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Posts Tagged ‘vampire lore’

Wet & Wild In Washington: New Moon

In Books on September 2, 2010 at 10:26 pm

While sitting in the glorious sun-soaked sand of a beach in Waikiki, sipping a frothy Pink Palace from the Royal Hawaiian, I couldn’t help but think that the Twilight gang wouldn’t do well in Hawaii.[1] Sucks to be them.

This leads me to the all important question of setting: Why did Stephanie Meyer choose the small town of Forks, Washington as the location for her story?   What does a random small town in the Pacific Northwest really have to recommend it?  And why would such a mundane, dreary place be the home of mysterious forces and magical creatures?  No offense intended to the folks who actually do live there, but even they must admit that a quiet, out-of-the-way town is not exactly the first place one would think of when scouting out the location of a novel.

Well, there’s the reason she herself gives us: vampires can hang out there during the daylight hours without sparkling like tween girls who have recently discovered the glory of roll-on body glitter.

Quick side note (okay, it’s more “rant” than “note”).  And it probably won’t be all that quick…but I feel entitled to vent just a tiny bit, and since I’m posting before Brooke has had a chance to edit this bit out, I just might get away with it.

Something that always bothered me about the Twilight vampires was this: why do they have to sparkle?  I realize, of course, that many vampire legends have some sort of stipulation about sunlight, but the authors and the screenwriters of novels, movies and television shows have found a myriad of creative and compelling ways to incorporate this over the years.  The earliest European folktales didn’t really say anything on the subject, aside from mentioning that vampires were nocturnal.  Neither Sir Francis Varney of James Malcom Rymer’s Varney the Vampire, nor John Polidori’s Lord Ruthven of The Vampyre had any particular aversion to sunlight, although both men seemed to be more comfortable in the moonlight.  Later tales began to have vampires avoiding daytime instinctually, simply because they are creatures of darkness and therefore the light of day is anathema to their nature (Count Dracula grows marginally weaker in the daylight, while Carmilla tends to sleep rather late into the day).  The film Nosferatu seems to be the first vampire story where the sunlight becomes a deadly enemy that will physically cause a vampire to burst into flames and/or turn into an overgrown dust bunny.  And of course, this same anti-sun rule applies to the many characters in Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, and to the vamps in Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s world (yes, I went there – deal with it.)  In some legends, light isn’t actually fatal, but will just make a vamp physically ill (Mick St. John and his ilk from Moonlight—a very short lived and rather cheeseball TV show, which I totally confess to liking).

In any case, most vampires avoid the daylight hours, and those that don’t actually hiss and spit as they flee into their coffin at daybreak still need to keep out of the sun if they want to live.  Now, Meyer needed her kids to be able to exist out of doors during the daytime hours—school hours, to be exact.  This was crucial to the plot – how else can her sexy teenage vampires be all angsty and melodramatic over human love interests if they are unable to attend high school?!  You just don’t get that kind of PG-drama in an insurance company.  So, rather than go with one of these established sun-avoidance options of vampire lore, Meyer decided to be creative.  I have no issue with that.  One does not like to be repetitive, and new ideas can certainly reinvigorate a tired genre.  But for the love of Rob Pattinson’s pompadour, why do her vampires have to sparkle? Maybe exposure to sunlight could cause them to break into violent hives, or turn their skin orange, or transform them into unattractive butt-scratching plumbers…why sparkles? Brooke says I shouldn’t expect so much from someone whose study of English literature encompasses three authors and that I need to let it go.  Agree?  Disagree?  Need to know what a plot device is?  Please feel free to leave a comment—I really am curious as to what others think.  Moving on.

Since they have to sparkle in the sun, Meyer needed a place where the Cullens could hang out during the day living among humans and blending in discreetly, while being smugly self righteous about their ability to not go all starved-hyena on a zebra carcass on every human being within their vicinity.  They would naturally draw some unwanted attention if they lived in a warm and sunny climate like San Diego or Phoenix.   But since they only sparkle in direct sunlight, Forks would be perfect, as it has lots of nice cloudy, gloomy, overcast weather.   With all the rainfall, the state of Washington has some really beautiful forests, which provides our Veggie-Vamps a handy source of prey—the deer and mountain lions and such that they all brag so much about subsisting off of.  The proximity of lots of damp, dark, lush forests also creates a nice, wild, mysterious feel to the book, which works well for the supernatural element of the vampires-and-werewolves-walking-among-us idea.

The choice of Forks also allows for the history of a nearby Native American tribe to be appropriated and absorbed into Meyer’s story.  The Quileutes are an actual tribe of Native Americans, who do live on reservations near this area.  As a result, the Werewolves-That-Aren’t-Really-Real-Werewolves-But-Actually-Supercool-Shapeshifters-Powered-By-AWESOME can come crashing in to the supernatural love story and serve as a nice foil to their vampire counterparts.[2]

The small size of Forks also enables its inhabitants to have a clear idea of who is who, which in turn allows for Bella to notice and be noticed by Edward right away, and for them to be in a class together.  In the typical high school in a larger town, one’s graduating class may have several hundred people in it.  A girl would probably not even know whether a cute boy she saw in the halls that she had not noticed before was a new student or whether she just…hadn’t noticed him before.  This small town setting also creates a sort of celebrity out of Meyer’s heroine—as the estranged daughter of the town’s police chief, everyone knows exactly who she is, where she lived before, and when she is coming, and they eagerly anticipate her arrival.

Towards the end of the book, we get a nice European twist.  The setting switches to Volterra, Italy; the seat of the ruling class of vampires Meyer dubs the Volturi.  She is able to give her story a little whisper of authenticity here, by attaching it to a real city in a country with a rich culture and colorful history.[3]

So – cloudy place with lots of rain; check.  Mysterious forests, complete with isolated flower-studded meadows and dangerous inhabitants; check.  Small town where everyone knows everyone and yet no one knows each other as well as they would like to think, check.  Sleepy little semi-isolated town where you would never expect to find something so fantastic and amazing, check.  Quick side trip to an exotic locale that most of us will never be able to afford to visit, check.  And there we have it.    Stay tuned for next week’s post, where we dissect the themes and run through Eclipse and why Victoria rules.


[1] And for this, I blame Brooke, who had spent days begging me to at least THINK about Le Footnote while I was on vacation.

[2] We will save the Edward-Jacob debate for another day, although I would like it noted for posterity that Brooke was originally all for the vampires–because of the super strength and speed and other enhanced senses–until I pointed out that she’s always cold, and a “werewolf” would always be warm, so she’d have a natural built-in heater right there…and she promptly switched loyalties.  She had misgivings about the glitter anyway, so it really wasn’t a hard sell.

[3] No denying it, Stephanie Meyer did her research here.

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