Ordinary Bookclub: Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality (Chapters 36-46)
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, we review chapters 16-25 here, and we review chapters 26-35 here.
This week we resolved to read chapters 36-46. (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 36: We go home for Christmas and see Muggleworld with new, wizarding eyes. And the Evans-Verresses meet the Grangers. And, as it turns out, parents are parents and kids are kids. Even the smart ones. And Harry is a stand-up guy. I guess. And there was a kissing scene but it was crowbarred in.
Chapter 37: Quirrell shows up and explains that life experience is important. Harry doesn’t believe him because that’s one of the things that you only learn once you get it and why in the heck should you take someone who has it at face value when they tell you how important it is? And they look at the stars.
Chapter 38: The Quibbler is probably the only newspaper worth reading. Harry and Lucius have a conversation. A REAL conversation. And Harry talks to Neville and Grangran.
Chapter 39: Wisdom is weird. If I were to try to paraphrase what wisdom is like, it’s like being tired. “Should we do something?” “Lemme think. Nah. Let’s not do something.” See? Wisdom. Anyway, Harry does stuff. A lot. We learn that Dumbledore has been intercepting Harry’s mail. Harry feels indignant about that for a second but shows a seed of wisdom by agreeing that it’s probably for the best that he had not gotten the letters that got turned away unread. Remember the conversation with Lesath? Man. Letters full of that sort of thing. Every day. Anyway, Quirrell is bringing a Dementor to Hogwarts. Kids can practice casting Patronus charms against The Real Deal. Dumbledore wants to know what mischief could be done with a Dementor on the grounds because Harry is smart enough to see the bones of his friends as potential weapons and that’s something that never would have occurred to Dumbledore in a million years. Oh, and Dumbledore lets on that he knows that Harry has a dark side. Common sense has a lot in common with Legilimency, you know? Anyway, we figure out, if there is mischief in store, what role the Dementor might have in that mischief. Maybe. Because, seriously, Harry’s dark side is pretty good at this. We learn a little bit about Dumbledore and Grindelwald. “Grindelwald was my dark mirror, the man I could so easily have been, had I given in to the temptation to believe that I was a good person, and therefore always in the right.” And we meditate on the problem of evil. Oh, and we learn that Dark Wizards are right to hate death, I guess. And we learn that Dumbledore believes in an Afterlife and Harry doesn’t.
Which, let me digress for a second, is dumb. Harry learned that magic existed, like, 6 months before this conversation. Now he finds that he can’t believe in an Afterlife?
Anyway, Afterlife Theory. Life experience is important.
Chapter 40: Harry then drinks some expensive tea and asks Quirrell about the Afterlife. We get Afterlife Theory from Quirrell’s POV. Quirrell’s theories are a lot more coherent than Dumbledore’s.
Chapter 41: Draco and Hermione are working together in the battles. This results in all sorts of shenanigans. Like gecko gloves and featherfall potions. And we get into some weird theories about whether you should drop someone from the roof in service to the greater good. I mean, if you knew they drank a featherfall potion, it wouldn’t be a problem, right? Well, Harry apologizes anyway.
Chapter 42: Draco drops Harry off the roof because the Ravenclaw girls said so. It goes wrong, kinda. We meet Lupin! And we learn that Harry’s dad liked Quidditch. Which remains dumb. And he was also a bully. Which is one of those things that is hard to dredge up. Why would you want to? And we learn more about Lupin’s circle of friends from those days. Ah, Sirius. Ah, Peter. Sigh.
Chapter 43: Harry has trouble casting the Patronus. Hermione, we’re surprised to find out, has trouble with it too. Something about happy thoughts allows the Patronus charm to be cast… but, sometimes, people who can’t cast a Patronus by themselves are able to cast it in the presence of a Dementor. We learned that Salazar Slytherin could cast a Patronus and Godric Gryffondor couldn’t. We meet our first Dementor and see other students be inspired to cast the Patronus. “Professor Quirrell pointed out that adults had more courage, not less to fear; which thought, I confess, had never occurred to me before.” We learn that Quirrell and Dumbledore had a bet… and Dumbledore lost it. Quirrell will therefore be allowed to teach the killing curse to those who wish to learn it. What could possibly go wrong? We see Hermione try again, and fail again. We see Neville not exactly succeed too. And Harry looks into a Dementor unfiltered and remembers the death of his mother. There were eight patronus charms between Harry and the Dementor and they didn’t break the hold that the Dementor had on Harry. This was kind of a messed up chapter.
Chapter 44: Dementors can do a lot of damage to someone who has the right holes in their defenses. Holes that not even chocolate can fill. Or maybe the nature of reality is something that, once you see it, changes you and not for the better. We have another kissing scene. A better one. Sometimes a kiss can help when chocolate can’t.
Chapter 45: We learn a little bit about Dementors. “They are wounds in the world, and attacking a wound only makes it larger.” That is a very, very good line indeed. Fawkes has a go at the Dementor. Fawkes loses. Harry asks to have another go at the Dementor. He figures out that the “wounds in the world” line came from Godric Gryffondor Himself and, just by thinking about it rationally, Harry figures out how to not only cast a patronus but he is the first wizard in the history of the world to actually kill a Dementor. This was even more irritating than the “figuring out transfiguration” thing. His Patronus is a Human? Ugh.
Chapter 46: “The Patronus Charm. Version 2.0.” Ugh. We learn that it’s not something that you should tell people who know how to cast Patronus spells because they might not be as insightful as Harry is and the knowledge might make them less awesome even as it makes Harry even more awesome. Harry and Quirrell discuss where something that you never want found might be hidden. Quirrell points out a pattern in Harry’s suggestions and comes out and says that it’s a puzzle. So there’s a puzzle! We have kissing theory in the Slytherin dorms. Harry figured out why Hermione couldn’t cast the Patronus charm and he told her that he can’t tell her but he gave her some hints but she shouldn’t read them. Harry has a conversation with Professor McGonagall about the prophecy because he wanted to compare the prophecy with the flashback memory of his mother’s death. And we figure out that, maybe, we decide to ask more people about Dumbledore than merely Dumbledore’s biggest fans.
And that’s our first forty-six chapters.
For next Sunday, I think we should read 18 more chapters and get ourselves up through chapter 64 (though I’m open to arguments that we should only read ten or a dozen if that’s the consensus). Reading 18 will get us through the next major arc and we’ll finish up with a dessert/intermission chapter devoted to fanfic where we apply the Methods of Rationality to other works. Lord of the Rings and the Methods of Rationality! Thundercats and the Methods of Rationality! Moby Dick and the Methods of Rationality! But, before we get to the intermission that gives us a breather, we’ll get to go to Azkaban and help out an old friend.
So… What do you think?
(Featured image is Foucault’s Pendulum by Sylvar. Used under a creative commons license.)