In late November, 2002, a young man from New Zealand joined the White Council, the messageboard for TolkienMovies.com, and took the name of “Widfara”. On December 12th, with 312 posts to his credit and on a thread entitled “What’s the Happiest Day of Your Life?”, Widfara told his story to his new friends.
When I was 19 I came out to my parents. I expected the reaction to be severe, as they are both deeply cathoilc, and quite strict in their beliefs, but nothing could have prepared me for what happened. My father flew into a rage, and I believe I was lucky to leave the house alive, no exaggeration. I got out with nothing but the clothes I was wearing and I walked, very bruised and bloody, to my friends house 2 1/2 hours away. It started to rain on the way, and it was late, dark and cold when I got there. I knocked on the door, Ben opened it, took one look at me, and dragged me inside, hollering for his mom. I told him everything, what had happened, how I felt about him, everything. When I finished he was in tears, I thought I had said something terrible! But then he told me he felt the same! I could have danced! I was so happy. I never went back home, his family is my family now, and that was 8 years ago now, we are still together.
In the weeks that followed, Widfara’s star rose ever higher as he chatted and teased and played silly games, generally endearing himself to a great many people. Then there was the story of how he had been an extra in one of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies and had met one of the actors, just one more thing in his favor on a Tolkien board. Joining Widfara in his romp through the White Council after a while was “Wilwarinsul”, a teenaged girl who lived near him and had become close friends with him and his companion Ben.
Fast forward to early February, 2003.
For reasons that are still not entirely clear, but may have had something to do with another member of the White Council planning a visit to New Zealand, Widfara’s friends on the messageboard were rocked suddenly with the news that Ben, his companion, had been killed in a car accident. This naturally was very distressing to them, especially to the closest, but worse was yet to come. After many hours of online grief-counseling by those close friends, Widfara committed suicide.
This, very naturally, threw many at the White Council into a whirlwind of grief and misery. The tributes to Widfara poured out of the ether and onto the screens. In the Tribute to Darling Widfara thread alone there were fourteen pages. Poem after poem went up, written by emotionally vulnerable teenagers extremely distressed by the sudden loss of a much-loved friend.
They weren’t the only ones hurting, of course. There were older members devastated as well. One of them, a woman who had found a great deal of comfort in reading the various posts at the White Council, wrote a private letter to me.
”I…suffer from clinical depression. Sometimes quite severe. I am on a new medicine right now. It's called Lexapro. I'm not sure how it's working. Anyway ...
I had been truly struggling to become a part of the world again. I joined several online things, began going into a chat room, not chatting much, but just being around people is a major accomplishment for me. I started…leaving my house and visiting people. “
Then she describes the effect that Widfara’s death had had on her.
”I was devastated!!! I cried, I find myself unable to be around people again. I have shut down all my IM's. My children come to visit me and I am usually in bed. Last night my son was asking me what was going on with me cause he's been coming over for several days and the same dishes keep being in the sink, everyday. They fear for me ...
5 years 4 months and 5 days ago at 7:10 in the morning, I went into my bedroom, after working all night, and after having had one of the worse fights in my entire married life the day before. There I found my husband dead by his own hand. His suicide was not clean one. It was horrible, smelly, messy, and devastating! You want to talk about guilt?? I have been so guilt ridden for so many years. The last thing that I had said to that man before I left for work was, "I hope you are happy in your loneliness."
I was horrible to him that day. I pulled a double shift. I came home still mad and took a shower and read my paper before ever even going in to check on him. I finally decided at 7:10 (and after a sleeping aid) that I was ready for sleep. There he was. Dead…
…I adored Wid(fara). Though I never spoke to him. I don't speak to anyone. When I read the thread…about his "suicide" I went through horrible, physical, mental anguish. It brought back so many things that I thought I had finally managed to put behind me. I have spent days in bed. I have not been able to get online much, cause I just cannot deal with people...”
Via Winwarinsul, the White Council was let in on the basic facts. Wid was found this morning, she said. He drowned himself in the bath, he dressed in his favourite clothes, and put Ben's favourite song on repeat on the the cd player, "Angel" by Sarah McLachlan. Then he followed his light into the next world.
Wilwarinsul seemed disinclined to give out much in the way of specific information. There would be a double funeral for Ben and Widfara in Christchurch on Monday, February the 10th at 9:00 in the morning, but apart from that details were not forthcoming.
The combination of Mary-Sue-like melodrama and lack of details naturally began to raise suspicion in a mind or two, the result being ultimately the formation of a panel of four members for purposes of investigation into the truth of the matter.
Over the course of the two or three days, it was ascertained via phone calls, emails and research on the internet that:
1) The library could find no record in newspapers of a car crash and/or suicide to fit the description.
It didn’t take too long after Wilwarinsul was made aware of this investigation for her to tell all. The long and the short of it is that she’d made the whole thing up. Not only was Widfara not dead, he had never existed. There was no Ben, there was no car crash, there was no suicide. It was all from the imagination of someone who little cared what she might be doing to other human beings.
There were, of course, the usual excuses and pitiful pleas for understanding from the perpetrator – depression, wanting friends, panicking over the possibility of another member coming to meet “Widfara” But there was also a great deal of anger and disgust on the part of many at the White Council, and a great deal of pain, a situation which the discovery that Wilwarinsul had a total of six identities did nothing to help. As of this writing, a considerable amount of damage has been done to the TolkienMovies messageboard. Any community, RL or virtual, finding suddenly that it’s been harboring a malignancy such as this, is thrown into a whirlwind of confusion and anguish and suspicion that cuts deeply and damages permanently, a state of affairs only made worse by the tensions arising from disagreement over what should be the consequences of said deception. It may recover, but it will never be the same.
Much damage was done also to the woman who wrote me to tell me of her husband’s suicide and of the effect Wilwarinsul’s romp through fantasyland had on her.
”As for my own opinion, depression my be an excuse to create an alter ego. But it's not one to let the lie become so big that it takes on a life of it's own. It doesn't give anyone the right to "kill" someone off via suicide, or through other means either.
Depression is a horrible, debilitating disease. I have no idea how this girl managed to create such fantastic fictional life. I can barely think to speak, I have absolutely lost my muse and any ability to write anything over these last 5 years.
… If you want, I give you permission to use any part of my letter to let this child know what she did was play a very dangerous game. I came very close to ... well, my thoughts were definitely headed in a not so good direction. I just beg you, do not use my identity. I need neither a multitude of patronizing emails, nor do I want unsolicited attention.
And in a second letter…”I don't understand the concept of "Romanticizing" suicide either. It's an ugly, horrible and lonely way to die. Not that any way of dying isn't, but there is nothing remotely romantic or spiritual about it. And the pain that is left behind is unbearable at times. It's been a little over 5 years now but it never gets easier. It never hurts less. It's confusing and incomprehensible. Sometimes you can go for a while and not think about it. But when someone dies, you remember. When someone else commits suicide, you live through all the pain and suffering all over again. It brings back all the guilt and memories. When someone dies of cancer, we know why. When they die in a car wreck, we know why. But when someone takes their own life, we spend the rest of our lives wondering why. What did I do? What could I have done? How could I let this happen?
My life all but ended the day I walked into that room and found him there.
So you see, to me, there is no excuse. What she did was to play with peoples lives. And she is lucky that it didn't end badly, for someone.
Real anguish, real pain.
”…Whatever else you do, you need to let this child know ... You don't play games with people's lives like that. The consequences could be dire.”
Wilwarinsul, consider yourself told.