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My Immortal: solving the mystery of the internet’s most beloved — and notorious — fanfic

Aja Romano writes about pop culture, media, and ethics. Before joining Vox in 2016, they were a staff reporter at the Daily Dot. A 2019 fellow of the National Critics Institute, they’re considered an authority on fandom, the internet, and the culture wars.

On March 7 of this year, a Tumblr user named rosechristo1 quietly dropped an unnoticed bombshell. Reblogging a post featuring a character named Ebony Dark’ness Dementia Raven Way, rosechristo1 signaled that she herself was Ebony’s creator — the mysterious, long-sought-after girl known as Tara who once upon a time had gifted the world with what would become perhaps the most famous fanfic in the universe: My Immortal.

No one had heard from Tara since she disappeared into the ether around 2007 — and, at least at first, no one noticed rosechristo1’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it claim to being Tara. But a decade after her first appearance, with her notorious fanfic having become a cultural touchstone, spawning a beloved webseries, and inspiring fandom sleuths for years to solve the “mystery” of her real identity, “Tara” was ready to resurface.

Last week, BuzzFeed confirmed that rosechristo1 — a.k.a. Rose Christo — was indeed the author of the notorious My Immortal, and previewed Christo’s upcoming memoir, Under the Same Stars, which describes how she wrote My Immortal while in foster care in New York after surviving child abuse. The book’s marketing claims Christo anticipated My Immortal’s success and used it to attract a broad network of readers with resources to help her find the younger brother from whom she’d been separated while in foster care.

The convoluted road to Christo coming forward now is as fascinating as My Immortal itself — in fact, Christo’s identity was essentially leaked due to a completely different scandal in the online reading world. The point at which they converge is a great reminder of just how small the world of the internet is — and just how long its memory can be.

My Immortal is an internet legend

My Immortal fan art.

My Immortal is a notorious Harry Potter fanfic that first appeared in serial installments on ( between 2006 and 2007. Its opening paragraph is now as iconic in the fanfic community as the opening paragraph of A Tale of Two Cities is within other literary circles:

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!). I’m not related to Gerard Way but I wish I was because he’s a major fucking hottie. I’m a vampire but my teeth are straight and white. I have pale white skin. I’m also a witch, and I go to a magic school called Hogwarts in England where I’m in the seventh year (I’m seventeen). I’m a goth (in case you couldn’t tell) and I wear mostly black. I love Hot Topic and I buy all my clothes from there. For example today I was wearing a black corset with matching lace around it and a black leather miniskirt, pink fishnets and black combat boots. I was wearing black lipstick, white foundation, black eyeliner and red eye shadow. I was walking outside Hogwarts. It was snowing and raining so there was no sun, which I was very happy about. A lot of preps stared at me. I put up my middle finger at them.

Out of an endless sea of bad fanfiction typically found on in the mid-aughts — there’s a reason fans refer to the site as “the pit of voles” — My Immortal stood out because it contained every hallmark of terrible fanfic, but ratcheted up to 11: a main character who was a blatant Mary Sue, a hilariously defensive author who liked to alternately explain things and argue with readers in author notes, amusing misspellings, and, as the owner of the current My Immortal archive puts it, “extreme gothic attitude.” (“I ate some Count Chocula cereal with blood instead of milk.”)

When the story first appeared, many readers thought it was an intentional parody, but no one was quite certain. This essential question — was My Immortal trolling fanfiction or not? — would come to define the story’s cultural reception.

At 22,000 words, it offered what Harry Potter fans instantly recognized as the typical Mary Sue Goes to Hogwarts trope. Ebony, often spelled Enoby in the story, instantly wins friends and enemies thanks to her unapologetically goth — or “goff” in My Immortal speak — lifestyle and innate sex appeal. Clad in her signature black corset bra and Hot Topic fishnet leggings, she has romantic flings with all the wizard hotties. (The fic also features a past relationship between Draco Malfoy, who has sexy red eyes, and Harry, who’s a vampire.) She ultimately fights Voldemort using the power of sex appeal — with a constant background soundtrack of her favorite goff bands: Good Charlotte, My Chemical Romance, Linkin Park, and so on.

