My Immortal is celebrating its 10th anniversary and, with it, a milestone in fandom history and fanfiction.
Harry Potter is arguably the most fertile fandom for fanfic writing and its stories range from the magical to the bizarre to absolutely wrong. For My Immortal to be the most famous/memetic Potter fic is no small feat. That it would remain in the collective conscious a decade after its original upload was taken down is a curse from Satan himself and we are blessed for it. We’ve tested superheroes and blood explosions as cathartic mechanisms in these dark times. Now, the twain shall meet…somehow, as I dissect the layers of My Immortal.
In the end, I will try and put the eternal question to rest: Is it a troll fic, or just bad?
Just in case you don’t have the time or sanity to spare , Nick graciously sent me a dramatic reading that should have you covered. It’s fantastic, hear it and come back whenever you want.
My Immortal: keynotes for preps
My Immortal is the cursed child of one Tara Gilesbie, which she posted under the username XXXbloodyrists666XXX. Her identity and motivations haunt the Internet to this day.
There are certain opening lines that weigh when quoted. Lines such as “Somewhere in La Mancha….” and “It is a truth universally acknowledged….” establish everything you need to know in terms of tone and experience. They stick with you and follow you long after the first read has concluded. Of all such lines, this is one of them:
“Hi my name is Ebony Dark’ness Dementia Raven Way and I have long ebony black hair (that’s how I got my name) with purple streaks and red tips that reaches my mid-back and icy blue eyes like limpid tears and a lot of people tell me I look like Amy Lee (AN: if u don’t know who she is get da hell out of here!).”
This is immaculate.
Everything you need to know is encapsulated: It’s badly written in every sense of the term; our protagonist, Ebony Dementia Dark’ness Raven Way, lives for the sole purpose of her self-preservation and her musical and sexual desires; and if you aren’t up to date on your early 2000s rock, get the hell out.
I imagine the genderswap version’s soundtrack features Crazy Town, Alien Ant Farm and late Metallica.
Ebony is accompanied in her adventures by our favourite characters and Draco, all of whom have converted to Satanism and Slytherin and taken gothic-vampire makeovers. There’s Drako, Vampire (Harry), B’loody Mary (Hermione), Diabolo (Ron), and Dracula (Neville). Oh and Willow. Hargrid, maybe? Who cares.
If Tara was trying to hide her authorial avatar in Ebony, or make it subtle, nobody bought it.
Much like Lizzie McGuire, Tara has an A.N/chorus at the start of each chapter to diss flamers, demands good reviews, and fangs her friend Raven (geddit?) for her help.
The metanarrative picks up the pace for the earlier chapters and is just an amusing relic from the past. The highlight includes the brief fallout between Tara and Raven. In Chapter 16, Raven’s character Willow is killed, desecrated upon, and EXPELLED for skipping math (all off-screen). She gets better.
Adding to the layers of insanity and typoing, we have the most inane love triangle this side of Legend of Korra.
Ebony and Drako are horny dunces who bone everywhere; Vampire and Ebony have the hots for each other, yet Ebony is committed to Drako. On the other hand, she’s furious that Vampire and Drako went out one time. It’s like if Korra and Asami had been exes before they knew Mako.
Beyond that, there’s less plot than The Room had to give away, and it’s every bit as repetitive. For example, the bit where Diabolo changed Vampire’s scar into a pentagram is copy-pasted in the same chapter; an entire sequence of Tara waking up in the nurse’s office in Chapter 39 is repeated in the next one.
That latter incident is made all the weirder by the scariest part of the fic (no kidding): Allegedly, a troll hacked into Tara’s files, spoiled Chapter 39, and rewrote it.
The disturbing part? It was well-written! It had syntax, paragraphs, and sentence structure!
Internet historians may never be able to decipher that particular narrative digression. Anyhow, let’s get to our leading lady proper.
Ebony: Sue or Null?
The cast of the My Immortal web show. Special kudos for its diverse cast.
Before approaching My Immortal, I held the theory that fanfiction was a female coded activity. The re-read confirmed it and my research yielded the claims to back it up.
Obviously, coded activities are not intrinsically exclusive, and men are perfectly within their right to write fanfiction. What I mean by this is that women have a lot more to gain and to lose from writing it.
Every mainstream media is still male-dominated and, just in case you’re not caught up with the news, the world made a statement that a woman can never participate in a male-privileged area without making excuses for her existence.
I’m talking, of course, about movies.
Because I called Rey a “Mary Sue” when I came out of The Force Awakens. I was certain mine would be the minority opinion. Fortunately, I was soon reminded that Anakin Skywalker exists and that apparently women can’t have nice things in Star Wars.
Because the existence of a backlash against 2016’s Ghostbusters still infuriates me to my core.
