Quotes from the WWMoR Podcast Episode with Eliezer
Spoiler warning: This post contains full spoilers for Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality.
I listened to this WWMoR podcast episode in which Eliezer had a guest appearance. I didn’t see a transcript for the podcast, but found some of his replies interesting, so here is my attempt at a partial transcript.
All quotes are by Eliezer (EY), and I tried to quote him verbatim. I can’t guarantee perfect accuracy (nor spelling or punctuation, for that matter), so assume that any errors are my own. That said, I provide timestamps so you can check the context for yourself if so desired.
Quotes and Excerpts
13:00 (= at the 13-minute mark)
If you’d been meant to learn from Quirrel, you would have seen Quirrel learning.
By the end of the story, Harry has taken off the Hero mask and given it to Hermione, and put on Dumbledore’s mask instead.
26:00, regarding the plausibility of the scene when Harry and Quirrel escape from Azkaban on a contraption consisting of a broomstick plus a rocket:
Things out here in reality are just so much gratuitously worse than you would imagine them going if you were just going to be realistically pessimistic in a story. [...]
When I got to that part of the story, I realized that if you take a rocket and you glue it to a broomstick, you are just inevitably going to die. Like even for a story, that was too much. I couldn’t make myself believe it long enough to write it down. So I had Quirrel wake up and apply a Charm of Flawless Function to the rocket and attach it to the broomstick using an actual proper spell, and then I could believe it. I could believe that would work inside a story.
Now in real life, you know, the rocket drifts off course and crashes into the walls and they all die [...].
29:00, on how the story was planned:
Primarily what was going on was that there were scenes that I was using as the anchor point, and then, knowing that these things would happen later, I could make the rest of the story be made entirely out of foreshadowing of them.
All the characters are made out of pieces of me. [...] The particular way in which Harry is made out of me is something like 18-year-old Eliezer with his wisdom and constitution scores swapped and all the brakes removed.
49:08, on Harry’s and Quirrel’s apparent hypercompetence:
I do not make my stories out of tropes. I make them out of subverted tropes. So there is certainly a sense in which you have the hypercompetent character. But Harry is, if anything, a subversion of that. The rest of Hogwarts thinks he can do anything, but we are watching him from the inside, watching how he is faking all of it. [...]
Quirrel is obviously—says the author, whose job it was to make this obvious and may not have done that [well enough] - Quirrel is obviously pulling the same stunt as Harry from a different viewpoint. We just don’t get his viewpoint.
53:59, remarking on Harry’s guess before the Azkaban arc that they were going to break a Black out of Azkaban, which was correct by accident:
Harry is like [...] ‘I don’t care how wrong I was, I am taking that secret to the grave I will never occupy’.
I feel like the largest literary flaw [in the story] is that the grand climax of the story is Harry solving what I would later call a Level 2 Intelligent Character puzzle, which is sort of like a Munchkin puzzle. The Final Exam is like ‘Assemble these facts from inside the story and come up with a creative use for them.’, and it’s not a final challenge that holds up the thematic weight of the rest of the book. [...] It’s like a thing of cleverness where the solution doesn’t really have the depth that I learned to write in the rest of the story.
And that was an example of a flaw that just could not be fixed because of the number of open parentheses that had been set up and the amount of foreshadowing done going literally back to the first sentence of the book, pinpointing that exact puzzle and that exact solution. By the time I got there and could sort of see the way in which it wasn’t adequate, the structure of the book was woven together so tightly that there was absolutely no way to change it.
1:12:45, on whether specific characters in HPMoR were written to be liked or disliked:
I think there’s some kind of whole judgy thing - ‘Whose side are you on?’ - like, [in reference to the literary concept of Death of the Author which was previously discussed on the podcast] don’t kill the readers completely, but I feel like that part of the readers could afford to die or something...
This used to be this old tradition of you created a literary artifact and it would stand there being what it was, and now people have Twitter and identity politics and they think they’re supposed to take sides… It’s just not the way I was raised to write things.
Around 1:25:00, EY points out that Quirrel’s biggest error during the Final Exam was bringing in 36 Death Eaters after not seeing them for ten years, something a real Quirrel would never do. Whereas letting Harry keep his wand only turns out badly because Harry uses wordless magic powerful enough to defeat Quirrel, which is not something he expects, being the more powerful wizard in this equation.
1:32:18, on literary themes involving Hermione, including Mary Sue:
The real problem with Mary Sue is not having teeth made of unicorn horn, it’s whether you take over the story. Other themes in Hermione include Hermione representing the plight of the secondary character in fan fiction which she and Harry are both aware of and the rest of Hogwarts is determined to force her into that mold. It’s commentary on all the poor secondary characters in fan fiction who get shoved off into somebody’s harem or something. There’s also Hermione being part of the exchange of masks [= literary roles] where she gets the Hero mask from Harry and Harry gets the Old Wizard mask from Dumbledore.
Nobody did a literary analysis featuring any of this stuff, and therefore I reiterate that all literary analysis everywhere must be bogus.