If Ebony functioned as a stand-in for every fanfic Mary Sue who’d ever waltzed into Hogwarts, her creator captured the spirit of every hostile, emotion-flinging teen with a chip on their shoulder who found their way into fandom. In 2006, on Fiction Press —’s original fiction offshoot — Tara introduced herself thus:

hi im tara. im gofik. i lik 2 slit muh ristz n stuf. go 2 my akont on wer mu name is xxxbloodyrists666xxx 4 mor. im a goth n i h8 prepz. IF UR 1 DEN FUK OFF!!!! Gerrd way is da bigst hotte in da world! fuk prepz n posra!

Under the pen name Tara Gillesbie, My Immortal’s author claimed to be a teen from Dubai. Her best friend, known only as Raven, served as her co-writer for the first 16 of My Immortal’s 44 chapters. (The quality worsened considerably after Raven left the scene.) At one point, the entire story was hacked by a writer (or writers) who appeared to be parodying the work itself — after which point, the story continued for a few more chapters, only for its author to mysteriously vanish with the story still in progress.

Though My Immortal was eventually deleted from during a broader string of inexplicable purges, its notoriety continued to grow on the internet, fueled by loyal Harry Potter fans and by forums like Something Awful, which spread it among more mainstream internet denizens. Over the years, its emerging status as the stuff of internet legend spawned intense think pieces ranging from tongue-in-cheek feminist reexaminations of the text to deep dives into the ongoing question of who wrote it and why. A dramatic reading of the series followed, along with numerous YouTube attempts to reenact parts of the story. This ultimately led to My Immortal: The Web Series, which took Ebony and her goff friends at Hogwarts to even greater fame.

My Immortal was both a celebration and an excoriation of fanfic

By 2016, when My Immortal turned 10, it was widely acknowledged as the “worst” fanfic of all time. Its mythical status kept growing, along with its ability to garner love despite its ridiculousness. Fandom studies professors taught My Immortal in classrooms: It was the first assignment on a course on fanfiction offered at Princeton in 2015.

And though it was generally accepted that whoever wrote it must have been trolling Harry Potter fandom, broader fandom culture, or both, the lingering uncertainty over the story’s intent meant that My Immortal occupied a peculiar space in internet culture. It was simultaneously an excoriation, a parody, and a celebration of fanfiction and the culture around it. It was a trump card for everyone who believed that fanfic is mockable, inherently bad and only worthy of being made fun of. Plenty of people who’d never read good fanfic before had read My Immortal — and it was far too easy to assume that My Immortal, parody or not, represented the basic scope of what the genre had to offer.

At the same time, its enduring popularity, the genuine love people had for its characters, and the universality of its basic fanfic themes all served as testaments to the inherent power of fanfiction — even fanfiction at its most incoherent. It was a banner for anyone who believes in the transformative and literary nature of fanfiction.

As long as Tara herself remained unknown, and her motives remained ambiguous, My Immortal was essentially Schrödinger’s fanfic, both high trolling and genuine ostentation, a simultaneous celebration and mockery of fandom at its best and worst.

But all that was about to change — due to a completely different scandal.

The author of My Immortal was “outed” via a New York Times best-seller scandal

On August 27, 2017, the publishing industry’s online community began whispering about a book that had sprung out of nowhere to overtake the long-dominant No. 1 best-selling young-adult novel The Hate U Give at the top of the New York Times best-seller list. The Times is notoriously secretive about its methodology for calculating its list, so it’s possible for a book to come out of nowhere and debut at No. 1. The problem was that this particular book, a YA fantasy called Handbook for Mortals, was by an author no one had ever heard of. And while normally books are marketed for months leading up to their release, with advance copies circulated to generate buzz, no one had seen any previews for this one.

My Immortal and Handbook for Mortals have nothing to do with each other, but they converged online in an astonishing way. Speculation ensued that Handbook for Mortals and its mysterious author, Lani Sarem, had bought their way onto the Times best-seller list. (The book was ultimately pulled from the list.) In the middle of the intense scrutiny of Handbook for Mortals, Bookriot writer Preeti Chhibber offered up a wild guess: What if Lani Sarem was the author of My Immortal?

