Among other criticisms that have been lobbied at the inexplicably popular erotic novel Fifty Shades of Gray, many have complained about the book’s origins; namely, that it was envisioned as an alternate reality Twilight fan fiction, and the author, E.L. James, merely replaced all the names of the characters in order to make it marketable.
Fan fiction gets an incredibly bad rap in the publishing and book-writing world; Anne Rice, George R.R. Martin, and Diana Gabaldon have all spoken out against potential fan fiction writers using their characters for their own stories. And “real life” fic, where writers create stories about their favorite celebrities (and often pair them together romantically), are even more vilified. We don’t get where all the hate comes from, though — sure, reading about members of One Direction making out with each other can get kind of creepy, but lots of your favorite books, movies, and even musicals are technically borrowed from other sources! Here’s a roundup of some of our favorites, as well as some we can’t believe exist at all — let us know what you think!
Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, Gregory Maguire
Envisioned as a Wizard of Oz for grown-ups, Wicked is a sort of revisionist history of the fictional land above Kansas, in which the witch (Elphaba, named after the initials of her original creator, L. Frank Baum) is actually a political revolutionary and civil rights activist for talking animals. Though the Oz books have been in the public domain for decades, Maguire subtly borrowed from the movie as well, continuing the tradition that the witches of the East and West are sisters (in the 1900 book, they aren’t). Nobody ever took him to task for it, though, and the Wicked series is now a literary powerhouse. In fact, the musical adaptation of the novel has been a staple on Broadway since 2003.
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, Mark Twain
Nobody really knows the origins of the original King Arthur stories, which just means that everybody from Eric Idle to Clive Owen has used the myths to their advantage (though we can debate about how effective it was in Owen’s case). Mark Twain probably has the most fan fiction-like story of all about Arthur, though, because his tale mirrors the popular trope of “self-insertion” that fic writers love, in which they randomly introduce an original character who’s way cooler than everyone else and who very closely resembles the author. Twain was an American who lived in 19th-century Connecticut, so we’re guessing the similarities between him and his character Hank Morgan were pretty much completely intentional.
Tom Stoppard, one of the screenwriters of Shakespeare in Love, is no stranger to Shakespeare fan fiction — after all, he wrote the play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, about what happens behind the scenes of Hamlet when the Great Dane is out and about waxing poetic. He takes it a step further in this film, imagining where the actual bard might have gotten all his awesome ideas from and using many of the plot devices from Romeo and Juliet to describe a forbidden love between Will and a sexy blonde noblewoman. Making up a romance about a famous person, complete with a whole bunch of in-jokes and references for Shakespeare dorks? That is some Oscar-winning fan fiction right there.
Of course, Quentin Tarantino takes the cake as far as real-person fan fiction-writing goes: In Inglorious Basterds, he completely alters the events of the biggest war in human history so he can pump a bunch of bullets into Adolf Hitler. Not that we’re criticizing him or anything — we think it’s pretty awesome, actually. But fanfic writers kill off their least favorite characters all the time. Seriously, we can’t even count how many stories there are in which Wesley Crusher of the U.S.S. Enterprise dies a horrible, cowardly death at the hands of some fearsome alien foe. And Jar Jar Binks has been murdered even more times than that.
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Alan Moore
Crossover fan fiction is a huge favorite in online communities. How would Harry Potter and Iron Man get along, you might wonder? There’s a fanfic for that! Think Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the Winchesters from Supernatural should team up to fight vampires? There’s a fic for that, too!
But Alan Moore pretty much gets the first-place ribbon for crossovers, because he borrows from everybody. His series features appearances by Captain Nemo, Dr. Jekyll, John Carter, Alan Quartermain, The Invisible Man, Professor Moriarty, James Bond, Emma Peel, Fu Manchu, The Invisible Man, and Prospesro from The Tempest. In the movie adaptation, Dorian Gray and Tom Sawyer also made appearances. What, no room for them in the comic book?
A Study in Emerald, Neil Gaiman
In this short story Gaiman also utilizes the “crossover” style, though he kicks it up a notch by introducing elements of AU, or “alternate universe.” AU is basically a style of fan fiction in which you take all the characters of a particular work and place them in a completely different setting — like if you restructured the whole Game of Thrones series as a political campaign in modern America (we just want to say, we would totally want Daenerys Targaryen as our president).
In A Study in Emerald, Gaiman transplants the original introductory story of Sherlock Holmes, A Study in Scarlet, into the monster-ridden world of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. A soldier returns from a war with the “Gods” of Afghanistan and helps a consulting detective solve the murder of a German noble (who they know is German because of his inhuman number of limbs) — but the identities of these two characters aren’t what you think. The story won a Hugo award, which is the highest achievement in science fiction writing, and it’s definitely worth a read!
Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland
When it was announced that Tim Burton would be directing a 3D adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s classic Alice in Wonderland books, goth teenagers in Jack Skellington armbands celebrated for weeks. Little did they know that what Burton was really planning was an insane sequel in which Alice comes back to Wonderland as a sexy 19-year-old woman to slay the Jabberwocky and lead an army against the evil Red Queen. This is less unusual as you think, as Alice is a favorite for sequels and reinterpretations — there’s the Looking Glass War series, which is similar to the Burton movie in that Alice is sexy and fighting battles, and then there’s American McGee’s Alice, a macabre video game in which Alice is actually a sexy mental patient, and okay we get it! You want Alice to be sexy!
Love Never Dies
You know who else benefits from reinterpreted sexiness? The Phantom of the Opera — he’s supposed to be this horrible monster, but for some reason (cough, GerardButler) fans of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s musical are completely obsessed with him. That’s probably why Weber decided to cash in with a Phantom of the Opera sequel for the West End in London, entitled Love Never Dies. Borrowing from elements of the novel The Phantom of Manhattan by Frederick Forsyth, which in itself is a sequel to the original 1910 Gaston Leroux book, Love Never Dies takes place on Coney Island, where the Phantom has set up a freak show. He secretly invites Christine to make her American debut there, and she arrives with Raoul and her son Gustave, who apparently is actually the Phantom’s son and — you know what? We could go on forever, because it only gets crazier from there.
Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife: Pride and Prejudice Continues, Linda Berdoll
Nothing is hotter than Jane Austen, though, as any sexually frustrated 19th-century lit fan will tell you, and no other novels of manners have been copied and continued more in new works. There are the parody novels like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and there are the modern versions like Clueless — and then, of course, there’s the erotica, like Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife, in which everyone in Pride and Prejudice gets it on in their marriage beds. The word “tumescence” is used. Often. We’ll wait while you rush to Amazon.
Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, by Anne Rice
Whether people believe in him or not, people sure love to put words in the Son of God’s mouth. Given the vitriol she harbors toward fan interpretations of her Vampire Chronicles, it’s funny that Anne Rice had the gall to pretty much write a prologue to the Bible, the most published book in existence. She only got about two books into her series before she realized that what people really want to read about is vampires and changed her mind about the whole Christianity thing. Good move — we don’t want to know what would happen if God found out she was writing fan fiction based on his work. It probably wouldn’t end well.