In short, I lift my middle finger to all of you, geekbros, and droogies. Rey’s perfect. And the remake was way better.
But more stressingly, fanfiction begins most commonly as a coping tool. It creates a personal narrative space for the stories and relationships that the mainstream often obscures. For a more theoretical approach, I strongly recommend Doris Sommer’s Pre-Texts: The Arts Interpret. It doesn’t explicitly mention fanfiction, but the takeaways are far too resonant.
Basically, stories can be molded, and the classical notion of the literary canon, as per Harold Bloom, has been destabilized. This is deeply tied to the feminist movements in as much as canon services male writers and perspectives. Its destruction and the appropriation of their stories is a resounding yes for female narrators who wouldn’t have that space otherwise.
Storytelling has slowly advanced since, and I’d love to live in a world where my hypothesis is completely rebuked. Until then, fanfiction has always been not just a refuge, but a necessity for many women.
The first fanfic to achieve public recognition was Diane Marchant’s A Fragment Out of Time.
For better or worse, E.L James exists. And while I can’t call her a role model, this piece makes an excellent case for how misguided the reception towards her work is. Basically, Fifty Shades of Grey was filling a need for female porn and was constructed as a quotation-marks-romance quotation-marks-novel to be taken seriously.
This leads me to the discussion: Is Enoby’s real name “Mary Sue”?
I’m not blind to the fact that characters who don’t worship the ground she stands on are either preps, killed, or sent to vacation in Azerbaijan (apologies to our Azerbaijani readers).
Nor did I miss Ebony’s infamous soliloquy:
Tara’s notes express disgust at the term Mary Sue and she insists that Ebony is not perfect (she’s a satanist!). That’s at least a base acknowledgement that the story has Values Dissonance for some people. It doesn’t make her a nuanced character, but the author is self-aware….I think.
Taken in a vacuum, Ebony’s no Rey (geddit, koz she h8s da son?).
She’s irascible, she fetishizes gay people, flips them just for staring at her, and she takes herself way too seriously.
Unfortunately, the real-life discussions on fanfiction and Mary Sue-dom compel me to take this critique to a whole other area. I’m going to take a wild leap and speculate that My Immortal’s reputation as the worst fic ever written was, at least, partly influenced by its female author.
Female writers in every medium already face an extra challenge to be taken seriously. Rowling had to shorten the Joanne and adopt a “K”, for crying out loud. There is no end to the plethora of bad fanfiction written by obvious men, yet I don’t see the same scrutiny put into those. We even give them Emmys.
The discussion has no clear cut answer. Is Ebony a Mary Sue? What even is a Mary Sue? Is it a character with plot armour or implausible competence? I mean, Ebony is studded with plot coupons, but competent she is not.
All of this ties back to the other leading question: Is My Immortal a troll fic?
It’s hugely tempting to think it is. Because it makes Tara Gilesbie a masterful bad writer who hits and worsens every bad note at the right moment. Like if Gordon Ramsay had written the recipe for Sandra Lee’s Kwanza Cake.
And yet, there’s a special something about the composition of the fic that betrays too much incompetence. There’s the repetitions I mentioned. Then there’s Tara’s fetishing of gay/bisexual relations which is not trolly, but is downright offensive.
Then there’s this dialogue.
“We won’t do [you-know-what] again.” Draco promised. “This time, we’re going with an ESCORT.”
“OMFG wtf/ Are you giving into the mainstream?” I asked. “So I guess ur a prep or a Christina or what now?”
How does that make any sense? Does that even qualify as trolling?
I’ve worked at crack fics and even if I devoted my entire life to it, I could not get these results. True, that could be because we will never reach Tara’s level.
But when you insert the fic into our culture, the signs add up. From someone who’s seen troll-activity first-hand, Tara’s attacks on flamers and trolls hit too close to home. Then there’s the fact that the fic is unfinished.
Was our genius unable to top herself? Or was a young girl taken over the edge (metaphorically, I mean)?
Inspiring as Ed Wood’s story is, the road from ridicule to “ironic fame” is not entirely flattering and our culture hasn’t been shy of demeaning better writers than Tara Gilesbie. Our cultural landscape and the construction of the story compel me to conclude that….it’s just that bad. Is it the worst? Absolutely not.
The Cursed Child exists, in case you forgot.
I can’t call My Immortal the worst anything if it gives me so much joy and fun in dissecting the layers of its insanity and illogical….logic. For that matter, there’s plenty it does right.
My Immortal was ahead of its time
It’s 2016, we’re in the Holiday Clusterfuck, and I mean the above. Let’s talk about what My Immortal does well with no hint of irony.
How weird is it that I kinda, no, really love the concept of vampires in Harry Potter?
