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Monday, August 12, 2013

Hermione Granger Versus the Methods of Rationality

It's always difficult, I think, to broach the subject of flaws within Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, the scientifically-focused Harry Potter fanfic that seems to have taken the Internet by storm. Regardless of the intent (and that, folks, is a phrase you're going to be hearing a lot more in this article) Eliezer Yudkowsky exudes an aura of almost unassailable wisdom. That, perhaps, is part of the problem: it's easy to fall into the trap, ironically, of not thinking critically about this text in part because the presentation suggests a reading of the text that accept Rationalist!Harry as both author surrogate and sole voice of reason.

I actually talked about this issue over a year ago in a frankly pretty shitty article that nevertheless made some good points. Let me try to isolate them here quickly:

...[R]ead the conversation with McGonagall after Harry accidentally causes a shop keeper to remember what are implied to be rather traumatic memories. Note the way the conversation transforms into a lecture on pessimism and accurate predictions of the future. It's fascinating stuff, to be sure, but narratively it means that even though we are told that Harry feels bad, his behavior is reinforced because A. he's temporarily transformed into the mouthpiece of rationality and B. he still gets what he bloody well wants in the end!
Harry needs to lose here--he needs to be wrong here--because these early chapters grant him too much infallibility. He wins so often that we assume that he is always right. This actually works in direct opposition to the skills that the story is teaching us--after all, as long as we can comfortably rely upon Harry as a guide, we don't have to analyze his actions from a standpoint of rational skepticism.  
... 
I think, if nothing else, this demonstrates the fact that the narrative and the themes or purposes of a work have to be carefully set into balance, and it's very easy for one to get in the way of the other if they are not carefully arranged. It also shows that the transmission of ideas cannot rely upon an understanding of the ideas themselves alone. Communication is, by its nature, interdisciplinary, and understanding narrative from a liberal arts perspective can help even a staunchly scientific piece of writing.
 I stand by that assertion, incidentally. I think the text often works at cross-purposes with itself, because while the conscious meaning of the text promotes one attitude, the unconscious response encourages another. Texts train their readers how to read them, and this text has a recurring difficulty in telegraphing its intentions. And while you could, I suppose, simply shrug your shoulders and assert that people should be clever enough to listen only to the conscious meaning, frankly I would consider that an unartful and lazy response. If you're going to write, you may as well do it with a whole rather than a halved ass.

This is why Yudkowski's response to some recent plot events rubbed me in rather the wrong way. If you're caught up on the story you can probably guess what I'm talking about: (spoilers, obviously, from hereon out--not that I should have to say that at this point)

Hermione Granger is dead, and people aren't happy.

Which is to be expected, of course, when a beloved character dies. The issue here, however, is that many of the reactions I've seen are not what I'll call immersive reactions. I.E., they are not reactions that involve people saying, "This character that I love is dead, and it hits me hard emotionally!"

They are metatextual reactions: "This character that I love is dead, and it's a sexist choice!"

Metatextual reactions, of course, are not bad at all. It's a good sign of critical reading. However, when you have a bunch of (largely female, I think) readers responding to a major emotional moment in your story by calling you a sexist asshole... well, that suggests to me that there's been a major disconnect between the story you're attempting to tell and the story that people are reading.

So, I want to try to unpack, at least somewhat, why this was a foreseeable problem if you are aware of feminist pop media criticism, and why Yudkowski's reply was more than a little ham-fisted.

The first big problem, of course, that needs to be tackled is Yudkowski's suggestion that it is "unfair" to analyze an unfinished text. This is... well, I guess I can see how from a Formalist perspective this is accurate--after all, a Formalist criticism, as I've said before, BEGINS AT THE BEGINNING and ENDS AT THE END, as God ordains, forever and ever and ever Amen. It's a fine way of working because it allows you to examine how a theme develops and possibly turns on its head by the end of a narrative. But it is not accurate to how people react to a text. You do not read a text feeling completely neutral about it until the end, when you pass judgment. You do not read a text ignoring the theme until the end, when you pass judgment. For goodness sake, this is why people stop reading books or leave movie theaters.

