As you may know, I sporked the first book, Fifty Shades of Grey. I stopped after the first book, not because the series broke me, but because there was really nothing left to write about. A sporking is constrained by the source material, and with material as repetitive and boring as Fifty Shades it’s bound to get dull.
Still, I wanted to review the series as a whole to delve into the mind-boggling excruciating badness that is Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker, and Fifty Shades Freed. Let’s begin!
I think there’s one question on everyone’s mind, and that is how the abomination that is the Fifty Shades trilogy got to be so popular? Everyone and their mother is reading it, although even the book’s fans admit it’s a crock of shit. It’s sold an astonishing 40+ million copies worldwide, and made the news when it became the best-selling book series of all time on amazon.co.uk, which means…well, jack shit. It’s amusing that it outsold another series on one website in one country, but it’s not like it’s outselling Harry Potter. 40 million copies is pretty impressive, I admit. Harry Potter sold 450 million. Let me know when you’ve sold another 400 million, James, and I might give a shit.
That being said, there are three contributing factors to Fifty Shades’ surprising success:
1. Everyone likes porn.
This one is simple. People like sex. A lot. Men and woman consume it in very different mediums, but it’s one of the most basic, fundamental drives within humans. Fifty Shades of Grey is porn, plain and simple, and it’s a rather unique kind of porn for a lot of people.
2. It follows the Twilight model.
Twilight, which has sold about 116 million copies, is also incredibly popular despite being incredibly shitty. It found its niche by creating a bland, characterless heroine so readers could insert themselves into the story, added an incredibly handsome idealistic man (with a dark side!), threw in a twist (vampires!) and started counting the money. Fifty Shades of Grey is Twilight fan fiction, and it had a built-in audience of every sexually frustrated fan of the Twilight series who desperately wanted Bella and Edward to just take their clothes off and fuck.
3. It’s uncracked The Da Vinci Code.
The Da Vinci Code is similar to Fifty Shades of Grey in that they’re both poorly written, they’re both somewhat controversial, and they both sold more copies than anyone would consider reasonable. The last reason is due to, in part, self-fulfilling prophecy. At a certain point, something is so popular that everyone keeps hearing about it. This causes other people to go out and purchase it. Regardless of whether these individuals enjoy it, it keeps up sales, which keeps it at the top of the bestseller lists, which keeps it in the public consciousness, which drives more sales. I personally kept hearing people blather on about Fifty Shades of Grey until I finally I went out and bought a copy to see what all the fuss was about. But don’t take my word for it. Go check out all the 1-star reviews on Amazon that talk about how they decided to buy it due to all the hype only to discover it was a poorly written crock of shit. Sure, it’s a negative review, but they’re not hurting James’ sales.
This book is fanfiction, and therefore plagiarism. Nothing would make me happier than to see E.L. James and company be hit with a huge multi-million dollar lawsuit for ripping off the Twilight series. Unfortunately, if it hasn’t happened by now, it’s unlikely that it will ever happen. Still: this is fundamentally plagiarism. James is profiting off the work of another writer. Sure, the book is no longer explicitly about Edward Cullen and Bella Swan having kinky vampire sex, but the characters are essentially the same. This story came into life as Twilight fanfiction.
James and her publishers claim that the original fanfic, titled “Masters of the Universe,” was substantially rewritten into the Fifty Shades trilogy, and that they were “two distinctly separate pieces of work.” This is bullshit. If you write fan fiction and then change the names around to make it unique, it’s still fan fiction, still a knockoff, and you’re still a shitty writer who can’t come up with your own characters and locations.
I wanted to find out exactly how different the two stories were, and happily, someone had already done the work for me. Please do read the linked article, but if you’d rather not, let me sum it up. They ran the two manuscripts through several comparison engines. According to Turninit (a program designed to catch plagiarism), the two works were 89% the same. EIGHTY-NINE FUCKING PERCENT. That’s the difference between changing all the names, removing the vampire references, and a very light edit.
