It’s a cloudless June morning here in Washington as my mother, my sister and I are driving through the twisting roads of Olympic National Park. The lanes are narrow, the trees curling around us in a tunnel of green. Wild foxglove frames the roads so completely that it feels as if we’re travelling to the faery realm. Our destination is Forks, a small town where it rains for 212 days of the year, although you wouldn’t guess it today. For half a century Forks’ economy was based on its logging industry. Then in 2005 a woman named Stephenie Meyer came to town and everything changed forever.
This is Twilight country.
For those who slept through the past decade, the Twilight Saga was a series of young adult romance novels written and published between 2005-2008. They tell the story of Bella Swan, a teenager with the personality of wet concrete, who moves to Forks to live with her father. She falls in love with Edward Cullen, a “vegetarian” vampire who sparkles in the sunlight, despite the competing allure of her werewolf friend Jacob Black. Teenagers everywhere, myself included, went wild for Edward’s non-threatening brand of teenage masculinity. Twilight was adapted into films, graphic novels and even triggered its own literary trend. Whether we were Team Edward or Team Jacob, Forks was our Mecca. One day we would make the pilgrimage to walk where Bella walked, and maybe meet a glittering vampire of our own.
And then we grew up.
The sun set. Twilight became something to jeer at or to remember nostalgically but God forbid ever admit to still liking it. So I’m undertaking this trip with some apprehension. I’m determined to enjoy myself but if anyone in my family lets slip to the locals that we’re here because of Twilight then next year I’ll take them to Voltera and leave them behind.
But it’s all very well to say those things before you arrive. When Forks is just a speck on a map you can easily pretend that you’re an oblivious tourist here to see the rainforest and that twilight is just a time of day. However, the moment we park outside the Chamber of Commerce, right at the entrance of town, I realise I can’t maintain that lie. Beside us are two models of Bella’s truck, one from the book and the other from the film. If that’s the first impression of Forks they want to give then they already know exactly why we’re here. There’s a thirteen-year-old fangirl inside me who still has to pose for a photo with those trucks. So I do and then—praying that no one saw— step into the Chamber of Commerce.
“OHMIGAWD,” comes a high-pitched squeal. I search for the speaker’s eyes but my gaze is tangled in her clothing instead. She and her daughter wear matching tank tops bearing the visage of our favourite fictional couple. These are paired with visors, fanny-packs and everything tourists only ever wear in caricatures. She grins widely; her bleached teeth sparkling like a shirtless Robert Pattinson in the Italian sunlight. “Other Twilighters!”
My blood runs as cold as Edward’s. “I am not like you,” I want to say, but I am. I am just like her. How can I claim otherwise as I look around the visitor’s centre? It’s a beautiful wooden building, and although the ceiling is painted an unfortunate shade of share-house green it is covered in enough Twilight movie posters to be barely noticeable. Clustered in one corner are cardboard cutouts of the main characters including, inexplicably, a member of the Volturi who is not Michael Sheen. There is a prop apple beside them so that Twilight fans can pose for photos while recreating the iconic book cover. Naturally, I hand my sister the apple and start snapping.
Behind the counter hangs a coat with Dr Cullen sewn on the pocket. In front is an older woman to whom Twilight has never been a source of derision; it is the heart and soul of her town’s tourism economy. Even now the sun hasn’t set in Forks. Here it is always twilight. She hands us pins to place on their cork map, covered in marks from countless visitors before us. For such a small town Forks has attracted so many visitors from around the world that it’s hard to slot a pin anywhere. Mine has to go closer to Dubbo than Sydney, while my Colorado dwelling family struggle to wedge theirs in at all. The woman swells with pride as she watches. In that moment Forks feels so much bigger.
She gives us an itinerary of locations to visit across town, including a list of character homes. Since the characters don’t actually exist and the films weren’t made locally, these houses are the homes of residents who volunteered them into the Twilight canon. The listing for Edward’s house makes a particular impression on me. In the books Edward lived on a remote property and the exact house Meyer describes is only 30 minutes north of Forks via Highway 101. Miller Tree Inn, however, is listed as where his house might have been in an alternate universe where he lived in town. Essentially somebody put up a sign outside their hotel hoping to make a quick buck out of the Twilight tourist boom. When I was five I once thought I could turn my house into my own art gallery by doing the same thing. It obviously didn’t work, but apparently the owners of the Miller Tree Inn have had more success.
Despite this shining entrepreneurial spirit, we decide to skip these settings of alternate Twilight lore. Instead we head straight along South Forks Avenue to visit the Forever Twilight in Forks Collection, a one-room museum boasting the largest collection of Twilight props and costumes in the world. Around 50 per cent of their collection consists of donations made to support the town’s tourism industry. The entrance inside is roped off to allow for crowd control, a relic from an era long past. We wait behind rope for a moment before being allowed in, even though a quick glance is enough to tell us there is no one else here. For a local museum the collection is indeed impressive. Twilight’s costuming doesn’t have the same iconic appeal as other franchises, but seeing the costumes up close really hones in how much detail goes into every last stitch. The paper-mâché replica of the notorious Renesme animatronic could be discarded, but for a museum funded entirely through voluntary donations the collection is impressive.
Across the road from the museum is Native to Twilight, one of several stores selling Twilight goods across town. There’s a bitter rivalry between the two main stores. We’re told that Native to Twilight has better quality merchandise, which in this instance means a greater range of official goods including an Eclipse calendar from 2010. Twilight Central, however, has real movie props on display (from the Twilight parody Vampires Suck, as it transpired) and boasts the largest unique collection of Twilight memorabilia in town, most of it homemade scrap-book materials. Old Twilight Scene-it boards are cut up to bind scrapbooks, which you can fill with any number of “Team Edward” stickers. They also have official merchandise, including their collection of Eclipse bandaids caked in so much dust you would need an archaeologist to excavate them. We don’t linger long.
Our accommodation for the evening is located half an hour north at the Cabins at Beaver Creek. After missing the virtually invisible turnoff onto Rixon Road, we emerge into a forest framed by a rippling creek and a cluster of impossibly tall bigleaf maples. Our host greets us personally and guides us to our cabin, which is overlooked by the main homestead. It’s only here, as we flick through an independent brochure that we realise the house’s cultural significance. This is the real Cullen house. Or at least as real as a fictional house can be.
Although they don’t actively advertise it, our host is happy to discuss her home’s feature in one of the most notorious novels of all time. She guides us around the property as she speaks, encouraging us to pick fresh strawberries before we stop by the chicken coop. Half-a-dozen chicks scurry around our feet as we enter, their adult feathers not yet grown.
“The first we heard about it was when some girls knocked on the door and said ‘Did you know your house is in a book?’,” she tells us. She fishes under a brooding hen and produces three fresh eggs for our breakfast the next morning. “We had a lot of fans come by for a while there, but not so much anymore.” She doesn’t seem bothered by the fact. Here at Beaver Creek, business is booming.
Beaver Creek offers little to do with Twilight. It’s a place to soak in the natural beauty of the Evergreen State, whether by hiking to the old road bridge that’s been abandoned and reclaimed by the rainforest, or simply by eating complimentary s’mores around the campfire. Here in the outskirts is the true appeal of Forks. Twilight is all very well and good, but if you need one thing to bring you to Forks, let it be the setting. Forget about vampires for one moment and just soak in the natural beauty.
But if you’re in the area, why not stop by Bella’s truck? Your inner fangirl will thank you.