Twilight is a series of books (and films) about Bella Swan who moves to Forks, Washington, befriends a shape-shifting wolf (Jacob Black), and falls in love with a vampire (Edward Cullen). Twilight gathered acclaim among fans the last half of the last decade for its gripping story. In 2008, Time stated that, “People do not want to just read [Twilight]; they want to climb inside and live there.”
They can! Unlike Hogwarts or Middle Earth, Forks is a real place with real people. What’s special for us Twilight pilgrims is the extent to which the citizens of Forks also play with the intersection of fictional and real geographies, allowing visitors to experience a state of hyperreality. Fans can walk the halls of the real Forks High School where Bella and Edward first met, stroll along the coast in La Push where Jacob shared with Bella the Quileute legends about vampires, or hike the misty Hoh that acts as Edward’s hunting grounds. Other spaces are constructed by them for fans (i.e Edwards and Bella's homes) to enhance our enjoyment. Their engagement creates an immersive experience, transporting us from the everyday into an imaginative realm.
I've traveled to Forks during various phases of Twilight hysteria. The first in 2009 near the height of the craze when the Chamber of Commerce reported 70,000 visitors, the second in 2011 as it began to die down (45,000 visitors), and in 2015 well after the release of the final Twilight film (35,000 visitors). Each time, I wonder what impact we are having on this town that only averaged around 5,000 visitors before Twilight? Then, Forks was struggling in the wake of a dying timber industry. With Twilight tourism, the Chamber reports hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales tax revenue contributing to school, medical, and housing construction projects. Are these economic benefits sustainable? Many Twilight themed businesses have closed, though the town continues to hold festivals such as the annual "Forever in Twilight" celebration. What will happen when the Twilight ember finally fades? When it does, what is our responsibility, as fans, to the town of Forks that has given us so much?