Fifty Shades of Grey and 9 More Examples of When Fan Fiction Became Blockbusters
Fan fiction is more prevalent than you might think.
Originally titled Master of the Universe, James’s Twilight fan fiction based on Stephenie Meyer’s multi-million-dollar franchise first found its home on FanFiction.net.
After the racy material within the story forced James to pull it from FanFiction.net, she next hosted Master of the Universe on her own website called 50Shades.com (which now redirects to her official author page).
Back then, James, now 51, wrote under the pseudonym “Snowqueens Icedragon,” and the trilogy was posted chapter by chapter between 2009 and 2011.
James’s MotU was an “AU” or “Alternate Universe” fan fiction; that is, when one or several of the elements of the story’s plot, characters or settings are altered, the work still remains faithful to the source material.
So, Fifty Shades basically answers the question: What if Edward Cullen weren’t a vampire but instead a domineering self-made billionaire with a BDSM fetish?
Once James was approached to publish the works in book form, they were pulled from the Internet entirely and names and situations were changed to distance them from Twilight. Nevertheless, the similarities are still striking enough for anyone who has ever encountered the Twilight franchise to recognize them.
That said, James isn’t the only one to crib from source material and create a successful transformative work – she’s just the one who’s currently catching the flak for it. (Though it must be said that the quality of the work itself does play a major role.)
From Clueless to a One Direction “RPF” (more on that below), fan fiction is more mainstream than you may have thought.
Here are nine examples.
1. Pride & Prejudice and Bridget Jones’s Diary
Author Helen Fielding wrote Bridget Jones’s Diary as a wish-fulfillment exercise; she wanted to see more of Darcy and Elizabeth of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice getting together. So, Fielding made it happen in the form of a Prejudice AU in which the characters Bridget (based upon Elizabeth, played by Reneé Zellweger in the screen adaptation) and Mark (Colin Firth) come together and fall in love all over again in a modern setting.
2. After and One Direction
is an AU “RPF” fic. RPF, which stands for “Real Person Fiction,” involves people who actually exist. In this case, the members of One Direction. Author Anna Todd originally published the fan fiction on Wattpad, which is favored by a young demographic and is absolutely rife with One Direction fic.
In After, a girl named Tessa meets a “bad boy” in her freshman college dorm and they fall in love. The story became so popular that it was published, albeit with names and identifying features changed. For example, Harry Styles became Hardin, and the butterfly tattoo on his stomach was changed to a tree. The idea of Styles as an insensitive “bad boy” might make the fic removed enough from reality, but the published version also made Hardin’s friends Zed, Logan, Nate and Landon college friends rather than bandmates. In October, Paramount acquired the movie rights.
3. Emma and Clueless
Cult hit Clueless is based on yet another Austen novel, Emma. The 1996 flick follows Cher (Alicia Silverstone), as rich and privileged as the title character in Emma, as one who sees herself as much more sophisticated and sensible than she is, though no less charming for it. Emma‘s small, insular, gossiping village is transplanted in Clueless onto a ’90s high school setting. That’s just AU fan fiction, friends.
4. Pride and Prejudice and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
Need we say more? The novel, written by Seth Grahame-Smith and listing Austen as co-author, is as much a parody as it is AU fan fiction. It’s Prejudice but with zombies, like Fifty Shades is Twilight centered on a BDSM relationship.
5. Twelfth Night and She’s the Man
Shakespeare’s works, like Austen’s, have been mined many a time to create transformative works. She’s the Man, a 2006 movie starring Amanda Bynes, follows much of the same themes as its source material, Twelfth Night, about twins Viola and Sebastian. In the play, Countess Olivia falls in love with Viola, who is disguised as a boy, though Viola is in love with Duke Orsino. Meanwhile, Sebastian falls in love with Olivia.
The contemporary movie depicts a soccer rivalry but does have Viola (Bynes) dressed as her brother, Sebastian (James Kirk), and falling in love with Duke (Channing Tatum) while fending off the advances of Olivia (Laura Ramsey). Old-time play set in a modern setting? AU fic.
6. Taming of the Shrew and 10 Things I Hate About You
Similar to She’s the Man and Clueless, 1999’s 10 Things I Hate About You adapts an older work and places it in a high school setting. Based on Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, the romantic comedy follows the bittersweet courtship between Kat (Julia Stiles) and Patrick (Heath Ledger). In the play (and the much later Cole Porter backstage musical Kiss Me, Kate), Petruchio is the one pursuing the headstrong “shrew,” Katherina. The misogynistic content found within the play is turned on its head in the film, wherein Kat is portrayed as a proud feminist whose no-nonsense attitude is celebrated by Patrick rather than seen as something to be “tamed.”
7. Harry Potter and The Mortal Instruments
Author Cassandra Clare has denied that her young adult genre series, The Mortal Instruments, was once Harry Potter fan fiction. However, there is a fair bit of Internet chatter among those who believe it borrows elements from her hugely popular Harry Potter fan fiction series, The Draco Trilogy, “a story in which Harry and Draco accidentally swapped bodies and find themselves in a love triangle with Hermione,” reports The Daily Dot.
The final product, which falls under the umbrella of the Shadowhunter Chronicles, reportedly has few elements in common with Clare’s work as a Harry Potter fic author. However, the legends persist, and a list of fan fiction-gone-“legitimate” simply isn’t complete without a mention of Clare.
8. Mrs Dalloway and The Hours
A 1925 novel about a day in the life of the high-society Clarissa Dalloway, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway was remixed by director Stephen Daldry for the 2002 Oscar winner The Hours, based on the 1998 Michael Cunningham novel, which won the Pulitzer for fiction. Starring Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep and Julianne Moore, the film follows three women on a single day in their lives: Woolf (Kidman), who is writing Mrs Dalloway, Laura (Moore), who is reading the novel and Clarissa (Streep), who is living it out.
9. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Alice
Well known for its two Disney adaptations (one animated, the other from Tim Burton), Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novel, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, was remixed in a big way in 2009 for the SyFy miniseries Alice. The modern interpretation, like other AUs, answers a question; in this case: “What would Wonderland look like 143 years later?” In Alice, the title character is a judo instructor who falls into a Wonderland that is being ruled by the Queen of Hearts from the Heart Casino, where people from Alice’s world (like her boyfriend, Jack) are taken and kept under the Queen’s control and where positive emotions are drained and turned into a drug-like substance for the people of Wonderland to ingest.
So, in sum, if you happen to see Fifty Shades of Grey in theaters this weekend, remember: Like it or not, you have undoubtedly enjoyed fan fiction in the past.