On the Twilight series

Destination: Forks, Washington

By Cara Lockwood

I don’t like road trips. And I’ll tell you why.

Sure, there’s the whole being trapped in a car for hours eating Big Macs for days thing, while your legs go numb and you start wondering if it’s possible to die of boredom.

But for me it’s more than that.

I could handle death by French fry. What I can’t handle is driving by all those small towns.

Some people love small towns. My stepdad grew up on a farm, and he loves taking those winding back roads in the country–the ones lined with cows on either side, and green hills and trees, that have blinking red lights because there’s not enough traffic for a single stoplight. Even my mom likes shopping in small towns. She says she finds good antiques there.

But any time I get away from the city and I find myself far from a major highway on one of those two-lane wind-y roads with poorly marked signs, I start to get nervous.

Because the fact is I find small towns creepy. If you’ve ever seen a single horror movie, you know that most of them take place in small towns.

Here’s a short list of what you can find in your typical horror-movie small town: chainsaw-wielding psychos, inbred mutant cannibals, vampires (of the not-Edward, not-so-nice variety), vengeful ghosts, evil witches, haunted houses/hotels/entire towns, crazy murderers who’ve turned the town into wax figures, and on occasion, entire high schools taken over by aliens.

And that’s just what happens in movies. There are all those TV shows, too, like Twin Peaks and Smallville. Did Superman pop up in the middle of Manhattan? Nope. He crash-landed his space pod from Krypton in the middle of a corn field.

Why is it always a small town in those horror movies or TV shows? Part of the reason could be that small towns just make good locations for stories. They’re remote, far from big police stations and the FBI.

If Superman had crashed in Times Square, I’m pretty sure the FBI and Homeland Security would’ve carried him off to Roswell (another small town!), or Area 52, or wherever it is that they do secret government experiments on aliens, and then there would’ve been no Clark Kent and no story.

The same could be said for the crazed cannibal family of Texas Chainsaw Massacre fame. I doubt they could live easily in the upper west side of Manhattan. The neighbors would probably complain pretty loudly about that noisy chainsaw, and Leather Face would turn a few heads on the subway no doubt, even in New York.

Whatever the reason, there’s just something weird about small towns.

So when I first picked up Twilight and read about Bella moving to Forks, I knew something weird was going to happen when she got there. I didn’t even need to read the back cover. I just knew.

At first, Forks, Washington, seemed like just another weird small town. Was it creepy? Check. Remote? Check. Rainy? Check. Obscure? Check.

Even our beloved narrator Bella Swan doesn’t like Forks. She tells us so in the very first pages.

In the Olympic Peninsula of northwest Washington State, a small town named Forks exists under a near-constant cover of clouds. It rains on this inconsequential town more than any other place in the United States of America. It was from this gloomy, omnipresent shade that my mother escaped with me when I was only a few months old. . . . It was toForks that I now exiled myself–an action that I took with great horror. I detested Forks.

I felt for Bella right away. Moving to a small town for me would be like a claustrophobic person deciding they were going to try out living in an elevator for awhile.

And what weird thing did Bella find once she moved to Forks? Not the old, beat-up Chevy her dad, Forks’s Police Chief, gave her. Nope. Naturally, she met some vampires.

Given my suspicion of small towns, it didn’t surprise me at all that a family of vampires lived in Forks. What did surprise me was that they were nice vampires, and not the bloody-thirsty evil kind that pretty much destroyed that tiny Alaskan town in Thirty Days of Night.

It made sense on many levels that the Cullens–Edward, Rosalie, Jasper, Alice, and their “parents,” Carlisle and Esme–would choose Forks as their residence. The cloud cover and constant rain gives them protection. If Edward or any member of his vampire family is seen in the sunlight, their vampire skin sparkles and shines, and it’s difficult to keep a low profile looking like a walking disco ball.

Plus, Forks is near dense woods populated with big animals, enough to sustain a family of vampires trying not to eat people. Having wildlife nearby makes hunting bears and cougars a snap. That’s not something that would be easy to do if you lived in, say, Pasadena. I don’t think they stock bear blood in the juice aisle of the local Stop ’N Shop.

The woods also provide a good place for their remote castle-like home, far from prying eyes.

But even though Edward and his family were nice, I still wasn’t won over by Forks.

I don’t know about you, but when Bella decided to take a walk into the forest to clear her head after a run-in with Edward, I didn’t need him to tell me it was dangerous for her to be wandering around the woods by herself. Anyone who’s seen pretty much any B-list horror movie knows that bad things live in the woods.

In a place like Forks, where it always rains (cue creepy music now!), you just never know what might happen. And I was fine with that, because I was reading a book, and the book was fiction, and I wasn’t anywhere near Forks or any other fictitious small town.

Except that Forks isn’t some made up town. Forks is a real place. It really does exist.