Yet, Yudkowski presents this basic, totally predictable and frankly quite human reaction as not just a question of fairness or unfairness but almost as some strange, alien reaction unique to Feminist critics:
There is, I think, a very great divergence between feminists who try to be fair, and feminists who do not try to be fair. 
Attacking someone who cannot defend themselves, even in possible worlds where they possess a defense, is not fair. 
Authors of unfinished stories cannot defend themselves in the possible worlds where your accusation is unfair.
Let me be frank.

This is a shitty response to criticism.

And it's also kind of a sexist response to criticism.

It's part of a long tradition of white, straight, cismales dividing activists (frequently feminists) into two camps: good activists and bad activists. It is no coincidence that the good activists are those whose message is most appealing to said white, straight, cismales. It's a good way of breeding division within a movement and stifling radicalism--after all, the stigma of being grouped in with The Bad Camp is a powerful swayer of behaviors, considering how much humans want to be accepted rather than persecuted. And, of course, Yudkowski here could easily have used the word "readers" and conveyed largely the same point, but he did not. He defaulted to "feminists," and regardless of the intent, the result is a singling out of feminism as a movement and an establishment of Good and Bad camps that others may use to tar and label literally anyone who has a problem with HPMOR from a feminist standpoint.

I'm sorry, were we talking about unfairness? Somehow, a male author singling out readers with a sociological stance that frequently elicits responses ranging from insults and harassment all the way up to physical and sexual assault as being particularly prone towards Bad Camp behaviors does not, to me, fit under the definition of "fairness," or "good forethought," or "really any kind of self awareness whatsoever." Regardless of the intent, this is punching downward. It is a weapon in the hands of misogynists--who, and I know this will come as a staggering shock, aren't exactly unheard of in the Hard Sciences and Atheist circles.

This is a concern, to me, largely because there ARE a number of problems with the text on a Feminist level, and Yudkowski effectively addresses none in his post here. He has, however, established a field of discourse where first a feminist theorist must prove her fairness and goodness before she can even begin to discuss the text itself!

I, however, will not be doing that, because sod that. The reason I'm bringing all this up is not to establish my own fairness, but to establish that Yudkowski fucked up here, wittingly or otherwise, and it makes the whole wider conversation a whole lot more difficult to have.

What is that wider conversation?

Well, let's start with the issue of Theme. On the one hand, I think Yudkowski is right to assert that MacGonnagal has a tight thematic arc. I really do agree with that assertion! Seeing the whole thing come together was actually pretty cool, because it was quite well plotted.

Well... mostly.

There's two problems with this defense, though.

First, just because a theme is present and coherent does not make that theme defensible from other critical standpoints. Like, it might make perfect sense thematically for MacGonnagal to go from a stern disciplinarian to a more flexible thinker, but if that arc is fundamentally a story of how she learned that Rationalist!Harry Ubermensch Potter was right about everything all along, that's not exactly going to make her a better character in the eyes of a feminist critic--nor should it!

This is an opposition as old as these two forms of criticism. Formalism--the New Criticism that sought to find deep themes in everything--always positioned itself as fundamentally universal and above such petty things as the status of non-white, non-straight, non-men in texts. Feminist theory, queer theory, colonial and race theory... this stuff all emerges in part as a critique of that purported universality, and the message frequently boils down to this idea: "If the champions of your themes are always straight, white, upper middle class, cismen, and every other narrative arc in the story bends around them, then you DON'T really have a universal experience or truth, do you? You have a narrow perspective that tells readers outside that narrow band that they should just be more like those straight white uppermiddleclass cismen."

So, saying that the theme was planned from the start, even from the perspective of whether or not MacGonnagal achieves agency in the text (which can be debated, of course), does not automatically remove any complaint of feminist criticism.

For example, a feminist might question why, exactly, MacGonnagal's character arc requires her to become rigid to the point of disaster, when other characters are quite openly altered for various purposes.

