Recommended website: Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality

I had to take a break from my coding and blogging for the last few days because of a hurting thumb. It still hurts somewhat, but I've become proficient at typing without using that thumb. In the meantime, I spent my two-day break reading Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, a work of fan fiction based on the Harry Potter series.

(The rest of this post will assume general knowledge of the plot of Harry Potter, but does not contain spoilers.)

The TV Tropes Wiki describes Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality (abbreviated HP:MoR) as “an Alternate Universe story, where Petunia married a scientist.” Instead of being completely awestruck by the wizarding world after having been abused1 at the hands of zir relatives, Harry Potter has been raised in a healthy environment and taught the virtues of the scientific method, and walks into the wizarding world intending to apply science to magic and transform the world. To put it a different way, ze tries all the things that made me frustrated at the original Harry when ze didn't try them. It also answers a lot of the annoying questions that the original series overlooks in order to write a morally-unambiguous2 adventure story. In short, it's a beautiful work of deconstruction, and also a great attempt to educate the reader about the scientific method and common fallacies. And also a hilarious parody of the original.

However, I do have some reservations about recommending it. Like any work of deconstruction, it still has all the flaws of the original story except for the ones it specifically takes away. Like the fact that Harry Potter, the character, is a white, male, cis, able-bodied, heterosexual, upper-class, neurotypical person, in a way that treats all those attributes as the default, the “normal” attribute, and the opposite as unusual.3 HP:MoR Harry is not quite as much like that – ze's arguably not neurotypical, and the story treats adults' age-discrimination as a serious issue – but the rest is still there, and I'm a little tired of the “genius protagonist” being always male. In general, HP:MoR has upgraded a lot of the male characters from Harry Potter while leaving female characters the same, downgrading them, or putting them in victim roles. It does seem to be trying in some places to deliver a feminist message, but it fails horribly. I wouldn't normally recommend something with that much sexism. And Harry treats the 17th-century European “Enlightenment” as the only source of rationality in the world, or of belief in human rights, which is kinda unfair to all the philosophers of the rest of the world.

And finally – if you have triggers, READ THE TRIGGER WARNINGS. Unlike the original series, HP:MoR does NOT gloss over the more horrible things in the world.

The story begins here, and the (somewhat incomplete, alas) trigger warnings page is here.

I have written some commentary and theories about certain parts of the story here.

– Eli

  1. Although I hesitated to use the term. The way Harry's aunt and uncle treat zem in the Harry Potter series, if taken literally, is abusive, but the series treats it as a joke or caricature, and Harry is depicted more as a blank slate than as someone dealing with the aftermath of that kind of treatment. I explored this more when I wrote Voldemort's Children. back
  2. Yes, the good guys are not always good and the bad guys are not always bad, and Harry has to discover that. None of that changes the fact that it's written as a story where good guys fight bad guys and the good guys win. back
  3. A brief note about the original series – trans people and non-heterosexual people don't exist in the story as written, and for the few neurodivergent people (Voldemort, Luna, Trelawney...) we only get the outsider's perspective that they're “weird” or “cool” or “completely evil”, rather than seeing their own perspectives or challenges. Like Hermione, and like Rowling's public claim that Dumbledore is gay, they're A Lesson for members of the dominant class (“Hey you! You'd better believe it's okay for people to be Different!”) but they are not role models and they do not tell our stories. J. K. Rowling also seems to believe that Love is the most important thing in the world and it's everyone's deepest emotion, which is (guess what?) not true in the real world. back
Approximate readability: 11.27 (3432 characters, 742 words, 34 sentences, 4.63 characters per word, 21.82 words per sentence)