Erotic novel puts fan fiction on literary map
Published: Tuesday, May 8, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, May 8, 2012 02:05
Fan fiction, a writing style generally reserved for Internet forums and websites, has infiltrated mainstream literature following the success of E. L. James’ “Fifty Shades of Grey,” an erotic adult novel that has sparked controversy among readers across the country.
James’ romantic trilogy, which began as a piece of “Twilight” fan fiction, is currently topping the New York Times’ Best Sellers list in combined print and e-book fiction. The series follows billionaire Christian Grey and his romantic escapades with college student Anastasia Steele.
Freshman Helene Zinckgraf says the explicit subject matter and steamy sex scenes often caused her to blush while reading.
“I would read it at the gym on the treadmill, and I would look around because I almost like I felt like I was doing something bad,” Zinckgraf says. “It’s so graphic and intense, but it’s awesome.”
Dubbed “mommy porn” by the media, James’ novels have attracted a largely female fan base in addition to her seven-figure contract with Viking Books and a potential movie deal.
“Fifty Shades of Grey” has also received many negative reviews and has been criticized for being poorly written and portraying women as weak or submissive.
Philosophy professor Richard Hanley says most people are conflicted about the topic of sex, the novel’s primary subject matter, which most likely explains the polarized reactions from readers.
“Some women might be getting to explore their own desires by reading this kind of stuff,” Hanley says. “If you’re a feminist, you might celebrate it as a sign of women becoming liberated or regard it with horror as a step backwards to Victorian times.”
James’ books were first written under the title “Master of the Universe” and featured characters named Edward and Bella, after the main couple in Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” vampire novels. In May of 2011, a reworked version of “Master of the Universe” was split into three parts and “Fifty Shades of Grey” was released.
The sequel, “Fifty Shades Darker,” was published last September, and the third novel in the series, “Fifty Shades Freed,” was released in January. As word about the racy novels spread overseas, Vintage Books picked up the “Fifty Shades” re-release and put out a revised edition in April.
Freshman Jess Pineiro says she has written and reads fan fiction online. She says fan fiction is usually based on popular book series, TV shows and cartoons.
“They pretty much have fan fiction for anything,” Pineiro says. “Basically, you just take the characters and make your own story with them.”
Although Hanley has not yet read “Fifty Shades of Grey,” he says from what he has heard, the love story in James’ novel contains several similarities to Edward and Bella’s romance in “Twilight.”
“It’s kind of X-rated versions of [Edward and Bella’s] G-rated adventures,” Hanley says. “Instead of an all-powerful vampire, it’s an all-powerful billionaire.”
Hanley says he read “Star Trek” fan fiction in the ’90s and that the Internet is a great place for fan fiction writers because anyone can be an author.
“You read a typical novel, and you’re imagining that you’re reading it through [the] account of someone else’s adventures,” he says. “Fan fiction is the next logical step.”
Pineiro says reading anime fan fiction is an effective way to get more out of her favorite stories and allows her to interact with other fans.
“A lot of the times, the fan fiction will be either funnier or more romantic than the actual series,” she says. “It’s nice to interact with fans that way and see what they think of the series.”
The majority of fan fiction written online does not get published, but Pineiro says James has written the type of novel that female readers are currently craving.
“This is what people want to read,” she says. “They want to read about some girl that is wanted by all the boys.”