E L James, you are a disgusting sack of shit.
But, that being said, let’s really delve into the wonder of Fifty Shades and why it’s one of the worst-written books of the last hundred years.
Much of the criticism leveled against the Twilight series is that nothing ever fucking happens. Fifty Shades makes Twilight seem like the most action-packed novel since The Princess Bride. And, despite there being absolutely no plot whatsoever, the series is excruciatingly long. Case in point: the four Twilight books total about 571,000 words in length, whereas the three Fifty Shades books are 621,000 words long.
Unsurprisingly for someone who has only ever written fan fiction, James is a terrible writer. In a series that is already incredibly repetitive, James feels the need to describe things the exact same way every fucking time. Example: her much-derided “inner goddess” bits, which are a rather clever idea in the same way that Hitler’s invasion of Russia was a clever idea. For the uninitiated, it’s basically the thoughts of Ana’s sluttier subconscious. They include such gems as “My inner goddess bounces up and down like a small child waiting for ice cream” and “My inner goddess jerks away suddenly, all disheveled with a just-fucked look” and “My inner goddess is bouncing about like a five-year-old.” It’s simultaneously creepily disturbing and stupid. The first time you ask yourself “The fuck is this?” The second time is mildly amusing, and by the third time you’re done with it. Unfortunately, this inner goddess nonsense is used 150 times throughout this series. One hundred and fifty fucking times.
Still, maybe some readers found the repetition of the inner goddess parts to be amusing. It doesn’t stop there. For example, throughout the first couple of books Christian and Ana use condoms. Nothing wrong with safe sex, right? It’s described the exact same way all 31 times: a “foil packet”. Now, a discerning reader might ask why she needs to describe the condoms at all? Who gives a fuck, there’s nothing sexy or interesting about the act of putting on a condom. At the very least, couldn’t you mix it up a bit? Something like “He slides the condom down his Jack Johnson and dives into me like Michael Phelps doing the 100 meter butterfly.”
Ana has a couple favorite phrases – variations of the word ‘crap’, which is used 194 times and “Jeez” which is used 219 times. Christian doesn’t really have a catchphrase besides “Laters, baby” which I would expect to find in an adolescent’s text message history instead of an erotic romance fanfic. Still, it’s used 24 times.
Like most shitty authors, James has an aversion to the word “said.” You see, any writer worth his or her salt will tell you to use “said” as a dialogue tag almost all the time. The reason is simple: dialogue should stand on its own and if you know what you’re doing the reader will be able to pick up on how the character is saying it. There are exceptions, certainly, but “said” should be used around 90% of the time. Christian (and Anastasia, to a much lesser extent) are very fond of murmuring, doing it an astonishing 770 times throughout this literary abortion. They also whisper 828 times, which is not a typo. They also like smirking (217 times), blushing (116 times), flushing (277 times), gasping (182 times), saying “oh my” (186 times), and scowling (120 times).
Lastly, some special mention should be made of the title. Most authors don’t include the title of their books inside the book itself unless it makes sense in context. Christian frequently refers to himself as being “fifty shades of fucked up,” which sounds retarded, and Ana uses “Fifty” as a nickname for him, even though it’s stupid and doesn’t make sense in context. Honestly, how often do people use “fifty shades” in casual conversation unless it’s to describe shitty erotica? At any rate, it’s used 66 times.
EL James is a middle-aged British woman. I don’t expect her to know what American college students in the Pacific Northwest talk like. However, if she intends to write a book about them, I do expect her to do her bloody homework, and if not her, perhaps her editors? If there were any?
Ana has a “smart rucksack” (we call them backpacks, thank you) and characters frequently head off on “holiday”, which is called “vacation” in the US of A. “Arse” is used 13 times, which we never use. I think it’s the mention of the pram that is most unforgivable, even though that only happens once. A close second would be ringing someone, rather than calling them. And, of course, pain “smarts”, a word that is used in America exactly never.