This is the problem, ultimately, with Yudkowski's veiled assertion that his choices with MacGonnagal and Hermione were, in fact, out of his control:

J. K. Rowling created certain roles and assigned them genders.  The story of HPMOR is built around the parallel-universe versions of those roles, and those roles (with one exception) retain whichever genders they had in canon.  HPMOR is not deliberately feminist literature.  S.P.H.E.W. is ultimately there because it is what Hermione Granger would do in that situation, not to balance gender scales.
This is nothing short of complete and utter nonsense.

Yudkowski happily has manipulated and altered characters as he saw fit. He altered everyone from Quirrell to Dumbledore to Snape to Sirius Black to Peter Pettigrew when the story, in one way or another, called for it.

S.P.H.E.W. is ultimately there because Elizer Yudkowski wished for it to be there, not because it was mysteriously preordained in the stars that it should be so, or because J.K. Rowling tied his hands. In fact, placing the blame (I mean, he says he isn't placing the blame, but let's be honest, he totally is) on Rowling is somewhat disingenuous considering the actual source material. There is nothing in the world to say that Harry Potter should, with the proper application of Oxford Professors, turn into a rationalist supergenius, but there is likewise nothing in the world to say that, should an author wish it, Hermione Granger should grow to meet Harry Potter. In fact, it seems incredible to me that she and Draco Malfoy should be put on equal terms, when Draco shows none of her ingenuity, wit, determination, and raw problemsolving ladygrit in the source material! And yet, in this text, she is the third wheel in the wonderful communion that is Harry//Draco. Not to say that I don't ship it of course but LOOK WE'RE GETTING SIDETRACKED HERE The point is that giving Harry the opportunity so constantly to win, then giving Hermione a chance to shine only to end up turning it into another game move between Harry and his opponent, is...

Well, it sucks.

It feels like bait and switch.

And worse, the message seems to be that ultimately, the voices of sexism in the story were correct: there is no role for Hermione to be her own hero. She is always the child watched from a distanced by cool, intellectual Harry, the logical male who sees beyond the girl's silly concerns.

For gibberflipping fuck's sake, Yudkowsky fabricated an entire core plot point--the Interdict of Merlin--because it suited him, but we are to accept at face value this statement:
I am building off J. K. Rowling’s canon, in which, as Professor Quirrell observes in Ch. 70, “It is futile to count the witches among Ministers of Magic and other such ordinary folk leading ordinary existences, when Grindelwald and Dumbledore and He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named were all men.”
What utter nonsense! There is a vast, unexplored range of open space here, and Yudkowski apparently cannot imagine anything other than these three men! I would normally have been quite charitable here and pointed out that this assertion comes from an evil character, BUT YUDKOWSKI IS AGREEING WITH HIM! And then he goes on to graciously assert that we should not blame Rowling for this state of affairs.

Well, no, we should not, because in canon, Voldemort's most feared lieutenant was a woman, a woman who, upon breaking out of Azkaban, immediately starts hexing everything in sight, cackling all the while...

...A woman who, in Yudkowski's world, is reduced to a barely-sapient, brainwashed girl and subjected to repeated rape at the hands of Voldemort's other followers.

In canon, MacGonnagal fights furiously for her students' well-being, even if it means refusing them the freedom they wish for, and frequently comes across as an extremely clever, extremely capable woman, a highly worthy successor to Albus Dumbledore...

...While in Yudkowski's world, any disagreement she might have with Harry Ubermensch Potter is portrayed as being the result of her own stubbornness, lack of insight, and inability to keep up with Dumbledore and Harry in their manbrilliance.

In canon, Ginny and Luna are heroic characters who are fundamental both to the victory of the main trio, and are fundamental to Harry's struggle to maintain his own sanity and his own humanity...

...While in Yudkowski's world, Luna is just a punchline in a single joke and Ginny is Sir Not Appearing In This Film.

In canon, Hermione Granger is the smartest witch of her year, an equal with Harry and Ron, part of a trio of three powerful young mages who ultimately save the world...

