I used to think A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin was the worst book I’d ever have the displeasure of reading. That was before I was introduced to Fifty Shades of Grey by Snowqueens Icedragon (yes, that’s really her pseudonym). This fan-fiction based on Stephanie Meyer’s laughable The Twilight Saga makes Meyer look like a modern day Tolkien, and even writers like George R. R. Martin and Tara “XXXbloodyrists666XXX” Gilesbie seem competent by comparison. As someone discussing Troll 2 once said of movies: with some bad books it seems like the writer didn’t know how to write a book; with some it’s more like they did know how to write a book but got hit very hard on the head. Fifty Shades is more like if the embodiment of pure evil in the universe didn’t know how to write a book and got hit very hard on the head.
Master of the Universe
I will begin by explaining the history of this dreadful story as I understand it. It began, of course, with the infamous mormon vampire romance series The Twilight Saga. A British fan named Erika Mitchell decided that the world desperately needed an “adult” version of the story and created a fan-fiction called Master of the Universe with the tagline “fifty shades of fucked up,” uploading it to fanfiction.net under the horrendous pseudonym “Snowqueens Icedragon.” Of course, just like Tara Gilesbie (Bloodyrists666), the way she writes her pseudonym is wrong; should it not be “Snowqueen’s Icedragon”? What’s worse than the awful name is that the whole premise of writing Master of the Universe is based on a fallacy.
The Twilight Saga “For Adults”
Master of the Universe was written with the intent to create “The Twilight Saga for adults.” As far as Snowqueens Icedragon was concerned, the reason Meyer’s books were childish wasn’t the infantile worldview, but rather that they included fantasy elements such as vampires. Icedragon’s work is still the same adolescent drivel that Meyer’s is, and it’s far worse in all areas, but it’s considered by its fans to be “adult” because it involves S&M and not vampires. If anything it’s the opposite. Having fantasy elements in a story has no bearing on whether it’s for kids or adults, and stories that market themselves as being “adult” seem always to be more childish than anything for children. Master of the Universe (or “Fifty Shades,” if you prefer) exemplifies this; it understands sex about as deeply as a fourth-grader drawing penises on the inside of his desk.
Fifty Shades is Born
Just as happened with My Immortal by Tara Gilesbie, the explicit and often perverse sexual content led fanfiction.net to take down Master of the Universe. Snowqueens Icedragon therefore created her own website where she could upload her sick fan-fiction without censorship. Eventually she renamed all the characters, Bella Swan becoming Anastasia Steele and Edward Cullen becoming Christian Grey, and published her faeces through a virtual publisher from Australia as “Fifty Shades of Grey.” This time she used the pseudonym “E. L. James,” but I don’t care. Anyone who writes a book like this deserves no better name than Snowqueens Icedragon.
In spite of the overwhelming amount of evidence to back up the fact that this is fan fiction, and despite Icedragon even having admitted it, many fans refuse to admit that Master of the Universe was a Twilight Saga fan-fiction at all. Instead they religiously believe it to have been based on a true story, and therefore that it is a one hundred percent realistic portrayal of BDSM. In their minds, Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey are real people and this is their story. Let me make this absolutely clear: Master of the Universe is not based on a true story; it’s based on a mormon sex fantasy based on a dream that Stephanie Meyer had.
I’m not going to hold back with this one. Snowqueens Icedragon or Erika Mitchell or E. L. James or whatever the hell you want to call her doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt. Her books are dangerous. They’re dangerous because they portray blatant abuse up to and including rape, and instead of acknowledging it as such they pretend it’s all just kinks in the bedroom. Again, let me be as clear as I can be; what Fifty Shades portrays is not BDSM.
In case you’re unaware, BDSM stands for “bondage and discipline, domination and submission, sadism and masochism” or something to that effect. I don’t claim to understand BDSM, but after even the small amount of research I did for this review I think I understand it better than Snowqueens Icedragon does. Here’s the thing about S&M; the “dominant” is supposed to be a sadist and the “submissive” is supposed to be a masochist. Bella isn’t a masochist; she’s just an idiot.
