, and I was disappointed about there being no mushroom ravioli, but after looking at the menu for quite a while, It's hard to spot but I found it under the pasta section.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful pictures and commentary on your "pilgrimage"; what a fun thing to do! Good luck to you!


Anonymous said...

Wow! I'm so jealous!
What a great report. I feel like I've actually been there now :)
It's so good of you to do this, especially for people who live on the other side of the world, haha.
I hope one day I'll be able to go to Forks, I LOVE Twilight and the whole series.

Thanks again, it was a great read.

MARY said...

Fabulous post- you are very well spoken and descriptive! I live only about 5 hours from Forks and hope to make it there one day! Good luck with your studies and thank you for letting us read your blog!


sandi said...

oooo how exciting! Thanks for posting about your adventures.

Anonymous said...

Wowww! That is so cool. I'd love one of those shirts from Forks!

I'm so jealous of you and anyone else who is able to travel there. Haha, maybe one day when I make my millions I'll fly to America and visit Forks and La Push.

And perhaps you should have suggested to the manager at Bella Italia to get a mushroom ravioli on their menu. :P

Glad you had an excellent time. Catch ya! :)

Anonymous said...

hehe thanks for the report! fantastic! do come to new zealand! its cool here!

MaggieCullen14 said...

omg my name is magie too!!!! haha just had to mention that!! it looks like you had a fun time on you trip an di want to thank you for doing this! the Twilight support has been amazing and it's so helpful to maby some of the younger obssers(like me im 14) who cant jump in their car and take a road trip to all these place and the movie set or just with keeping up online!and i'll be praying that you can resqudul you trip to the movie set! and good luck on you PhD! it really is facanating ^_^! oh i also am a BIG harry potter fan too so kodos for that!!!! keep it up!!! <3333333333333

Jessica said...

GAH isn't forks and la push AMAZING. i went there in march and was in love!!!!! im pretty sure im going to port angeles for the movie premier!!!

toni said...

This is soooo fantastic. How I wish I could experience Forks just as Bella did. Thanks for taking us along through your story!

I got here through the Twilight Lexicon!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jed Medina said...

Great post! This is Jed from the Movie-Fanatic website. I am in the process of posting the 3rd part of my Twilight series and just wanted to let you know that this awesome article touched a number of important issues I also planned to write about. I really enjoyed reading your post and must say I also discovered a lot of new things that somewhat altered my perception of certain Twilight 'facts'.

Keep it up!

Anonymous said...

I was just wondering if anyone knows when (date wise) they're filming in the Oregon state area and where it will be filmed. If you know, please e-mail or call me. My information is below:

Cell Phone: (253)486-9024
E-mail: mika_love_today2@yahoo.com

Thank you,

Faith McKay said...

It's so fun to read this. I live in Washington, so I know all the places you were, and it's nice to read someone else talk about them, too.

You were talking about what it must have been like for Bella moving from AZ to Forks... a town where you had to drive an hour to get to a movie theatre. It was nice to read that you were thinking about what that must have been like for, the culture shock.

When I was a teenager, I actually moved from California to a small town in Washington where it was an hour drive to the movie theatre, and even after the hour drive it was just a one room theatre. The culture shock was just, ridiculous. We had no radio stations, we closed down the main street (which was actually a highway) for the cows to go through, and there was a cross walk in front of my school that went across the street...to an empty field that sometimes had cows in it.
I love reading Twilight because it's like OH THAT'S WHAT IT WAS LIKE! ...It's been years, but i still talk about what moving there was like all the time because it's always felt like there is no way to make someone understand what that's like, and then someone writes a book about it! ha. :)

Anonymous said...

Hi, I was interested to read your post regarding your Twilight pilgrammage...you mentioned that you made a Twilight playlist -- is that the audiobook or did you mean music? If so, I'm curious what songs you chose. Thanks, georgesear

Muggle Mom said...

great blog! you are a great writer. :) thanks for sharing your trip with us. i, too, tend to get slightly obsessive about things (aka twilight).


Muggle Mom said...

oh! i almost forgot...i would love to see your twilight playlist. is there anyway you could email your list to me??? pretty please with sugar on top???


Jackie said...


ANOTHER GREAT POST. MAN! You are thorough. I loved the photos and they are exactly what I envisioned they would look like. I am going to bookmark your blog!

Ariel said...

You're like the luckiest person ever! So what was the very MOST important experience did you have there? Did you actually

Can you please post more about it on our website too?

Twilighters Anonymous

We'd soooo love to pick your brain about your experience!

Anonymous said...

omg that was a great blog!!thnx for sharing the experience with us! i am positive when i am old enough i will go to forks... you mentioned a Twilight playlist- do you think you could send the list to me i would LOVE to see it(e-mail address below) you are a wonderful writer by the way!! once again thanx for all the information!