Originally posted at Pharyngula. Salvaged from the comment threads, edited and re-posted due to popular acclaim.
Let’s try a thought experiment. Suppose that in the near future, our global civilization collapses: maybe we try to cancel out global warming with nuclear winter. Centuries later, cities are being built again, and archaeologists come across books. One series in particular must have been exceedingly important, as copies are found in different languages â€” French, German, English, Latin â€” all around the world. Each copy is only a fragment, but by comparing the overlapping portions a complete canon is tentatively identified. Some portions, attested only in surviving electronic records and printed material of lesser quality, seem to be later additions by a community of hands, but then again, portions of the canon itself are judged on literary grounds to be as low-quality as the least inspired of the apocrypha. The first copy found is in Latin, which scholars know to be the oldest of the languages in which translations exist, but further investigation turns up copies in Germanic languages which appear to be older.
Much of the material in these chronicles is of a fantastic nature, with epic battles between good and evil waged in a realm beyond the sight of most citizens, which the chronicles describe as blissfully ignorant. Believers in magic point out that prophecies made in one book are fulfilled in another, a claim which scholars dismiss as valueless. Upon a closer look, however, some places in these fantastic tales can be matched with known cities of the era, attested by archaeology â€” places like London. What’s more, incidental mentions of technology coincide with what is known about the era just before the Great Collapse.
Should we then have faith in Harrius Potter?