Banned Books Awareness: “50 Shades of Grey”


\"\"Some call it fan fiction, while others call it “mommy porn;” but the fact is that whatever you call it, Fifty Shades of Grey, a New York Times #1 bestselling novel by E. L. James, has become an international hit.

Set in Seattle, it is the first in a trilogy that follows the relationship between a recent college graduate, Anastasia Steele, and a wealthy business mogul, Christian Grey.

The trilogy was originally conceived as fan fiction based on characters from Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series- which itself has been frequently banned and challenged– and this has led many in the publishing industry to question where exactly fan fiction crosses the copyright line.

According to the Washington Post, James moved Bella and Edward to Seattle, put them in the future, called the book Master of the Universe, and published it on James reportedly then rewrote it to remove any Twilight references, added new characters and situations, changed Edward\’s character to Christian Grey, and Bella became Anastasia Steele. All vampire elements were removed. This new work is what readers are getting when they buy Fifty Shades of Grey published by The Writer\’s Coffee Shop.

Literary merits and legitimacy aside, the biggest controversy surrounding the novel is over the sexual situations between the characters. Romance novels, often referred to as smut books or bodice rippers, have been a staple of fiction for generations, often with their own headlining section in bookstores and libraries; as such, stereotypes of the romance genre are commonplace. Many believe that all romance novels are similar to those of Danielle Steel, featuring rich, glamorous people traveling to exotic locations or set in historic times. Bestselling author Nora Roberts sums up the genre by saying, “The books are about the celebration of falling in love and emotion and commitment, and all of those things we really want.”

But some would argue that the level of BDSM in the Grey trilogy borders on the extreme and depicts a glorified image of rape. It is this level of sexuality that has many administrators jumping on the censorship bandwagon.

Legislators in Brevard County, Florida, have banned the novel solely-based on its erotic content.

Though demand for the novel among Brevard County citizens remains high, its 17 libraries will take all copies out of circulation immediately. Well, the truth is, they will just as soon as they are returned.

County spokesman, Don Walker, said that he had not read the book. In can interview with New York Daily News, he said, “We don\’t put pornography on our bookshelves,” he referred to the book as “mommy porn” before admitting, “I\’m not sure what that is.”

He drew a distinction between \”Fifty Shades\” and books like Henry Miller\’s “Tropic of Capricorn,” which was banned in the United States upon publication in 1938 until 1961. According to Walker, Miller\’s exploration of sexuality in 1920\’s New York had become “part of the societal mainstream,” while James’ “Twilight” fan-fiction had not yet “reached acceptance” and could therefore be easily dismissed.

In fact, ask a librarian at the Cocoa Beach Library in Brevard County, and they’ll be happy to direct you to a copy of “Tropic of Capricorn;” ask for \”Fifty Shades\” and they’ll direct you to the door.

So, popularity and longevity are the deciding factors between what is smut and what is literature? That hardly seems like educated reasoning, but if popularity and becoming part of the mainstream are all that it takes then it won’t be long before Fifty Shades shares a library shelf with Tropic of Capricorn and Romeo and Juliet.

In March, 2012, Universal Studios secured the movie rights after competing with bids from several other top Hollywood studios. Actors such as Ian Somerhalder and Alexander Skarsgård (of True Blood fame) have expressed great interest in the role of Christian Grey.


For more information on the Banned Books Awareness and Reading for Knowledge project and the complete list of titles covered, please visit the official website at

Sources: Wikipedia, Amazon, USA Today, Good Morning America, Washington Post, New York Daily News
© 2012 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions