My Immortal

06/03/2021

CW: mentions of depression, suicide, suicide ideation, self harm, and direct quotes from online sources, some of which use the r-word

I was really scared about Vlodemort all day. I was even upset went to rehearsals with my gothic metal band Bloody Gothic Rose 666. I am the lead singer of it and I play guitar. People say that we sound like a cross between GC, Slipknot and MCR. The other people in the band are B'loody Mary, Vampire, Draco, Ron (although we call him Diabolo now. He has black hair now with blue streaks in it.) and Hargrid. Only today Draco and Vampire were depressed so they weren't coming and we wrote songs instead. I knew Draco was probably slitting his wrists (he wouldn't die because he was a vampire too and the only way you can kill a vampire is with a c-r-o-s-s (there's no way I'm writing that) or a steak) and Vampire was probably watching a depressing movie like The Corpse Bride. 

> My Immortal

Episode: File 0030: Ted the Immortal from Ong's Hat pt. 1

Release Date: June 4th 2021

Researched and presented by Halli

"Ebony Dark'ness Dementia Raven Way is a young, gothic, Satanist witch. Recently accepted at Hogwarts, she steals the heart of equally gothic Satanist Draco Malfoy. After a Good Charlotte concert in Hogsmeade, the black-clad lovebirds consummate their relationship in the Forbidden Forest. All of a sudden, Dumbledore barges in, shouting, "WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING, YOU FUCKING IDIOTS?" 

Ebony cries tears of blood and goes off to sleep in her coffin. She doesn't know it yet, but Harry Potter himself will soon fall in love with her. Renamed "Vampire" following his conversion to Satanism, and now sporting a pentagram-shaped scar on his forehead, Harry has to compete with his former lover, Draco, to win Ebony's heart. But there's a catch: Ebony has been ordered to murder Vampire by none other than Voldemort himself!"

> Vice

Inspired by the world of Harry Potter, "My Immortal" was originally uploaded on fanfiction.net between 2006 and 2007, by author XXXbloodyrists666XXX, also known as Tara Gilesbie. But the real identity of the author(s?) of what's been described as the worst fan-fiction ever written remains a mystery.

In the story's parallel Potterverse, early-2000s American bands like Good Charlotte, Simple Plan and My Chemical Romance are described as "gothic" in a terminally silly way. The story also takes a jab at the canon of the Harry Potter saga itself, turning all the main characters into second-rate "goffs" and relentlessly butchering their names and personal traits.

Dumbledore - sometimes "Dumblydore" or "Dumbledark" - becomes a gothic poser with a split personality, at times senile and at other times verbally abusive towards his students. Sirius Black, renamed "Serious", is at one point referred to as "Sodomizes". The newly introduced character of Professor Sinistra, Ebony's favorite teacher, also shows up as Professor "Sinatra". An upsetting number of Hogwarts teachers turn out to be pedophiles.

"It's all the things that people in the fanfic community most hate," 

Princeton associate professor Anne Jamison told Vulture in 2015. Through its loose plot and wild characterization, the story mocks fandoms renowned for their sensitivity - metal heads, Potterheads, goths. Even though a few fans have insisted "My Immortal" is real, others believe it's a prime example of internet trolling, a masterpiece of this noble art.

After Chapter 44, where Ebony "cries sexily" and shoots "Voldrimort" an "Abrakadabra", "My Immortal" abruptly ends, leaving fans to speculate whether Gilesbie outgrew her "goffic" persona, forgot to update the story or simply got bored and sacked it off.

Under the pen name Tara Gillesbie, My Immortal's author claimed to be a teen from Dubai. Her best friend, known only as Raven, served as her co-writer for the first 16 of My Immortal's 44 chapters. (The quality worsened considerably after Raven left the scene.) At one point, the entire story was hacked by a writer (or writers) who appeared to be parodying the work itself - after which point, the story continued for a few more chapters, only for its author to mysteriously vanish with the story still in progress.