Consider: In supernatural comedies like Addams Family Values and Hotel Transylvania, the classic horror monsters co-exist and form a community. Harry Potter is an expansive fantasy world that integrates multiple mythologies. The idea of a community with mummies and vampires should be a given, especially in a boarding school.
Yet vampires are only mentioned tangentially in the text. The closest we get to classic horror beings are werewolves who are distinctly otherized and marginalized. It doesn’t help the metaphor’s case that we only know two of them: Remus, the Good Victim, and Greyback, the evil biter.
I have a discussion in mind on how implausible it seems that werewolves would be otherized or that the creation of Wolfsbane potion wouldn’t have been impulsed earlier, but let’s leave it for another time.
The take-away is, vampires should exist in Harry Potter and they should be made more visible. If you’re as knee-deep in My Immortal as I am, you could honeypot and argue that vampires are a loose canon and freely circulate between the Muggle and Wizarding worlds. So having wizarding children being descendants from vampires makes every speck of sense.
Then we get to the depiction of Snap and Dumblydore.
Keep in mind, this came out mid 2006-7, right before Deathly Hallows. Readers were still reeling from losing Dumbledore and the debate on Snape’s true allegiance was stronger than ever.
What did Tara do with them?
She made Dumbledore an irascible prep and Avril Lavigne stan. And she made Snape the creepiest, treacherous doofus this side of Littlefinger.
In the immediate aftermath, when Deathly Hallows struck close to home, that must have been taken as a poor demonization of the characters.
Now? The fic mirrors the fan sentiment towards them eerily well.
Snoop is treated like a creepy douchebag and Dumbadoor is challenged and reviled because of his casual favouritism and disregard for the lives of his students. He even gets the TVTropes quote for Ron the Death Eater:
“No.” he said meanly. “I don’t give a darn what Voldemort does to Draco. not after how much he misbehaved in school especially with YOU Enoby.” he said while he frowned looking at me. “Besides I never liked him that much anyway.”
It’s not quite the most in-depth character study, but it does mirror the sentiment towards his problematic attitude.
By contrast, Rowling named Harry’s kid Albus Severus, the epilogue memes will run for centuries, and she gave us “The Cursed Child” which stanned for them because flaws make you greater (?) Sorry, but Tara was on track here.
Then there’s the Time Turners and how they were (sort of) properly integrated into the narrative. Was it done better than Cursed Child? I couldn’t tell you. No matter how many times I read our site’s review, I cannot make sense of what time travel was. Was it a Time Chasers deal? A Rick and Morty-esque multiverse? You tell me. It’s hard to read some of the spoilers when you’re shaking your head at the others.
Because the time travel serves the purpose of defeating Volzemort and the Death Deelers who are attacking students. It’s a slight bit more urgent than providing a Time-Turner just so the star student could take more classes (most people have the opposite use in mind).
I don’t have the space to question all the semantics behind time travel in-canon, so I’ll just say that it’s cut-and-clear here: Ebony uses the Time Turner to seduce Ripple/Satan before he becomes a prep and that causes a ripple effect in the present timeline. Done.
As for making Voldemort the result of Satan’s heartbreak versus the Ominous Child of Evil Rowling delivered…..I’m okay with that. I think both tragic and pure villains have their place in the right story.
Do I take Voldemort seriously? No.
He has the narrative depth of beer foam, he tries to sound smart by way of his Shakespearean dialogue, yet is undone at every turn (Crookshanks!), and any weight in preventing his rise is lost when his “movement” is so vague and confusing.
But for what it’s worth, the gimmick of time travel to mend his broken heart is a perfect fit to the insane atmosphere the story builds.
Also, I’m curiously touched by Ebony’s love for Professor Trevolry. I wasn’t a Trelawney stan exactly, but after all the ridicule she endures and Dumbledore’s use of her, it’s touching to see her talents and ideas being acknowledged for once. Female companionship is endearing, although I could use without them calling each other “cunt”.
Did My Immortal deserve better?
Yes. If you must take anything out of my ramblings to heart, it’s this: Read My Immortal. It’s not my guilty pleasure. It’s my problematic fave.
Whether you’re doing it out of fan appreciation or “ironic enjoyment”, you should read it.
I think Tara Gilesbie is in the same breadth as George Lucas and Ed Wood, wherein she has a keen appreciation of the material and a good instinct for tropes, combined with a horrible grasp on the English language and the most incompetent way of expressing her ideas to the audience.
But whether your enjoyment is ironic or not, My Immortal is a part of our culture. There are professional, Nobel-winning writers that would kill to have the staying power this has attained. It’s an ugly, unfinished mess with sloppy pacing and mixed priorities. But it has an underlying heart and passion to it that makes it oddly endearing.
And in this year when our universe has become a satire, don’t we deserve to see an upload? Don’t we deserve to see the conclusion to this thrilling tale?