By Jake Davis
Transient

Fan fiction’s loyal partisans were probably tickled pink last week when the story broke that E.L. James’ book Fifty Shades of Grey was going to be optioned for a film.  That book, which began as an imaginative response to the Twilight trilogy called Master of the Universe, explores the hawt hawt hawt relationship between sexual naïf Anastasia and sexually domineering Christian, and will, like Twilight, probably produce a triplet of middling to poor films the rest of us can enjoy on TNT the days we call off sick.

But in these, there’ll be more sex—apparently, one reader had to pop a Viagara just to get through the book. So what makes fans want to write their favorite characters into ropes and ball gags?

Don’t blame the net: erotic fan fiction has been around at least as long as leisure suits, even if it’s blossomed in the interwebs. And sometimes it finds inspiration in strange places: I was startled to come across Caitlyn Reads 2666, an erotic novel putatively riffing on Roberto Bolaño’s grisly epic. It’s hard for me to imagine wanting to embark on a sexual odyssey after reading  The Part About the Crimes,” but maybe I just need to think with my, uh, teeth more. And to imagine a castle. Complete with a dungeon. Mmm...dungeons.

Whatever impulse sprang these fandoms loose, assuming there’s a common one, it produces highly varied literary products. And the stuff usually isn’t even illustrated. It’s driven by narrative only. Lesser, better mortals might claim that this is rooted in essential differences between genders. Something about the male gaze, blah blah, something about female intuitions and narrativity, blah blah. See, clearly the proof is in evolutionary psychological pudding.

Fifty Shades of Grey stands apart from its estimable kin because of the monetary success it’s enjoyed. Not only has it been a number one bestseller (it had spent 18 days in that spot at Amazon as of April, 3, 2012), but the film contract it garnered is rumored to be on par with The Da Vinci Code. Some people are downright offended that E.L. James is making so much money while riding on the coattails (supposedly) of Twilight; others are celebrating the entrance of fan fiction into the serious literary world (i.e., the one that pays). As for me, I’ll give a nod to Shakespeares appropriations and grumble something about stickiness of creativity, especially once money enters.

Because let’s face it, it’s money that’s at stake here. We can argue about the ethics of Fifty Shades of Grey, but really, the ethics behind its creation and that of the rest of fan fiction are the same: writers appropriate other writers’ characters and put them into novel—sometimes really novel, if you catch my drift—situations. Published authors from Anne Rice to J.DSalinger strongly disapprove; others not so much. Presumably Stephanie Meyer didn’t care about Fifty Shades, or she saw it as a way to increase attention for Twilight.

After all, that’s synergy, my little munchkins.

Image from flickr user Sarah Dawes