In 2006, Ebony Dark’ness Dementia Raven Way, with her “long ebony black hair… with purple streaks and red tips that reaches [her] mid-back and icy blue eyes like limpid tear,” insinuated herself into Hogwarts, the Harry Potter fandom, and the fanfiction community at large. She is the Mary-Sue protagonist of “My Immortal” which was posted to Fanfiction.net by a writer who identified herself as Tara Gilesbie, user name XXXboodyrists666XXX.
“My Immortal” is terrible. Famously terrible. The text is rife with misspellings and errors in word use, sometimes to humor effect, often to the bafflement of readers (characters, for example, are constantly “frenching passively”). The plot is illogical and incomprehensible; scenes occur out of order or are repeated, characters appear and disappear, dying and coming back to life with no explanation. Sex scenes are juvenile, reduced to “he put his thingie into my you-know-what and we did it for the first time.” Gilesbie feuds with flamers in her Author’s Notes, a saga that becomes a narrative in its own right. The story is needless angsty and spends a disproportionate amount of time describing clothes from Hot Topic (the store itself gets named dropped). And of course, the whole thing is very “goffic.”
Then there is Ebony Dark’ness Dementia Raven Way, the vampire-wizard-Hogwart’s-student-My-Chemical-Romance-enthusiast at the heart of the story. She embodies all of the worst stereotypes of the Mary Sue. She is beautiful and spunky (if yelling all the time and flipping people the bird count as spunk), but also moody and constantly thinks about slitting her “rists.” She hates posers and preps. Pretty much every male character is in love with her, as she complains to Draco:
“Yeah but everyone is in love with me! Like Snape and Loopin took a video of me naked. Hargrid says he’s in love with me. Vampire likes me and now even Snaketail is in love with me! I just wanna be with you ok Draco! Why couldn’t Satan have made me less beautiful?” I shouted angrily. (an” don’t wory enoby isn’t a snob or anyfing but a lot of ppl hav told her shes pretty) “Im good at too many things! WHY CAN’T I JUST BE NORMAL? IT’S A FUCKING CURSE!”
This is possibly the most Mary-Sue speech ever yelled by a character. Ebony bemoans her beauty, her heterosexual appeal, the fact that she is “good at too many things”! (A character trait that is largely informed and that we don’t see play out much in the story.)
The odd thing is that despite its obvious problems, this story does occupy a place of affection among many members of the fan community. In some cases, it is earnest; in others, it is ironic—a love that comes from the story’s it’s-so-bad-it’s-goodness. But regardless, fanfiction readers seem to have a soft spot for this piece.
For example, in The Guardian, Mathilda Gregrory defends “My Immortal” and Ebony’s Mary-Sueness, noting that “Because under the black leather, it is just a story about a teenage girl who wants to dress up in amazing clothes and date Draco Malfoy. It thereby captures a more painful and poignant truth about being a regular teenager than Rowling’s original series achieves with many, many more words.” She notes that the story subverts the “straight-white-maleness” of Rowling’s text by placing Ebony, a version of Gilesbie, and “all the silly, brilliant, trivial things she cares about” at the “centre of Hogwarts” and the story (Gregrory, “The Gloriously Immortal”). And Simon of Thefandomentals, argues that the story actually points to and is critical of a number of faults in Rowling’s original, not the least of which is Dumbledore’s favoritism.
Others, like Gina Annunziato, argue that “My Immortal is nothing but a trollfic.” It is a parody of terrible fanfiction and a satire skewering the tropes of a lot of juvenile fic that was being written within the Harry Potter fandom at the time. If you read the story as genuine, these fan argue, it is only because of Poe’s law.
As Kayleigh Donaldson notes, though, it doesn’t matter if you view the story as the genuine “id-ridden screed you can only write as a teenager” or “the ultimate parody of bad fiction.” The text supports both readings and no matter what approach you take it “loses none of its impact.”
Part of the reason for the debates about the (in)sincerity of the fic has to do with the fact that its author has long remained unknown. Although the collective intelligence internet has tried to hunt down the fic’s real author (Tara Gilesbie, it turned out, was as much a pseudonym of XXXboodyristsXXX), it couldn’t.
At least until 2017, when, on Tumblr, Rose Christo, a queer-identifying American Indian came out as the story’s author (Romano).
Christo’s announcement spurred a number of articles and think pieces, demonstrating the story’s continued relevance within fandom. Christo revealed that she had written the story as an attempt to use the networks of the fan community to find her brother, from whom she had been separated while they were in the foster care system (Romano). Christo promised to document her story in Under the Same Stars, a memoir, that was soon to be published with Macmillan. Christo’s outing was likely part of the publicity for her book (Shamsian).