Though My Immortal was eventually deleted from FF.net during a broader string of inexplicable purges, its notoriety continued to grow on the internet, fueled by loyal Harry Potter fans and by forums like Something Awful, which spread it among more mainstream internet denizens. Over the years, its emerging status as the stuff of internet legend

We'll talk about Gilesbie in an minute but it's important to note that a lot happened while this fic was still being written/published.

The Trolls and the Curse of Internet Fame

So...hoax? Real? It's a little more complicated than that.

If this was a hoax designed to make fun of fanfiction tropes, it was an exceedingly complicated hoax, one that - as the chapters kept on coming - involved a web of interconnected fake online accounts within and outside fanfiction.net, as well as a faked hacking incident. All of those strange, muddying details started to emerge once readers began trying to crack open the story behind the story.

An array of groups swooped in to investigate the lengthening story, many of them operating as hacking-savvy hive-minds. One of the most infamous online communities of the time was the mass of anonymous writers for a site called Encyclopedia Dramatica (or ED). It was built on the same anyone-can-edit principles of Wikipedia, but had a black-heartedly caustic tone and was filled with blatantly racist, homophobic, and misogynist text. For whatever reason, its users took an interest in "My Immortal" and its author

Its articles lampoon topics and current events related or relevant to contemporary internet culture in an encyclopedic fashion. It often serves as a repository of information and a means of discussion for the internet subculture known as Anonymous. Encyclopedia Dramatica celebrates a subversive "NSFW" "trolling culture" and documents internet memes, events such as mass organized pranks-trolling events called "raids", large-scale failures of internet security, and criticism by those within its subculture of other internet communities which are accused of self-censorship in order to (in their view cynically) garner positive coverage from traditional and established media outlets. The site also hosts numerous pornographic images, along with content that is "misogynistic, racist, and homophobic"

It was that site's users, communicating in private chat rooms, who were the first to find LiveJournal and MySpace accounts that seemed to be run by the story's creator, given that they were written in a similarly disjointed style, had references to a best friend named Raven (whose accounts they also found), and expressed similar pop-culture interests as those seen in "My Immortal." (Unfortunately, those accounts were purged years ago, public archives don't show any old copies of them, and neither LiveJournal nor MySpace will divulge even the most basic information about them.)

The accounts were written from the perspective of a teenage girl named Tara Gilesbie, who claimed to live in Dubai and was a self-proclaimed goth with a history of cutting herself. She was a ripe target for attack. Although the original ED was shuttered in 2011 (a thankfully cleaned-up iteration has since been relaunched), an archived version of the old site's entry on "My Immortal" shows the users thought Tara was the earnest author of the story - and therefore worthy of verbal abuse.

"Tara does seem to be a real person with a history of displaying these gothic/retarded habits, and has accounts on many websites corroborating her persona," 

the archived Encyclopedia Dramatica entry reads. The consensus was that it would be too difficult for a hoax artist to "craft the persona of 'Tara Gilesbie, uber-goffik retard girl' then actively create and manage Tara's many accounts," not to mention going to the trouble of writing tens of thousands of words of awful prose. Many of the era's more vicious online communities seemed to agree that the story was legitimately written by a teenage girl, and they joined in the hate. Notable sources of abuse were TVtropes.com; LiveJournals devoted to mocking bad fic; the SomethingAwful.com forums; and the still new world of YouTube, where users would upload "dramatic readings" of the text's more mockable passages.

In seeming response to those attacks, as well as the ceaseless mocking the author received in the comments sections, the author's notes got increasingly defensive, impenetrable, and prone to mentioning suicide attempts. For example, here's a bit from the introduction to chapter 27: 

"soz i kodnt update lol I wuz rly deprezzd n I silt muh rists I had 2 go 2 da hospital rraven u rok gurl!11111111111111111111

One user, it seems, became so fixated on the story that she (the user claimed to be female, but of course, we can't know for sure) decided to become a part of it. Chapter 39 bore the title "I Am A Trolling Genious, lolz" and began with an author's note saying she'd cracked XXXbloodyrists666XXX's password "[o]ut of boredom." That chapter and the next were written in much more controlled prose that read like a lampoon of the previous 38.

