Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality: The Shadows of Death

It took me a while to finally finish the 3rd installment of Methods of Rationality, as my wife’s interest waned as she began to see that Harry Potter was still obnoxiously proud to the point of being insufferable.  I was still intent on finishing the series, so after a few months of not reading in the evenings, I decided to pick it up on my own.  SPOILER WARNING!!!!! I am going to mention some major plot details from here on out, so be warned.
dementor
The events of the third book (note, Harry is still in his first year at Hogwarts), center around two events: (1) Harry Potter discovers the secret to not only warding off Dementors, but completely obliterating them when he discovers their true nature and (2) using this acquired knowledge and the assistance of Professor Quirrell, Harry breaks into Azkaban to free Bellatrix Black.  Definitely a surprise and unexpected twist there.  There are plenty of fun twists along the way, like how did wizards get clocks if they are a Muggle invention, and is Dumbledore away of Gandalf and Lord of the Rings?  Harry becomes very close to Professor Quirrell, and we learn a lot mroe about his abilities (he’s an Animagus– turns into a cat), but we have yet to know his motives.  Harry has yet to guess at his motives as well, and one of the main reasons he decides to work together with him is, whatever Quirrell’s plans are, they require a strong and trained Harry Potter.  So he’s willing to cooperate.
I have two issues to take Harry to task for.  The first is the same as my wife: Harry has absolutely no intellectual humility, and no events or encounters seem to change that.  I thought a key difference between the books and this fan fic would be the elimination of the Gryffindor-esque I’m-the-hero-follow-me-I’m-the-best.  No; it just takes a Ravenclaw/Slytherin tone.  Harry not only is a genius; he is convinced that he has no intellectual equal, and that others don’t have anything to add.  I don’t appreciate the author’s twisting of Dumbledore’s figure into a caricature of the wise wizard in fantasy.  He views himself in a Gandalf-like role, considering himself a former hero, no wise advisor to current hero.  Harry takes advantage of this.  Dumbledore no longer has a sense of mystery about him, but rather a predictable, sentimental, and slightly crazy old man.  Respect for authority doesn’t factor in if Harry already knows that he is smarter than those he is talking to.  I just hope there aren’t real people out there who think like this version of Harry Potter.
The second qualm with Harry is derivative from the first.  It originally isn’t Harry’s idea, but Quirrell.  Quirrell is convinced that Britain’s democracy is a failure, and the only solution is a Dark Lord to rule over them.  Humans can’t rule themselves because they are too stupid.  Dumbledore opposes him, and Harry doesn’t buy in at first.  But the change comes when Harry experiences the horrors of Azkaban.  How could anyone inflict that kind of suffering on other humans– even if they are hardened criminals?  It is a living hell.  The very existence of Azkaban is proof that the Ministry of Magic is just as bad as a Lord Voldemort.  He discusses the topic with Dumbledore:
Fury blazed in Harry then, blazed up like fire, it might have come from where a phoenix now rested on his own shoulder, and it might have come from his own dark side, and the two angers mixed within him, the cold and the hot, and it was a strange voice that said from his throat, “Tell me something. What does a government have to do, what do the voters have to do with their democracy, what do the people of a country have to do, before I ought to decide that I’m not on their side any more?”
Because Azkaban is completely unjustified, Harry is OK with becoming an outlaw, overthrowing the government, and installing himself as Dark/Light Lord, he just hasn’t made up his mind.  Democracy doesn’t fit in when you trying to completely eliminate evil.  And I’m not OK with this line of thinking.  It reminds me of some of the warnings in The Road to Serfdom.  Intellectuals do tend to think they know better than everyone else, so why go the slow democratic route to improvement?
For those reasons, I chose to give this installment three stars.  It is still entertaining for the same reasons as the previous two, but I would have appreciated if the author had overcome one of the weaknesses Dorothy Sayers points out in mystery novels: all problems presented in the novel are solved in the same mindset in which they are presented.  The Sherlock Holmes over-simplification of life.
Image credite: HPMOR Wiki

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