Here’s a post from Slate Star Codex which is really weird and funny and I didn’t see it coming at ALL. It’s a bit off the path for Scott Alexander (or at least it seems that way to me). I expect posts about psychology from Scott — or posts that are sort of psychology-adjacent — and there here we get this (very) extended tongue-in-cheek parody of alchemical allegory.
I’d never heard of “My Immortal” before. Apparently I kinda missed out on a cultural moment. Here’s what Scott says:
From Vox: Solving The Mystery Of The Internet’s Most Beloved And Notorious Fanfic. The fanfic is “My Immortal”, a Harry Potter story so famous that it has its own Wikipedia page, and articles about it in Slate, Buzzfeed, and The Guardian.
It’s famous for being really, really bad. Spectacularly bad. Worse than it should be possible for anything to be. You wouldn’t think you could get The Guardian to write an article about how bad your fanfiction was, but here we are. Everyone agrees that it must have taken a genius to make something so awful, but until recently nobody knew who had authored the pseudonymous work.…
…But this leaves other mysteries unresolved. Like: what is going on with it? Its plot makes little sense – characters appear, disappear, change names, and merge into one another with no particular pattern. Even its language is fluid, somewhere between misspelled English and a gibberish that can at best produce associations suggestive of English words.
All these features are unusual in a modern fanfiction. But they’re typical of alchemical texts, which are usually written in a layer of dense allegory. Might this shed more light on “My Immortal?” After spending way too long investigating this, I find strong evidence in favor. “My Immortal” is a description of the Great Work of alchemy. Its otherwise-inscrutable symbolism is a combination of three traditions: the medieval opus, the 17th century Rosicrucians, and the native German traditions encoded in Goethe’s Faust. We’ll start by going over these traditions, then delve into the text to unveil the hidden meaning.
So … If this sounds entertaining, by all means click through. You will never, ever see another long post comparing a really bad Harry Potter fanfic to alchemical allegories, I’m pretty sure, so this is probably your one and only chance to enjoy that comparison.
I tried to excerpt a tidbit of Scott’s analysis to share with you all here, but gave up. There are so many priceless bits that I kept putting one in and then replacing it and you know what, it’s hopeless to select anything. Just, seriously, click through and read the whole thing.