Ask any fan older than about 18 what the worst piece of fanfiction ever written was, and almost invariably, they will answer with a shudder and the title of the exact same piece: My Immortal.
My Immortal was originally published to Fanfiction.net (linked here is a reposted version) over the course of 2006 and 2007, by an author whose screen name was “xxxbloodyrists666xxx.” If that name doesn’t tip you off as to the horrors you’re about to experience, you must be entirely unfamiliar with the “emo” names of the early 2000s, which populated the social media of tweens who thought that wearing black clothes and pale makeup meant they were subverting society and the epitome of “cool.”
Tara and Ebony — An Unlikely Story
The author, who calls herself Tara, was a “goff”, possibly living in Dubai, and was working with her best friend Raven to create a retelling of the Harry Potter series, driving it toward her own version of a conclusion before the seventh book was released. At its absolute longest, My Immortal was 22,678 words and had 44 chapters, but it was never finished. Tara says in the final author’s note that she had to move, and wanted to wait until she was settled in her new home before continuing it, but she never came back.
The basic premise is that our heroine, Ebony Dark’ness Dementia Raven Way, is attending Hogwarts with Harry (who is a vampire who goes by the name Vampire), Ron (redubbed Diablo), Hermione (for some reason called B’loody Mary), and her love interest, Draco Malfoy (who thankfully goes by his own name). They are all Satanists, as are several members of the staff, they are all in Slytherin (apparently having transferred houses at some point), and they face off constantly against the “Preps” in Gryffindor and Hufflepuff. Eventually, Ebony faces off in a strange, time-travel-fueled battle against Lord Voldemort in order to save the wizarding world and continue attending MCR concerts in Hogsmeade.
No, I’m not kidding. That’s the actual premise.
The fic is so riddled with grammatical errors and terrible, inconsistent spelling that it is nearly unreadable, and even if you can get past the poor writing, the plot jumps so wildly and incoherently that there is no chance of finding anything even resembling a consistent storyline. It is actually physically painful to read, to the point that its legitimacy as a piece of unironic fanfiction has been a topic of furious debate for more than 10 years.
The Case for Sarcasm
As Anne Jamison, a professor of English at Princeton University who requires the piece as first-semester reading for her course about fanfiction, said in a Vulture article in 2015, “It has to be a parody…It’s as if somebody has a checklist of all the terrible things that ever happen in fanfiction and had gone through and checked them all off.”
She believed that it is a brilliant piece of satire, written to poke fun at the community surrounding not only the Harry Potter series but fanfiction in general in the early 2000s by taking the popular tropes of their writing (improbably “Mary Sue” protagonists, love triangles between main characters and original creations, and strange “fix-it” works, and more) and ramping them up to extremes beyond logic. In her estimation, the author is just another character, a caricature of the typical “not like other girls” young teen that people assume to be the face behind every fic, whose dramas behind the scenes are a secondary plot to the wild ramblings she is pouring into the fiction she writes.
Believing in Tara
There is evidence that My Immortal is a legitimate piece of fanfiction, though. Brad Kim, an editor for Know Your Meme, said in the same article that he really believes My Immortal was written by a real person named Tara, saying of the piece that, “These were the kinds of things that would be formulated by a high-school teenager in the early 2000s.” It’s very true that there are still abundant “bad” fics being posted, and that there were definitely more of the same “edgy” retellings being posted at the same time, so perhaps this was just the one that happened to become famous.
Another point in the favor of it being real is that in the early days, when people who were reading My Immortal as it was written were trying desperately to figure out who Tara really was, several potential social media accounts were found to apparently be run by her, mentioning things in her life that she alluded to in her frequent author’s notes such as her friend Raven, her impending move, and the various bands she adored and wrote into her work.
None of these accounts have ever been officially confirmed as legitimate, but there were a few that were written in the same strange, near-unreadable style as My Immortal. Recently, we even had someone come forward claiming to be one of the authors, saying that yes, it was a legitimate piece and not a hoax, but her story has several holes that need to be filled in before we can know for sure if her word is reliable.
What Makes My Immortal Special
Regardless of the original context of the piece, it’s now become something of a rite of passage for new members of the fanfiction community (from any fandom, not just the Harry Potter fandom) to read and cringe your way through this famous work. It was true for me; when I said that I needed to read it for my research for a book about the history of fandom, my friends enjoyed listening to me sigh and scream my way through it over a group call. I think that might be the crux of it, really; we enjoy the communal activity of reacting to a piece of media we’re familiar with.
Whether it’s bad or good, sincere or sarcastic, to be exalted or torn to shreds, the act of enjoying a piece together is what builds a fandom, and a famously bad piece of fanfiction is a microcosm of that idea in action.