...While in Yudkowski's world, her ultimate role is to become Harry's friend so that she can die.

And she dies in order to motivate Harry to action.

She is not his equal, the companion that sticks with him through everything and helps him right up until the end to defeat his opponent.

She is, at the end of the day, a plot device, to be used and discarded as Harry goes on alone.

And perhaps that will change. Perhaps I am being "Unfair." But I don't think that the last few chapters of this story will suddenly redeem the other characters that Yudkowski has treated so poorly.

Nor do I believe that the presence of the other SPHEW members truly balances out the other issues with the portrayal of women in the text. They are jokes. They are the comic relief squad. Like it or not, they are not there to be serious heroes or to have any potential of rising beyond their rather shallow characterization, because HPMOR is ultimately about the triumph of rationality, and Yudkowski does not see fit to elevate these characters, to bring them into his ideal mindset.

The theme of the tale and its presentation is fundamentally at odds with a feminist reading of the text, and to suggest that the text is that way simply because it is realistic or it is how the characters would act is an unsatisfying, disingenuous answer. For the latter, it should be clear by now that there is no action of the characters outside the scope of the will of the writer--if he makes choices to manipulate the text elsewhere, he could make choices to manipulate here. For the former... well, I'll let you ponder on that. Perhaps you can see, without too much prompting, why asserting that the lack of Rational women that can come close to the male ubermenschen in the story is realistic would come across as just a leeeettle eensie weensie bit sexist.

I stand by my conclusion in my other shitty article. Rationalism as a doctrine is not, in and of itself, able to make up for a fundamental lack of understanding of other disciplines.

Ultimately, I cannot get behind any sentiment that scolds and chides and derides readers for reacting to a text. It's one thing to say that some strategies within feminist criticism are bad. It's quite another to say that some feminists are bad, solely because they are mildly frustrated (read, again, the post Yudkowski singles out--how uncharitable is that post being, truly? Does it really deserve the reaction it gets). And I think it's important to recognize where a text fails. This, for many readers, was such a moment of failure, and it behooves us as critics and authors to try to understand why there was a communication breakdown, and how other elements of this text led, cumulatively, to a reading that caused this reaction.

And I mean really...

When you kill off a character that to a whole lot of women is a symbol of female strength and intelligence...

You're really gonna play it like you can't understand why some people get upset?

Now now, Hermione, let's not get personal here.

Follow stormingtheivory.tumblr.com for updates, random thoughts, artwork, and news about articles. As always, you can e-mail me at KeeperofManyNames@gmail.com. Circle me on Google+ at gplus.to/SamKeeperIf you liked this piece please share it on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Reddit, Equestria Daily, Xanga, MySpace, or whathaveyou, and leave some thoughts in the comments below.

26 comments:

  1. Great article,is there any place that has intelligent commentary and discussion of your articles? Because the comments section seems to be rather dead.

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  2. Stop blowing minds. It's making the world smarter and the Banks want none of that. :P

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  3. I think the biggest problem Yudkowsky's argument isn't necessarily that he relies on "roles" he feels Rowling applied to the characters, but that in order to achieve Hermione's death he had to first force several of his own characters out-of-character in order to achieve that end. I don't mind that she was killed, or even in such a violent way. The Evil Bastard inside of me thinks that if you're going to standout as one of the most powerful members of your generation, sidekick to the main character, AND put yourself in a position as both the romantic and social rival of the Heir to the Dark Evil Nasty Family that you've pretty much tattooed a target on your head only slightly smaller than the one worn by the Main Character.

    What shoved Hermione in the Fridge was how out of character everyone else acted. Harry has time and time again operated on a stance of it being better to beg forgiveness than to ask permission, and even then carefully phrases his apologies in as many weasel words as possible to have an out for next time. Furthermore, even in the original books he never had any problem badgering Hagrid into inadvertently assisting, even against the half-giant's wishes. So the entire scene in the Hall where Harry is standing there wasting time whining about how no one wants to go play hero, while all the people he has trained explicitly for situations like this one stood there staring at their shoes mumbling excuses, just doesn't play right. The only purpose it served was to distract Harry to a point where he couldn't get there in time.

