Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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“MY IMMORTAL” AS ALCHEMICAL ALLEGORY

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 SlateBuzzfeed, 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.

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7 Comments “MY IMMORTAL” AS ALCHEMICAL ALLEGORY

  1. Evelyn M. Hill

    There is a traffic-wreck fascination about truly awful writing. I hadn’t heard of this example before. It’s not good writing, true, but it’s no Eye of Argon. That author had a positive genius for choosing just the wrong word to use in a sentence. I got as far as the description of the tavern wench’s ‘lithe, opaque nose’ before I had to put it down.
    William McGonagall is another writer who became famous for being bad.

  2. Evelyn M Hill

    Don’t do it on an empty stomach. Fair warning.

    And yes, I do feel sorry for the author having his work held up as being so bad. Though it is a good lesson in sending work out to critique groups before sending it out to the rest of the world.

  3. Mary Catelli

    The true horror of “Eye of Argon” is attending a convention where there’s a public reading.

    I have heard that there are people who can read it through, dramatically, and keep a straight face. However, the first such reading I attended, one guy managed to read a full page dramatically, and then I learned that “rolling on the floor laughing” is not a metaphor.

  4. Rachel

    I would absolutely go to a panel for a live reading of “Eye of Argon.” That sounds like the perfect way to experience this book, whether or not people fall out of their chairs.

  5. Rachel

    Thanks! I’ve read a little really great fan fiction. Even though HP isn’t a fandom I’m very interested in, I’ll take a look!

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