There really aren’t any characters worth noting in this series. Much like Twilight, only the minor characters are remotely interesting. Out of the entire series, I like Christian’s bodyguard, Taylor, the most. He’s barely even a character at all, but he’s the only genuinely nice one, and the only person I can actually sympathize with. Still, that’s like saying Bill the Pony is your favorite character from Lord of the Rings. Bill’s fucking awesome, but he’s not exactly important to the plot and basically is an extended cameo.
Almost everyone else can be summed up the following way:
[name] is [Christian’s/Ana’s] acquaintance. They do not do much and could be excised entirely without changing the plot in any significant way.
But let’s delve into our main characters:
Ana is bland, uninteresting, nondescript, has no quirks or interesting personality traits or really anything about her that makes her even remotely interesting. She is a blank slate, existing for the reader to insert herself into Ana’s place to live through the fantasy of this wish-fulfillment novel. Sound familiar?
Here is a side-by-side comparison of their interests:
That’s it. I’m actually being rather nice here – the books aren’t really much of an interest for either character since they’re not significant or influential toward the plot. But at least it’s an actual described interest.
Christian disgusts me. Not because he’s a manipulative, controlling douchebag, although that disgusts me as well. It’s mostly because he’s ridiculously over-the-top insanely perfect. You thought Edward Cullen was ridiculously perfect? He has nothing on Christian Grey. Let’s go through this:
- A self-made billionaire at the age of 27
- Accomplished pianist, glider, helicopter & yacht pilot, and wine snob
- Actively working on eradicating world hunger
- So attractive every female character goes moist in his presence
- Is ridiculously good in bed, has a huge penis that remains rock-hard and skillfully bringing Ana to multiple orgasms
- Does nothing but dote on Ana
Sure, he’s a control freak, and the book does actually portray this as a bad thing, unlike the Twilight series. And he has a dark past. Both of these give him that coveted edgy Bad Boy with a Heart of Gold status.
Despite Christian’s unnerving lip fetish, the way his pants hang off his hips, and his Mysterious Past, he’s still an incredibly dull, one-dimensional character. He has no redeeming qualities and the only real conflict throughout the series is whether or not he’s going to stop treating Ana like a piece of shit.
The Plot (or lack thereof)
Here’s where this series really goes to hell, though. Nothing. Fucking. Happens. Many people have complained about how little actually happens throughout the Twilight series. Compared to Fifty Shades of Grey, Twilight is an action-packed thriller.
It’s readily apparent that Fifty Shades came to life as serial fiction. There’s almost no overarching plot and it’s very serialized, especially about halfway through the series, when it devolves into each chapter featuring arguing, sex, and some little plot nugget. I could almost picture James hunched over her keyboard thinking to herself “Okay, new update time. Gotta include a sex scene to satisfy my horny readers, and I’ll have them argue about how controlling Christian is to show that Ana is Spunky and has a spine, and then I better throw in a reference to Jack Hyde or Leila to remind them that yes we have a plot!”
Here’s a complete timeline of the trilogy, just to help you out:
Fifty Shades of Grey
- May 6: Ana interviews Christian Grey.
- May 13: Grey visits Ana in the hardware store where she works.
- May 15: Jose photographs Grey for Kate and Ana.
- May 20: End of classes – Ana gets drunk, Grey tracks her cell phone and hunts her down
- May 21: They fly to Seattle, discuss the NDA, his rules, and they fuck.
- May 22: They fuck.
- May 23: Grey gives her a MacBook. He shows up. They fuck.
- May 24: Argue about the list.
- May 25: Date!
- May 26: Graduation! Grey gives her an Audi. They fuck. He spanks her. They fuck again.
- May 27: Grey spends the night. He gives her a BlackBerry.
- May 28: Ana and Kate move to Seattle.
- May 29: Kinky fucking in the Red Room of Pain. They meet Grey’s parents for dinner, and then fuck in the boathouse. Then they go home and fuck again.
