By now you’ve probably heard of Fifty Shades of Grey. Even more likely still, you’ve probably heard of Twilight. For anyone who has read both, the similarities between the two series are definitely there. I admit right now that I have no self control when it comes to poking my nose into things that have caused a stir. Sometimes it takes a bit more persuasion, like hitting me over the head with it while I’m conveniently finding a way to procrastinate. So when it got to the point where I almost couldn’t go anywhere without running into the topic, I decided to give Fifty Shades of Grey a bang (no pun intended).
I tried to take it seriously when I started reading. I really did. But I couldn’t help the feeling of déjà vu that was gradually colouring my reading experience. Even from the very first page, it was like Bella (and later Edward) had escaped from my repressed year nine memories to plaster herself on the pages of this latest read. There she is: the pale, clumsy, dateable but seriously reluctant to the idea (at least until she meets a man with dark, brooding eyes and emotional baggage) brunette that many have come to love or hate. Her name’s Ana, convincingly Bella Swan’s alternative self. Her last name is Steele, by the way. Am I the only one to pick up on the ‘steal’ connotation here? Yes? Let’s move on.
Shortly after I reached this conclusion, I found a couple of articles that brought to attention the origins of Fifty Shades of Grey as a Twilight fan fiction, under the name Master of the Universe (MotU). The scary thing about the digital footprint is that it’s generally seen as inerasable. Despite being removed, people have been able to retrace MotU and run side by side comparisons between it and Fifty Shades to prove that most of the aspects changed prior to publication were name, location and eye colour related. If you’d like to have a look one such source, go here.
It’s not so much the writing itself I’m interested in (that would involve interest to begin with) but what this book could mean for the future. Fan fiction is as its name suggests fiction written by fans. They exist in their own little niche in the digital world where amateur writers share their takes on stories. Ideally, this realm of fan fiction stays pretty much invisible to the rest of us. With Fifty Shades being published, it marks the transformation of a fan fiction into an entirely different product that, unlike traditional fan fiction, makes money and sells movie rights. Is it right to publish a book based completely off another’s work? How far can you take fan fiction?
I never got into fan fiction but neither did I have an opinion on it. If it gets people to write and they do so within a small community, what’s the harm? They’re not “leeching” off another idea for profit. What sets Fifty Shades apart is that some see this as being precisely what has happened. Readers, including fans of the MotU fiction, have expressed their displeasure that E L James had published the story (since it was based on Twilight and therefore discredited as original work). Others say that there’s nothing wrong with being inspired/influenced by other sources. It only raises more questions really, because then you have to ask where the distinction between inspiration and basing-your-story-on-another-story-and-then-changing-the-character-names lies. Then there are others yet who are less believable by insisting that there is no relationship whatsoever between the books.
Don’t even go there.
The fact is there is a relationship between these two books. Even the author herself has said this. I guess James is lucky that her inspiration was Stephenie Meyer and not Robin Hobb. And now Fifty Shades has spawned its own parodies (also being published). The cycle continues?