The situation we've got is this: a truly terrifying book has captured the attention of millions of otherwise apparently reasonable people. It has sparked obsession, despite comprising a supremely boring first book followed by an offensively-bad second part. It tells the story of a normal person who meets a terrifying monster of unlimited power who swiftly acts to consume her entire life and bring about the downfall of anyone who opposes him.
I'm not actually talking about Fifty Shades.
In 1895, a man named Robert Chambers published a collection of art-nouveau short stories. They varied in style and genre and subject matter, but most of them had one thing in common: the presence of a book within the story, a play that gave the whole collection its name--The King In Yellow.
A great deal of mystery surrounds the titular play, but there are a handful of facts: it is everywhere, on everyone's shelf, and its first act seems relatively mundane, only for the second act to unleash its full devastating horrors upon the unsuspecting reader. Those who finish reading the play are reduced to broken husks of themselves, unlikely to survive long, as the fundamental truths of reality swim through their minds and their very souls are captured by the tattered King.
Chambers' works inspired HP Lovecraft, famed father of the genre of sothothic horrors (and world champion bigot). Through many of his stories we are introduced to the cults of the elder gods, ruined people who have given up their spirits and sanity in worship of evil powers. From this, we can begin to understand what really happened with Fifty Shades.
The first book tells the story of a young woman who meets a lone cultist who has sacrificed every ounce of virtue in exchange for phenomenal power. His ethereal glamour charms everyone he meets; his compelling voice wears at their defiance; his turgid wang shatters their soul into a million pieces with every badonk. This warlock has broken from his cult and now seeks his own thralls. Our Heroine seems to escape in the end--but it always seems like they escape, don't they? Hope is delicious.
The only explanation that makes sense to me is that EL James was possessed by an eldritch horror from outside of time and space. It's well-established that reading the mysterious tomes of the elder gods drives people to madness and helps said gods anchor themselves to the world. In the old days, they passed around secret tomes in hopes that sufficiently talented people would be enticed to draw them into reality, but this is the era of mass production. Fifty Shades brought us the greatest revolution in apocalyptic writing of all time--eldritch fanfiction.
Part one baits the trap. Part two snaps its jaws shut.
It could not be judged by any known standard, yet, although it was acknowledged that the supreme note of art had been struck in The King in Yellow, all felt that human nature could not bear the strain nor thrive on words in which the essence of purest poison lurked. The very banality and innocence of the first act only allowed the blow to fall afterwards with more awful effect.
--"The Repairer of Reputations" (from The King In Yellow)
Fifty Shades of Grey ends with Ana escaping Grey and all of his wretched powers, but anyone who reads Chambers' book knows you don't escape the tattered King. Having written the happiest ending that could be hoped for, EL James was ultimately compelled by forces beyond human understanding or sympathy to continue the story, to entangle Ana once again in an incomprehensible labyrinth of plot confusion and hopelessness in which she finally surrenders her freedom to the implacable all-reaching power of the evil warlock that has chosen her as his prey. She's happy. SHE'S SO HAPPY NOW.
And that, dear readers, is the truth of the world. This book isn't good. It wasn't meant to be good. It was meant to insinuate itself into the world, to wrap its tentacles around as many minds as it could and strain them until the weight of rage, confusion, and confusing-rage-sex overwhelms the walls of the universe and brings it through.
And it is winning.
As yet, brave Erika is holding onto her sanity, but you can understand why she's not going to take on Fifty Shades Freed with quite the same intensity as the first two books. The King In Yellow only had two acts. We don't even know what kinds of evils the third might try to unleash.
(Fortunately, Erika makes excellent SAN rolls. Her first Call of Cthulhu character saw an elder god manifest and destroy an entire town, comprehended its appearance, rolled a 100-sided die, and it came up 5. A sight that should have obliterated a normal person barely fazed her. For the moment we have hope.)
(Hope is delicious.)
(Hope is delicious.)