Harry Potter Week: The Methods of Rationality: An Alternate Harry Potter

Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality fan art on deviantART

You finished reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows two years, five days, and three hours ago. You stood in line to be the first to see the final movie. And now here you are. Out of Potter.

But you’re not! Now it’s time to restart the Potterverse from a new perspective.

Please don’t run away, because at some point here, I’m going to have to say an f-word that I don’t like. I never thought I’d use it. But I’ve done it. I’ve now read 72 chapters of fanfic: Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality.

Sorry fanfic lovers–I’m just not into that particular area of fandom. This spectacularly wonderful ongoing story by Eliezer Yudkowsky, however, is worth your time. It reimagines Harry Potter’s life at Hogwarts if he had been raised not by the obnoxious Dursleys, but by a warm and loving Oxford professor who taught him the ways of rational thinking and filled his world with both science and science fiction. Or as the introduction to chapter 22 puts it:

Something, somewhere, somewhen, must have happened differently…

HARRY JAMES POTTER-EVANS-VERRES grew up in a house filled to the brim with books. He once bit a math teacher who didn’t know what a logarithm was. He’s read Godel, Escher, Bach and Judgment Under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases and volume one of The Feynman Lectures on Physics. He wants to discover the laws of magic and become a god.

DRACO MALFOY is exactly what you would expect an eleven-year-old boy to be like if Darth Vader were his doting father.

DUMBLEDORE is either insane, or playing some vastly deeper game which involved setting fire to a chicken.

DEPUTY HEADMISTRESS MINERVA MCGONAGALL needs to go off somewhere private and scream for a while.

I first heard about MoR when I attended Open Source Bridge, and it seemed like every panel I went to managed to work in a reference to this story. So I started reading it right there in breaks between conference sessions. If I hadn’t already been hooked, chapter 7 had me when Harry has the same feelings I did upon learning about the ridiculous rules of Quidditch, in particular that the Snitch is worth enough points to overwhelm any other scoring:

“That’s not interactive, there’s no back-and-forth with the other player and how much fun is it to watch someone incredibly good at moving their eyes? And then whichever Seeker gets lucky swoops in and grabs the Snitch and makes everyone else’s work moot. It’s like someone took a real game and grafted on this pointless extra position just so that you could be the Most Important Player without needing to really get involved or learn the rest of it. Who was the first Seeker, the King’s idiot son who wanted to play Quidditch but couldn’t understand the rules?”

And that’s the least of his rational observations.

Animagi violate the rule of Conservation of Energy. Wizarding economics are a mess. The magical world seems to be becoming less magical–is it a genetic problem? Then there’s the part where the Defense Professor begins pitting his students against one another in magical army battles.

And what happens if Harry masters science and magic? Is Harry the next Dark Lord? Or is he truly good? Is anybody?

MoR’s popularity has already spawned translations, fan art, a podcast, a music video, cosplayers, and further fanfic based on it, all of which you can find in the author’s notes. So far, 72 chapters have been published, and a new one comes out… eventually. Meanwhile, study Bayes’ theorem and get caught up. I promise this time you won’t regret reading fanfic.

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By day, Ruth works to make open source software communities better. The rest of the time, she makes things, which means her husband and kids know to watch out for stray sewing pins and to ask before eating anything made of fondant.