Almost exactly 15 years ago, on Oct. 5, 2005, author Stephenie Meyer’s first novel “Twilight” was published to relatively little fanfare. The story followed Arizona-raised teenager Bella Swan, who moves to Forks, Washington, falls in love with vampire Edward Cullen and gets swept up into a supernatural world with warring vampire clans and werewolves.
The “Twilight” series took the world by storm. Then fans grew up and the media moved on … or so you might think.
This past August, Meyer released “Midnight Sun,” a follow-up to “Twilight.” It sold 1 million copies in its first week, proving that the “Twilight” fandom lives on.
While stuck at home during Washington’s coronavirus stay-home order, Renton resident Amy Taylor, a longtime “Twilight” fan and host of the “Twilight Tuesday” weekly Instagram Live show, eagerly devoured “Midnight Sun.”
From the 2008 recession to the present tumultuous time, “Twilight” has been a source of comfort and community, Taylor says.
“It came at a time in my life where I needed it,” she said. “The travel I’ve gotten to do, and the people I’ve met through all of this, I don’t think I’d have without ‘Twilight,’ and it’s made my life so much fuller.”
Taylor is not alone. Some of the success of “Midnight Sun” might be attributed to this stressful year — studies have shown that in times of unrest and uncertainty, people gravitate toward things familiar and nostalgic. And it’s also worth noting that the original “Twilight” craze peaked in 2008 and 2009 — a similarly stressful time amid a global recession that left many questioning their futures.
“Twilight” has always provided fans with a welcome source of escapism. When it first published, soon after the extremely popular “Harry Potter” series, both franchises created unprecedented buzz in the young adult genre.
“Every publisher wanted to have the next ‘Twilight,’ and started investing a lot more into this genre,” said Shannon Wallace, Seattle Public Library’s teen services librarian. “Young adult fiction has grown so much, partially due to the fact that this series was so popular.”
From “The Vampire Diaries” to “True Blood” to “Teen Wolf,” “Twilight” altered the supernatural genre and inspired a slew of young, sexy stories centered around vampires and werewolves.
Notably, it also inspired E.L. James’ controversial, Seattle-set “Fifty Shades of Grey” erotic romance series, which originated as “Twilight” fan fiction — questions abound as to whether it plagiarized Meyer’s work — before becoming a bestselling book trilogy and blockbuster movie series.
But the most ardent “Twilight” fans say there’s a timelessness and immersiveness to the saga that transcends beyond “fad” or “phase.” Even after 15 years, the fandom runs strong, and the series set in Washington has had a reverberating impact on the Pacific Northwest and beyond.
Here are the stories of communities and people whose lives were forever changed by Meyer’s vampire epic.
Despite the book taking place almost entirely on the Olympic Peninsula, not a single shot of the first “Twilight” movie was filmed in Forks, in Clallam County. The film was predominantly shot around Portland in 2007, with only two major scenes — the exterior of Forks High School (Kalama), and the Cullens’ backyard (Cape Horn) — filmed in Washington.
Alex Terzieff, a Seattle-based stunt coordinator and performer, was originally contracted to rent equipment to the crew, but ended up working on “Twilight” for a week after another stunt worker dropped out.
“They hired me right then and there, and I made a rig so that Rob Pattinson [who played Edward Cullen] could walk down the trunk of a tree,” said Terzieff.
Few major movies are shot in Seattle, and the small local film market made it very difficult for Terzieff, who was born and raised in Ballard, to find available stunt work early in his career. “Twilight” was one of the first blockbusters he worked on, and it opened many doors for him.
“To this day people still say, ‘Oh you worked on ‘Twilight!’” said Terzieff. “I think it helped me get quite a few gigs after that.”