- May 30: They fuck on Grey’s desk. Ana interviews at SIP, then takes off for Georgia.
- May 31: They exchange emails.
- June 1: Grey shows up in Georgia. They fuck.
- June 2: They go gliding.
- June 3: Ana flies back to Seattle. They fuck. Then they fuck again. Ana asks him to show her how bad it can be. After Grey beats her ass, she breaks up with him.
Fifty Shades Darker
- June 6: Grey sends her flowers.
- June 7: Ana is miserable and cries a lot.
- June 8: Grey emails her asking to go to Jose’s gallery opening.
- June 9: They fly to Portland in Grey’s helicopter. After some discussion, they realize they are still in love with each other and try to make things work. Grey gives her an iPad.
- June 10: They email each other while Ana is at work. Afterward, she hits up a bar with Jack Hyde and has a weird encounter with a strange woman, who is Leila, Grey’s crazy ex-submissive. Grey shows up at the bar and later reveals that he’s bought SIP where Ana works. They fuck. Then they fuck again, with ice cream.
- June 11: Ana wants a haircut. Grey takes her to a place run by Mrs. Robinson, the woman who fucked him when he was 15. This displeases Ana. They argue. Then they fuck, twice. They go to a masked ball and a dance with Ana is auctioned off for charity. Grey wins with a $100,000 bid. He spanks her and they fuck.
- June 12: Someone slashes the tires on Ana’s Audi. Ana and Grey go to a hotel to be safe and they fuck twice. Grey takes her to a car dealership and buys her a Saab 9-3 to replace her damaged Audi, and then they go sailing in Grey’s yacht. On which they fuck. Then they go home, argue over whether Ana gets to go to work the next day. Grey spanks her and fucks her.
- June 13: Ana and Grey email while Ana is at work. Jack Hyde wants Ana to go to a conference with him, Grey says no, Ana says yes, so Grey pulls strings behind the scenes to make it impossible for her to go. Jack Hyde hits on her. Grey and Ana fuck in the elevator.
- June 14: They fuck on the piano. Ana and Grey email while Ana is at work. Afterwards, Grey drives Ana to her apartment to pick up her friend Ethan…but Leila is inside with a gun!!!! Grey comes in and takes the gun away and they bundle Leila off to a psychiatric hospital. Problem solved! Grey asks her to marry him.
- June 15: They fuck. Ana and Grey email while Ana is at work. At the end of the day after everyone’s gone, Jack tries to blackmail Ana into having sex with him because of all the personal emails she’s been sending. Ana kicks him in the balls and runs outside, and Grey calls the CEO of SIP and has Jack fired and escorted out of the building by security within minutes. Problem solved! Then they fuck.
- June 16: They fuck. Ana gets promoted to replace Jack. She emails Grey while at work. After, Grey shows her the mansion where they could live if they got married. They get dinner, he fingers her in an elevator with other people present, and they fuck.
- June 17: Ana gets drinks with her friends. Then discovers that Grey’s helicopter, with him in it, HAS GONE MISSING. There is four pages of terror, then Grey shows up, alive and completely unharmed. Whew!
- June 18: As a birthday present, Ana agrees to marry Grey! They fuck. Then they go to the Red Room of Pain and engage in kinky fuckery. There’s a confrontation with Mrs. Robinson who insults Ana, Grey tells her to fuck off, they announce their engagement, and the book ends with someone plotting their demise.
Fifty Shades Freed
- June 19: They discuss prenups.
- Aug 1: Wedding!
- Aug 2-15: Honeymoon and fucking.
- Aug 16: They fuck and he buys incredibly expensive paintings and jewelry for her.
- Aug 17: Ana goes shopping and buys expensive things. They fuck.
- Aug 19: Honeymoon ends.
- Aug 21: They are pursued home by an unknown person. When they get home, they fuck in the car. Then they fuck again, several more times.
