I don’t hold HPMoR to be the best fanfic ever written. I have read much better, even in its own category. Yet, there is no denying that it is at least decent, and that it has been massively popular.
I have read several articles, threads, and other discourse quite often describing it as the anathema. I think that’s a bit harsh. While various points are well made, there are common reproaches that I believe are not as pertinent as all that. Of course, most of this is subjective, and merely my own bumbling analysis, but isn’t that everything anyway?
I would not be surprised if, either now or during his younger years, Yudkowsky was, as I am, unable to offer quick-witted comebacks and turns of phrases during conversations. Oh, we can think of them, and occasionally we’ll think of them quick enough to actually insert them into the conversation, but as it happens most conversations I hold are not really all that smart-sounding.
So here comes a fanfiction, and suddenly I (or E.Y.) am able to write the characters I identify with as conversation masters (despite E.Y.‘s Harry being an asocial eleven-years-old who grew up speaking mostly to books, his parents, and his tutors) who always deliver great lines and leave their conversation opponents in the metaphorical dust. Who would pass up such an opportunity?
Something I see often in critiques of HPMoR is that Harry is able to do everything perfectly, with very few exceptions where it’s “not his fault.” That would be bad story-telling. I mean, the kid’s a kid. These tend to make mistakes (that’s how learning happens).
What these critiques usually ignore or miss is that the entire fic is written from the perspective of Harry, who does have an arrogant personality, a tendency to think he’s right, and a blatant disregard for everyone else. Harry is not perfect! He does make mistakes. He is routinely wrong. But E.Y. doesn’t actually say that explicitly. That would break the fourth wall. Instead, it’s on you, the reader, to look more closely and see that.
Which brings me to…
It’s a tool
(I’m not talking about Harry being a tool.)
The entire point of HPMoR is that it’s a humoristically written tool to demonstrate, in a controlled environment the readers are already familiar with, the reasoning techniques E.Y. was talking about in the Less Wrong blog. As soon as you forget that, or aren’t aware of it, you’re going to make a whole heap of assumptions that aren’t actually correct. Additionally, if you attempt to criticise the work pointing out it’s “clearly a blatant effort at demoing his whole rationality thing”, well, you’re gonna look silly.
Hermione is fridged, and HPMoR whole treatment of Hermione, as a secondary character who is still important to the plot but mostly as a foil and experimental prop for Harry’s tinkling and Harry’s manipulations of Draco… I’m less than sanguine about.
But Hermione is not fridged because she ceases to be useful to Harry, she is fridged because she is too useful to Harry. Let’s not forget there’s a creepy manipulative ruthless villain running around this fic, too. Harry is imperfect (see above), and Hermione tempers him (somewhat, and the merits of her usefulness being only as a calming anchor on the MC are dubious), and Voldie doesn’t want a restrained Harry who has to explain his moves (and therefore think about them harder). So Voldie disappears Hermione.
On the other hand, Ron is fridged by E.Y. quite deliberately. Not killed off, but just… disappeared from the plot. I don’t think we see him at all beyond the first few chapters, although the Twins are not in mourning so he surely must still be alive somewhere. Other minor characters like Blaise or fucking Seamus get more screentime than Ron. And the in-story justification? Harry doesn’t like bigots.
He seems perfectly capable of tolerating Draco’s shit, though, just for the sake of having a minion he can manipulate on some long game he made up within minutes of meeting the guy for the second time and casually joking about horrific things to “defuse” a situation. Sure.
It’s a fanfic
I feel a lot of people hold HPMoR to a very high standard despite it being a Harry Potter fanfic. Like, it’s a fanfic. These are generally not good. To be readable already brings one to the top 10% of the category. Furthermore, it’s a fanfic that was written serially, with an outline but no overall editing, first as a fun thing and then gradually more seriously as it grew in popularity and audience. You can’t expect professional-grade writing. Criticism is still completely valid, but discarding an entire fanwork because of a few perceived faults? You must not read a lot of fanfic, then.
Subnote: It’s problematic
To quote Talen Lee:
‘Problematic’ is a thing you say because you haven"t learned how to articulate critique coherently yet and infantalises the voice. Every single work is a composition of interpretations and strands of experience and coding and decoding, and there is always impurity.
Everything is problematic. Even without deconstructing the word ‘problematic’ and how that relates to the nature of works as a concept, everything will contain something that can be interpreted as offensive against your particular brand of morality. That does not mean the entire work is bad and wrong and you should feel bad for enjoying it.
Subsubnote: It is bad and you should feel bad
Fuck off, don’t tell me how to enjoy my entertainment.
Harry is overpowered
As opposed to what? Every other Super!Harry fanfic? Of course Harry is overpowered. He has to have a fighting chance, and E.Y. wants his hero to actually succeed. An expedient HPMoR-grade Quirrelmort would have immediately AK’d the brat at first meeting, say right after “accidentally” bumping into him in Diagon Alley, even before he got behind Hogwarts’ wards. Coupled with taking down the accompanying McGonnagal, he’d have delt a fatal blow to Dumbledore’s side before anyone knew the hostilities had begun anew.
Sure, the backlash of Lily’s protection would probably have re-shaded Mortface, but that’s what second chances and Horcruxes 2.0 are for.
Voldemort is overpowered
We just covered this. Voldemort got offed under overwhelming odds in his favour by an eleven-years-old. If anything, Voldemort was under powered, here.