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Monday, May 9, 2016

Life and Death: Reviewing Twilight's Gender Swap


Stephanie Meyer answers criticisms of Twilight's gender stereotyping with a retelling where the roles are reversed. ♦ 
Stephanie Meyer has always faced a lot of criticism for her novels, especially the Twilight series. One of the biggest issues readers seem to have with the series is with Meyer's portrayal of the character Isabella “Bella” Swan, and with Bella’s damsel-in-distress-type role, it’s easy to see why. Our culture today thrives on challenging societal norms. People want to see strong, independent women protagonists, not someone who constantly needs to be saved.
    It’s true that Bella Swan needs Edward Cullen, the leading male, and he does save her life on several occasions in the first book, so one can see why people critique this aspect the most. However, Stephanie Meyer has disputed this characterization of the dynamic between the two by saying that Bella is not a damsel in distress at all but, rather, a “human in distress, a normal human being surrounded on all sides by people who are basically superheroes and supervillains,” and that it would not matter if that human were female or male.
    To make her point, Meyer wrote a book celebrating the 10th anniversary of her Twilight series entitled Life and Death: Twilight Reimagined. In this novel, she did a complete gender swap of everyone in the story—with the exception of Bella’s (now Beaufort’s) parents—for the sake of believability with the custody situation (she thought it was extremely unlikely that a father would be given sole custody without the mother having access, and also did not want to unnecessarily tarnish a character). The story’s main goal is to show how similar every character would have been to her original portrayal, even if they were of the opposite sex.
  The original Twilight book follows a girl, Bella Swan, through a plethora of supernatural situations beginning when she moves to the rainy town of Forks, Washington. There she meets Edward Cullen and his “foster siblings" and is immediately struck by their beauty, but she's completely consumed by the boy with the bronze hair (Edward). She is not sure why he distracts her so much; he treats her like she smells bad and is constantly rude to her. One day she is almost killed when a car slides on ice and spirals directly towards her. Edward appears next to her and stops the car. After this incident, Bella dives into research about these people with pale, ice cold skin and incredible speed and strength. What she comes up with, of course, is vampire. The real fun begins when she confronts him and is proven right, and soon thereafter they begin a blissfully romantic love life. But Bella is soon put in peril when she draws the attention of James, the leader of a group of red-eyed vampires, who, unlike Edward's group, are known for eating humans, and it thus falls to the Cullens to try to protect her.
     Life and Death follows the same basic storyline, but is different enough that even if one had read the original novel not long ago, it wouldn’t feel like a reread. Obviously the writing is a little less romantic, and Beaufort’s reactions and thoughts are different because of the gender flip (Meyer also took the opportunity to add in some things she wished she had thought of in the old story). For example, Beau is very into cars, something that Bella was not interested in, though he does keep a layer of indifference to things his gender typically likes, such as not being into sports or the typical trashy talk about girls, just as Bella was not into makeup and dresses. Beau is also a bit more energetic, even though the typical reader may not notice that change. Beau is very prone to ignoring the fact that even though Edythe (Edwards’s female counterpart) is a girl, she is about fifty times stronger than he is. He is constantly at war with himself, struggling with gender stereotypes that are broken because of Edythe’s superiority, leaving him feeling a little insecure. He wants to protect her, when she needs to be the one doing the saving. He even tries to fight against Joss (the female James) who is capable of tossing him like a rag doll with one hand, whereas Bella resists James but ultimately understands she cannot do anything.
   Seeing how the beloved characters are expanded upon with the gender swap is extremely entertaining, especially for fans of the novel. Even with all of the changes the readers notice, they will no doubt see Meyer’s point: Beau struggles much in the way that Bella did—even the females are a thousand times stronger and faster than he is—and he becomes, in essence, the “male-in-distress,” which makes for an interesting book. It is definitely not a commonly explored trope in literature. I was a bit concerned that there would not be the same level believability in this new book, but Meyer did a fantastic job.
    The novel was a great read. If the buyer is new to the series, they can flip the book over, and the Twilight novel is on the reverse side, which is helpful for comparisons or a refresher on the plot. At around $15, it is well worth the price and the reading time.
    I personally loved seeing this remix of the series.
  • About the Author
    Kayla Love is a fiction writer who has been published in such platforms as 321 Lit Mag, Great Reads Magazine, and the Gateway to Imagination anthology. She studies Journalism and Creative Writing at Miami University and is on staff with Diversity University Magazine and The Crucible. She is currently opening up a literary magazine for women artists called Doll House Writer.

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