Watch Out For That Sneaky 'Hobbit,' Too

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Reading about wizards and spells and great feats of the imagination has the potential to drive children straight into the waiting arms of the occult. That appears to be the thinking out of Columbia, S.C., where a group of parents and school board administrators are arguing the dangers of the stunningly popular Harry Potter book series. They want the tales of a boy’s magical adventures, beloved by hordes of children and parents alike, taken out of their schools. And it’s not just South Carolinians who aren’t so wild about Harry; parents and school administrators in Georgia and Minnesota have also raised objections to the stories, using words like "death, hate and evil" to describe their tone.

Could it be a case of international misunderstanding? Joanne Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books, just happens to be Scottish, and when she was approached at a Boston book signing earlier this week and asked to comment on the uproar, she looked reproachfully at the reporter and shook her head sadly. Imagine what impression she’s going to take home to Great Britain: Americans who seem perfectly happy to watch over-the-top violence on television, and who continue to demonstrate an immoderate interest in professional wrestling, are now objecting to books that celebrate the inventiveness and creativity of children.

What is it about these books that makes some parents nervous? "These are probably the same type of people who think Halloween should be banned," says TIME London bureau correspondent Elizabeth Gleick. "The Harry Potter books are not reality-based, and that should be quite evident to everyone. Rather, they’re exactly the kind of books children have always loved, filled with magic." Historically, Gleick adds, there are many examples — "The Hobbit," "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," "The Wizard of Oz" — of similar literature, "all made up of acts of the imagination." Imagine what the reaction in South Carolina will be when the fourth book presents an adolescent Harry's thoughts on... girls.