That Awful Mr. Grey

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Happy Sunday! I stumbled on this yesterday. Back on Friday, a 21 year old commentator in Britain’s Independent newspaper shared this Fifty Shades analysis:

Screen capture of the Independent.
Screen capture of the Independent.

Evidently this now needs pointing out: both Mr. Grey and Anastasia are – let us recall – fictional. That means they are not real people. Insofar as I understand it, the books are novels, not biography.

As we (hopefully) know, fictional evil-doers and weirdos are everywhere in literature and film. They are often made likable, compelling, and even seductive at times. They often have a twinkle in the eye.

There’s a good reason for that. Not only are evil and “oddity” often not always straightforward. But let’s face it from a storytelling perspective “pure good” is just too damn predictable and dull; and it’s also totally unrealistic and unbelievable.

Or is everyone portrayed in fiction supposed to be “perfectly amiable” all the time? Banal? Utterly undangerous? Who’d want to read that? The unsullied, virtuous hero/ heroine gets on all of our nerves eventually. If you write (and if you read), you know what I mean. No one’s always that nice.

Tension, ambiguity and imperfection keeps readers interested. So does a degree of the unexpected. And I prefer artfulness and subtlety in my creations.

Other authors seem to like ropes and cable ties on “the first date.” That’s their creative right too. And there are obviously millions happy to read that.

Of course fiction also helps us reflect on the real world. The argument here seems that domestic abusers will take heart from the Fifty Shades film – it’s “schmaltz” say France’s film raters – because men who see it will think it’s okay to behave that way. But given the book and film are aimed NOT at men nearly so much as women – particularly “older” women – there is clearly a degree of weakness in that take too.

Moreover if this Christian Grey had been an 8 foot tall blue guy from the Guwawangan nebula, or a vampire from Trans-Romanish, would we be getting a similar deluge of analyses like that one? Seems rather doubtful. Again, I’ve not read the book and have no plans to see the film; but I’m gathering it’s his frightening “humanity” that seems to scare the heck out of many.

Fifty Shades has been labeled lousy writing. It was never going to win a Booker prize, but that’s now no longer really the issue. It has become far bigger than its “tortured” prose.

Indeed in this sense the book now has few literary peers. It is a profound achievement when your fictional creations get some so riled up that they are actually condemning them and their behaviors as if those characters are actually real people. Author E. L. James has nailed what every novelist secretly yearns on some level to accomplish.

Hope you’re having a good weekend, wherever you are in the world. 🙂

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