Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Book Reviews: From political histories to bad comics, to bad comics of political histories. And the occasional rant about fiction and writing.

Harry Potter fanfic: The Methods of Rationality

Jerry Stratton, January 7, 2012

Every once in a while I start getting caught up. Then I find an amazing book and stay up until four o’clock in the morning reading, and everything’s out of whack again. That happened when I ran across Harry Potter and The Methods of Rationality yesterday.

It’s a bit of a Mary Sue situation, where Harry Potter is what a stereotypical university professor would want their children to be: most of the rationality of an adult with some of the knowledge removed. He’s Batman, Sherlock Holmes, and Richard Feynman rolled into one. He ends up saying things like:

“I’m not sure how to heal Slytherin House,” Harry said slowly. “But I know it’s something you and I will end up having to do. It took centuries for science to dawn over the Muggle world, it only happened slowly, but the stronger science got, the further that sort of hatred retreated.” Harry’s voice was quiet, now. “I don’t know exactly why it worked that way, but that’s how it happened historically. As though there’s something in science like the shine of the Patronus Charm, driving back all sorts of darkness and madness, not right away, but it seems to follow wherever science goes. The Enlightenment, that was what it was called in the Muggle world. It has something to do with seeking the truth, I think… with being able to change your mind from what you grew up believing… with thinking logically, realizing that there’s no reason to hate someone because their skin is a different color, just like there’s no reason to hate Hermione Granger… or maybe there’s something to it that even I don’t understand. But the Enlightenment is something that you and I belong to now, both of us. Fixing Slytherin House is just one of the things we have to do.”

Remember, eleven-year old boy.

It’s also extraordinarily well-written and hard to put down. It takes the kids and the situation very seriously. The trick appears to be, “what if nothing else in the story changed, except that Aunt Petunia married a college professor instead of Vernon Dursley?” From this it follows that Harry would be a rational, science fiction-loving, eleven-year-old who reads Gödel, Escher, Bach and who follows the scientific method as a religion. He’s a humanist, and that’s his happy thought.

From this we get a story about a kid who believes he can rule the world and wants to control his “dark side”.

I haven’t read the books, but enjoyed all of the movies; it appears that The Methods of Rationality covers the same events as the first book, but with the new, improved Harry Potter running through it. Neville Longbottom has a part much earlier, and Ron Weasley ends up not coming in for real until halfway through, but when he does he’s the same person. Everyone’s the same except Potter, who, as the hero, changes everyone else. Ultimately, he wants a unified theory of Hogwarts Houses.

I’m pretty sure it’s based mostly on the movies. However, if you’ve only seen the movies—in this story, everyone is more complex than in the movies.

The story quotes popular culture like crazy—directly from Harry, mostly, as you might expect from an eleven-year-old, and occasionally from the author. This Harry Potter knows Star Wars, he knows Dungeons & Dragons, he knows Ender’s Game. He also knows older works such as The Lensmen.

I’m currently only halfway through it, so it could turn out that the second half is different, but so far it’s been hard to stop reading. Warning: it starts to edge toward slash fiction in the middle (it doesn’t head into it, just edges toward it), which changes the original premise that only Harry was going to change. Also, the book isn’t finished yet, and at the moment it’s looking like it’s actually an attack against rationality and humanism, because unless it turns out that a lot more people have changed in this world than just Harry, his worldview based on those has already caused a lot of harm.

“I don’t fight fair,” said Neville to the sleeping form, “I fight like Harry Potter.”

  1. <- Bailing publishing
  2. Priming the Pump ->