There are videos on YouTube that talk in more detail about the differences between real S&M and the abuse that Snowqueen’s Icedragon portrays in her books. At least one such video is by someone called The Dom, who’s dabbled in S&M. He explains that if the submissive isn’t a masochist then it’s not S&M; it’s abuse.
Fifty Shades of Grey Begins
Now that’s out of the way, let’s see what the worst piece of coproliterature ever to get published has to offer, shall we? What could be so bad that Sir Salman Rushdie would say of it, “I’ve never read anything so badly written that got published. It made ‘Twilight’ look like ‘War and Peace.’”?
“I scowl with frustration at myself in the mirror. Damn my hair—it just won’t behave, and damn Rose for being ill and subjecting me to this ordeal.”
From the very beginning there’s something wrong with the prose. For one thing it’s written in the first-person present tense, which, at least for me, is an instant turn-off. Where storytelling is concerned, the present tense is a tense in which it’s notoriously hard to write well. I’ve only ever seen a handful of authors pull it off, and even then those works were usually in third-person present. Indeed, half of them only worked because the stories were about time-travel and therefore well-suited to the neutrality of third-person present. Concerning stories not involving time-travel, I’ve found few indeed that succeeded with the present tense. Ironically the rather more difficult “first-person present tense” seems to be the favourite tense of amateurs, the very people who absolutely shouldn’t be attempting it.
The First Paragraph
But whom am I kidding? The tense is far from the only thing wrong with the prose in this thing! Even were this written in the past tense it would still be among the worst pieces of writing out there. Though you wouldn’t know it from those first few sentences, the punctuation, grammar, and spelling are all just about what you’d expect from a Twilight Saga fan-fiction.
“I have tried to brush my hair into submission but it’s not toeing the line. I must learn not to sleep with it wet. I recite this five times as a mantra whilst I try, once more, with the brush. I give up. The only thing I can do is restrain it, tightly, in a pony tail and hope that I look reasonably presentable.”
“Toeing”? You mean “towing,” don’t you? And it only gets worse from here. Also, if she’s actually saying the words “I must not sleep with it wet,” then it should be in quotation marks, shouldn’t it? And I see she has the same love of commas as George R. R. Martin. To be fair, some of these mistakes were fixed in the eBook version after Icedragon made it big, but the improvement is less pronounced than one would hope:
“I should be studying for my final exams, which are next week, yet here I am trying to brush my hair into submission. I must not sleep with it wet. I must not sleep with it wet. Reciting this mantra several times, I attempt, once more, to bring it under control with the brush. I roll my eyes in exasperation and gaze at the pale, brown-haired girl with blue eyes too big for her face staring back at me, and give up. My only option is to restrain my wayward hair in a ponytail and hope that I look semi-presentable.”
I half expected her to compare her blue eyes to “limpid tears” or misspell “gothic.” It’s a small improvement over the original, but it’s still shit. We’re then introduced to Rosalie Hale. In The Twilight Saga she was another member of the quasi-incestuous vampire clan Edward belongs to. In Fifty Shades she’s Bella’s roommate for the same reason that Draco Malfoy is Harry Potter’s ex-boyfriend in My Immortal.
Cullen/Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc.
Instead of being a vampire, Icedragon’s version of Edward Cullen is a rich psychopath, and Bella goes to interview him as a grudging favour to Rosalie. We see some of his unethical hiring practices, and then we get this line:
“The elevator whisks me at terminal velocity to the twentieth floor.”
Terminal velocity? It becomes clear at this point that Icedragon doesn’t know what words mean. You might think she’s speaking figuratively, but if you know her writing you’ll know that she uses the word “figuratively” to denote when she’s speaking figuratively.
