Ordinary Bookclub: Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality (Chapters 26-35)
Okay. Welcome to the Ordinary Bookclub. We’re reading Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. Our kickoff post is here, we review Chapters 1-5 here, we review chapters 6-15 here, and we review chapters 16-25 here.
This week we resolved to read chapters 26-35. (These brief summaries are probably going to miss stuff and put emphasis on the wrong stuff and, probably, miss the point from time to time. When I’m wrong, please call me out in the comments.)
One of the things we have decided that we want to start doing is discussing the various puzzles the chapters throw up for us. When a major piece of information is withheld, it’s (usually) because it’s an opportunity for the reader to do some light detective work and figure out what is REALLY going on (for example, when we were asking “who left Harry the notes in chapter 13?” that was something that was revealed in chapter 14…). It can difficult to discuss some of the puzzles in this story without discussing major events happening in future chapters so if you want to discuss something with a major plot point: please rot13 it. That’s a simple encryption that will allow the folks who want to avoid spoilers (or premature answers to puzzles) to avoid them and allow the people who want to argue them to argue them.
Now that the boilerplate is out of the way, let’s get started.
Chapter 26: We begin with a visit to Professor Quirrell’s office hours and he’s in a bad mood. We discuss whether Muggleborns require a quick lesson in the equivalent of Gun Safety. When we leave, he’s in a better mood. (There might be a puzzle in here, but it might only have been a puzzle in retrospect? I don’t know for sure, though.) We learn that The Daily Prophet has a problem with Fake News OR we learn that Harry is betrothed to Ginny Weasley. We have no idea how the Fake News was generated. (Wait, maybe that’s part of the puzzle. Or maybe it’s a different puzzle? I dunno.) We learn that our strength as a rationalist is our ability to be more confused by fiction than by reality. This is where we first see one heck of an amazing formulation: “I notice that I’m still confused even after hearing your explanation.”
I notice that I am confused. Dang. That’s something, right there.
And then we figure out that it was the Weasley Twins. Of freakin’ course.
And then we have a nice meal in Mary’s Place and have a conversation about Rita Skeeter (and journalists in general). Quirrell has a dizzy spell. And Harry gets a book.
Chapter 27: We learn that the Weasley Twins were 100% behind the newspaper thing but they had no memory of what they’d done to get it to happen. (I like the detail about The Quibbler running a news story the next day about Harry being betrothed to Luna.) We learn that Rita Skeeter and her editor both vanished after her news story was proven to be fake. We get our first lesson in Occlumency. We learn that anything a Legilimens could understand, an Occlumens could pretend to be. We learn that Harry has a MAGIFICICENT ability to dissociate. We learn that the guy who is training Harry on how to be an Occlumens agreed to be mind-wiped after each lesson. We learn why.
We learn that Quidditch remains dumb.
Harry and Hermione run into Snape and Snape wants to have a conversation with Harry with Hermione present. Wait, maybe Quidditch isn’t so dumb after all. We learn that we had underestimated Snape something awful. Once again, we learn that common sense is often mistaken for Legilimency. And we learn how Harry feels about bullies. Neville has an amazing line: “So that’s how it is for you”.
And, yeah, we find out that vanquishing bullies doesn’t always fix the problems for the bullied. (Man, that scene with Lesath was ROUGH.)
And then we have another conversation with Snape. Hoo, doggies. Harry learns about his parents from an unreliable source.
(There’s also some dating advice, but it’s not very good.)
Chapter 28: At the start of this chapter, there’s a disclaimer that “views expressed by Severus Snape are not necessarily those of the author.” Ain’t that always the way? You put words into the mouth of a character and, next thing you know, people are jumping to conclusions about whether or not you’re a good person.
We start trying to figure out how to make various cures for various diseases using transfiguration and it doesn’t work that way.
Harry is still irritated that you not only have to know what something IS but what it is CALLED under Magic’s Weird Ruleset.
We learn about buckytubes. Hermione comes out and says that she feels like she missed something. (Wait! That’s a clue that there’s a puzzle! I would say that we have enough information to solve what Hermione (and Harry, for that matter) have missed. The hints are in Chapter 15.) Aaaaaand, by the middle of the chapter, we see Hermione remember what we learned in Chapter 15.
Ugh, and Harry figures out how Reality works. (This part had me irritated as heck. We see Yudkowsky’s finger on the scales all over and, yep, Harry’s eraser is one of those. “Quantum mechanics wasn’t enough”, my Aunt Fanny.)
We have a conversation with McGonnagal and Dumbledore about how Reality works. And we see Dumbledore swear Harry to secrecy about how Reality works after he proves that he was able to overcome a conceptual limitation that nobody else in wizarding history has ever before been able to overcome. Why? Because if he talks about it, people will say “no, you can’t” and then Harry will say “yes, I can” and then… ugh. Oh, and because it’s a power that Voldemort doesn’t know.
And Harry actually apologizes to Hermione.
(And, apparently, people write self-insert erotic fanfic with Snape, even in self-insert non-erotic fanfics.)
Chapter 29: We get into Dating Theory. Hoo boy. I don’t mind if the conversations about Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality wander into Religion or Politics. If they wander into Dating Theory? Hoo boy. We also get into Protagonist Theory. Protagonist Theory is probably less likely to leave a smoking crater.
