Erotic fiction has long been the butt of jokes and insults slung by the literati and pornographers, both. So imagine author E.L. James’ surprise when her erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey raced up the bestseller list. The author, known to her husband of 20 years as Erika Leonard, claims to have had no inkling that what started as a BDSM-infused piece of Twilight fanfiction would soon become so popular she’d decide to change the names Bella Swan and Edward Cullen to Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey, move into print-on-demand publishing, and be courting offers from Hollywood bigwigs intent on making the Fifty Shades trilogy, which also includes Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed, the biggest thing since Twilight and The Hunger Games blew away box office records.
Describing herself as a shy mother of two who started writing what would evolve into the Fifty Shades Trilogy during something of a midlife crisis, James has apparently done what nobody expected would ever happen: she brought BDSM fiction into the mainstream. Telling the story of a recent college graduate (Steele) and her evolving relationship with a billionaire Seattle industrialist (Grey), Fifty Shades has some feminists all in a tizzy over its apparent willingness to place a naive, “innocent” of “independent spirit” (according to the author’s site) in the stranglehold of a domineering, manipulative, and downright abusive alpha male figure. Others apparently couldn’t care less about the sexual politics of the tale and are just along for the allegedly quite thrilling ride, a ride that involves repeated BDSM sessions in Grey’s “Red Room of Pain.” Twilight fans will surely notice some lasting similarities between the gazillion-selling vampire series, right down to the physical damage the male characters “love” inflicts on his victim… sorry, his “partner”. Whether or not Fifty Shades will attract the same degree of controversy as the novels on which it was originally based remains to be seen. So too does the question of whether the novels will turn a new audience into rabid erotic fiction devotees and bring them closer to the erotic artistry with which so many pornographers make their living. After all, it’s all sex (or something similar), isn’t it?
When the trilogy reaches your local cineplex, possibly starring Alexander Skarsgard or Ian Somerhalder who’ve both expressed interest in playing Grey, will you be standing in line waiting to see how the Red Room of Pain translates to the big screen?