Except that the memoir was never published. According to Alex Nolos, Mcmillian canceled the deal because Christo had tampered with documents about her family. In addition, a man claiming to be her brother has come forward “alleging that not only is her real name not ‘Rose Christo’ but she has never been placed in foster care, nor does she have any Native American heritage” (Nolos).
Christo’s claims that she wrote my immortal seem to be sound, but her insistence that she was in on the joke, purposely writing bad!fic, does not seem to have affected how people read the story. “My Immortal” existed for so long without claims of ownership, that fans, at this time, don’t seem all that interested in confirmations of authorial intent.
This indifference could be attributed to the fact that fans have, in many ways, made “My Immortal” their own. There is a surprising amount of fan art for the story. On youtube, people post dramatic readings, accompanied by everything from classical music to illustrations of the text to video game play. From 2013 to 2014, MediaJunkies Studio released two seasons of a live action adaptation of story. Their (My) Immortal functions as a kind of fanfiction itself. Ebony is still at Hogwarts, but we are out of her point view and she is the weird girl who, for some reason, calls Harry Potter “Vampire” and insists that the young men around her wear increasing amounts of black eye-liner. She dates Draco, but seems completely unaware that his real romantic interest is in Harry (he is using her to get close to him). The approach gives Ebony pathos that she doesn’t have in the story. This isn’t the story of a Mary Sue; it is the story of a girl who thinks she is a Mary Sue, but isn’t.
“My Immortal” is more than its individual writer; it represents fandom itself. It represents day dreams of Mary-Suedom and romantic entanglements with your favorite characters. It represents the vulnerability that comes from writing and posting fic and the desire to be cool. It represents the flamers, the trolls, and the negative, ungenerous side of fans, but it also represents the way that fans can find the good in what’s awful. Over ten years after it was written and posted, the story continues to be read, enjoyed, and adapted. It is mentioned in books about fanfiction and shows up on syllabi for fanfiction classes. There are countless 2006 fics that are likely better written but forgotten. “My Immortal” on the other hand, has had a robust afterlife. And I can’t help but wonder if that is because we all have a little Tara Gilesbie in us and a little Ebony Dark’ness Dementia Raven Way as well.
Annunziato, Gina. “The Mystery of My Immortal: The Infamous Harry Potter Fanfic.” Fansided, 2017, https://wizardsandwhatnot.com/2016/12/29/mystery-immortal-infamous-harry-potter-fanfic/.
Donaldson, Kayleigh. “The Story of My Immortal, The Worst Fan-Fiction Ever Written.” Syfywire, 15 September 2017, https://www.syfy.com/syfywire/the-story-of-“my-immortal”-the-worst-fan-fiction-ever-written
Gilesbie, Tara. “My Immortal.” Originally posted to Fanfiction.net, 2006. Reposted to myimmortalrehost.com, 2008, https://myimmortalrehost.webs.com/chapters122.htm.
Gregrory, Mathilda. “My Immortal: why the famously awful Harry Potter fanfiction isn’t bad at all.” The Guardian, 12 September 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/sep/12/my-immortal-why-the-famously-awful-harry-potter-fanfiction-isnt-bad-at-all.
—. “The Gloriously Immortal Life of ‘My Immortal.’” Buzzfeed, 19 February 2016, https://www.buzzfeed.com/mathildia/he-put-his-boys-thingy-in-mine.
MediaJunkies Studio. (My) Immortal: The Web Series, youtube.com, First posted 15 July 2013, https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLjRR1J3NOisDqBG6Pn-nqn51Cw96VPfTu.
Nolos, Alex. “The Truth About ‘My Imortal’ Greatest Harry Potter Fanfiction of All Time.” Bookstr, 11 September 2018, https://www.bookstr.com/best-fanfiction-all-time.
Romano, Aja. “My Immortal: solving the mystery of the internet’s most beloved—and notorious—fanfic.” Vox, 13 September 2017, https://www.vox.com/culture/2017/9/13/16275802/who-wrote-my-immortal-tara-rose-christo.
Shamsian, Jacob. “The mysterious author of a legendary ‘Harry Potter’ fanfiction revealed her identity—and her life story is heartbreaking.” Insider, 8 September 2017, https://www.thisisinsider.com/harry-potter-my-immortal-fanfiction-author-2017-9.
Simon. “The Layers of My Immortal—A Review.” Thefandomentals, 22 November 2016, https://www.thefandomentals.com/my-immortal-fanfic-review/.