Anyway, Hermione loses a Quirrell point.
We figure out that Harry and Hermione had a plan where they’d go through the library and just read the book titles and tables of contents in order to cast a wide a net as possible to find books that might help and, of course, they made it, like, halfway down the first aisle before finding stuff they had to read Right Friggin’ Now.
Which is the most realistic thing that has happened in the fanfic so far.
We learn about why you shouldn’t ask about the Weasley’s Family Rat. We see Hermione help some Hufflepuffs. And we see that Hermione, being the sort to help Hufflepuffs, thinks that Quirrell is evil instead of just being good at being a Slytherin professor of Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. We learn a little bit about the upcoming Quirrell Armies thing. And Harry wants Hermione to be in his army and not in Draco’s.
And we get into Applied Protagonist Theory with the whole Generals thing. That was a fun conversation between Harry and Draco and Quirrell.
And the conversation between Draco and Harry was fun too.
And the conversation between Hermione and Draco was fun.
See? The story can be fun too! Not just irritating when Harry knows friggin’ everything.
And we learn that Harry isn’t doing anything for what used to be Halloween.
Chapter 30: We have the first battle of the three Quirrell Armies. The Dragon Army. The Chaos Legion. The Sunshine Regiment. No Houses. Just students in their own little version of the Robbers Cave study.
Seriously, the Robbers Cave study is pretty cool.
Anyway, we see Harry prep for battle. We see Draco prep for battle. We don’t see Hermione prep for battle? Maybe that’s because there’s a surprise (if not a puzzle) to be sprung on us. We have a conversation with Neville. We see a car battery?!? What the heck. This bag of holding having whatever Harry happens to need B.S. sucks.
And we see why the information about Hermione was withheld. (Fun chapter.)
Chapter 31: Battles count for a lot of Quirrell points. See? Harry doesn’t care about House Points and how Quidditch scores add to House Scores but, jeez, offer him Quirrell points and he’s suddenly a mixture between a junkie and a hoarder.
Draco said out loud, “I notice that I am confused.” (Oh, how I laughed when I read that.)
And we learn that Hermione is a good general because she doesn’t try to do everything herself and trusts her friends to have good ideas too.
Chapter 32: Harry is forbidden access to his gold stores. Which makes sense to everybody in the world except Harry. We go shopping for Christmas presents anyway. “A friend isn’t someone you use once and then throw away, a friend is someone you use over and over again.”
Chapter 33: The Robbers Cave thing infects the regular houses too. Kids walking around with their house crest on their chest and their army preference on their arm. And that’s creating all sorts of tension. But we see that both McGonagall and Dumbledore acknowledge that Quirrell’s teaching is, let me quote this, “remedying years of neglect in months”. We learn that allowing traitors in the armies allows for all sorts of crazy things to happen. Zero-sum games, man. Zero-sum games.
And if you called the name of an army, cried “For Sunshine!” or “For Chaos!” or “For Dragon!”, it switched your allegiance to that army…
We have a conversation about The Prisoner’s Dilemma. And Pansy Parkinson.
We see that Dumbledore has a conversation with Hermione, but not about its contents. Well, he hints at the contents but we all know that the conversation is going to go every which way.
And we prepare for the underwater battle. And then we have the underwater battle. And then we see that Blaise Zabini is the only one in the three armies that knows how to have fun.
Chapter 34: We see Draco and Hermione finally willing to work together. We see Harry unwilling to work together.
And we see Professor Quirrell give a SPEECH. Seriously, this speech is one of the reasons to read the fanfic. This is some QUALITY political theory.
And we see the Generals give their wishes for what Quirrell can give them. Sadly, there are only but so many things in his power to give. And we see Quirrell burn Harry’s request without telling us, the audience, what it was.
And Harry starts a riot. Because Quidditch is dumb.
Chapter 35: A fun discussion of Political Theory. We compare Democracy to Quidditch. Kinda hard to believe that this was written all the way back in 2010 or 2011, huh? Anyway, we find out why Blaise Zabini pulled that crap. (Is he a reliable narrator? Probably…) We learn that Quirrell is not dumb and yet Harry Potter is dumb enough to think that nobody else could possibly be as clever as Harry Potter. You’d think that having Quirrell point out how low of an opinion that Harry has of everybody else’s intelligence keeps biting Harry in the butt would, eventually, sink in.
And then we’ve got Harry being all noble and crap.
And then we meet Mr. Hat and Cloak (Ooooh! This is another puzzle to play!) and then we have a moment with Hermione and Professor McGonagall and THEN we have a moment with Draco and Harry and we find out what Harry’s wish for Professor Quirrell was.
And that is the last thing that happens before the next Chapter that begins with Harry going back home to spend Christmas break with his parents.
And that’s our first thirty-five chapters.
Next Sunday, we’ll cover chapters 36-46 (no, not 45. 46. That takes us to the end of a story arc) which should take us from Christmas all the way up to Hermione falling off of the roof to the aftermath of meeting a Dementor up close and personal.
So… What do you think?
(Featured image is Foucault’s Pendulum by Sylvar. Used under a creative commons license.)