Between the Tale and the Tangible
Visiting real world places used as settings in novels or a script can be way to enhance your interpretation of the material. It can serve to flesh out the scenes you imagined when you experienced the story on paper or screen. Here are a few examples of spots I have both read about and encountered in the physical realm.
Going to a place I had read about in a book…
As a senior in high school, I read An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser, which is set in Kansas City, Missouri during the early part of the 1900’s. The story is based on two actual death row cases from that time period. The main character, Clyde, lands a job his first job as a bellhop at a high class establishment, the Green-Davidson Hotel. Described lavishly in the book, the hotel is a strong contrast to his upbringing in a poverty stricken missionary family who spends their days proselytizing on street corners. In the story, his striving for wealth and prestige at any cost brings about his tragic demise.
Shortly after reading the book, I went on a trip to visit my family in Independence, Missouri, which is near Kansas City. I decided to try to find some of the locations described in An American Tragedy. I found a closed down King’s Hotel where the fictional Green-Davidson stood. I could see chandeliers, a wide spiral staircase, and parquet floors through the window. I imagined Clyde in his uniform hauling suitcases up its marble steps for dapper men and beautiful women in furs gliding across the foyer. Seeing the glamorous hotel decades later as a disheveled and abandoned space reiterated the message in the novel that the power behind materialism is fleeting and as vulnerable to destruction as our human lives. Clinging to it as if it can somehow immortalize or make gods of us is a trap.
Going to a place I had seen in TV show…
On a recent trip to the Northwest, knowing that I was camping near Seattle, an Alaskan friend mentioned that I should try to go to Twede’s Cafe, in North Bend, the town where the fictitious setting of Twin Peaks lives. I had been watching the murder mystery series written by David Lynch and Mark Frost, Twin Peaks: The Return every Sunday, so was excited to be in one of the three-dimensional locations I had seen in only two-dimensions. We just happened to be staying 20 minutes from there, so planned to head over for breakfast, pie, and coffee.
We were greeted by a flashing open sign with a blue neon mug and red marquee lights above it representing steam rising from its hot liquid. The props and memorabilia sprinkled throughout the place definitely lent to the feeling that the show was superimposed on top of the charming diner. I could see the details in the panoramic landscape painted in a strip along the entire wood paneled wall. My cup was emblazoned with the logo for Twede’s Cafe along with their slogan “The Home of Twin Peaks Cherry Pie and ‘A Damn Fine Cup of Coffee’.” Dad is exuberant about the pie, especially the crust, and asks a guy appearing to be the manager in his Twin Peaks Sheriff Department tee, if the secret is Bisquick. He merely reply that it might have some Bisquick in it… A rectangular wooden sign with letters carved out and painted white: TWIN PEAKS Population 51, 201, sat on top of the pie case. To top it off the experience, as we were leaving, we saw an FBI Agent smoking out back with one of the waiters as a sun dog glowed above us, just like in the intro scene of every Twin Peaks: The Return episode.
Discovering a place I am familiar with was in the book I was reading…
As a girl, I went to Wisconsin every summer to stay with my grandparents. One of the adventures they took me on was a visit to The House on the Rock, a roadside attraction near Madison, which is featured in American Gods by Neil Gaiman. I have been there several times and to this day reflect on it as one of the places that enchanted my childhood. Gaiman chose the most striking elements of the site and in each of those passages he conjured the spellbinding energy I felt when I was surrounded by its strange fortune tellers, animated dioramas, horsemen of the apocalypse suspended from the high ceiling, and fully furnished rooms containing orchestras of instruments that would play themselves with the drop of a quarter. I could picture every scene vividly as his characters interacted with the oddities in its many rooms. I was envious of the characters who managed to sneak a ride on the make-believe creatures of the dimly lit antique carousel. As they were spun around on the platform, they were transported to another dimension, just as visiting places in your favorite books will transport you!