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Christian Grey Began His Fictional Career As A Vampire

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The new movie "Fifty Shades Of Grey" seems bound to be the year's first big hit - that is bound in a manner of speaking, of course. The kinky romance books have sold over 100 million copies. And the film version, opening next weekend, has already sold out across the country. NPR's Neda Ulaby says that may be partly due to its roots in another monstrously successful book and movie franchise.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: "Fifty Shades Of Grey" started as fan fiction for "Twilight."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "TWILIGHT")

KRISTEN STEWART: (As Bella Swan) You're beautiful.

ULABY: About the forbidden love of virginal Bella and Edward, the sparkly vampire.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "TWILIGHT")

STEWART: (As Bella Swan) You're beautiful.

ROBERT PATTINSON: (As Edward Cullen) Beautiful? This is the skin of a killer, Bella.

ULABY: Thousands, maybe millions of people, dreamed of "Twilight" stories of their own, including a British writer named Erika Mitchell, now better known by the pen name, E. L. James. She started writing "Twilight" fan fiction on her phone during her commute and shared it on fan fiction websites. She revamped Edward into a bossy billionaire named Christian Grey.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "FIFTY SHADES OF GREY")

JAMIE DORNAN: (As Christian Grey) My tastes are very singular. You wouldn't understand.

ULABY: People have always taken and retold each other's stories, says English professor Anne Jamison. For example, William Makepeace Thackeray rewrote the novel "Ivanhoe" in 1850. Is that fan fiction?

ANNE JAMISON: He didn't call it that but yeah, essentially. I mean, he wrote a story called "Rebecca And Rowena" because he felt, like almost everybody else, that Ivanhoe should've ended up with Rebecca.

ULABY: That's what fan fiction does. Imagine alternate romances, endings, settings and stories from "Ivanhoe" to "Star Trek."

JAMISON: It is less powerful people writing about the stories told by more powerful people.

ULABY: Often, they're women writers adding risque elements...

JAMISON: Like sex.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "TWILIGHT")

PATTINSON: (As Edward Cullen) I've never wanted a human's blood so much in my life.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

ERIKA MITCHELL: I just thought it was a passionate love story. I found it erotic. I found it, well, just that, really (laughter).

ULABY: That's the author of "Fifty Shades Of Grey" on NPR two years ago. Like other writers of "Twilight" fan fiction, she wanted to explore aspects of her favorite characters more deeply, like the vampire Edward's creepy obsession with control.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "TWILIGHT")

PATTINSON: (As Edward Cullen) I still don't know if I can control myself. I can't ever lose control of you.

ULABY: E. L. James found a way of doing that by making her character a kinky man.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "FIFTY SHADES OF GREY")

DORNAN: (As Christian Grey) I exercise control in all things, Ms. Steele.

ULABY: "Fifty Shades Of Grey" is filled with "Twilight's" DNA, its Pacific Northwest location, the hero's copper hair, the heroine's habit of lip-biting.

ANDREW SHAFFER: When you change their names, it's called filing the serial numbers off.

ULABY: Andrew Shaffer writes about the book industry. He says publishers appreciate fan fiction's enormous built-in audience, as long as it's been changed enough to avoid 50 shades of legal problems.

SHAFFER: You couldn't tell, for instance, that "Fifty Shades Of Grey" was a "Twilight" fan fiction. If you say, hey, you know that's a "Twilight" fan fiction, they go, there are no vampires in it.

ULABY: That's why Shaffer decided to write a fan fiction of "Fifty Shades Of Grey."

SHAFFER: And turn the characters back into vampires.

ULABY: His parody, "Fifty Shames Of Earl Grey," ended up being published as a book. It follows a wealthy gentleman of depraved tastes who falls for a clumsy clerk at Wal-Mart.

(SOUNDBITE OF READING)

SHAFFER: Hello, Ms. Steal.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: He says, gazing at me gazingly with his gazing grey eyes. Mr. Grey.

SHAFFER: I happen to be in the area, and here you are.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: He says.

SHAFFER: What a pleasant surprise.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Did you find everything you were looking for today?

SHAFFER: Actually, no.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: He says.

SHAFFER: Would you care to join me for coffee?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Is Earl Grey asking me out on a date?

ULABY: "Fifty Shames Of Earl Grey," went through a few legal readings prior to publication. That's because the "Fifty Shades" team is famously protective of its lucrative intellectual property. A few years ago, a woman throwing unauthorized "Fifty Shades" lingerie parties received a cease-and-desist letter because, the author's agent said at the time, you can't just hijack something someone else owns. Neda Ulaby, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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