- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 27, 2000

Harry Potter is only 14, but his life story is the biggest seller in children's book history.

Writer J.K. Rowling's first three books featuring the wizard-in-training have sold over 30 million copies worldwide, occupying the New York Times best seller list for months. On July 8, her fourth "Harry Potter" book is scheduled for release a novel so eagerly anticipated that the Web site Amazon.com is receiving 20,000 pre-orders per day for it.

As of yesterday, Amazon's orders for the 752-page novel had reached 247,078 copies.

Scholastic, publisher of the American version of the book, is printing a record 3.8 million hardcover copies. "We hope it's enough for the initial wave," said Michael Jacobs, senior vice president at Scholastic. "We'll continue to reprint as long as there's a demand."

In comparison, the print run of John Grisham's latest best seller, "The Brethren," was only 2.4 million.

Local bookstores have also found themselves swamped by customer reservation requests. Each bookstore surveyed cited reserve lists 100 to 200 names long from eager families three or four times longer than for any other best seller.

"We expect great sales that weekend," said Shanika Williams, community relations manager at the Jefferson Davis Highway Barnes and Noble. "We have a huge demand from just about everyone in the community."

Stores are stocking hundreds of Mrs. Rowling's latest. In addition, to meet clients' demands, area bookstores are keeping extra hours and hosting special events such as Potter-themed parties and sleepovers.

"We had a party for the third book that was so well received that we decided to do a party for the fourth book," Marilyn Dugan, owner of A Likely Story in Alexandria, Va., said. "We'll have one hallway set up for Diagon Alley. There will be a place to make magic wands and owls, a contest for best Harry Potter costume, some cake, a bean bag toss, and tattoos."

Over 150 children have signed up for the hourlong event. They will be split in two groups: One will come to the bookstore at 11 a.m., and the other at 1 p.m. It will be a long day for A Likely Story's staff: the bookstore will also open at 6 a.m. on July 8 for early-bird customers.

Though stores will receive copies of the book on July 7, all have promised to keep it locked up until 12:01 a.m. on July 8. When midnight rolls around on Friday, stores will either open late at night, like Imagination Station in Arlington, Va., or keep their doors open past closing time, like some Barnes and Noble stores.

Scholastic has sent 10,000 to 15,000 free "Harry Potter IV Event Planner Kits" to stores nationwide, which include invitations to Harry Potter parties, decoration ideas, free patches and stickers.

Borders Bookstores will be holding "Wizard's Breakfasts," providing juice and cookies to hundreds of "Harry Potter" fans. "We're going to have a look-alike contest open for every character: Harry, best other kid, best professor," said Rebecca Wilson, community relations coordinator at the Rockville, Md., Borders. "We've never done an event this large, centering around the release of a book before." And B. Dalton's employees will wear capes and hats to provide a festive atmosphere.

Libraries are also rushing the book to their shelves. Though processing for the average book usually takes from one to two weeks, librarians are giving "Harry Potter" top priority.

"We're planning on having ours out on the 10th, and they're coming in on the Eighth," said Kristi Beavin, head of Children's Services at Arlington Central Library. "I hope we can make it. Our customers hope we can make it." She said the list of names on the library's reserve list grows daily.

Arlington County Library has ordered 40 print copies and 25 audiotapes of Mrs. Rowling's latest. Each branch library will receive about three copies of the eagerly awaited novel. Though it might not be enough to meet the initial demand, "If we see requests pile up, we'll order more," Mrs. Beavin said.

Requests have come from adults and teen-agers as well as children. " 'Harry Potter' is one of those rare books which has a crossover appeal," says M. Dorsey-Jones, adult services coordinator at the Martin Luther King Memorial Library in Washington.

Neither bookstores nor reviewers have received preview copies of the fourth book, due to the secrecy surrounding it. Although Mrs. Rowling has leaked some hints about plot developments in interviews, even the actual title of the book and cover painting by illustrator Mary Grandpre have been kept tightly under wraps.

According to Mrs. Rowling, Harry and his broomstick-riding Quidditch team will go to a wizard's version of the soccer World Cup, meeting teams from other wizard schools and falling in love with the wrong people.

Mrs. Rowling has also stated that Harry's archenemy, Voldemort, will kill off a character in book four, as the books grow darker. "I am writing about someone, Voldemort, who is evil. And rather than make him a pantomime villain, the only way to show how evil it is to take a life is to kill someone the reader cares about," Mrs. Rowling said in a Time magazine interview.

The secrecy, crucial to the whodunnit mysteries, has only increased interest in the book. And controversy over the series' witchcraft and horror elements has done little to dampen demand.

Christian parent groups in eight states have lobbied to remove "Harry Potter" from classroom readings and warned other parents about the books' occult themes and fantastic, often gruesome imagery.

Yet other Christians, notably born-again preacher Chuck Colson, the Catholic journal First Things and the evangelical magazine Christianity Today have chimed in with their support of "Harry Potter".

An editorial by Christianity Today says: "Rowling's series is a 'Book of Virtues' with a pre-adolescent funny bone. Amid the laugh-out-loud scenes are wonderful examples of compassion, loyalty, friendship and even self-sacrifice. No wonder young readers want to be like these believable characters."

Despite the demand, Mrs. Rowling does not intend to do a U.S. tour promoting her fourth book. Her book signings in England will take place aboard an antique train renamed "The Hogwarts Express."

At midnight on July 8, Times Square will light up with a big-screen ad for "Harry Potter," and planes will fly ad banners announcing the book's arrival.

Even when the hoopla over the fourth book dies down, it may quickly be replaced by the buzz over Warner Brothers' "Harry Potter" movie, toy line and card game, scheduled for a November 2001 release, and the arrival of the series' final three books.

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