So ... you remember Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, right? Of course you do. Methods is interesting in that it could have been part of any fandom. I assume Yudkowsky chose Harry Potter because it has the largest collection of fan fiction on fanfiction.net among other considerations.

But what if he hadn't?

Alternate outcomes of the rational fic undertaking were consider in an omake chapter and include such wonderful ideas as Lord of the Rationality, My Little Pony: Friendship is Science, Utilitarian Twilight, and many more. Nestled among the strange alternates is The Village Hidden in the Clarity where Naruto; the host of the super intelligent Nine Brains Demon Fox, and his team fight for the village as rationality ninjas. Like most of the pieces from this chapter it's more of a throw away joke than any sort of attempt at a real story and it would have remained that but for one simple fact: it showed up in a highly visible portion of the internet. The results where inevitable.

Let the Parody Begin


If you're not familiar with Naruto it's an anime/manga about a hyperactive teenage ninja living in the Village Hidden in the Leaves (or just leaf village) and his ninja friends. Ninja should of course be read as wizard/superhero since this is manga. Naruto is also a container for the Nine Tails Demon Fox making him sort of a walking WMD, grants him a major power boost when he's angry at the cost of his humanity, and sort of made him a pariah among those adults of who knew. Combine this with Naruto being an orphan and he pretty much raise himself in an environment where people avoided him out of fear and disgust. Oh, and nobody decided to tell him about the monster inside so everyone's behaviors seems completely arbitrary. Conveniently for everyone in the village Naruto did not turn into a vindictive psychopath, just the poster boy for ADHD try hards. Somehow he manages to make his personality flaws endearing. So if Harry Potter becomes Yudkowsky with super powers in a rational fic what does rational Naruto look like?

Basically, like the original Naruto but smarter. It's weird but the author basically just swapped out Naruto's unlimited stamina and rage power ups for raw intelligence. Unlike Harry Naruto hasn't extensively studied statistics and cognitive bias, though he is still a fairly competent autodidact. Most of Naruto's understanding came from the school of hard knocks, time spent at the local library, and entirely too much shonen manga resulting in a patchy mixture of insight and ignorance. He very deliberately obfuscates his intelligence and skill by constantly playing the fool both because he prefers to be under estimated and because he's observed that it has an alienating effect on others. The final product is a character that's fairly good natured but who's also deceptive and manipulative and has a rather blasé attitude to threats, insults, and others' opinions of him.

A big part of Methods is that Harry is the only person who's really thinking through the options opened up by magic in the wizarding world. Naruto doesn't have this advantage. The ninja world is as violent and bloody as European history and as a result the other ninjas are either fairly competent or dead. While the source material and fan fiction are both good at creating and portraying complex characters and scenarios Lighting Up the Dark shows just how much more detail can be presented in text and does a lot to flesh out the setting. The psychology of people who's training and inborn talents make them gods among normal folk makes for interesting reading and the story doesn't hesitate to take on the problems and advantages that come with raising children to become warriors and soldiers. It gives a believable portrayal of the stress related to being heir to honorable but violent legacies which is a part of real world history that is general portrayed in rather simplistic black and white terms depending on whether an author wants to portray chivalrous knights or an oppressive ruling class. Much of the plot revolves around characters deciding what they are willing to do for strength, recognition, political capital, and self respect.

Lighting Up the Dark is at twenty five chapter and like so many fan fictions it's anybody's guess whether it will ever be finished and it's for this reason that I have trouble recommending it. That said if you enjoy Naruto or complex plots in general you'll probably like this. It can be found at fanfiction.net.

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