The Twilight phenomenon gets an injection of fresh blood this Tuesday with the release of a new installment in the bestselling vampire saga from author Stephenie Meyer. The series of novels and subsequent hit movies spurred legions of fans to visit the fictional story's real-life setting on Washington's Olympic Peninsula. But a predicted "renaissance" in vampire tourism could be bled by the resurgent virus pandemic.
Meyer's latest hefty tome, "Midnight Sun," zoomed up to #1 on the Amazon and Barnes & Noble bestseller lists this past week even before its release. The 672-page novel bumped presidential niece Mary Trump's insider tell-all about the Trump family out of the top spot.
"The fans are worked up in a serious tizzy," said Forks Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Lissy Andros in an interview from the Twilighters' mecca.
The Twilight saga concerns a teenage girl from Forks, Bella Swan, who falls in love with a handsome vampire. Later it turns into a love triangle and werewolves appear. The new Twilight installment re-tells the love story between Bella and Edward Cullen from the teen vampire's point of view. The first Twilight books were mostly told in Bella's voice.
The Olympic Peninsula's west end reaped a tourist bonanza from fan pilgrimages beginning with the first book and movie in 2005-2008. Andros said vampire tourism abated from its peak, but has shown lasting appeal.
"The Twilight fandom is incredibly strong. This is just going to make it stronger," Andros said.
According to Meyer's online bio, her four-book Twilight saga has sold more than 100 million copies globally and been translated into 37 languages. The most dedicated in the global fan base -- or fang club -- of the romance-thriller series are known as Twihards. However, if they set out for the two-stoplight rainforest town, fans will have to consider the ongoing pandemic.
State health officials are currently discouraging travel far from home. Clallam County, which encompasses Forks, La Push and Port Angeles, is frozen in Phase 2 of Gov. Jay Inslee's four-step reopening process. Nonessential travel for most leisure purposes is not greenlighted until Phase 3, which however hasn't deterred outdoor enthusiasts from flocking to Olympic National Park and the ocean beaches south of Forks this summer.
The nearby Quileute Reservation is a favorite side trip for self-guided Twilight tours. It was home to the fictional clan of werewolves that were rivals to the vampires. But the reservation with its scenic coastal beaches is currently closed to visitors because of the pandemic.
The tribal government has repeatedly extended the temporary closure, most recently to September 4. The tribe also erected a checkpoint on the main highway leading into the community of La Push to protect the tribal community from travelers who may unknowingly carry COVID to the area. During the month of July, roughly 4,000 vehicles were turned away at the security checkpoint, according to Quileute Tribe Operations Manager Emily Foster.
"Once it is deemed safe to reopen again, we welcome all visitors back to our lands. Except the Cullens," Foster said in an email, with a nod and wink to the vampire clan.
The Forever Twilight in Forks Collection is closed because of the pandemic as well. Forever Twilight is a gallery attached to the Rainforest Arts Center that displays a variety of movie costumes, props, book memorabilia and Twilight fan art.
The annual fan festival, Forever Twilight in Forks, has also had to change its plans due to the pandemic. This year's festival is transitioning to take place online on its scheduled dates of September 10-13, 2020.
Novelist Meyer settled her fictional clan of vampires in Forks based on an internet search for the wettest place in America. Given limited sunshine, her vampires could pursue fairly normal lives and move about in daytime. However, none of the five Twilight movies were actually filmed around Forks. As is often the case with Hollywood movies set in the Pacific Northwest, the on-location filming was mostly done in cheaper British Columbia.
The Forks Community Hospital to this day reserves a parking spot for Dr. Cullen, the fictional vampire clan's patriarch whose acute senses reputedly made him an excellent doctor. Fans also still swing by for photos in front of the Miller Tree Inn B&B, which passes for the Cullen family home, and another more modest home across town that fits the description of Bella's house. Twilighters would typically shop for swag from Forks High School, where the main characters met in the story, but that is temporarily closed too.
In an online video interview recorded in June, Meyer revealed she was a bit worried how the long delayed publication of the next Twilight installment would be received.
"Are people going to be like, 'Oh man, it's too late. It's been too long. I don't care,'" she said in the video made by independent studio Picturestart.
"I really didn't know what to think," Meyer said. "I mean, guys, it's been almost 13, 14 years now."
This Friday (Aug. 7), Meyer will commence a truncated book tour to promote the new novel. The Arizona resident is making one in-person appearance amid the ongoing pandemic. It will take place at the Skyline Drive-In Theater, which is near Shelton on the opposite side of the Olympic Mountains from Forks. Independent bookstore Ballast Book Company of Bremerton sold out tickets to the event at $62 per carload.
The drive-in offered COVID-19 safety advantages in that attendees at the author Q&A will stay in their cars while they watch Meyer on stage. Meyer said she would answer questions from the audience submitted by email, Instagram or Facebook.
Three subsequent book tour events on Meyer's schedule are happening online or by video link. In Forks itself, Andros said the closed visitor center will put up its popular film star cutouts outside on the book release date Tuesday to facilitate fan selfies.
Meyer started writing Midnight Sun more than 13 years ago and then shelved it after a dozen draft chapters leaked on the internet. The bestselling author said in 2008 that she was too sad about what happened to keep writing the novel.
Then she delighted her fandom this spring by announcing the book would come out after all. She said she was sorry she kept them waiting for so long.
"Completing Midnight Sun has brought back to me those early days of Twilight when I first met many of you. We had a lot of fun, didn’t we?" Meyer said in an open letter posted on her website. "We found kindred spirits that are still in our lives now. I hope going back to the beginning of Bella’s and Edward’s story reminds you of all that fun, too."