    When you have to sabotage the characters that badly, you're not doing it for any other reason than to fulfill a self imposed goal. I feel Yudkowsky wanted Hermione to die, and would have done it no matter how ever he decided in the end to justify it. And that, to me, is what removes her from being a character with a plot explainable death to a plot device killed that ended up with a bit of some characterization.

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  4. This was a great article, and I see your point. However, the reason why I personally dislike HPMOR as a fanfiction (It was so boring I never got to the part of Hermione dying; and I am devastated that he killed her) was because it was just so scientifically. Yudkowsky basically took the entire aspect of Harry Potter; magic, fantasy, and adventure and turned it into a cold and rational fanfiction. Don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with rational literature, but that's not what Harry Potter is. The main argument against that point is, "It's a fanfiction, Yudkowsky can do whatever the hell he wants with it".

    He completely tore down the idea of Harry being a boy who wished that it wasn't him; that he wasn't the Boy Who Lived, and turned him into some sort of cold, manipulating supergenius. That's not it works; although that is certainly my own bias against OOCness in any fanmade work.

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  5. A lovely critique. I enjoyed your intelligent post on the visual cues of Pacific Rim, and this has only heightened my appreciation.

    I've loved HPMOR since I came across it a year ago. Nevertheless, your critique was so well-placed that I had that "Oh." moment, where something in the recesses of your mind abruptly sits up and points excitedly, saying, "He put it into words!" I have faith in Yudkowski's storytelling abilities, so I'm not losing that faith just yet! However, it was an earnest and good pointing-out of things I should have been taking note of!

    And well, I don't quite hold with your statement that you can analyze an unfinished text. It was certainly moderately sexist, that comment. But well, I responded with Hermione's death as RUDE. It was a shock. But, if there is a plotline and Hermione's death ends up with her - well, being for some other purpose than to motivate Harry/be a breadcrumb trail, then Yudkowski's honestly done what many storytellers do - left us hanging and howling. And it really does remain to be seen if Hermione is a character, or a narrative plot point.

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  6. Good critique. I personally didn't read it like that, but I was too busy being shocked by the troll-incident to think about anything else. I think every character in HPMOR had changes in his/her personality from the original canon, so I don't think "I'm working with what Rowling gave me" is a good reason to justify it.

    Hermione in HPMOR seem significantly less capable, less of an actor, than in the original and this is a result of changes made to her personality. In the original, there would be no way Draco could keep up with her. And it's great that Draco got a power-up, but it's less great that Hermione didn't (or maybe even got a slight downgrade, because her pragmatism is lessened).

    And I don't think EY means badly. I rather think that it's not something that crosses his mind. In the world of EY, gender-differences don't really exists. He thinks it's stupid, so he doesn't include it in his view on how the world works (Apparently, when he was first told about feminism, he thought it was funny that the equality of sexes was something that needed a movement.) For him it's so incredibly obvious that men and women are equal, that he probably didn't notice he just killed of his main female character and why that would be a bad thing.

    And if you see it in that light, the text makes more sense.

    Also, you wrote "MacGonagall" where it should have been "McGonagall", "Elizer" where it should have been "Eliezer" and "Yudkowski" where it should have been "Yudkowsky".

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  7. So if the most important female character dies it's sexism. What if in some other story the most important male character dies? Is it sexism too? Who can authors kill anymore?

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    1. It's not just the death, it's the character arc. Hermione is given no competence upgrade while they're being handed out (author's justification: she doesn't need it), she protests her being in the role of a sidekick to Harry, she starts her own hero group of fairly low-level characters (though to be fair she ends bullying in Hogwarts; contrast with the problems male characters are solving), and for all her efforts she's killed to provide Harry with motivation. And it's the overall pattern of giving competence upgrades to male characters only (with the potential exception of McGonagall, depending on her future performance) that flags the story as having problems with sexism. Not that it's intentional, I'd guess that it's writing along the male-dominated lines drawn by a large body of male-dominated fiction.

