Ten years after the emergence of Twilight and the vampire frenzy that has since plagued entertainment outlets, Stephenie Meyer needs no introduction. Her novels — not just the Twilight series but The Host — have had readers hanging on her every word. She could’ve written just about anything for the tenth anniversary edition of her debut novel and it still would’ve caused a stir. And write something she did, although it wasn’t the much-anticipated Midnight Sun — evidently she did not have enough time for that, as explained in the foreword to the project she chose to do instead: Life and Death.
Life and Death, a reimagining of Twilight with the gender roles reversed, was inspired by criticism Meyer has received about Bella fitting the “typical damsel in distress” trope. In the new book, Bella is Beau, and Edward is now Edythe. All other characters are the opposite genders as well, with the exception of Charlie and Renee. (It wouldn’t have made sense for a shifty, transient male to get sole custody of his child in the ’80s, so Renee had to remain a woman, explains Meyer in the foreword.) Meyer says that the reimagining was supposed to be only one or two chapters, but “fortunately, this project was not only fun, but also really fast and easy.”
Fortunate for Meyer, perhaps, but not so fortunate for the reader, fans have pointed out via social media that it seems like the new book could’ve been created by simply using the “Find and Replace” feature on Microsoft Word — and at the surface level, that’s not far off. The plot summary is still the same, although Beau ends up a vampire in the first novel to wrap up his story without a series.
And then you start to find some of the small changes Meyer made when writing about Beau as opposed to Bella. Some of the changes, she says in her foreword, were made because Beau is a boy, and some were made because “he’s not nearly so flowery with his words and thoughts” — which isn’t a great way to describe an attempt at defying gender roles. When you see the two versions of the same story compared to each other, the changes suggest that Meyer should’ve ignored complaints about Bella being a stereotype and maintained the value of what was undeniably a successful franchise. Instead, she ended up adding slight variations that feed into traditional gender stereotypes: Females receive more unnecessary physical description than their male counterparts did in Twilight and Bella almost cries where Beau doesn’t. Here are some more examples:
At the end of chapter one, when Bella/Beau is heading home thinking that Edward/Edythe hates her/him:
Beau in Life and Death: “I headed back to Charlie’s house, trying to think of nothing at all.”
Bella in Twilight: “I headed back to Charlie’s house, fighting tears the whole way there.”
When Bella/Beau catches her/his first glimpse of Dr. Cullen/Dr. Cullen:
Beau in Life and Death: “Then a doctor walked around the corner, and my mouth fell open. She was young, she was blond . . . and she was more beautiful than any movie star I’d ever seen. Like someone sliced up Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, and Marilyn Monroe, took the best parts, and glued them together to form one goddess. She was pale, though, and tired-looking, with circles under her dark eyes.”
Bella in Twilight: “The doctor walked around the corner, and my mouth fell open. He was young, he was blond . . . and he was handsomer than any movie star I’d ever seen. He was pale, though, and tired-looking, with circles under his eyes.”
When Bella/Beau faints at the sight of blood and goes to the nurse’s office:
Beau in Life and Death: “They’re blood typing in Biology,” Edythe explained to the nurse.
I watched the old man nod sagely. “There’s always one.”
Edythe covered her mouth and pretended her laugh was a cough. She’d gone to stand across the room from me. Her eyes were bright, excited.
“Just lie down for a minute, son,” the old nurse told me. “It’ll pass.”
“I know,” I muttered. In fact, the dizziness was already beginning to fade. Soon the tunnel would shorten and things would sound normal again.
“Does this happen a lot?” he asked.
I sighed. “I have a weak vasovagal system.”
The nurse looked confused.
“Sometimes,” I told him.
Edythe laughed, not bothering to disguise it.
“You can go back to class now,” the nurse said to her.”
Bella in Twilight: “She’s just a little faint,” he reassured the startled nurse. “They’re blood typing in Biology.”
The nurse nodded sagely. “There’s always one.”
He muffled a snicker.
“Just lie down for a minute, honey; it’ll pass.”
“I know,” I sighed. The nausea was already fading.
“Does this happen a lot?” she asked.
“Sometimes,” I admitted. Edward coughed to hide another laugh.
“You can go back to class now,” she told him.”