You have no idea how long I’ve been waiting for this.
My relationship with Twilight as a franchise is long and… not particularly complicated. I heard about it long before I read it, and it was after I caught up on Cleolinda’s amazing recaps (still worth a read to this very day!) that I decided I needed to read this thing and form my own opinion. My initial shock! and distaste! at the unhealthy relationship depicted therein became an ironic enjoyment, which allowed me to revel in internet gems like Growing Up Cullen, and then has become something… more?
So of course Life and Death: Twilight Reimagined went on the list, and I finally got around to reading it. Spoilery discussion follows.
I found L&D really interesting to read in a lot of ways. For the uninitiated, L&D was Meyer’s 10 year Twilight anniversary contribution. She initially had wanted to do something more, but time constraints and her unwillingness to leave it at an author’s note, led her to bend every gender (with a few exceptions) in the original story and see how it all played out.
At least partly, as she says in her foreword, this was a reaction to a common criticism levelled against Twilight, which was that Bella was a bit of a wet blanket as a character. She needs an awful lot of saving, her life revolves around Edward, etc. Meyer posited that this would have been the case for the human character in this relationship regardless of their gender, and so she wrote L&D.
So… did it work?
This kind of experiment can’t technically fail, in my opinion. Meyer’s hypothesis may be right or wrong, but the experiment itself is always a sort of success. There are a couple of extra variables here to take into account too. One of those variables is that Meyer took the opportunity to settle some old scores with her writing, making the rewrite into a kind of editing pass. Another is the ending of the story – L&D is a one-off, with not really any room for a sequel.
The edits have a noticeable, and not entirely great, effect on the experiment. I mean, the writing is better (disclaimer: I haven’t read normal Twilight in a long time, so this should be taken with a grain of salt perhaps?), especially at the beginning. Beau’s backstory is elaborated what felt like a lot more than Bella’s ever was. B’s backstory remains the same in general – B chose to move from Phoenix to Forks because of B’s mother’s relationship with a minor league baseball player. This is a self-imposed exile and B doesn’t bear it with any particular decorum. But whereas Bella’s mothering of her own mother is vague and shallow-seeming, with no noticeable effect on her life before or after Phoenix, Beau did several jobs to support the household during his schooldays, which explains his lack of hobbies, and he lived in a low-income neighbourhood, and he did lots of odd jobs around the house. More importantly, it explains why he cooks and cleans so much when he’s at home. He’s used to doing these jobs.
When Bella cooks and cleans, it’s hard not to think it’s because she’s The Woman of the house. When Bella has no hobbies, it’s because she’s just sort of boring.
Small edits like these improve the story, but they also have the awkward effect of reinforcing Bella’s uselessness, by making Beau a more solid, well-rounded character.
As an aside, the writing quality improved but not super drastically – I mean, Meyer still seems unable to reconcile herself to using the word “said”. People do anything with their words as long as it isn’t say them. The most egregious was probably “checked” as a dialogue tag. Dude.
It was really obvious how much the female characters did in L&D, which makes you realise how much they didn’t do in Twilight. Bella’s Shitty Friends (TM) became a group of girls who enjoyed snowball fights and boys who were sooo above it all. Eleanor the vampire was a bear hunting lady, while Royal the vampire was just a grumpy guy who glared a lot and did nothing.
Another variable Meyer introduced in her foreword was that she had made changes because Beau was a different character to Bella. This is sort of tainting the experiment – but in an interesting, telling way. Bella is angry where Beau is laid back. Bella is romantic where Beau is sometimes quite funny. Are these changes she would have made if she had written Twilight now, because she’s a different person with different influences now? Or are they… sort of… gendered? The moody, romantic heroine. The chill, snarky hero. We will never know. But Beau lacked a lot of what made Bella annoying.
B’s relationship with E was different too. Edward was tortured and overprotective, while Edythe (I know) is much more playful. She has a sort of witty repartee with Beau, and their relationship is kind of cool actually? It helps that she never has to face the dilemma of whether to disable Beau’s truck to prevent him from visiting his friends. She still totally watches him sleep, but it seems almost like a practical joke when she does it. The gender dynamic really does make this different, I think, but it’s hard to untangle the effect of gender from the slight personality differences Meyer introduced. And maybe those personality differences are unconsciously gendered too! Who knows!
As another aside, E’s reaction to their feelings for B still make zero sense. “Don’t hang around me! Oh hi I just appeared behind you because you were avoiding me! I know I said don’t hang around me but that doesn’t mean I’m going to not be around you all the time!” It’s so frustrating. Beau especially makes up his mind to leave Edythe and her weirdness alone, so when Edythe shows up anyway I actually got angry with her. It’s a terrible way to advance the plot.
So yeah, it’s basically just really awkward that Meyer has made Beau look infinitely more competent than Bella, because she has in effect disproved her own point.
Other Interesting Miscellanea
- The ending is SUPER GRIM. I often complain about how the series should have been just Twilight and the end of Breaking Dawn tacked on the end, but I freely admit now that I was wrong. The problem with having B be found too late by E, A, C and whoever else was tagging along at that point, and turned into a vampire, is that there’s none of the history developed through New Moon, Eclipse and the beginning of Breaking Dawn in which to put B’s parents in a position to learn about the masquerade. What happens in L&D, from Charlie and Renée’s point of view, is that Beau moves to Forks, hates it, gets into a relationship with a girl who is totally out of his league, inexplicably freaks out when she says she loves him (one of the few elements of L&D that is actively weaker than its Twilight counterpart), leaves the house while saying the worst possible things to Charlie, drives off only to crash his truck and die. They are going to be messed up for the rest of their lives about this.
- The names, oh my goodness, the names! Best worst names are Edythe, Jessamine and Royal, hands down.
- I couldn’t imagine Archie as anything but Alice 🙁
- Royal and Eleanor’s relationship was hilarious. To imagine, of course, as we hardly get to see any of it in the book.
- The lore-dumping at the end of the book was a bit rushed, but I see why it had to be done, of course. There would have been too many questions otherwise, especially about things like Royal’s past, as Rosalie’s past was so intensely tied to her gender.
- The werewolves felt totally superfluous. The Quileute storyline could probably have been left to the Cold Ones legend and the treaty and not suffered.
- Jessamine should have been more of a palpable threat. Seriously. It did not make sense for Beau to pussyfoot around her. She didn’t do anything. Not a single waver from the path of vampire righteousness.