I know because I felt compelled to look it up and find out.

After a brief Web search, I discovered that Forks sits 141 miles west of Seattle, about a four-hour drive. Among some of its tourist attractions are: more than 100 miles of saltwater shores, alpine meadows, and rain forest valleys; 200 miles of wild rivers filled with native salmon; and lots and lots of trees and rain. Yes, it does rain. A lot. Average rainfall is 122 inches a year. That’s more than double the national average.

Once known for being the logging capital of the world, Forks is now most famous for being home to Bella Swan and Edward Cullen, not to mention a pack of werewolves and a whole family of other vampires.

You’d think the good people of Forks (all 3,120 of them) would be upset to be seen as one of the world’s most famous homes to monsters, next to Transylvania and wherever it was that Frankenstein lived. After all, Stephenie Meyer didn’t actually visit Forks before she wrote Twilight. She needed a rainy place to hide the Cullen Family, and Forks fit the bill.

I thought most people actually living in Forks might take offense to their town being overrun with monsters. So I decided to interview a few of them to find out.

I headed straight to the city’s spokesperson–Nedra Reed, mayor of Forks–to see what she thought.

“On behalf of the community, I can say that we’re pleased that Ms. Meyer chose us, even though her reasons were different than the ones we might have chosen,” said Reed. “It’s been a real boon to the community. I’ve run into people in town who were here because of the books. They wanted to come see for themselves what Forks was really like.”

In fact, after talking to the mayor a little more and poking around online, I found out that tourists from all over the world have descended on Forks to see some of the actual locations from the books, including Forks High School, where Bella first meets Edward, and La Push, home to the Quileute Indian Tribe and the Twilight series’s native werewolf clan.

Visitors have come from as far away as Spain and Germany just to walk in the footsteps of Bella and Edward. And a lot of them head to the Forks Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center.

I called there next.

“Sometime early in 2006 people would come in to the center and say there’s this book about Forks,” said Mike Gurling, who manages the visitor center. “We had no idea. So then we realized it was really popular. Stephenie Meyer came in July 2006 and did a book signing and people came from all over the country to get signed copies. She had never been to Forks before she wrote Twilight, but said that it was a lot like she’d pictured it.”

Gurling found so many people pouring into his office asking about Twilight that he and his staff finally drew up special maps for out-of-towners looking to see the places mentioned in the book.

Now on the Chamber of Commerce’s Web site (http://www .forkswa.com/) you can find a map detailing all the main Twilight series attractions, including pictures of all the major sites. Here are the highlights:

Forks High School

This, of course, is where Bella meets Edward for the first time. There are several meaningful spots on campus, like the cafeteria, where Bella first gets a glimpse of Edward; the classroom where they share a lab table; and of course, the front office where Bella is almost eaten by Edward. That is, before he manages to get his appetite under control.

Forks Community Hospital

When Bella is nearly killed by a careening car in the school’s iced-over parking lot, Edward manages to save her with inhuman speed and strength. To treat her relatively minor injuries, she’s taken to the local hospital to be treated. There, she’s cared for by Edward’s “adopted” father, Carlisle.

First Beach

After a few puzzling run-ins with Edward in which Bella comes to believe there’s something unusual about the beautiful, pale-skinned boy, Bella accepts an invitation to First Beach from some of her friends from Forks High School. There, she runs into an old family friend, Jacob, a member of the Quileute Indian Tribe. He tells Bella about an old legend of men descended from wolves and their natural enemies, vampires, and how his ancestors made a treaty with the “good” vampires. It’s then that Bella starts to put the pieces of the puzzle together and realizes Edward’s true nature.

La Push (the Quileute Reservation)

This is where Jacob lives. And where the werewolves roam.

Port Angeles

In the nearby shopping village Bella has a few pivotal moments, including Gottschalk’s, where she goes to shop for prom dresses with her friends. Port Books and News is the bookstore Bella passes alone right before she runs into the group of men who plan her harm. And Bella Italia is the restaurant Bella and Edward go to after Edward saves her from her would-be attackers.

Quillayute Prairie Cemetery

This is the place where Edward takes Bella when they decide to watch his family’s game of high-speed, high-action vampire baseball. Of course, the noise attracts a wandering group of three vampires, who then become obsessed with hunting Bella.

And there are some not-so-prominent places you can visit, too:

Forks Police Station

This is the place where Bella’s father works. It’s mentioned in passing in Twilight, but Bella never actually goes here.

Forks Outfitters

This is the only grocery store in town, so Bella would’ve done all her shopping here. It’s never actually mentioned in the book, but Bella did do all the cooking for her dad and we assume all the shopping, too.

If you swing by the visitor’s center, you’ll get a special Twilight packet, including a town map and some actual sand from First Beach.

