When the s*** hits the fandom: The mystery of 'My Immortal', the best worst fanfiction ever written

With JK Rowling expanding her own magical world with 'Fantastic Beasts', the enduring question over one fan creation lingers

When the s*** hits the fandom: The mystery of 'My Immortal', the best worst fanfiction ever written

There aren't a lot of literary heroines like Ebony [MyImortal.Wikia.com]

In the history of literature, Ebony Dark’ness Dementia Raven Way might just be the most important heroine you’ve never heard of. Springing forth from the collected chapters of My Immortal, she’s a mishmash of fantasy tropes, a gothic vampire with witch powers, dressed in a corset and miniskirt, fishnet tights, black combat boots, with red eyeliner and several purple streaks in her hair. Prone to foul-mouthed outbursts, she also travels through time and spends most of her days in Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry trying to get off with Draco Malfoy, Harry Potter’s nemesis. 

Those characters, of course, are plucked straight out of the world of witchcraft and wizardry of JK Rowling's creation. According to the writer herself, Harry Potter just walked straight into her head while sitting on a train from Manchester to London's Kings Cross in 1990. More than a quarter of a century later and the series has become an entertainment powerhouse, comprising books, films, computer games, merchandise, codified and regulated sporting leagues for Quidditch, a sold-out stage play, and a brand new film franchise. With Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them, starring Eddie Redmayne and Colin Farrell, Rowling herself is breathing new life into her own creations, expanding what was a brief charity tie-in novella into a five-picture series. 

It shows the enduring power of her creations, which continue to bewitch audiences and consumers the world over. Brilliantly realised in the realm of her creation, the wizarding world built across decades of stories and expanded upon on Rowling's popular website Pottermore.

JK ROWLING VIDEO HERE

Somehwhat less well developed and not particularly well expanded upon is Ebony, the main character in My Immortal, the most infamously bad piece of fanfiction ever written. Or, depending on your allegiances, the most searing piece of satire of contemporary self-publishing in the history of online fandom, fascinating audiences around the globe with each new distortion of the characters and their world, along with casual references to self harming. 

Are you slitting comfortably? Then let’s begin... 

The first chapter of My Immortal surfaced online on Fanfiction.net in 2006, somehow managing to attract an audience amid the thousands of other Harry Potter-inspired tomes of wish-fulfilment fantasies written by amateur authors with questionable talent but a dedicated focus. The purported writer of My Immortal was a teenage angst-riddled girl named Tara Gilesbie, who channelled her creative talents and gothic interests into her fantasy. Hers was a ‘Mary-Sue’ novel, wherein the heroine is a thinly-veiled idealised version of herself. 

At Gillesbie’s fingertips, JK Rowling’s finely tuned world of characterisation and imagined logic was hastily torn apart as Ebony’s school became a sparring warzone between the ‘goffs’ and the ‘preps’, with fans salivating over every insane detail their heroine threw in – entirely needlessly. Then there were the annotated author’s notes (AN), added in by Gillesbie to admonish readers not interested in the goth subculture, or to mount a furious explanation as to her poorly-written language, drastic character changes, and plot developments. 

Take, for instance, Chapter 4, which sees Ebony's first date with Draco Malfoy end with a romantic tryst through the Forbidden Forest on the Hogwarts grounds. Brace yourselves for the following extract:

Draco leaned in extra-close and I looked into his gothic red eyes (he was wearing color contacts) which revealed so much depressing sorrow and evilness and then suddenly I didn’t feel mad anymore. 

And then…………… suddenly just as I Draco kissed me passionately. Draco climbed on top of me and we started to make out keenly against a tree. He took of my top and I took of his clothes. I even took of my bra. Then he put his thingie into my you-know-what and we did it for the first time.

“Oh! Oh! Oh! ” I screamed. I was beginning to get an orgasm. We started to kiss everywhere and my pale body became all warm. And then…. 

“WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING YOU MOTHERFUKERS!” 

It was…………………………………………………….Dumbledore!

This most un-Dumbledore line is one of the stories most infamous quotes [Tumblr]

Like moths to a flame war, readers in their thousands couldn’t resist trolling Gillesbie in the comment section, offering vicious feedback that was met word-for-word with a bitter response by the teenager. This led many to wonder whether this wasn’t just some elaborate hoax, penned trollfiction intent on stoking the Internet’s favourite activity – indignation.

As the ANs prefacing each chapter became wildly more extreme and ridiculous, outlining petty spats and bonkers teenage tropes, My Immortal was raising more questions than answers. The plot of the story, meanwhile, had devolved into some sort of post-modernist surrealism, a trippy stream of consciousness littered with flat dialogue, going nowhere. But for everyone arguing that the book was some long-grift hoax, there are others who point to the unparalleled dedication – never before seen in trollfiction – that it would have taken to maintain the ruse, spread out not just on Fanfiction.net, but across several other social media profiles.  

Ebony is a classic 'Mary-Sue', the fanfic term used to describe an idealised version of the writer [Deviantart/l0onyl0opylupin]

My Immortal, like Dickens’ The Mystery of Edwin Drood or Sanditon by Jane Austen, stands as one of the great unfinished novels in the English language. Approaching the 45th chapter, Gillesbie’s Fanfiction.net account was taken over by a hacker, who instantly killed off Ebony, leaving her to pine her time in a purgatory filled with preps. No-one knows for sure if this plot development in the life of the author was real, or just another fabrication in the trolling, but when she did finally reclaim her writer’s profile, Gillesbie promised to post some new chapters when things in her life settled down. 

We’re still waiting. 

In the years since her final post, the Internet’s reaction to My Immortal has changed, with the generally-held belief that Gillesbie, if such a person ever existed, was the greatest troll of them all – skewering through the passion of both fanfic aficionados and the Harry Potter fandom. 

Fanfiction.net has since scrubbed its webpages clean of My Immortal. The site’s moderators habitually delete stories that are poorly written, contain graphic sexualised imagery, or which are written in all caps. As a piece of literature, invoking that unholy trinity, My Immortal had to go. 

But Ebony refuses to die, and from the ashes of Fanfiction.net, a palimpsest has emerged. Still today the Internet is awash with fan-written spinoffs of Ebony Dark’ness Dementia Raven Way, whorecruxes if you will, detailing her ongoing war with the preps. There are countless pieces of fanart posted in online forums, dramatic reading videos on YouTube, even an entire web series (now in its second season).

But given the enduring enigma surround Tara Gillesbie and her creation, the continued fascination with the world's worst piece of fanfiction, maybe we will get chapter 45 someday. Or maybe Fantastic Beasts will spawn its own prequel...

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