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    2. I understand that it's reasonable to criticize the text as a whole when it isn't over, but it's patently unfair to criticize Hermione's character arc at this time. There's a high probability that she will come back to life and her character will develop more.

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  8. Of course Hermione is a plot device, she's not the main character. Isn't everything a plot device centered around the main character? This seems obvious to me, but I don't read a lot of fanfiction.

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    1. "Isn't everything a plot device centered around the main character?"

      ...Noooooooooooooo?
      Where on earth did you get that idea? Either you have a very reductionist idea of what is or isn't a "plot device," or you've been reading some very shitty fiction.

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  9. Thats an excellent critique, and precisely captures some of the problems I was having with the fic. I still enjoy it, but I think Yudowsky can't see his nose on his own face with the problems he brings to the fic. I mean yeah, everyone's choices make sense within the story, but someone wrote that story, it didn't magically appear from nowhere...

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  10. The key insight here is that it's all garbage. Read this as you'd like :-DDD

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  11. One aspect of canon that I haven't seen discussed much, is that it is almost "anti-competence". Clearly HPMOR really values competence, each of the characters is essentially judged on their ability to get things done. But the original books are the opposite, in a way that is perhaps easily overlooked because we are so used to heroes who are exemplars of competence. For example (I may have missed something here), in the entire first book, I don't remember Harry *ever* casting a spell. He's an ordinary boy, with no abilities that particularly ready him for a "savior of the world" role. And his constantly-breaking glasses are there to remind us of this. He ultimately "wins" in the books because of his heart, and the loyal friends it inspires. (Harry's one superpower in the books is his quick reactions/Quidditch reflexes.) Similarly, Ron is a slacker, who loves a random sports team, and he has no particular standout abilities. Hermione is perhaps the exception, being smart in a useful way. But this only emerges after she is made fun of for being nerdy and unattractive. I believe JK Rowling admitted that Hermione was a self-insert. So in short, canon centers around the trio of a vulnerable ordinary kid, a slacker/sports fan, and an unattractive nerd. They never particularly gain evil-stomping character enhancements; they gain friends and teamwork and grit.
    In short, none of the canon characters would survive in the HPMOR universe. They would all seem just as useless as Ron in the HPMOR universe. Ron isn't the exception in canon; his ordinariness, his lack of competence, is basically the rule, and, I believe, the point: JK Rowling made a series emphasizing the ability for ordinary people to succeed.
    So basically any character in HPMOR who appears competent is a divergence from the books. Turns out most of these divergences were for male characters. Oops.

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  12. Before Hermione died I remember thinking to myself that Harry Potter's greatest contribution to Magical Britain, aside from defeating Voldemort, will have been pushing Hermione Granger towards rationalist literature. Hermione is smarter than Harry, a better person than Harry, and more magically talented than Harry.

    Which is why, in a story about what it means to be a hero, and what it takes to make a hero, where the focus is heavily on the fact that heroes don't have anyone to turn to for help, and where the "evil potions master" is a role played at the headmasters request to hammer this fact home, OF COURSE Hermione had to die. Whatever stupid mistake the protagonist is about to make couldn't happen if smart, sensible, rational Hermione was around to advise him.

    Hermione wasn't Harry's equal, she was his superior, and because of that she had to go. If this fanfic had actually been antifeminist there would have been no need to kill Hermione off.

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    1. So, your argument is, Hermione was not Harry's equal, she was his superior, and THAT is why she had to die.

      The plot can't move forward in the presence of the protagonist's hyper-competent nerd-nanny and morality pet, so we NEED to kill her. Her being alive was only holding the IMPORTANT character back from taking all those stupid, plot-advancing actions that he would otherwise take.

      And this is not anti-feminist how?

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    2. Same anon as above... I strongly suspect Hermione and Quirrel are going to turn out to have faked Hermione's death somehow. Which still leaves us with an extremely graphic, violent death scene inflicted upon an eleven-year-old girl whom many female readers have looked up to as a hero.