To make matters even more baffling, the original author appeared to return in chapter 41, and seemed mostly unconcerned with the hacking. And three chapters later, the story stopped. Chapter 44 began with an author's note declaring, "Diz wil prolly be da last chaptah until I kum bak." Sure enough, the story was never again updated. A few months later, for unknown reasons, fanfiction.net took down all of the chapters (the site is notoriously opaque, and repeated interview requests from other journalists to its various social accounts have gone unanswered). Soon afterward, the alleged LiveJournal and MySpace accounts of Tara disappeared, too. All the world has left of the original "My Immortal" fiasco are copied-and-pasted versions of the story's text and the sparse fanfiction.net user page for the original author, last updated in 2009.

Many theories have emerged about Gilesbie's real identity....

Author? Author?

The true identity of the author has become subject to wide speculation.

A series of videos were uploaded to a YouTube account named xXblo0dyxkissxX in 2008 and 2009, with their most recent video being uploaded in 2016, in which two goths named Tara and Raven discuss their lives. The overlap with the culture and style of My Immortal have led to speculation that these women are the Tara and Raven of the fanfic. The two were tracked down by Ethan Chiel in 2014, but claimed not to know anything about My Immortal.

By 2016, when My Immortal turned 10, it was widely acknowledged as the "worst" fanfic of all time. Its mythical status kept growing, along with its ability to garner love despite its ridiculousness. Fandom studies professors taught My Immortal in classrooms: It was the first assignment on a course on fanfiction offered at Princeton in 2015.

And though it was generally accepted that whoever wrote it must have been trolling Harry Potter fandom, broader fandom culture, or both, the lingering uncertainty over the story's intent meant that My Immortal occupied a peculiar space in internet culture. It was simultaneously an excoriation, a parody, and a celebration of fanfiction and the culture around it. It was a trump card for everyone who believed that fanfic is mockable, inherently bad and only worthy of being made fun of. Plenty of people who'd never read good fanfic before had read My Immortal - and it was far too easy to assume that My Immortal, parody or not, represented the basic scope of what the genre had to offer.

At the same time, its enduring popularity, the genuine love people had for its characters, and the universality of its basic fanfic themes all served as testaments to the inherent power of fanfiction - even fanfiction at its most incoherent. It was a banner for anyone who believes in the transformative and literary nature of fanfiction.

Scandal?

Lani Sarem
Lani Sarem

On August 27, 2017, the publishing industry's online community began whispering about a book that had sprung out of nowhere to overtake the long-dominant No. 1 best-selling young-adult novel The Hate U Give at the top of the New York Times best-seller list. The Times is notoriously secretive about its methodology for calculating its list, so it's possible for a book to come out of nowhere and debut at No. 1. The problem was that this particular book, a YA fantasy called Handbook for Mortals, was by an author no one had ever heard of. And while normally books are marketed for months leading up to their release, with advance copies circulated to generate buzz, no one had seen any previews for this one.

My Immortal and Handbook for Mortals have nothing to do with each other, but they converged online in an astonishing way. Speculation ensued that Handbook for Mortals and its mysterious author, Lani Sarem, had bought their way onto the Times best-seller list. (The book was ultimately pulled from the list.) In the middle of the intense scrutiny of Handbook for Mortals, Bookriot writer Preeti Chhibber offered up a wild guess: What if Lani Sarem was the author of My Immortal?

Chhibber may have been pulling from the fact that both authors had hordes of amateur internet sleuths foraging about for their identities and similarities in certain descriptions in the book and the fic comes down to the style choices favored by writers of first-person young adult novels - the very style My Immortal may have been intentionally parodying. But the possibility that a mystery had been solved was tantalizing enough to spread across the internet. And it turned out that the supposedly real author of My Immortal was listening and paying attention.

Her name was Rose Christo and she turned the internet world on its head for a bit.

