Was "My Immortal" a genuine work of terrible fanfiction, or was it a big ironic joke all along?
For fiction enthusiasts in the early 2000s, Fanfiction.net was the place to be.
In 1998, Fanfiction.net launched as a hub for fanfiction stories. The Internet was still in its Golden Age of lawlessness and creativity, with decentralized fan communities spread across personal websites and niche forums. Each brimmed with their own politics and drama, and for fans of children's novels, especially Harry Potter, fanfiction was serious business.
Battle lines were drawn over which Harry Potter characters you shipped (in explicit detail, usually). Fanfiction with the correct ships would be lauded as the greatest thing since real Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans, and bad ships would be derided as blasphemy. Dissent could mean being banned forever from the biggest online communities for your favorite series.
But while many members of fan communities were primarily concerned over what fictional characters other people preferred to imagine having sex, there was a lot less focus on the fact that the vast majority of Harry Potter fanfiction was just straight-up trash. As in, more often than not, the writing was piss-poor, full of endless cliches, unrealistic dialogue, and self-insert Mary Sues.
It was from this online environment, characterized by stupid ships and constant in-fighting, that My Immortal was born.
Published on Fanfiction.net in 2006 by Tara Gillesbie (username: "XXXbloodyrists666XXX), My Immortal quickly became known as "the worst fanfiction ever written." It was so bad that it transcended conversations about who was shipped with whom, instead standing tall as an inarguable beacon for all the worst aspects of bad-quality fanfiction.
My Immortal's story, to the extent that it had one, concerned the romantic relationship between a 17-year-old Hogwarts student named Ebony Dark'ness Dementia Raven Way and Draco Malfoy. Ebony, or "Enoby," as Tara Gillesbie oftentimes misspelled it, was a wizard, but also a half-vampire and frequently self-identified as being "goff." Her interests included endlessly blathering about emo rock bands (namely My Chemical Romance and Evanescence), railing against "preps," and self-harming.
Pretty much every male character who ever came into contact with Ebony immediately fell in love with her, including Malfoy's rival for her jet-black heart—fellow Slytherin student Harry "Vampire" Potter.
It lasted 49 chapters, all barely comprehensible, riddled with spelling errors, poorly formulated sex scenes, and characters randomly singing My Chemical Romance songs. My Immortal wasn't just bad. It was so hilariously bad that it inspired countless dramatic readings and even a live-action web series.
(MY) IMMORTAL : THE WEB SERIES Season 1 Episode 1 "Enoby Darkness Way"www.youtube.com
In true mid-2000s fanfiction community fashion, My Immortal was bombarded with negative reviews. The comment section (yes, Fanfiction.net had a comment section tailor-made for maximum drama) was littered with comments calling out all of the pieces' myriad issues, from its absurd characters to its frequent contradictions.
Of course, Tara Gillesbie was not one to back down from criticism. Eventually, after a massive comment section battle between Tara and her trolls, Fanfiction.net staff removed the story entirely. It would continue to live on through frequent memes and reposts, holding its "worst fanfiction ever" crown even to this day.
But at the center of all the My Immortal hilarity, one question has always remained: Was My Immortal a genuine work of terrible fanfiction, or was it a big ironic joke all along??
Irony has always been a massive pillar of Internet culture. While writing a novella-length work of borderline unreadable goth Harry Potter fanfiction seems like a pretty far stretch for a joke, it's also the exact kind of effort that couldtransform a mere joke to into the stuff of legends. Indeed, if My Immortal were a "joke," it could also be considered one of the greatest pieces of postmodern art ever made.
Broadly speaking, postmodern art is a contradiction of modern art, oftentimes in both form and function. Whereas modern art is typically guided by style and aesthetics (i.e. a painting that is meant to be looked at), postmodern art tends to skew towards the conceptional (i.e. an art installment featuring a chair, a picture of the chair, and the written definition of "chair," intended to make you think about which representation of a "chair" is the most accurate).
Importantly, postmodern art does not need to exist within the context of a museum. An intentionally bad fanfiction designed to shed a light on the ridiculousness of 2000s-era fanfiction and its surrounding community would most certainly fit the criteria—doubly so if the author, in-character, engaged with critics in order to further the surrounding drama.
Of course, this would only be true if My Immortal was intentionally bad. Amy Lee of Evanescence said that she's "totally undecided. Is it sincere? I feel like it started maybe as sincere, but they got in on it and started playing it up for the haters." Otherwise, it really would be the single-worst fanfiction ever written. So why doesn't someone just track Tara Gillesbie down and ask her?
Well, that's because Tara Gillesbie doesn't exist. The name was a pseudonym.
In 2017, Buzzfeed interviewed a YA author named Rose Christo whose memoir about growing up as a Native American child in the New York foster system, Under the Same Stars, was set to be published by Macmillan in 2018. Christo claimed that she had co-authored My Immortal in an attempt to draw the attention of her younger brother, who she had been separated from when she was put into foster care and desperately wanted to find. She also insisted that Macmillan had hired lawyers to vet her claim to authorship and that she had provided them with proof.
Then, in a bizarre twist, Macmillan canceled the book prior to publication. This coincided with a confirmed post by her brother on the classic Internet drama forum, Kiwi Farms, wherein he refutes a number of claims from her memoir including their ancestry. Many people theorize that she made up her claim to My Immortal as well, but the truth has never been confirmed or adequately proven one way or the other.
All of which is to say that My Immortal continues to live on as one of the Internet's greatest worst stories, one of its biggest mysteries, and, quite possibly, one of the greatest postmodern art pieces of the modern age. That, or it's just a really, really, really stupid fanfiction.