Monday, October 26, 2015

Bizarro Twilight by Stephenie Meyer: an Analysis

Remember Bizarro from the Superman legends? He's that guy from Htrae, instead of Earth. Htrae is a cube-shaped planet, where Earth is a sphere. The S on Bizarro's chest is backwards, and he even thinks backwards. 

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Well, that's the first feeling you get when you open up Stephenie Meyer's 10th anniversary edition of Twilight upside-down and backwards. The title becomes Life and Death. The apple is green, not red. The hand is a man's, because the forbidden fruit isn't Bella anymore, it's Beau Swan. 

But it gets even better. Turn the page and you get to read a letter from the authoress herself, apologizing that you're not reading Midnight Sun, the much-hoped-for, unpublished volume of The Twilight Saga that tells the story from Edward's point of view. This is not that. But it's the second-best thing. I loved two things about Stephenie Meyer's foreword:

1) Her publisher contacted her with the idea in mind of having her write an exciting letter for the 10th anniversary edition of Twilight, but Stephenie thought that might be difficult. How could she make a simple letter exciting? It sounded boring to her. So... 
2) She decided to answer the critics of Bella "Damsel in Distress" Swan by doing what she often suggested one could easily do: switching Bella out for a human boy, who would be just as distressed when surrounded by superhumans. 

I have to confess that I have been a Twilight fan from the beginning, and I survived all the comparisons between Katniss and Bella, as if they were anything close to comparable (I think it's more honest to compare Katniss to Scarlett O'Hara, that self-preserving socialite from the Civil War era). I have pretty strong feelings about Bella's personal strength, a strength evident on every single page of The Twilight Saga

For example, the first page of Twilight has Bella explaining how dying in place of someone she loves is a pretty good way to go. But try to figure out which someone she's talking about, and you realize she isn't saving just one person; she's saving, in her mind, at least nine. Possibly all of Forks. Everything she does is calculated to save someone else. That's not damsel-in-distress behavior. Last I checked, that's hero behavior. 

Don't get me wrong, Katniss has her selfless moments, but she really has to milk them for all they're worth for the screens, doesn't she? In contrast, Bella spends every waking minute thinking about others. Now, we could argue about the psychological health of someone so martyred, so thoroughly invested in the idea of her own ordinary-ness. But her status as a hero is unquestionable. It's her mission in life. It's who she is. 

And it's who Beau is, too. :)  

First thought as I started reading: This is weird. I had to focus to keep all the names and genders straight. Okay, so this is a girl name, which means it represents a boy name from Twilight, so who had blond, straight hair and a round, cute face? Oh, right. McKayla is Mike. Got it. You may not suffer as I did if you aren't quite as OCD. In fact, I think the best way to read Life and Death is to pretend you never read Twilight. And if you never did read Twilight, you'll really love Life and Death

Now for ten observations about Life and Death:

  1. Beau makes a better Bella that Bella does. I think this feeling comes from my initial disconnect with Bella as a fellow girl. I'm a girly girl and she's not. She doesn't like to wear pink, paint her nails, go shopping, nada. Hence, when she became a boy, it just worked for me. If you read Life and Death first, you'd think Beau was possibly sexist, insisting on opening doors for Edythe, even after he knows she could crush him with a pinky. He refuses to lie down after almost being slammed into his truck by a sliding van on an icy day. He tries to be tough even when he faints at the sight of other people's blood during Biology. Everything tough Bella tried to do in Twilight looks stereotypical male when Beau does it.   
  2. Edythe makes more sense than Edward does. She writes in pretty calligraphy, just like Edward does. She listens to classical music, just like Edward does. She laughs at everything Beau says and does, like Edward did to Bella. The graceful way she moves--a vampire thing, I know--matches a female more than a stereotypical male. 
  3. The spider-monkey scene is awkward. So awkward I couldn't even picture it right. Beau is super tall, even taller than Carine (the female counterpart to Carlyle) and Edythe is short. Wearing Beau like a backpack just isn't feasible. My brain hurt a little trying to see it.
  4. Traditional stereotypes of the cultures represented in the book become glaringly obvious. For instance, I hadn't noticed that all the teachers at Forks High School were men until they all became women. The office receptionist became a balding guy, which reminded me that all office receptionists are actually women. The alpha male system for the werewolves is now matriarchal. Carine becomes the father of the family, er... mother. There is a definite power shift from men to women that I think has less to do with Stephenie Meyer's prejudices and more to do with the standing cultures she is writing about. I could sense the author was having fun with this shift.
  5. Royal is less forgivable than Rosalie. I recognized this may be my personal bias, and likely is. Even after hearing his backstory, I felt less sympathy for him than I had for Rosalie. It's sad, really, that I could recognize he had been a victim and yet still want to blame him when I wouldn't dream of blaming Rosalie for her victimization, no matter how shallow she had been prior to her death. Something for me to think about.
  6. Jules is more pitiable than Jacob. For some reason I didn't feel bad for Jacob during Twilight. Not really. But I felt really bad for Jules. I attribute this to two things: 1) I already know how Breaking Dawn ends and it could never end that way with Beau being unable to create life with Edythe. 2) Again, my natural bias and sympathy goes to women and girls because of what I am. 
  7. Beau is funnier than Bella, and Charlie gets along with him better. (Only Beau's parents remained the same gender for reasons Stephenie Meyer explains in her foreword.) The relationship between Charlie and Beau lacks the over-protectiveness Charlie endearingly feels toward his only daughter in Twilight. While Charlie still does protective things, like ask about Beau's social life and put snow chains on his truck's tires, it feels less--for lack of a better word--patriarchal. When Charlie says, "Beau, you're easy to live with," it's easier to believe. This is probably due to the simple difference between dads and daughters and the slight anxiety which is healthy to any relationship in which one does not naturally understand the other. It's that anxiety of not understanding, after all, that impels us to try to understand. Just as Bella relates more to Charlie than to her mom, Beau is basically a miniature Charlie. This makes it all the more heartbreaking when Beau lies to Charlie to protect him, and tells him his worst fear is ending up like him, trapped in small-town Forks. 
  8. Beau's voice is easier on the ears. Despite Bella's tomboy-ness, there were still times her voice came across as a bit whiny. Beau's voice is literally different. His character is almost exactly the same as Bella, but the way he talks to people and to himself is different. 
  9. The teasing at school feels different. When the guys tease Beau about his aversion to blood, it feels more mean-spirited. Jessica's envy and passive-aggressive behavior toward Bella was easy to write-off as harmless. Beau seems to have a higher bar to clear.
  10. The ending. That's all I have to say about that. Read it. You'll see. *wink*
In closing, read Life and Death. You'll get a kick out of it, and maybe have an opportunity to analyze your own gender-based assumptions, always a good thing. In fact, I can see this being a great English class project or Gender Studies essay prompt. 

I can't resist a book that gives me this much to think about.


J Lenni Dorner said...

An excellent post, my fellow Twihard.

Unknown said...

Twilight is the amazing series that was translated into 38 different languages and by 2011, it sold 120 million copies around the world. The whole series won the award for 2009 kids choice award of the favorite book.
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