So my title might be a little on the light humoured side, but it does reflect the interesting changes we have recently been seeing in the publishing industry. This week, Stephenie Meyer jumped on the E.L James bandwagon and released a gender swapped version of her bestselling novel Twilight, named ‘Life and Death – Twilight Reimagined.’ In her new version, Bella now becomes ‘Beau’ and Edward is ‘Edythe,’ Meyer has rewritten the first chapters of the original book to explore how the story is different with these gender reversed roles.
Our first question is, ‘Well is it?’ Meyer commented in an article with The Guardian that through re-writing, she discovered that Beau is:
“More OCD, he’s not nearly so flowery with his words and thoughts, and he’s not as angry – he’s totally missing the chip Bella carries around on her shoulder all the time.” – Stephenie Meyer
Interesting. So does this mean that because of the gender reversal the way the book unravels and develops will be completely different? Meyer previously stated that she didn’t think it would make a difference the vampire being a woman or the human being a man, but does re-writing the characters show that she might have been wrong?
The pros of re-writing a bestseller such as this shows us that gender stereotyping IS still apparent in writing, isn’t the original Bella the very epitome of a one-dimensional character in a book written by a woman from a woman’s perspective? Bella has been criticised for being weak and overly attached to Edward, a pillar leaning on her hero. Contrastingly, Meyer states that ‘Beau’ is a lot more calm and in control. Clearly, there is a difference in swapping the gender, and these become two very different people.
It cannot be forgotten of course that these gender – reversed books are bestsellers, and therefore written primarily for the fans who want more of the series they loved so much. But how much does re-writing these characters show us we need more gender diversity in publishing? And do all authors agree that gender diversity should play a more vital role in YA fiction? It would seem not. In a recent row on Facebook Meg Rosoff rejected librarian Edith Campbell’s claims that there is a lack of books for marginalised young people. She instead stated that:
“The children’s book world is getting far too literal about what ‘needs’ to be represented, you don’t read Crime and Punishment to find out about Russian criminals. Or Alice in Wonderland to know about rabbits. Good literature expands your mind. It doesn’t have the ‘job’ of being a mirror.”
Campbell however, was adamant that the world of children’s books lacks material appealing to the minority of young adults, she implored, “it almost hurts to know that such accomplished authors can be unaware of how white children’s publishing is.” Although separate to the topic of gender, this argument highlights the problem publishing faces with the question of gender diversity, and I think it is important that we remember that the sole aim for an author when writing their book is to reflect and address their own concerns, therefore not every book can address every gender specific problem. Twilight doesn’t have to be written with gender reversed roles just to prove that women are not weak. I think Myles Johnson (author of Large Fears) made an excellent point when he said:
‘I wrote a book that honoured my love for fantasy, imagination, and my mom … Representation matters because seeing yourself challenges and expands the narratives you believe are true for you.’
So what is important? What is important is that gender aside, fictional characters are works of art, made up and a figment of an author’s imagination, if authors do have a duty to fairly represent the diverse world we live in, they can do so by giving us the best role models they themselves believe in. If they do this, then we shall have books that fairly represent gender, race and culture.