Let’s Read Life and Death: Introduction

It’s the tenth anniversary of Twilight.

Don’t feel bad if you didn’t mark your calendar. I had no idea, either. In fact, the first I heard of it was someone snickering that John Green must be in tears over how Stephenie Meyer beat him to the act of switching all her characters’ genders to prove how feminist she is. …which makes no amount of sense at all, divorced of its context, but I nonetheless made a Scooby Doo noise and started frantically combing through my social media feeds.

The details trickled in with an infuriating sloth, and I have to admit I was in a bit of a mania Tuesday night. One, Meyer had rewritten Twilight for its tenth anniversary. Two, Bella Swan, disaffected teen girl, was now Beaufort (lmao) Swan, disaffected teen boy. Three, Meyer had actually done this for every single character in Twilight, save the terrible Swan parents.

What a revelation. What a long, sweaty night. My English major/Gender Studies minor was finally going to pay off, but I had no idea how to start unpacking this.

Maybe I should start talking about why the hell I cared.

Let’s Read Twilight

Six years ago, I worked in an office, full of office folks. One of the managers, a tiny, pushy woman, had received the entire Twilight Saga and displayed it prominently on her desk. I voiced my displeasure to a friend while said manager was in earshot.

“You only hate things to make yourself sound smart,” said Pushy Manager, revealing she was not just a manager, but a psychiatrist as well. She challenged me to actually read the dumb things, because then, surely, I would love them, because women are just preprogrammed to like Twilight. She would know, after all. She was a manager-slash-psychiatrist.

Incidentally, this is the same manager who kept haranguing me for the “juicy details” about why I was no longer talking to another female coworker after we’d been so close. I didn’t want to admit, at my desk, that we’d been getting to know each other in the Biblical sense. Maybe if the manager had known this about me she wouldn’t be so sure I’d love Twilight.

I digress.

Having received the book already as a gag gift, looking to prove everyone wrong about how “good” and “romantic” and whatever Twilight was supposed to be, I got to work gleefully hating every word. I wrote down my thoughts, and recapped the, uh, action, on a WordPress blog, which grew to astonishing popularity. I mean, I guess I was funny. I was also really nasty, now that I’ve had time between then and now to think about it.

Don’t get me wrong, Twilight wasn’t good, by any stretch of the imagination. But there was a lot of background radiation in my life at that time (breakup with the coworker notwithstanding), and despite championing the idea that Twilight was at its heart about abusive relationships, I was struggling with what I would come to understand was partner abuse.

While I was scrambling for that Queen Edgemaster crown, trying to prove how cynical (and yes, smart) I was, it led me through resource after resource describing the dynamics of abusive relationships, planting the seeds that would eventually grow into my escape and slow reclamation of self.

So, I had a stupid blog about reading Twilight books that in a kind of silly way saved my life. This anniversary book comes five years after I started trying to heal and figure out who the hell I was supposed to be. That’s a big part of why I care.

Twilight Reimagined

Anyway, what’s the deal with this book?

Well, from what we can glean from interviews, Meyer was asked to come up with something for the tenth anniversary, something small. But this is Meyer we’re talking about, so of course she wrote another 440 freaking pages. Interestingly, what prompted her to physically rewrite the book was all the complaints that Bella was a non-character, a terrible role model, and a permanent damsel-in-distress.

“It’s always bothered me a little bit because anyone surrounded by superheroes is going to be … in distress. We don’t have the powers.” [GMA]

This is a surprisingly fair point, on the surface. What did we expect Bella to do? Unfortunately, think a little too hard about characters like Noah Bennet, Clint Barton, or Connie Maheswaran, and you realize there’s any number of things a mortal could pull off when surrounded by superheroes, if the author lets them. Sorry, Meyer.

“I thought, ‘What if we switched it around a bit and see how a boy does,’ and, you know, it’s about the same.”

About the same? I know this is probably code for “so I only had to change 5% of Twilight to fit the new template,” but the Gender Studies minor in me is tickled at how easily she’s solved the Gender Question.

All right, Meyer, I’ll play your game. Let’s see if it really is “about the same.”

What could possibly have changed?

Well, I’ll tell you what I’m looking for.

Meyer has had ten years–ten!–before coming back to this, her debut novel. Not only was she given a chance to edit it, but she’s republished it as well. Very few authors get this chance (the only one that comes to mind right now is Stephen King, and I’m sure he’s glad of the comparison). Any author worth their salt will no doubt have grown and changed, even if they’ve had only, what, two ideas in a decade? What even was The Host, now that I think about it? Whatever, I’m not the millionaire.

Anyway, what I’m hoping for is some sign of editing. You know, a sudden disappearance of adverbs, a blessed use of brevity, removal of stilted dialogue. Did she cut down on the hotel bit from last time? God, please don’t make me read another version of Distressed Teen Bored in Hotel.

Of equal interest is, of course, whether it really is “about the same” if you change nearly everyone’s gender. Twilight was a feminist battleground, for a long, long time, primarily for Meyer’s clueless adherence to toxic gender roles. How can it possibly be “about the same” when the power dynamics have been reversed? How does the story change when the aggressive, threatening vampire is a woman? Or when the desperate-for-sex  vampirism, never-takes-no-for-an-answer mortal is a young man? Will our perception of the abuse change when the victim is male? Or has Meyer toned done the more, uh, questionable aspects of the relationship?

Maybe more insidious is the question of what Meyer has done to preserve the “sanctity” of these characters’ new gender expressions. What of Emmet, the dumb jock-ish bear-eater? Is he just as beefy and athletic and butch as a girl? Or is she a pretty leggy model who just happens to be stronger than she looks, saving us from having to consider a masculine woman attractive? If Meyer did use this tactic, what would be left of the original character to inform us this new gender caricature is really them? And even if this is underhanded and regressive, is it altogether unwise? Does it pay better to secure your original fawning audience than to warm up potential outsiders who never would have given your brand a second glance?

Sorry, I’ve not been out of college for very long. What I want to know is: Did Meyer get any better? Did she have any clue of the potential tripmines she was triggering when she decided to publish a rule 63 AU fanfic of her own work?

And, most importantly: Why do I like the idea of Twilight so much more when all the genders are different?

Let’s Read Life and Death: or, Vampirely Reimagined

Join me again, won’t you, for the pain, the suffering, the head clutching? Will Edward be just as creepy as Edythe (lol)? Will Beaufort (lmao) be a better surrogate for the reader than Bella, gender identity aside? Will I really have to count the frigging adverbs again? Can I get through another Let’s Read without a single swear word? Are all the stories I hear about the new Jacob Black true? Because she–she sounds hot, guys, I’m not gonna lie. Follow up: New Moon Reimagined? All-female pack of werewolves? Yeah? Yeah, you’re feeling it, I know you are.

I’m going to queue a chapter every two days. I’m sure there are other Let’s Readers moving through this faster than me–and I will absolutely link to them in my sidebar as more of them appear. Please remember to link, like, comment, subscribe, whatever it is WordPress actually offers now. While this will be the focus of the blog for a while, I plan to do other Let’s Reads and writing junk, too.

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