In August 2020, I jumped into Lake Michigan and snapped the bones in my ankle. Faced with four months in bed, I had the entire history of media at my fingertips. And I decided to fixate on Twilight.
Of course, you’re at least familiar with Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight saga. Four books and five movies trace the romance of Bella (a teenage human) and Edward (a sparkly vampire)—which also served as a launching pad for Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson. The overwrought fictional narrative is set in the real town of Forks, Washington, a dusty little lumber town four hours outside of Seattle.
When the first book came out, I was in the target age group. As a teen, I insisted I was too intellectual for Twilight. I invested my time in more academic pursuits, like picking the perfect Dashboard Confessional lyrics for my AIM away message. Of course, the facts tell a different story: I devoured every book and saw every movie in theaters—usually at the midnight release.
Returning to Twilight as an adult felt like a descent into madness. Did you know local legend Edward Cullen lived, died, and was reborn in Chicago? He was dying of the Spanish Influenza—more relevant than ever!—when he changed into his hunky vampire form. Moderna? No thank ya! Vampire venom is the most effective vaccine.
As I lay in bed, icing my poor, elevated ankle, I began fantasizing. When I could walk again, I would get on a plane and see Forks for myself. The official Forks website leans fully into its Twilight heritage. I downloaded a map showing where you can visit Bella’s house, or take a picture with her beat-up red pick-up truck. I love a tourist trap, and I love an absurd media franchise: the cross section of the two drew me in as strongly as Bella’s blood pulled at Edward.
Lucky for me, my best friend Paige lives in Tacoma. As college roommates, we tacked a large poster of Edward Cullen on our bedroom wall “as a joke.” A decade later, we packed her car with road trip snacks for the drive to Forks.
The Olympic Peninsula is beautiful in August—trees shrouded in moss, distant mountains, water as blue as Gatorade. That was not the point of the trip.
The main stretch of Forks isn’t much to report. A couple tourist shops tout unofficial Twilight merch, faded cardboard cutouts propped in the windows. We parked and walked to the Forever Twilight in Forks Collection, run by the Forks Chamber of Commerce. Inside, the small room is packed with props, costumes, signed books, and a mannequin designed to the exact measurements of a 17-year-old Kristen Stewart. “Size zero Lucky jeans,” the curator told us, a bit too reverently.
The crown jewel of the collection is the Renesmee doll, an animatronic puppet of Edward and Bella’s vampire-human-hybrid daughter. The doll never made it into the movies; the production team decided it was too horrific. In one of the few test shots, actress Nikki Reed strains with the weight of the robot in her arms. They ended up replacing it with a haunting CGI baby, which begs the question: were all the real babies busy that day? Now, the animatronic Renesmee lives in a glass box at the Forever Twilight collection, under a sign that reads “Chuckesmee.” The silicone covering her metal skeleton has begun slowly melting off. I immediately took a selfie with her.
When I tell people about my pilgrimage, I inevitably get the same question: Is Twilight good? But the franchise exists beyond the metrics of good and bad: The books’ staggering amount of adverbs. Kristen and Rob’s increasingly dead eyes as the movies plow onward. The genderswap rewrite our gal Stephenie wrote called Life and Death: Twilight Reimagined, where Edward turns into Edythe and Bella turns into Beaufort. Each layer pulls back to reveal even stranger depths. Pair that with a decade-plus of media criticism, rabid fandom, TikTok memes, and cultural cachet. Is it good? That doesn’t matter. It’s surreal and infuriating, and ultimately, incredibly entertaining.
On the drive home from Forks, I stared out the passenger seat window at the passing forest, imagining angsty teen vampires peering between the trunks. “Maybe when we retire, we can move to Forks and run the Twilight museum,” I said to Paige. She thought that was a good idea.
Sometimes, when I talk about Twilight, I feel like a troll. But the truth is, I’m happy I exist at the same time as this thinly veiled Mormon propaganda. I can’t explain exactly why I dropped $35 on a Breaking Dawn: Part Two baseball cap on eBay; I only know that when I hit “BUY NOW,” it felt right in my soul.
Now that I’m back in Chicago, I’m hoping my Twilight phase might wrap up. My friends support me, but they’re getting tired of hearing why I’m Team Jacob whenever we meet for patio drinks. I have bad news, though. My library loan for the Midnight Sun audiobook just came in. That’s the novel Stephenie wrote from Edward’s POV, and now it’s waiting in my queue, sparkling.