I decided to e-mail a few people at the high school next, to see if tourists had been banging down the doors to see the location where Bella and Edward first meet. And according to Kevin Rupprecht, principal of Forks High School, a lot of those tourists have.

So what do all the students think about their school being famous?

“To quote a common student sentiment, ‘Really, my school?’” said Rupprecht. “I think this is a fairly common thought amongst students. This is their home. They are used to their building, and visitors have an alternative perspective because it is all new to them.”

Rupprecht doesn’t take issue with how Forks High School is portrayed.

“I think that there are components of Twilight that hit fairly close to home for Forks,” he said, “but I think the author took enough creative license to make her setting appropriate for the story. Visitors to Forks are sometimes disappointed because they are unable to find various locations mentioned in the text.”

Like Bella’s house, for example.

“I can’t tell you where she lived,” Gurling admits. “That’s a tough one.”

The fact that Bella, Edward, and Jacob aren’t real people doesn’t mean that visitors don’t keep trying to find them. In fact, both Bella and Edward get quite a lot of mail sent to the central Forks post office.

“They both get lots of letters,” Gurling says. “But Bella gets the most by far. Although Edward gets some interesting mail, too. In the book, he drives a Volvo, and someone sent him a warranty for a new Volvo.”

Despite the fact that Bella and Edward don’t really exist, Gurling says the book is pretty accurate about Forks.

“It does rain a lot, that’s true,” he said. “There were a few minor things that were wrong, like some directions they were driving, but over all, Forks was captured pretty well.”

Except, of course, for the fact that vampires and werewolves don’t actually roam the streets. Right?

“Not to my knowledge,” Mayor Reed said.

But many residents are embracing the fictional characters. The Chamber of Commerce even recently declared Bella Swan’s birthday a town-wide holiday.

Of course, technically, the town holiday was originally going to be Stephenie Meyer’s birthday.

“But then we found out that her birthday is December 24,” said Gurling. “And that would be a tough day to have a big celebration, so we wound up going with Bella’s birthday, which is September 13.”

The first celebration–in 2007–drew a modest crowd of fans and gave local businesses a chance to sell new merchandise, including T-shirts that say “My last Twilight, I was bitten in Forks, Washington.” Even the local police chief (no relation to Bella Swan, by the way) got in on the festivities by making peanut butter sandwiches at the library, where people gathered to eat cake, gobble down snacks, and exchange stories about their favorite scenes in Twilight. The event has grown every year since, and now the town celebrates Bella Swan’s birthday every September.

So why do so many people in Forks not seem to mind that they’re famous for being home to monsters? In part because the attention comes at a time when many local businesses are struggling. Gurling said that the local economy has been hard hit by slow downs in the logging industry and by the economy as a whole.

“There’s been an economic downturn, and that’s true of a lot of small towns,” he said. “So increased tourism comes at a great time for us.”

And there’s not just the scenes from Twilight to see in Forks, either.

“I would say people come here now that would not have come here before the books,” he said. “But once they’re here, I think people are very surprised about the natural beauty that’s here. We’ve got a number of parks and really beautiful points of interest.”

Of course, the book has brought more than tourists to town. Recently, it’s also brought volunteers and fundraisers, too. A group formed to help save the school’s high school, a brick building that was built in 1925 and is in need of renovation. The group has a Web site, http://www.forksforum.com/twilighters, where donations are accepted to help keep the school standing.

So after talking to all these nice people in Forks, I have to admit I was getting a little less nervous about the whole small town thing. Forks sounds like a nice place full of nice people.

Of course, I can say that easily, as I was still safely tucked away behind my computer in the bustling city of Chicago, hundreds of miles away. Despite all the niceness, I still couldn’t help but wonder: Why <do so many weird things happen in small towns? I decided to ask some of my new friends in Forks.

“You know, one of my theories is that not a lot is known about small towns,” Gurling said. “Everybody knows a lot about Los Angeles–like there’s lots of smog and traffic there–but not a lot is

known about small towns because few people live there and few people know about them. They’re mysterious. And because not a lot is known, you can write what you want to write, where your imagination takes you, and people might not immediately discount it.”

The school principal said he thinks Forks was picked not because it was a small town, but because Forks makes such a great setting for a story.

“I do not know if small or large makes a difference,” he said. “I think that the geography and other setting aspects make the difference. Forks is a picturesque town in a beautiful area.”

The mayor said she doesn’t have a theory about why Forks was chosen for a book about vampires and werewolves.

“I’m a sixty-five-year-old grandmother,” she said. “So those books aren’t really my genre. But I am very glad she picked Forks. We all are.”

So while you may not find werewolves or vampires on your next trip to Forks, you will find a whole town full of really nice people. And beautiful parks. And a few fellow die-hard Twilight fans.

While I’m not sure if I’m completely over my small town phobia, after talking to the good people of Forks, I am sure of one thing: I wouldn’t mind visiting.

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