- Aug 22: Grey tells Ana that after a year, he is going to give her SIP to run as a wedding gift. They fuck.
- Aug 23: They fuck.
- Aug 25: Ana goes out drinking with Kate, which pisses Christian off. When they get home, they find that Jack Hyde has broken in! But security takes him down without a problem.
- Aug 26: Grey is absolutely furious that she went out with Kate instead of staying home, even though if she’d stayed home as he wanted she would have been in the house when an armed psychopath broke in. They fuck. Then they fuck again. And again.
- Aug 27: Ana and Grey go to Aspen, Colorado. They go shopping. They fuck. Elliot proposes to Kate. They go clubbing. A guy hits on Ana on the dance floor so Ana slaps him across the face and then Christian punches him.
- Aug 28: They fuck several times.
- Sep 5: Leila shows up and Christian flips his shit because the bodyguards weren’t supposed to let her see Ana, even though Ana demanded it and made it happen. They fuck.
- Sept 9: Ana’s father has been in an accident! OH GOD NO! Turns out he’s okay.
- Sept 10: Her birthday!
- Sept 11: They fuck. Later, Ana finds out she’s pregnant.
- Sept 13: Ana freaks out. They talk. Grey freaks out and splits and talks to Mrs. Robinson. Ana flips her shit.
- Sept 15: Jack Hyde calls. He’s kidnapped Christian’s little sister, Mia. Ana pulls off a daring rescue by herself but bumps her head. Jack is arrested.
- Sept 16: She wakes up in the hospital.
- Sept 17: Christian finds out that he and Jack go way back to the same foster home! For no real reason.
- Sept 19: They fuck.
- Sept 21: They fuck.
- Flashforward to 2014. They have a kid!
Yes, you read that right. They get engaged six weeks after they first lay eyes on each other. They get engaged nine days after they’ve broken up and gotten back together. The entire trilogy takes place over a 4 ½ month span, during which time basically nothing happens. About 95% of the series is them arguing, emailing, eating, and fucking. 3% is irrelevant things happening between the other things, and 2% is actual action, of the remarkably idiotic type. The two action beats, if you will, are Leila, the crazed sub, who stalks them for awhile then apologizes and that’s that, and Jack Hyde, who stalks them for awhile, kidnaps Mia, is arrested and that’s that. Neither of these “plots” actually affect the characters in any meaningful way, although it provides more ways for Christian to be ridiculously controlling and them to get into arguments.
The series is porn. It’s a long series of sex scenes with bits of plot and dialogue to string the scenes together.
The Wish Fulfillment
One of the primary reasons this series is a piece of shit is the blatant wish fulfillment. Both characters are Mary-Sues to an ludicrous degree, and the entire series is nothing but blatant wish fulfillment for women. You graduate college and fall in love with one of the wealthiest, most attractive men on the planet; immediately are hired and then promoted at your dream job; you live in his penthouse while traveling the country first class or private plane, enjoying his chauffeurs and his yacht and helicopter; he showers you with ridiculously expensive gifts including multiple cars; then you get married and go on a honeymoon to London and Paris and stay on ANOTHER yacht, distracting yourself by going shopping with your black AMEX credit card, take off on vacation to your vacation home in Colorado, then jet back home to decide how you want your dream mansion overlooking Puget Sound to be built, and all of this is interspersed with incredibly kinky mind-blowingly-good sex.
You know why people like BDSM? Because they were abused as children.
Source: Fifty Shades of Grey.
I’ve mentioned numerous times that Christian Grey is a pathological control freak. In this, he imitates Edward Cullen, except he’s ten times the control freak Edward was. Theoretically, I should give Fifty Shades of Grey some credit for actually drawing attention to his controlling nature and portraying it as a negative thing, however, I will also have to remove credit for the fact that Ana always gives in and lets Christian have his way, refuses to take a stand, and basically lets him walk all over her and more or less dictate her every move while she smiles bemusedly and murmurs inwardly at how controlling he is. And then she’s rewarding with amazing sex. Nice work, James. After all, that’s how most hyper controlling relationships in real life work out, isn’t it?