Chhibber may have been pulling from the fact that both authors had hordes of amateur internet sleuths foraging about for their identities. But then she offered up a stab at “evidence”:

Any similarities in these descriptions comes down to the style choices favored by writers of first-person young adult novels — the very style My Immortal may have been intentionally parodying. But the possibility that a mystery had been solved was tantalizing enough to spread across the internet. And it turned out that the real author of My Immortal was listening and paying attention.

Christo, as it turns out, had discovered earlier in the month of August that she was still in possession of her old Fiction Press login credentials. She’d quietly logged in to and updated the account to announce that “Tara” was still alive and well. As with her action on Tumblr in March, her announcement attracted little attention — until suddenly, a few weeks later, she became bombarded with Fiction Press messages asking her if she was Lani Sarem, author of Handbook for Mortals. To this she responded in another Fiction Press post, “No, I am not Lani Sarem. Really bad fiction simply tends to read the same.”

In that same post, Christo also teased that she was on Tumblr under her real name — which instantly sent hordes of fans attempting to solve the mystery of who she could be. Thanks to the transparency of rosechristo1’s Tumblr, they soon had their answer.

At the same time, an editorial assistant at Macmillan Publishers, attempting to interject amid the speculation over Handbook for Mortals, blurted out the news no one was expecting, in a pair of since-deleted tweets: that Sarem couldn’t be the author of My Immortal because the real author of My Immortal was publishing a memoir with Macmillan.

Christo, as it turns out, has already self-published numerous young adult novels. But her memoir, Under the Same Stars, forthcoming from the Macmillan imprint Wednesday Books, is all about her secret identity and her most famous creation.

The revelation of Christo’s identity has left some fans reeling — but she’s still the same girl you’ve always known

As the world soon learned, Under the Same Stars is about how Christo purportedly came to write My Immortal as an intentional parody, as a way of meeting new people and using them to help locate her brother. The book’s marketing makes her ploy sound even more exploitative, claiming that she “infiltrated and used the fan fiction community to search for her brother by baiting their attention with a deliberately badly written tale.”

This marketing framework positions Christo not as an earnest but over-the-top fan, but rather as a manipulative outsider, using a fandom full of gullible dupes who believed her trolling. (Christo and her publicist did not return requests for comment.) Such a position might appeal to proponents of the theory that My Immortal was designed to send up a culture built around mediocre writing and self-indulgent tropes — in other words, to those more likely to mock fanfiction culture than participate in it.

But not everyone is happy the bubble has burst. The illusion that My Immortal was gleeful and sincere bad fic is gone, along with the eternal mystery surrounding who Christo was and what she wanted her fic to be.

“I wanted it to be everything,” a fandom friend opined to me after Christo revealed on her Tumblr that the fic had been a troll — one Christo says she “thought was obvious.”

For her part, Christo seems aware that the paradox of My Immortal was a huge part of its appeal. On her Tumblr, explaining how Macmillan extensively vetted her claim to being Tara, she offered skeptical and disappointed fans an out:

I’m sorry if I’ve ruined it for those people, but in writing about my childhood, there was no way I couldn’t write about My Immortal. My Immortal shaped so much about who I am, whether I like it or not (more often than not, I don’t). If it bothers anyone, that’s fine, they don’t have to read the book. Anyone who wishes to has my blessing to go on pretending the fic wrote itself, and I promise I won’t bear you any ill will.

So there you have it: The author of Schrödinger’s fanfic is both dead and alive. She is forever frozen in time, immortalized as part of a specific moment of fandom and internet history. And she is evolving into the future, proudly Tumbling about social justice issues, defending trans rights, and discussing her queer identity and Native American heritage — in other words, she’s fully embodying the average fangirl in 2017, just as she did a decade ago.

And if that transformation doesn’t appeal to you, don’t worry — we’ll always have Enoby.