Twilight fiction doesn't always jibe with Quileute legend

By Paige Dickerson
Peninsula Daily News

LAPUSH -- The droves of Twilight fans who come through Forks and LaPush may know author Stephenie Meyer's fictionalized version of the ancient legends of the Quileute by heart, but they don't know the truth.

The Quileute people are ready to embrace the fans and teach them the real legends -- which do not include the werewolves Meyer's books describe.

Though the legends about the origins of the Quileute people in the best-selling vampire books set in Forks and LaPush have some resemblance to the real stories -- they both involve wolves -- the tribe wants to make sure fans are aware of the rich reality of their true culture.

"We want to assure that all visits to LaPush are successful, enjoyable and provide lasting memories to those that are blessing us with their presence," said tribal councilwoman Anna Rose Counsell.

"The Twilight phenomenon gives the Quileutes the opportunity to educate those about who we are by way of sharing our own stories, food, song and dance passed down from generation to generation," she added.

In the first book of the series, Twilight, Bella Swan -- who is in love with vampire Edward Cullen -- dreams of her best friend, Jacob Black, a Quileute teen, transforming into a werewolf.

That foreshadows action in the second book, New Moon, in which Jacob and several other teen Quileute boys turn into wolves when angered or in defense against vampires.

On her Web site, Meyer wrote that the idea slowly developed as the series moved along.

"I latched onto the wolf story (the actual Quileute legend claims that the tribe descended from wolves transformed by a sorcerer) because it fit with my sketchy knowledge of vampires and werewolves always being at each others' throats (ha ha, pun intended)," she wrote.

"The dream Bella had of Jacob transforming into a wolf to protect her had no foreshadowing significance at the time. It was just my way of letting Bella's subconscious articulate the situation."

Tourists visiting LaPush might catch a tribal elder to share the history of the Quileute.

Chris Morganroth III, for example, was raised by his grandmother, who spoke the Quileute language, told the stories and made baskets and food in traditional ways.

When Morganroth weaves the ancient legends, listeners often sit breathlessly, hanging on to each word as they are welcomed into the tradition of oral storytelling.

Morganroth, who once served on the tribal council, has strived for years to teach youngsters at the tribal school the Quileute language to keep it alive, he said.

He tells the story of the origin of the Quileute:

Quileute beginnings

If you begin to look into the stories and how we got to be here, they go back to the beginnings of time.

Before that, Spirit beings could transform themselves into animals or people at will. There were even living beings in outer space, such as the sun. They called those people the fire sky people.

After some time, the Spirit beings had to choose what they would be and were no longer able to transform.

After this, K'wati came into the area of LaPush and found that there were no humans. He went to the mouth of the river and there were wolves, timber wolves.

Now these wolves always travel in pairs and they mate for life.

K'wati saw that there were no people in this area near LaPush. So he transformed that pair of wolves into the Quileute people.

K'wati is a supernatural figure in Quileute stories who transforms people or objects.

K'wati wasn't a "sorcerer" or "witch king," as Meyer's has it.

"He wasn't really a god, but a transformer -- he was put on Earth to make things better," Morganroth said.

Although Meyer's teen werewolves are not part of Quileute legends, she draws from the tribal connection to wolves.

Even in present times, the wolf is often referred to as a brother of the tribe, as is the orca -- which also is said to have descended from the wolf, Morganroth said.

The New Moon werewolves aren't your average, hairy-faced cross between a man and a wolf. The boys "phase" into bear-sized wolves with enough superpowers to kill vampires.

And they developed out of a need to protect the people of Forks and LaPush from vampires.

The Quileute have no such legend.

How things work

Morganroth said it doesn't bother him much when he hears how the stories are changed and used in the books.

"People are always telling me how my stories are not the real way things happened -- science is the main one -- but I think of them as ways to explain things that happened," Morganroth said.

"We have stories in LaPush that explain events going back to the Ice Age, but science and history people claim that we came across the land bridge much later than that.

"And her book is a work of fiction. If she needed to make some changes to make it more exciting that is up to her."

He went on to say that one legend talks about the fire of the sun being captured in leaves and used to keep the plant living -- a legend which perfectly parallels the scientific process of photosynthesis.

"So we have our story to explain how that works," he said.

"If Ms. Meyer wanted to make up a story about werewolves, that is her thing -- it helped make the characters more interesting."

Tribal Chairwoman Carol Hatch said that as a diverse people, there are many opinions on the Twilight phenomenon, but most people are happy for the tourism that has resulted from the books, and that the tribe would continue to teach its real culture when people visit.

"Like the rest of the world, the Quileute could not have anticipated the phenomenon that Twilight has become, and as a nation, we continue to welcome all visitors to LaPush as our ancestors have done for centuries," she said.

"We are a nation of diverse members with a broad range of ideas and thoughts regarding the Twilight phenomenon, and we respect and embrace all the views of our tribal members."


Visitors

Hatch said that, by some estimates, more than 100,000 visitors may visit LaPush throughout the next several years.

So far in 2009, more than 70,000 visitors have passed through the visitor centers in Forks and LaPush seeking to see the spots named in the books.

"Stephenie Meyer is a great fiction writer and her characters bring excitement to her story," said executive director Bill Peach.

"The culture of the Quileute tribe is also very exciting because of the very long time they have lived here, and the success of the tribe in preserving their culture.

"An opportunity for visitors to learn about the culture is to experience tribal art and purchase items such as handmade cedar baskets."

Since the "Twilight boom" the Quileute have embraced fans with storytelling on special fan weekends and events to entertain and teach.

The tribe also hosts weekly healing drum circles on Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m. at the Community Center. At the drum circles, the fans may learn more about Quileute history and culture.

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Reporter Paige Dickerson can be reached at 360-417-3535 or at paige.dickerson@peninsuladaily news.com.

Last modified: November 29. 2009 11:12PM
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