Let me give you just one example. This is immediately after Ana went out to get a couple drinks with Kate, and when they got home security subdued Jack Hyde, who was there to kidnap her. Setting aside that security for Christian’s penthouse is absolutely atrocious, let’s dive into this and start with an email Ana sends to Christian, pointing out he’s full of shit, on page 230:
Had I been FULLY INFORMED of the situation, I would have taken a different course of action.
So are you going to tell me? Or will you continue to treat me like a child, guaranteeing that I continue to behave like one?
You are not the only one who is fucking pissed, Okay?
This is actually pretty standard for much of this trilogy, and it’s the beginning of something that would theoretically be good. Ana is standing up for herself, pointing out that Christian is being a hyper controlling douchebag, and that he needs to get his shit together and stop being a male chauvinist.
Ana gets home and Christian has slutted himself up in his ripped dreams, and is doing his combination of flirtatious rage and anger, which is slightly terrifying. He has a printout of her email.
My gaze returns to his, as his eyes blaze bright with anger.
The following will be edited, but take it from me, I am not using creative editing to change the meaning of this piece at all.
“Why did you fly back from New York?” I whisper
“Because you went back on your word, and you defied me, putting yourself at unnecessary risk.”
“Christian, I changed my mind,” I explain slowly, patiently, as if he’s a child. “I’m a woman. We’re renowned for it. That’s what we do.”
He blinks at me as if he doesn’t comprehend this.
“You changed your mind?” He can’t hide his contemptuous disbelief.
“This morning, I wanted to punish you, badly.”
“You were worried you’d hurt me?”
“I didn’t trust myself,” he says quietly.
“Christian, I know you’d never hurt me. [snip] I know you’re not going to beat the shit out of me.”
“I wanted to.”
“No you didn’t. You just thought you did.”
That’s a superbly comforting clarification to make.
Christian then tries to convince her to come to bed, although Ana wants to talk. He answers a couple small questions, then realizes that she hasn’t eaten today, so he blindfolds her and feeds her dinner, and then they fuck. Except he prevents her from having an orgasm, on and on, until she finally uses their safe word. And that’s about it.
That is what this series is. This exact scene plays itself out, over and over and over again over all three books in the trilogy. I want to stress that I don’t think that writing about people in controlling relationships is a bad thing. In fact, a great deal of the manipulative, controlling nature of this relationship rings very true. That being said, the overall point of this, or message, if you will, is that relationships don’t require you to actually work through these issues and for people to make changes. Because Christian doesn’t change throughout the series. Not one iota. They fight and argue and Ana makes her points, generally very good points, and then Christian says “Let’s fuck,” and they have amazing sex while Ana reminds herself how much she loves him even though he’s “fifty shades of fucked up”. That’s not healthy. That’s absolutely appalling. Every single time it happens, Ana is tacitly encouraging Christian by refusing to hold him accountable for being controlling and treating her like a child, and then eagerly having sex with him. And James is essentially saying that if your husband treats you like a child, controls everything you do, flies into a rage when you defy him in the smallest way and fantasizes about beating you for it…well, that’s okay, just petulantly argue about it every so often and then drop the entire thing and never mention it again, because that’s the best way to work through problems in a relationship.
I didn’t think it was possible to portray unhealthy relationships in such a positive way any more than Twilight did, but Fifty Shades of Grey, you have risen to the occasion.
I’ll leave you with this:
“What are you thinking?” Christian murmurs, stopping my thoughts in their tracks as he pulls his finger out of my mouth.
“How mercurial you are.” (page 241)
Think back to the last time you heard that word used in casual conversation.
Warning: this review contains massive spoilers for the series. But, if you are truly concerned about spoilers for the Fifty Shades trilogy, you need to reexamine your life’s choices.