I actually kind of like Twilight.
You know how some people watch The Real Housewives of New Jersey or Keeping up with the Kardashians, even though they know it’s totally ridiculous? (Hi, mom!) That’s how I feel about Twilight. It is delicious, sparkly, neutered Mormon bodice-ripper abstinence porn, and I find it absolutely hilarious. Does it have damaging messages about self-worth and relationships? Absolutely. I am not here to defend Stephenie Meyer’s delusions about what constitutes romance. But do I love certain aspects of it a little more than one should “ironically” love something? You bet your sweet ass I do.
Part of the reason I’m writing about this book is because I’m working on a case study for a course I’m taking on book sales and marketing, the theme of which is Twilight‘s effect on the exponential growth in popularity of YA fiction and how it’s crossed over to adult readers (of which I am one). It’s times like this I wish that Nielsen BookScan1 could track the age range of people buying books like they do with TV demographics.
The other part is that I was curious to see the changes made to the original book. The major difference between Twilight and Life and Death is that all of the characters (save the protagonist’s parents) are genderbent. Bella Swan is now Beaufort (Beau) Swan, while Edward Cullen is now Edythe (like Edith, but fancier) Cullen. Some people (mostly angry Twilight fans who wanted Meyer to publish Midnight Sun2 already, plus all of the people who hate Twilight to begin with) are saying this is a search-and-replace cash grab3, but Meyer actually does some light rewriting and adds some new content that improves character development, at least with the secondary characters. There is no more “dazzle,” no more “chagrin,” no more “alabaster face” or “scintillating arms.” According to Meyer, “70% of the changes I made were because I was allowed to do a new editing run ten years later. I got to fix almost every word that has bothered me since the book was printed, and it was glorious” (her emphasis). On a sentence level, there has definitely been some improvement to the writing. The content, though…
Everyone who has something bad to say about Twilight (including me) usually fixates on the conformation to gender roles, the lack of consent, Edward’s controlling behavior, and Bella’s passivity. The first book is relatively innocuous compared to some of the shit that goes down in the following volumes.4 Honestly, though, half of my problem with Stephenie Meyer is that she’s telling the wrong story. For some reason, this lady writes really cool secondary characters, and then pays literally no attention to them, instead boring/terrifying us with the bland/disturbing relationship between the two lead characters (and poor Jacob Black, whose character assassination in Eclipse makes me feel the way I feel about the ending of Veronica Roth’s Allegiant5).
Life and Death doesn’t offer much improvement on this front. In fact, as many critics have said, Bella Swan is less compelling when she’s a dude. I mean, really, we’ve been reading about guys putting women on pedestals since, like, the fourteenth century6—as a woman, reading the sections where Beau refers to Edythe as a goddess and drops to his knees (I’m not joking) and basically pulls the Wayne’s World “I’M NOT WORTHY” (still not joking) were so nauseating and not at all flattering. That said, a female version of Edward Cullen is so much better. The thing is, I don’t think Edward’s creepy because he’s a vampire; it’s because he’s a man, and Beau kind of absorbed his weird attitudes about women — he infantilizes his mom (who sounds like a flake, let’s be real, but the language could be better), he constantly refers to Edythe as “delicate” and “fragile” and talks about how he can see her ribs through her tank top when she takes him to the meadow to sparkle at him7, and there’s a scene where a girl asks him out and he doesn’t like that she is so forward. It just kind of galls me that Stephenie Meyer got a second editing pass on this book and this is how she chose to make her protagonist more likable.
I don’t think the gender swap was entirely convincing, either. Not that I’m trying to enforce gender conventions, but it was more like everyone seemed very neutral and distant, or too much like the original character. Archie and Earnest8 in particular were described too much like their female counterparts for me to think of them as anything but female. I didn’t feel like I could get my head around their genderbent versions — that’s where I felt the search-and-replace feeling very heavily. And maybe it’s just a testament to the fact that Meyer spent all her character development time on the two leads, and it’s not that her secondary characters lack gendered characteristics but that they lack any personality at all.9
The ending is different10 (see footnote for spoiler), making this pair of books sort of a choose-your-own-adventure story. But I still end up feeling like Meyer is telling the wrong story. You know what would be compelling? Alice and Jasper’s story.11 Or even just Carlisle finding all of these other poor souls to turn into vampires. There were so many more creative avenues she could have pursued, but she went with the overdone human-meets-vampire thing. If you’re gonna do that, at least make it actually sexy, like Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse books and True Blood, the HBO series based on Harris’ books.