“…but he’s no literary hero, not by any stretch of the imagination. Is Cullen? My subconscious asks me, her eyebrow figuratively raised.”
O, you thought I was joking? No; she actually does that. This brings us to one of the most ridiculous aspects of this train-wreck: Bella’s “subconscious” and “inner goddess.” This is a big part of why Fifty Shades is worse than Game of Thrones; George R. R. Martin is at least able to convey character emotions in ways other than interpretive dance. Snowqueens Icedragon isn’t.
The “Subconscious” and Inner Goddess
Bella’s subconscious, as fate would have it, is another example of how Icedragon doesn’t know what words mean. Subconscious means you’re not fully aware of it. Bella’s subconscious, however, is the exact opposite of subconscious, as Bella hears her as a voice in her head and sees her as a fully-conscious person.
“Try to be cool Bella – my subconscious implores me.”
As others have said before, it’s not subconscious if you’re consciously aware of it. This shouldn’t surprise anyone, as Snowqueens Icedragon’s already proven that she, as they say, “ain’t speak no english no good.” Moving on, there’s the “inner goddess.”
“oh my… my inner goddess is doing a triple axle dismount off the asymmetric bars…”
“My inner goddess is jumping up and down… clapping her hands like a five-year-old… please, let’s do this… otherwise we’ll end up alone, with lots of cats, and your classic novels to keep you company.”
“My inner goddess glows so bright she could light up Portland.”
And just in case you thought it was only a quirk of Bella’s, I must inform you that she uses this device for all her characters. Snowqueens Icedragon would later go on to write a version of the story from Edward’s perspective, and his “cock” is a personified character in the story. I shit you not.
“Miss Steele is a carnal treasure. She will be a joy to train. My cock twitches in agreement.”
This is how Icedragon thinks men think. This is unsurprising, given how she thinks women think. Perhaps it’s the way she and her fans are, but neither I nor anyone else I’ve talked to thinks this way.
Interview With a Sadist
Bella interviews Edward, and the fluttering of her eyelids is explicitly stated to match her heart-rate. We learn that Edward loves controlling and manipulating people and is quite good at it, and with everything else we learn about him throughout the course of the story, is it any wonder many are convinced he’s a psychopath? Edward instantly develops a sick obsession with Bella—sick enough to make vampire Edward’s infatuation look wholesome. As you would expect, the rich, dictatorial older man relentlessly stalks the young Bella with the eventual goal of making her his tortured concubine. Over the following weeks, we learn that Icedragon can’t even stick to her ill-conceived choice of tense.
“I am restless that night, tossing and turning.”
In case you’re hesitant to call Edward a stalker, Icedragon sets things straight by having him hack into and subsequently track her phone; approach her at work while appropriately joking about being a serial killer; and attack a sexual predator not out of compassion for Bella, but because he can’t stand the thought of anyone else having her. He manages to carry the unconscious young woman all the way to his penthouse without anyone with a shred of humanity noticing him or calling the peelers. So begins Edward Cullen’s manipulation of Bella Swan, which he carries out with the efficiency of a seasoned cult leader.
A Worse Love Story Than The Twilight Saga
Bella’s not exactly a likeable character, but Edward is nothing short of pure evil. This is in stark contrast to The Twilight Saga, where they’re both just about equally despicable—we hate Bella more only because we’re exposed to more of her. Here Bella is clearly being abused by a sadist with an increasing degree of power over her. His every move is consistent with that of a cult leader recruiting followers.
Edward begins by berating Bella for acting like the twenty-one-year-old she is. Then he tells her he wants a shag, but she has to sign a non-disclosure agreement first. Almost immediately afterwards he snogs her in the elevator. We’re meant to believe that his “love” for her causes him to lose control (which is creepy enough as it is), but it feels like he’s deliberately doing this to manipulate her. They go on one date in a helicopter and Bella signs the non-disclosure agreement. Immediately she asks:
“Does this mean you’re going to make love to me tonight, Edward?”