Terzieff went on to work as a stunt performer in Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises,” then, in 2013, was stunt coordinator for Oscar winner “Dallas Buyers Club.” Until the coronavirus pandemic, he hasn’t had a break from work since. (The weird “‘Twilight”/“Fifty Shades” coincidences keep bubbling up: Terzieff was also Jamie Dornan’s body double for the “Fifty Shades of Grey” movie.)
Jane Humen spent her younger years obsessively reading the Twilight Saga. But what began as a teen obsession has struck up lasting relationships and morphed into her life’s inspiration.
“It felt like every girl in my school was reading it,” said Humen, a writer and “Twilight” fan who grew up in Washington. “I’m sure there were also boys reading it, but you could go down any hallway and see like five girls holding a copy of ‘Twilight.’
“Here’s this kind of wacky vampire book that takes place in my state and I thought that was cool. I would sit in my yard and read it and feel like I was in that world for a while, because it was a similar atmosphere.”
Humen is now writing her own novel. And she’s working with an editor she met on Myspace through “Twilight” fan forums.
“She’s a great friend and a great editor, and sometimes I think if it weren’t for ‘Twilight,’ I would have never had that,” said Humen.
Is her book about teenage love and vampires?
“No,” Humen said. But she did recently reread the Twilight saga to try and identify the conventions that made it a bestseller.
Now Washingtonians, formerly a Texan and an Aussie
Forks, the real town in which the fictional “Twilight” universe is set, sits on the northwest corner of the Olympic Peninsula, the traditional land of the Quileute Tribe. Once considered the “logging capital of the world,” Forks is a community of less than 4,000 people, sharing just one grocery store and one traffic stoplight.
Meyer, who now owns a home in Washington, infamously never visited Forks before she wrote “Twilight”; her location choice was almost purely by chance. In fantasy lore, vampires typically cannot be exposed to direct sunlight. So Meyer, who declined interview requests for this story, turned to Google to find the rainiest place in America: the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state.
“I pulled up maps of the area and studied them, looking for something small, out of the way, surrounded by forest,” Meyer wrote in a blog post on her website that details her writing experience. “And there, right where I wanted it to be, was a tiny town called Forks. It couldn’t have been more perfect if I had named it myself.”
For many, before its “Twilight” fame, Forks was but a pit stop visited en route to Olympic National Park, but tourism exploded after the “Twilight” movie premiered in 2008. In 2007, Forks had just over 10,000 visitors. In 2009, that figure rose to 70,000.
Count Rob Hunter and Lissy Andros among the hordes that came to see Forks because of “Twilight.” Both fell in love with the town and ended up moving there — Hunter from Australia and Andros from Texas.
These days, they continue to share their “Twilight” fandom with visitors to their adopted town.
Hunter grew up in Australia and moved to Forks this year after visiting and falling in love with the community. He now works at the Forks Visitor Center.
Lissy Andros, executive director of the Forks Chamber of Commerce, moved to Forks from Texas over 10 years ago — because of “Twilight.”
At the time, Andros was in her early 40s and living with her mom, who had just split up with her dad. They were looking for a fresh start, and spontaneously chose Forks after visiting for the first time that year.
“It’s hard to change your whole life,” said Andros. “When I read this book, it kind of lit something on fire in me. If I had not read ‘Twilight,’ I’m not sure if I would have had the courage to make that move.
“I fell in love with this place … when I first moved here, they called me ‘that crazy ‘Twilight’ girl,’” said Andros, laughing.
The owner of the unofficial “Cullen House”
As “Twilight” gained popularity in the late 2000s, tiny Forks wasn’t quite prepared to handle an international spotlight. Some longtime residents weren’t thrilled, but others were quick to embrace the fame.
Longtime Forks resident Susan Brager was initially skeptical about the new book series set in her town. Then, the tourists started streaming in, asking to see places mentioned in the books.
“And then it started clicking that this had something to do with the book,” said Brager, who co-owns The Miller Tree Inn, an eight-room bed-and-breakfast on East Division Street in Forks. After some visitors mentioned that the inn resembled the books’ description of the Cullen family’s house, Brager embraced the comparison and labeled “The Cullens” on the mailbox out front.
