Fifty Shades of Fan Fiction

The Fifty Shades debate has been well and truly exhausted, but what of the host of titles that follow in its wake? Olivia Johnson explores the world of Fifty Shades fan fiction and questions the messages that these titles are projecting…

I don’t want to be another person to add to the nauseatingly-long list of Fifty Shades of Grey discussions but I might as well… after all it seems like it’s only going to get worse.

E.L. James’ series may have concluded but the story, the characters and the overriding theme of submission and domination, are set to replay over and over again in the world of fan fiction. Worse still, erotica inspired by Fifty Shades of Grey are now beginning to hit the shelves by the thousands.

Am I the only one who’s worried?

Fifty Shades itself began as a fan fiction piece based on Stephenie Meyer’s bestselling Twilight series, which then spawned its own disconcerting trilogy. The craze began… and then continued. Avid readers spanned from young girls to soccer mums, each one left fifty shades more disillusioned, brain-dead, or perversely turned-on (pick whichever you feel is the worst). Despite having a storyline as mindless and vapid as the characters themselves, it seemed E.L. James had struck a goldmine.

Now, the trend is set to continue.

Several books, originally fan fiction of Fifty Shades, are now beginning to hit the shelves. You can see them in their full glory decked out in glossy covers in Waterstones and WHSmith. They typically contain sexually suggestive titles such as “play”, “feel” and combine images of silk and naked flesh to promote the titillating experience their words seek to provide. One such book is “Destined to Play” which follows thirty-six year old Dr. Alexandra Blake’s submission to her lover by relinquishing her eye-sight for forty-eight hours; unsurprisingly, she is left completely at his mercy.

Worse still are the books that are self-admittedly works of fan fiction. An unreleased novel, “Beautiful Bastard” is set to hit the shelves this year. Originally entitled “The Office”, the name was changed to its current name following a surge in popularity from the release of Fifty Shades of Grey. According to the synopsis, it seems to depict the dangerous relationship between a woman and her dominating, yet mysteriously sexy, boss. It’s Fifty Shades all over again; with a similar setting and plot line, only with new, though I imagine, interchangeable characters.

At this point, it’s difficult not to despair. E.L. James has unconsciously catalysed a hoard of fanfiction and, like bacteria, they have begun to reproduce and evolve into almost a new sub-genre.

It needs to stop.

Fifty Shades of Grey and other related erotica are unbelievable cringey; about as bad as bringing your granny along to Timepiece. But that’s not the problem. Nor is it the terrible, terrible writing.

The worst thing is the message that they promote; to both men and women. Women, girls especially, are beginning to think that the only way to bag their dream man is to be dull, self-deprecating and ultimately, a doormat (sadly, E.L James’ attempts to make Anastasia appear feisty are as clumsily achieved as drinking water through your nose). It’s tragic to see such bland, slavish girls as central characters. I’m not suggesting that the female protagonists be axe-wielding feminists with a hatred for men, though that would be a refreshing change. No, the problem is that none of these authors come remotely close to having a realistic female character who can serve as a role model. It’s awful.

Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander, with her ruthless and violent revenge tactics, may be too extreme a role model but characters like Katniss Everdene or Lyra from “Northern Lights” are so much better than Anastasia Steele. Lyra may be twelve years old but she’s adventurous, clever and far more canny than the submissive “Miss Steele” and Meyer’s Bella Swan combined.

But there’s more: enter Christian Grey, a horny CEO just one tad more psychotic than Twilight’s PG-13 Edward Cullen. Don’t worry, ladies, he won’t watch you while you sleep, he’ll just beat you with a rod. Regardless, he’s now become the model that girls base their male fantasies on. Men now have to be dark, dangerous, godlike (cue the book for a more detailed description) and criminally wealthy. But above all, they must be a sadist and fundamentally flawed to the core.

It’s ridiculous.

And disappointing.

But somehow, Fifty Shades of Grey and other erotic works have found success and many similar-themed books are set to be released. I don’t doubt that books such as “Beautiful Bastard” will be the first of many terribly written erotica targeted at middle-aged women.

When those books hit the shelves, I certainly won’t rush to buy a copy. If it’s your type of genre, go for it but watch out. You never know who you may bump into on the way to the till.

It might very well be your mum.


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