Spoken like someone who’s hiring a prostitute for the fifth time. Good job, Icedragon; you’ve made your heroine a john.
“No Isabella it doesn’t. Firstly… I don’t make love. I fuck…hard. Secondly, there‘s a lot more paperwork to do… and thirdly, you don’t yet know what you’re in for and you could still run for the hills. Come… I want to show you my playroom.”
Get stuffed, Edward. Now that’s out of the way… You know exactly where it goes from there. I don’t doubt that if you’re reading this you also know what colour and material Edward used to line the walls of his “playroom.” Edward explains that he’s a sadist and wants to beat her even though she’s not a masochist. In return he offers her “himself,” by which he means his money. Great! Now he’s the john!
Abuse, Abuse, and More Abuse
And so begins the main selling point of this garbage: the “sex” and the “BDSM.” The word “sex” is in quotes because sex without the proper consent is not sex; it is rape! The acronym “BDSM” is in quotes because BDSM without the proper consent is not BDSM; it is abuse! Edward tries to convince Bella to sign a contract that they both know he wouldn’t be able to enforce in court. By Edward’s actions thus far, I’m sure he’d try to enforce it all the same. Essentially the contract demands that she sign away her right to withdraw consent, making the contract illegal. Apparently BDSM contracts do exist, but I’ve heard the point of them is communication between the parties concerning their limits, as opposed to legally binding agreements allowing the dominant to straight-up rape the submissive—O, we’ll get to that.
You’re Doing BDSM Wrong!
Bella and Edward’s sick sexual “relationship” begins, and Edward takes great pleasure in beating Bella, who takes no pleasure in it at all—quite the opposite, in fact. In one scene, Edward asks Bella:
“How did you feel while I was hitting you… and after?”
“I didn’t like it… I’d rather you didn’t do it again.”
To which Edward responds:
“You weren’t meant to like it.”
Er… I’m pretty sure she is meant to like it; that’s the whole damn point of BDSM, you pathetic hack of a writer!
For My Pleasure, Not Yours
“I want you and I want you now. And if you‘re not going to let me spank you – which you deserve – I‘m going to fuck you on the couch this minute, quickly, for my pleasure, not yours.”
This is not role-play; this is not BDSM. This is the definition of an abusive relationship! Now on to the worst part of this already irredeemable fan-fiction.
Bella soon decides to pretend to break up with Edward just to see how he’ll react, because Snowqueens Icedragon can’t even keep her abusive relationship consistent as to who’s the abuser. Soon Edward’s back to being the abuser, as he reacts by breaking into Bella’s home and raping her.
“No…” I protest, trying to kick him off.
He stops. “If you struggle, I’ll tie your feet too. If you make a noise, Isabella, I will gag you. Keep quiet. Rosalie is probably outside listening right now.”
It doesn’t matter that her breaking up with him was only a sick prank; he doesn’t know that, and even if he did, breaking into someone’s house and penetrating them amidst their protests is rape—plain and simple. Even if we, the audience, know that her reason for protesting is likely that she’s self-conscious about her foot-odour (yes, really), she did not give consent. As far as I can tell, this is an unambiguous rape scene. Although this is among the best known, there are many scenes in this abhorrent story that likely meet the criteria for rape.
What Does Erika Mitchell Think of All This?
