The internet is a place of limitless possibilities, one where the unknown can be discovered in record time without you ever having to get off the couch. There are few mysteries that have remained unsolved in this age. If the internet can’t sort it out, who can?
That’s one of the reasons the decade-long curiosity that is My Immortal, an infamously terrible Harry Potter fan fiction, has remained so potent in fandom circles. Everyone remembers their first fandom, their first fan fiction, their first realization that maybe that magnum opus they were writing just wasn’t very good. Even the fans who didn't frequent the torrid circles of the Potter community -- a fandom with its own rich and utterly bonkers history of scandals and secrets -- knew about My Immortal. It's as much a part of internet lore as cat pictures and flash animation. Friends shared the fic in hushed tones, wondering if it was really all it seemed to be. Entire conspiracies were hatched to explain its origins, and even professors teach it in academic circles as an example of the medium. My Immortal is truly legendary.
Back in the earlier days of fandom, pre-Tumblr and at a time when LiveJournal had its most potent social capital, FanFiction.net was the place to be for all your fic needs. Whatever your pop culture fascination, the chances were you could find fan fiction of it here, but of course, in 2006, Harry Potter was the king of them all. It was during this time that a story emerged from the mind of "Tara Gilesbie," with the screen name XXXbloodyrists666XXX. On the surface, it seemed to be a typical alternate universe (AU) fanfic, one where the characters existed in a world separate from the Hogwarts of J.K. Rowling's mind. Here the focus was on the emo scene, or "goffik" depending on the author's mood, and centered on original character Ebony Dark’ness Dementia Raven Way, a witch who was also a vampire and girlfriend of Draco Malfoy. Sometimes her name was Enoby.
My Immortal doesn't have much to do with the world of Potter, but that was part of what made it so fascinating to read. Everything about it seemed tailor-made to irritate fans: The spelling was frequently atrocious, the dialogue hysterically bad, the characters completely unrelated to the canon, the plot near impossible to decipher, and the protagonist a blatant Mary Sue. The then-contemporary references to My Chemical Romance, Hot Topic, and Avril Lavigne needled fans with their flagrant eagerness to be cool, or at least too cool for Harry Potter. The author makes frequent references to self-harm and bad sex, and at one point, during a passionate encounter between Ebony and Draco, Professor Dumbledore bursts into the scene and screams, “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING YOU MOTHERF***RS!”
As you can tell, My Immortal is also an absolute blast to read. Everything about it is wrong, but it’s never anything less than giddily entertaining. Arguments persisted for years as to whether the fic was a completely sincere piece of fiction, the kind of id-ridden screed you can only write as a teenager, or if Gilesbie was in on the joke and simply crafted the ultimate parody of bad fan fiction. The genius thing about it is that either option was totally viable. You can read My Immortal either way and it loses none of its impact.
While the fic was widely derided at the time, over the years it’s become an unlikely symbol of fandom and its power. 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.
Now, in the most bonkers of circumstances, it seems that this mystery has been solved.
After a recent scandal involving a fantasy novel called Handbook for Mortals by Lani Sarem, which managed to game the system and buy its way to the top of the New York Times best-seller list before being removed altogether (disclaimer: I reported on the story for Pajiba), many curious YA fans began to theorize that Sarem was Tara Gilesbie. Her prose was so terrible and evoked many memories of Ebony’s goffik adventures and Satanist fun times. None of us ever thought that Gilesbie herself would issue a statement through her long-dormant FictionPress page to refute the claim.
After that, it was revealed that Gilesbie had an agent and an upcoming memoir based on her difficult youth and how it intersected with her writing the worst fan fic of all time. Rose Christo, aged 27, confirmed the mystery on her Tumblr page and noted that her publishers hired a lawyer help prove her claim. In her FAQ, she notes that she was "15 going on 16" when she wrote My Immortal, and later confirmed that yes, it was a troll-fic all along. Her memoir, Under the Same Stars, is described as "a gripping, compelling, and surprisingly funny story of how a young girl infiltrated and used the fan fiction community to search for her brother by baiting their attention with a deliberately badly written tale, creating a 10-year mystery that garnered pop culture media attention and remained unsolved—until now."
As someone who came of age in fandom and marveled at this strange little fic that captured the internet’s attention, I’m not sure how to process the fact that this mystery seems to have wrapped up. I wrote Potter fic – all of it terrible and no, I won’t link to it – and still dabble in fan fiction to this day. My affection for My Immortal remains potent. It’s bad but it’s fascinatingly so, and the quandary over whether it was earnestly terrible or just someone trolling hard delighted me. I saw a little bit too much of myself in the work, although adolescent me always believed her own work to be of a higher literary caliber than Ms. Gilesbie. The unbridled id of a teenage girl letting all her feelings out and placing her undeniable identity in the context of the most famous fictional world of our generation held such potential, and it’s still a driving force behind anyone who uses fandom to explore themselves through pop culture.
I hope Ms. Christo is happy now. I hope she remains creative and flourishes in her new brand of storytelling, and I hope she’s proud of what My Immortal has become in the fandom world. I’ll miss the mystery, but in its place, we have something even better – a happy ending.