So yeah, I don’t think Meyer necessarily achieved her goal of proving that Bella wasn’t a damsel in distress by swapping the genders. Beau gets carried around and hovered over and bossed around and it’s still annoying and boring to read about. The writing has improved a bit, but the story isn’t any better. It’s not like I expected more — please, I don’t expect anything from Twilight12 — but it would have been nice to see some more thoughtful change go into this problematic piece of work.
- Yes, same as the Nielsen TV ratings people — they track up to 90 percent of book sales on point-of-sale systems throughout the country so publishers can see how their books are selling
- Midnight Sun is Twilight from Edward’s perspective. It was leaked on the internet in August 2008, probably by someone on the film crew of the first Twilight film, since the director, Catherine Hardwicke, and Robert Pattinson, who played Edward, were allowed to read the chapters Meyer had finished so Pattinson could get into the character’s head. Meyer was extremely unhappy and stopped working on the novel, and recently said at New York Comic Con that she probably wouldn’t be finishing it because of E.L. James’ Grey. I’m just sitting here wondering why she hasn’t sued the pants off of James for publishing literal search-and-replace Twilight fanfiction and making buckets of money from it. SMDH at Random House!!!
- It is unquestionably a cash grab, but not necessarily by Meyer — per the book’s foreword, her agent approached her as the 10th anniversary of Twilight‘s publication neared to see if she wanted to do something in honor of this milestone. Her publisher, Little, Brown, was looking for a new foreword or some kind of anniversary letter to put in the 10th anniversary edition of the book, but she felt that was “really boring” and opted to revisit some of the troublesome areas of the book. No shade to agents or publishers, but when you have a major franchise coming up on an anniversary, you want to spend the least amount of cash you possibly can while releasing something that makes the die-hard fans want to throw money at you. This is just good, shrewd business sense.
- For those of you untainted by this knowledge, let me direct you to Cleolinda’s wiki entry for Horrify the Twilight Noob.
- Thanks a lot, Petrarch
- To crib a line from Cleolinda: Twilight means never having to say you’re kidding.
- What is up with that spelling?
- This is actually kind of a scathing indictment of the new version of the story, because damn if I didn’t love Alice Cullen when I first read Twilight.
- While Edward sucks the venom out of Bella’s hand in Twilight, subjecting us to three more books in this series as a result, Beau is too far gone and Edythe and the Cullens make the executive decision to vampire him. They fake his death and he can never see his parents again, but hey, he gets to live with his hot vampire girlfriend for all eternity!
- Alice is put in a mental institution in the 1920s for having premonitions, and she somehow gains the attention of this vampire who wants to eat her. Another vampire working as a nurse in the facility spirits her away and turns her into a vampire to keep her safe. Bad Vamp kills Good Vamp, and Alice wakes up alone, knowing she’s going to meet Jasper at some point and they’re going to be together. Jasper was a Confederate soldier in the American Civil War who gets vamped by a Mexican vampire named Maria and ends up fighting in this crazy Mexican-American Vampire War. Eventually he escapes Maria, who is a big bucket of crazy, and Alice finds him and together they find the Cullens. That’s the kind of romance I want to read about. There needs to be some adventure! This is why I love shows like True Blood. I need real drama, not some made-up “I LOVE YOU” “BUHHHH I CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT YOU” “I’M A MONSTER” crap. Edward and Bella are truly the worst part of Twilight.
- Dude, after she introduced all those cool foreign vampires in Breaking Dawn and then there was literally no fight and Bella protected everyone with the love shield in her brain? God, I just wanted to see the Volturi get their asses kicked, but no! God forbid there actually be a plot!!!