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This question has been asked on Reddit but without getting any properly sourced answer. Apparently there is a rumour on the internet that Eliezer Yudkowsky, author of the Harry Potter fan fiction Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, had never read J. K. Rowling's original Harry Potter series before writing this fan fiction. As you can see from the above linked Reddit thread, multiple people claim that he's on record as saying this somewhere, but nobody can provide an exact link or primary source.

Did Yudkowsky say that he'd never read the original Harry Potter books? If so, where and when?

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  • In the spirit of HJPEV, I must ask you to clarify... The most common claim on the Reddit thread seems to be that he didn't read all of the books before starting the fanfic, which is different from "never read the books." The OP of the Reddit thread says "I read him explicitly mentioning that he read lots of HP fanfics, but never that he actually read the original," which is again different from "mentioning that he never actually read the original." So which claim are you asking about?
    – DLosc
    Commented Apr 21, 2023 at 20:07
  • @DLosc Either/both. Basically, how much of the original HP had he read, and what is the source for any claim about how much he said he'd read.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Apr 21, 2023 at 20:22
  • Interesting timing. I mentioned HPMoR and Yudkowsky on Math History SE just yesterday (they asked for a list of mathematicians who wrote fiction, I claimed AI research counted as "math" :)
    – DVK
    Commented Apr 21, 2023 at 22:05
  • 1
    @DVK given the tendency of LLMs to hallucinate, one could also argue that AI research counts as fiction :)
    – verbose
    Commented Oct 8, 2023 at 7:58

1 Answer 1

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He probably read them at some point

There is some evidence to suggest that Yudkowsky finished reading the original books sometime before he finished writing Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality.

In the author's note at the beginning of chapter 96, he writes:

For those who have not read canon: The wooden sign has somewhat changed, but the inscription here is the same as in J.K. Rowling's original.

This quote implies, but does not prove, that Yudkowsky had finished reading the original series by the time he wrote this chapter. (The sign and its inscription are from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the final book of the series; if Yudkowsky had read Deathly Hallows, he had probably also read the prior books.)

Of course, it's possible Yudkowsky found the quote online rather than through reading the book. Interestingly, the inscription in Yudkowsky's version is not actually the same as in J.K. Rowling's original:

On this spot, on the night of 31 October 1981, Lily and James Potter lost their lives. Their son, Harry, remains the only wizard ever to have survived the Killing Curse. This house, invisible to Muggles, has been left in its ruined state as a monument to the Potters and as a reminder of the violence that tore apart their family.
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, chapter 17: "Bathilda's Secret"

On this spot, on the night of 31 October 1981,
Lily and James Potter lost their lives.

They were survived by their son, Harry Potter,
the only wizard ever to withstand the Killing Curse,
the Boy-Who-Lived, who broke You-Know-Who's power.

This house has been left in its ruined state,
as a monument to the Potters,
as a reminder of their sacrifice.
- Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, chapter 96: "Roles, Pt 7"

Possibly Yudkowsky means that the first sentence is the same, and the rest of the inscription is the part that "has somewhat changed." The changes (making the wording more poetic, talking up Harry more, and dropping the reference to Muggles) fit the tone of the fanfic chapter, so I suspect they're intentional and not a result of referencing an inaccurate quote online.

There is also an author's note on chapter 4 that references the original books:

As others have noted, the novels seem inconsistent in the apparent purchasing power of a Galleon; I'm picking a consistent value and sticking with it.

This could be read two ways: "Based on my reading, I think--and others agree--that the novels are inconsistent"; or "Other fanfiction authors have said--and I believe them--that the novels are inconsistent." I think the first interpretation is more likely; if that is the case, Yudkowsky would have read at least some of the original books by a very early point in the writing of HPMOR.

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  • Nice finds but, I feel, not conclusive. You have my +1 but I'm still waiting for anyone to find the quote from Yudkowsky that so many people apparently remember (even if perhaps misquoted) or evidence that it was made up by someone.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Apr 22, 2023 at 6:00
  • Sure. This is just a partial answer.
    – DLosc
    Commented Apr 22, 2023 at 22:04

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