I was recently introduced to the controversy that is the NY Times bestselling book, Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James.
According to this article, 50 Shades started as Twilight fan-fiction with an erotic bent. If Twilight were the PG-13 love story, 50 Shades would be the X-Rated erotica version.
Apparently, James took her fan-fic, changed the names and character backgrounds and landed a 7-figure publishing contract with Random House. You can read the finer details here, where the post points out that the author fan-fic and final novel are 89% similar according to plagiarism software.
So, I bought 50 Shades in order to see what the fuss was about.
(Warning: I couldn’t write this post without spoilers for both books, though I’ve only read 25% of 50 Shades, and I don’t think I mention anything about Twilight that isn’t public knowledge at this point, please proceed at your own risk!)
At around 25% into the book, here’s my assessment.
Ana vs. Bella
Both main characters are young, a bit naive and domestic with a love of classic British literature and operatic music. Both are pale, dark haired and self-proclaimed average looking, but with multiple men interested in them.
Both are klutzy beyond the realm of what is normal. Neither like attention, and neither have been serious about a boy before, until they meet the dark, handsome and rich fellas that set their hearts aflutter.
They both have somewhat scatterbrained mothers who can’t, apparently, care for themselves well. Ana’s mom marries an older man who keeps things together for her and Bella’s mom marries a younger man who also makes sure life functions and gas tanks are filled.
In a self-sacrificing attempt to give their moms chances at happiness, both girls chose to live with their fathers after their moms remarried. Both have taciturn fathers who like to fish. (Though Ana’s dad is actually her step-father.)
They both respond to the attention of their infatuation with the same blend of “You are so arrogant and full of yourself” and “Oh my God, he is so perfect and handsome and perfect and god-like… and did I mention perfect?” Yeah, we get it, they’re both hot. Moving on…
In Twilight, Bella works at some kind of outdoor warehouse, where the All-American boy next door who has a serious crush on her, works with her… and it’s owned by his dad.
In 50 Shades, Ana works at some kind of Home Depot like place, where the All-American boy next door who has a serious crush on her, works with her… and it’s owned by his dad.
In 50 Shades, the controlling and powerful Mr. Grey shows up to a bar where Ana is getting drunk and saves her from a ‘friend’ who tries to force her into some PDA she’s not interested in–and this is after he saves her from almost getting run over by a cyclist.
Both girls abhor presents. They don’t like when their love interests buy them fancy things and balk and argue and try to give it all back.
Now, to be fair, there are some difference. Their names, for one, are different. Ana. Bella. See? a few letters are different.
Also, Ana is in college and Bella is in high school. HUGE difference, right there, right? And they don’t meet in high school (obviously, because of the huge differences), they meet in an interview that Ana does for her school paper when her best friend gets sick and can’t go.
Oh, and speaking of… her very best friend ends up dating Mr. Grey’s brother, who’s very nice to Ana despite Mr. Grey’s aloof and haughty manner. (Remember Alice and Jasper?)
Ok, so onto the men…
Edward vs. Mr. Grey
Edward is drawn to Bella, inexplicably, and wants her, but knows he’s bad for her, what with his vampirism and desire to eat her and all. So he pursues her, saves her and then pulls away. He tells her “I’m no good for you. I’m bad news. Stay away.” Or something to that effect. Then a few pages later he says, “I know I said stay away, and then I keep showing up and saving you, but I can’t stay away from you. There’s something special about you.”
In 50 Shades, Mr. Grey is drawn to Ana, inexplicably, and wants her, but knows he’s bad for her, what with his Master/Submissive dominatrix sex play and desire to eat her and all. So he pursues her, saves her and then pulls away. He tells her “I’m no good for you. I’m bad news. Stay away.” Or something to that effect. Then a few pages later he says, “I know I said stay away, and then I keep showing up and saving you, but I can’t stay away from you. There’s something special about you.”
Both men are rich, so astoundingly gorgeous that they put Greek gods to shame–for pages and pages and pages–they are both controlling, protective and are used to getting their way, and they both have dark passions that could destroy the women that so fascinate them.
Both men have methods of finding their women against all odds… Edward with his mind reading and super vamp senses and Mr. Grey with billions of dollars and technology. (He traced her cell phone location to find her at the bar.)
Both men get insanely jealous over any other attentions bestowed upon their women by any other men, and are very possessive.
Both men are compared to characters from British classics, in demeanor and speech.
Now again, there are some differences. And again, we have the names. Those are different. Also, Mr. Grey is not a sparkly vampire. Still, his dark side is enough that the feeling is the same, if not the fangs.
And here’s the thing… many of these similarities that were a core part of the Twilight story, are half-assed mentions in 50 Shades–not even relevant or necessary, as far as I can tell so far.
The boy who hits on Ana at her work is a talking head to make Mr. Grey jealous. Her parents are brief mentions after a ‘tell but doesn’t show’ phone call to each of them. The rescue scenes are weak, at best. Almost getting hit by a kid on a bike? A guy she’s friends with pushing a kiss while they’re both drunk? Lame.
It’s like she’s trying to set it up as a Twilight rip-off without putting the work in to make those characters and scenes pivotal to the growth of the characters and forward movement of the plot. These people, these relationships, fall flat in 50 Shades and don’t feel real at all.
These are just initial thoughts, and obviously the books diverge on the whole sex thing. In 50 Shades, Mr. Grey seduces the virgin Ana into a world of BDSM, whereas in Twilight Edward rejects sex until they are married, and even then only engages once until after she’s turned.
Many are calling 50 Shades “mommy porn.” I’m not a prude and I’ve read more hard core scenes, but for me, this book wasn’t as interesting once the sex came into the plot.
So is this too close to fan-fiction? I don’t know. Lots of books have the girl attracted to the bad boy thing going–even my Forbidden Mind Trilogy has Sam attracted to the mysterious, dark and dangerous Drake.
But, I definitely see strong parallels between the books, and I’m not one to scream Twilight rip-off just because a book has a vamp/girl romance or love triangle. (Meyer was not the first to write of this, has no one watched Buffy or Angel?) But this book did send my Twilight alarms going pretty early on.
What are your thoughts? Have you read both books? Do you see the similarities? What do you think about pro-fic that’s taken from fan-fic? Is this just glorified Twi-porn? And if so, is that a problem? Based on the sales and reviews, it’s not a problem for a whole lot of readers. What’s your take?