If you’re going to portray rape in literature (not that this is literature) then you have to make it clear that it’s a bad thing, to say the least. Not only that, but you also have to make any rape scenes you include sufficiently horrifying, and you need to properly portray the trauma that the victim will inevitably suffer both during and after the atrocity. Erika Mitchell does none of this, and her rape scenes are the worst I’ve ever read. This is likely because she’s wholly unaware that any of this is rape, as she made clear in an interview:
“It’s basically a love story… with some kinky sex in it…”
George R. R. Martin can’t tell the difference between his rape scenes and his sex scenes, but at least he realizes that his book has rape scenes. Snowqueens Icedragon doesn’t even know there’s rape in her story at all. Martin constantly downplays the physical and psychological trauma of rape and tries to make his rapists sympathetic, but Icedragon presents hers as a fantasy for women to aspire to. Martin’s trying to be edgy, but Icedragon is actually trying to be romantic, and that makes her rape scenes even worse than his. It is possible, however, that she knows full well that what she’s portraying is rape and just doesn’t see a problem with it, as this is what she said in another interview:
“I think there’s so much shame surrounding sex… If you’re tied up then you can’t resist and you’re not responsible for your own actions, and then you can enjoy whatever’s happening to you, and you have less shame.”
If this is what Snowqueens Icedragon thinks about rape, then she is deliberately ruining people’s lives, because there are many people whom this story influences. There are women who’ve taken to BDSM because they loved these books so much, and if the BDSM in Icedragon’s stories is what they’re trying to emulate, that means they’re doing BDSM wrong. I doubt I need tell you how dangerous it is for fans of this book to perform BDSM in an unsafe manner; I assume that’s common knowledge among everyone who isn’t a fan of this dreadful series.
A Harmful Work of Fiction
It’s clear to me (someone who’s decidedly repulsed by BDSM and who’s done as little research as I could) that Erika Mitchell, in true Meyer-fan fashion, did only the barest minimum of research before writing and publishing a book on the subject. There are certain people who are aroused and experience pleasure from certain levels of pain and humiliation, but Edward utterly dominating Bella in every facet of her life isn’t BDSM because Bella isn’t a masochist and therefore doesn’t enjoy it. BDSM, like any type of sex, is supposed to be consensual between two people who are really enjoying it. This is not what Fifty Shades portrays.
There are women who stay in abusive relationships because their partners remind them of Edward Cullen (renamed Christian Grey). There are women who try unsafe things because a fan-fiction writer has convinced them that these things are romantic. I wonder whether they’d think it romantic were Edward/Christian not so unassessably wealthy. I’m sure there are men who’ve read it and now think the sorts of things Edward does are acceptable and consequently become abusers themselves.
The Worst Book Ever
Fifty Shades of Grey is without a doubt the worst piece of media I have ever read, watched, or smelt. Erika Mitchell has been likened to “a Bronte devoid of talent,” but calling her “a Bronte devoid of talent” is insulting to the hypothetical idea of a Bronte devoid of talent; it takes a lot worse then a lack of talent to write something like this. It is worse than Game of Thrones; it’s worse than Violence Jack; it’s worse than Midori: Shōjo Tsubaki. At least Go Nagai clearly knew he was writing exploitation horror when he wrote Violence Jack. Sure, Violence Jack is a protagonist so bland he makes Harry Potter look like fucking Hamlet, but at least Go Nagai didn’t think he was writing an Aesop or something! Erika Mitchell actually thinks her rapesploitation crap is a deep romance that her readers should emulate; she makes George R. R. Martin look like the genius people think he is.
A True Abomination
I usually judge a work based not only on its quality, but also on its potential do real good or real evil. By this standard too, Fifty Shades of Grey is among the worst pieces of literature ever to infiltrate the mainstream; the worst if you ignore deliberate hate-propaganda. Even a lot of hate-propaganda has better storytelling, and I’d guess much of it has better prose. There exists in Erika Mitchell’s work no faint redeeming quality; indeed, it’s made me realize just how many redeeming qualities other bad stories have by comparison. If there’s any book whose copies should be rounded up, its original manuscript buried where no one will ever find it, it is this one. In none of the languages into which this book’s been translated will you ever find a curse severe enough to describe this abomination. Must I continue to think of ways to describe its horror? You get the picture; Fifty Shades of Grey is the pseudo-literary embodiment of pure evil. Don’t read it.