I read in Publishers Weekly several weeks ago that an estimated 1 in every 7 books sold in 2008 was one of Stephanie Meyers’ Twilight books, that this series may have saved the publishing industry in a particularly bleak year where the economy plummeted and discretionary spending on amusements like books shrank. I’m not sure whether to be impressed or appalled.
I have read the books, the last two read out loud with my roommate Kristin late at night with a cup of coffee, spending an enjoyable hour or two mocking and laughing and shamefully admitting we were having a good time. The fourth book, Breaking Dawn, was especially fun as it contained gory details of certain honeymoons, pregnancies, and birth (I won’t spoil it by telling you whose). And I have seen the movie; have gone to the midnight showing of the movie and indulged in an awkward and still enjoyable film experience – shared with hundreds of teenage girls and several reluctant boyfriends.
Now I have made the pilgrimage to Forks, Washington, the setting of the books – though not on purpose. There may or may not be a legitimate trek being planned for this purpose, but this time I happened to end up in Forks entirely by chance. My family was visiting for the week, and last Friday we took the ferry from Seattle to the Kitsap Peninsula and drove over the Hood Canal Bridge to the Olympic Peninsula, home of the Olympic National Park, our destination. We drove an hour and a half through appropriately misty hills and dark forests to Port Angeles where short-story writer Raymond Carver is buried (though I am saving the trip to his grave for the next trek).
From Port Angeles we entered the National Park, drove up to Hurricane Ridge, then turned our car westwards towards the Hoh Rain Forest, which we could only visit by driving through Forks. Stopping at a gas station/ subway, we saw little red badges at the counter with Jacob + Nessie printed on them, and there was a “Twilight” sandwich. We passed the stores entirely devoted to Twilight merchandise and on more than one occasion saw the hulking cardboard frame of Robert Pattison through a window. Apparently – though I have not seen them – there is a designated Cullen house in Forks, a Swans residence, a spot at the hospital for Dr. Cullen, and a simulacrum of Bella’s red truck outside the visitor’s center. It is clear to see that this little logging town, looking very much like a one-stop town, is deeply in debt to Stephanie Meyer to picking it as her setting, as it has given the small town (population just over three thousand) the chance of an economic boost. Forks was not, however, used for Catherine Hardwicke’s film. She found Oregon more to her taste and vision, and Forks must feel the slight. I have to agree that it is not a very cinematic town; Meyer selected it as her setting because of its high yearly rainfall and cloud cover. I’m not sure she visited it before the first book was published.
Unimpressed by Forks, we spent several hours in the Hoh Rain Forest not seeing elk (to my father’s dismay), and marveling at the large trees, the mossy epiphytes, and the quality of golden light through the branches. This was followed by a trip to Rialto Beach (neighbors of the La Push beach, featured in the Twilight series), where the sun swathed itself in mist and fog and the temperature dropped twenty-five degrees. Beautifully desolate, my mother called it as we collected stones – the beach is covered in perfectly round, smooth, skipping stones – and played with the washed up debris, the kelp and driftwood. The beach at La Push is (if it is anything like its neighbor) cinematic and may have been used for the film had not production decided to remain in the Portland area.
Since I cannot lie and hide the fact that the books are riddled with poor grammar, bad syntax, heavily manipulated plots and stilted dialogue, and have abysmal depictions of love and a very weak heroine, it is hard to understand the stir these books have created. For me, I chalk is up to setting; had Meyer’s books not been set in the Pacific Northwest, I doubt I would have felt them resonate at all. But they do resonate if only because the trees, the rain, the mist and the mountains are a familiar landscape and the elements make an excellent setting for a brooding, gothic supernatural romance. To make the books into any more elaborate, anything more meaningful, is sentimental justification.
Despite this, I look forward to venturing into vampire country again if only to hunt out Raymond Carver’s grave, walk deeper into the rainforest, and collect rocks on beautifully desolate beaches.