      Her turning out to have faked her own death is the only way I can imagine the author even starting to redeem himself, but that scene gave me violent flashbacks. I liked the story, I really did. But I let the author into my head, I trusted him, and I shouldn't have. Now I can't go back.

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  13. Slight nitpick, Yudkowsky is actually Jewish....

    I still enjoy HPMOR, and I'm going to continue reading it, but I agree with you and do not like /these details/ of the plot. Very clumsily handled. I sure hope Eliezer learns from these mistakes, if he tries another story in the future. He's not forever incapable.

    Hermione could be handled better, as you say. Yudkowsky was himself a prodigy, so I felt like he based Harry, Hermione, and Draco upon his experiences dealing with other prodigies, and introduced systematic flaws into them. For example, I recall Eliezer claiming that Harry is basically 18-year-old Eliezer in skill, that is, /quite/ skilled but massively flawed. Hermione is memorization and no practical technique, Draco is all instrumental skills focused on a not-so-good and non-achievable goal. Wasted talent.

    But yes, good article. :) I don't know if you know of Luminosity, which is a completed Twilight rationalist story written by a friend of Eliezer's. I've not started it yet, but I've heard that it's quite good.

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  14. [IMHO, and I apologize in advance for my poor English grammar] While maybe EY could be blamed for what I'd call poor feedback management in the case of Hermione's death, there actually is something who is to be kept in mind, that is to say character economy and impact. EY needed Harry to have a personal motivation. Killed parents are personal, but not as much when they're killed off-screen, out of the very memory of the character except for some magical rewind. The prisoners of Azkaban have been closer, since he heard them (and they were actually heartrending) and he almost rushed headlong into Azkaban to free them, but still, not enough personal. To put in Harry a burning determination Harry himself needed to lose someone really close. Malfoy? He was already out of reach, and his death would have triggered an avalanche of political drama (Draco almost died, and we had an entire arc about the consequences); Harry's character development then would have to clash with external drama over importance and space in the story. Hermione is a student appeared out of the thin air, Wizengamotly speaking; her death would not provoke a civil war, while still being utterly devastating for the main character. And it goes without saying that no other character could have had the same impact, even Evan-Verres family.

    About the first chapters: put any analitic personality in a world in which magic exist. It goes without saying that said personality will try to uncover the misteries in it; some points that Harry makes about the lack of curiosity of Magical Britain are actually sensible. Harry doesn't get what he deserves stomping nameless NPCs' toes? This could mean various things:
    -strangers are to be treated as prey to be exploited, 'cause you will never be punished. I don't think this is actually the message one should get from hpmor.
    -The Boy Who Lived, one of the most important characters of (magical) society, can acqually get away with mistreating (lacking manners and empathy, not actually committing anything serious) some ordinary people with no realitive importance in said society. This is not a pretty message, but it's realistic. Fame, wealth and connection can actually protect you from being punished for acts way more heinous than this.
    -Harry is the proverbial span in the works of a society that just regained trust after years of terror; his lack of empathy (and this IS a flaw, and I think that's been showed as it is in hpmor) and background knowledge (not actually his fault) cause moments of strain and embarassment. This is played for laughts, of course, but nevertheless shows the distance between Harry and the rest of society.

    I think I was about to make some other points, but this already consumed a lot of time for me to write...

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  15. Yes to all of this! I'm only on chapter 67 but I don't know if I'll finish it because even though the approach is amusing, I can't help but be bored at the plainness of his take on the HP universe. Harry is obviously based on the author and that's why everything revolves around him, the characters are not as well developed and many of them are missing, and this is where you can see the author flaws (I think it's safe to say he is not very aware of the privilege and discrimination dynamics of the world being a privileged man himself) but also his flaws in writing (it's just a fanfic, even if it's a very famous one, so I guess it's okay if he has a lot to work on), because even if he uses logic and rationality very well, he cannot deal with the vastness of Harry Potter, all that J.K.Rolling was able to get in 7 volumes! I mean, I'm on page 1442, chapter 67 and Harry is what? a month into school? when I started it and saw the length I imagined a whole saga retake of the rational Harry stay on Hogwarts, not just lengthy first years of him being the greatest wizard ever, if the author was going to be this lengthy I expected him to dwell on all the richness of the characters, not just cartoon everyone to make Harry smarter (and Malfoy, although I do love to see more of him and I think he does have a congruent personality of what could have been).