Christo, as it turns out, had discovered earlier in the month of August 2017 that she was still in possession of her old Fiction Press login credentials. She'd quietly logged in to and updated the account to announce that "Tara" was still alive and well. As with her action on Tumblr in March, her announcement attracted little attention - until suddenly, a few weeks later, she became bombarded with Fiction Press messages asking her if she was Lani Sarem, author of Handbook for Mortals. To this she responded in another Fiction Press post, 

"No, I am not Lani Sarem. Really bad fiction simply tends to read the same."

In that same post, Christo also teased that she was on Tumblr under her real name - which instantly sent hordes of fans attempting to solve the mystery of who she could be. Thanks to the transparency of rosechristo1's Tumblr, they soon had their answer.

At the same time, an editorial assistant at Macmillan Publishers, attempting to interject amid the speculation over Handbook for Mortals, blurted out the news no one was expecting, in a pair of since-deleted tweets: that Sarem couldn't be the author of My Immortal because the real author of My Immortal was publishing a memoir with Macmillan.

Vox article:

Rose Christo, the alleged author of the legendary 2006 Harry Potter fanfic My Immortal, has had her tell-all memoir canceled by the publisher following revelations that she had Photoshopped documents of proof about her identity.

In a post on her Tumblr, which she has since deactivated along with her other social media accounts, Christo confessed to forging documents of identification, allegedly to protect her family. Previously, she claimed to have been (screencap) extensively vetted by her publisher, St. Martin's Press, an imprint of Macmillan Publishing. Macmillan has pulled the title. A St. Martin's representative confirmed to Vox via email that the book had been canceled, but gave no other comment or details about the process of uncovering Christo's false claims.

The odd series of twists leading to Christo being unveiled as the author of famously terrible fanfic My Immortal captivated the story's many fans - particularly since Christo's story seemed like some sort of social justice fairy tale readymade for Tumblr. She claimed to be a Native American Cree lesbian, and her memoir purportedly discussed her search for her younger brother as a teen after being placed in New York City foster care as a victim of child abuse and child pornography.

Christo claimed that My Immortal's bad writing was intentional - thus offering a potential solution to the biggest mystery about the fic - intended to help her infiltrate the fandom community and use its resources to help her find her sibling. (Christo has not responded to a request to elaborate on this aspect of the memoir.)

Initially, readers of Christo's Tumblr, where she first came forward as the author, were skeptical of this highly dramatic tale; however, Christo claimed to have provided substantial proof to her publisher that she was the author of My Immortal, including an old flash drive containing copies of the fic and account credentials to the site where it was originally posted. On a now-deleted FAQ page on her Tumblr, she also claimed to have copies of official court records proving her family identity - presumably the same court records she later confessed to Photoshopping.

Today

"It's really brilliant, in its way," said Anne Jamison, an associate professor of English who's teaching a course about fanfiction at Princeton University this semester. "It's all the things that people in the fanfic community most hate." 

She's of the opinion that "My Immortal" is a satire, and a viciously intelligent one, at that. Indeed, she's made the story the first piece of assigned reading for her class. The tale - abhorrently spelled, gratuitously vulgar, barely related to the source material - is a constant millstone around the necks of fanfiction enthusiasts who struggle to bring legitimacy to the genre.

People now dramatically live-read My Immortal at conventions, there's a hilarious web series based on it, and in turn, it's inspired a whole host of fan fiction of the world of Ebony/Enoby and her Hot Topic-drenched world. During all this, the identity of the author remained unknown, a happy little mystery that remained one of the internet's last great riddles.

It's Poe's law in full working view of an entire internet readership that marvels at how popular it became, and secretly wondering if something so bad can become famous, surely they can too?

Poe's law is an adage of Internet culture stating that, without a clear indicator of the author's intent, it is impossible to create a parody of extreme views such that it cannot be mistaken by some readers for a sincere expression of the views being parodied. The original statement, by Nathan Poe, read: "Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is utterly impossible to parody a Creationist in such a way that someone won't mistake for the genuine article."

Sources