Harry Potter and The Methods of Rationality – Eliezer Yudkowsky

Here’s the fan fiction I’ve been promising to review for quite some time, Eliezer Yudkowsky’s Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. The premise is that Harry’s aunt Petunia married an Oxford academic, who instills within the orphan wizard a passion for the scientific method and a taste for science fiction. Harry’s rationality plus Hogwart’s magic and intellectual laziness can only result in spellbinding chaos. You can download the book in a number of formats from its website, although I preferred to remove the blank spaces between paragraphs from the Kindle version using Calibre.

I’m not willing to divulge any further story details because they’d be spoilers. Suffice to say that I love what Yudkowsky’s done with Lord Voldemort, and how he’s taken characters who functioned as little more than extras in the original novels and given then distinctive personalities. Oh, and Snape’s comic potential is also explored. The story is great, but I refuse to tell you anything about it.

Yudkowsky’s fan fiction has a clear didactic mission, disseminating his vision of rationality among the Potter fandom. Only rarely does the story’s educational aspirations overshadows the fun, although that is just my subjective opinion. He also refers to his own website, so good on him. Educational fiction for those who consider themselves adults is a very interesting idea. Possible stories I’m imagining in this vein include a variation on Dan Brown’s tired formula where all the clues are based on actual history, or a Douglas Adams knock-off where the hilariously tangential rants refer to QI factoids. Fiction that teaches is an idea worth stealing.

A particularly interesting idea from the beginning of Yudkowsky’s fan fiction is the idea that we should take children seriously. Harry finds it particularly frustrating when his adoptive parents talk down to him. I can’t help but assume that this element is autobiographical, and wondering whether Yudkowsky has any children or how seriously he’d take them if he did. Either way, genuinely respecting children as human beings could well be a vaguely revolutionary idea.

This is a long book. Before writing this review I was wasting my life away on TvTropes where I learned that this fan fiction is longer than the first five Harry Potter books. That’s understandable – long fan fictions are intended to be read as serials, not as monster novels. Never stopped me. Besides, Harry Potter fans are used to devouring mammoth tomes, and I expect that most are proud of their ability to do so.

Long story short, I believe that Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality is a seminal moment in fan fiction due to its blatant didactic-ism, humour, length and all-round awesomeness.

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