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  16. Okay... all other points aside, did you seriously just lambast EY for not including Ginny and Luna (who weren't even in Hogwarts in the first year, and were NOT strong, independent characters for 90% of the canon series) and then IGNORE EY's elevation of all the other female characters in the story, not the least of which include Madame Bones and Tonks?

    I'm sorry, but you lost your credibility in terms of honest critique. You can't make valid points on the one hand, then drop the ball so thoroughly on the other and expect to be taken seriously :/

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    1. Except that Madame Bones and Tonks are already awesome characters and they, like Hermione, receive no upgrade. Indeed we know sadly little about Amelia Bones based on canon, so as written here she's as much of an OC as Harry is.
      And while Ginny is, admittedly, not a strong character when she starts out, she's also 10 at her first appearance and 11 when she's at her lowest point. By the tine she grows into herself, she is absolutely 100% badass and even manages to lead the DA in Harry's absence. And while Luna isn't mentioned in Book 1, by the time we meet her she is a strong independent character. And odd one, but that doesn't make her any weaker. Reducing her to a punchline of a rape joke (at age 10 no less) is demeaning to her character.
      In short, EY hasn't elevated any female characters so far. We have yet to see where McGonagall ends up. But he's either kept them at the same level as seen (or implied, in the case of Amelia Bones) in canon, or reduced them. Meanwhile many of the male characters have received significant upgrades. He may not be trying to be unfair or anti-feminist, but the proof is in the writing.

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    2. Also, even McGonagall isn't one of the main characters. The only Important female character was Hermione, and she died. The others were Harry, Draco, Quirrell and (possibly) Dumbledore. Also, if EY can elevate Quirrell and Draco THAT MUCH, he could have elevated other girls, or killed Draco instead or something.

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  17. It must be noted that Dead Hermione is almost certainly derived from the reaction Eliezer himself had to the death of his brother:

    http://yudkowsky.net/other/yehuda/

    And one of the other things that he explained, that I can no longer find the post for, is that one of the mental images that spurred the writing of HPMOR in the first place was, in fact, the mental image of Harry having to go through the same thing, with Hermione. That having someone close to him die made the problem of death into a problem that suddenly seemed a thousand times more pressing.

    It is completely possible that EY really honestly had no idea that people would take this event as being antifeminist, because he was too wrapped-up in his own emotional resonances.

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  18. I'm not going to defend his words on the subject (they're pretty dumb), but I will say that the story structure of HPMOR (disregarding the canon source) leads to an obvious choice for who should die, if a death is needed. The deuteragonist.

    In HPMOR, you have a complicated plot of several fleshed out characters with agency:
    HPEV, the Protagonist
    Hermione Granger, The Deuteragonist
    Draco, the Tritagonist
    and Quirrel, the Antagonist, whether Potter knows it or not.
    followed by a whole bunch of supporting characters who have agency but not enough screen time and therefore are probably the "Heroes Of Another Story", to put it in a tvtrope.

    If your story goal is to have Harry resolve to defeat Death itself and
    If Harry as you have written him requires more motivation to make such a resolution and
    If you believe a death of someone close to him would be necessary to make that happen and
    If you need it to hit the readers as hard as it hits your protagonist so they empathize with his anger
    Then you must kill the deuteragonist. Basically nobody else will do.

    I'm not saying that it's fair or good, I'm saying it's what the greek storytellers would have told him was the obvious story move.

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  19. I quit reading on the first page. Petunia doesn't marry Dursley. Why? Because Lily cast a prettifying spell so she could get a better man. Ick. Not to mention the condescending tone and gaslighting.

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