Since then, The Miller Tree Inn has become the unofficial “Cullen House,” included in the “Twilight” tour that the Forks Chamber of Commerce runs, which stops at other spots featured in the books, such as Forks High School and the hospital.
“I think our mailbox is probably one of the most photographed mailboxes in the world,” Brager says.
The 2008 boom in “Twilight” fanfare was a lifeline for the Miller Tree Inn, which, like so many other small businesses, suffered during the Great Recession. These days, Brager says the “Twilight” tourism has slowed, but visiting fans continue to help keep her business afloat.
Forks and the Quileute Tribe
Although tourism in Forks has cooled some — in recent years they’ve averaged around 40,000 annual visitors — die-hard fans still return regularly.
Every year around Bella’s birthday on Sept. 13, the city throws The Forever Twilight in Forks Festival, bringing hundreds of fans to Washington. The Forks Chamber of Commerce coordinates with local businesses, fan groups and The Olympic Coven, a “Twilight” cosplay group, to put on trivia, panels, tours and other activities for the weekend.
“The ‘Twilight’ fandom is probably stronger now than ever. From graphic novels to fan fiction to other spinoffs, there’s so much more content than people realize,” said Andros. “People are still really excited to come here, and they come back every year.”
In the offseason, visitors can take tours around town, see the “Forever Twilight in Forks Collection” — a gallery inside the town’s Rainforest Arts Center with props and costumes from the movies — and buy “Twilight” merchandise at virtually every store.
But not all communities have benefited from the “Twilight” spotlight. One of Bella’s love interests, Jacob Black, a shape-shifter who can turn from a human into a wolf, was described in the books as a member of the real-life Quileute Tribe. Indigenous activist groups and longtime “Twilight” fans have both objected to Black’s characterization as a misrepresentation and cultural theft of oral traditions central to the Quileute people.
The tribe partnered with the Burke Museum in 2011 to create the website Truth versus Twilight to teach people about “the real Quileute culture” and “offer a counternarrative to The Twilight Saga’s stereotypical representations of race, class, and gender, and offer resources for a more meaningful understanding of Native American life and cultures.”
A Quileute Tribe spokesperson declined comment on the “Twilight” franchise for this story, but said, “The Quileute Tribe has been welcoming people to our lands since time immemorial — before, during and we continue to do so post-‘Twilight.’”
Yet even the Quileute community has found ways to poke fun at its lasting “Twilight” fame. This summer they announced their reservation’s closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with this Facebook post: “Once it is safe to reopen again, we welcome all visitors back to our lands. Except the Cullens.”
A pandemic resurgence
In the years since its debut, the “Twilight” movie has become a cult hit and inspired a recent “Twilight Renaissance” in the form of a resurgence in memes appearing across Tumblr, TikTok and Twitter.
In a year filled with unrest and uncertainty, “We’re drawn to things that are familiar,” said Wallace, the librarian. “To go back and revisit characters that you really enjoyed has a lot of appeal.”
Even amid a pandemic that has limited travel and social gatherings, the “Twilight” community has found ways to connect.
Before the release of “Midnight Sun,” hundreds of fans showed up at Shelton’s Skyline Drive-In to see Meyer speak (via Zoom) at a sold-out author event. Even more tuned in to a virtual version of the Forever Twilight in Forks Festival last month.
Taylor, the Instagram Live “Twilight” show host who even has a “Twilight”-themed guest room at home, continues to engage with thousands of fans on social media. It has kept her connected in a time where social distancing has everyone feeling more alone.
As fans like Taylor age with the series, they say the “Twilight” fandom friendships that they’ve forged will flourish for as long as the immortal Cullen clan.
“It’s been really phenomenal to have built these relationships,” Taylor said. “It started with a book, but it’s grown to be something so much bigger.”
The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.