- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 16, 2005

Amid the bills, birthday cards, credit-card applications and other mail inside the U.S. Postal Service truck of Alicia Tutt yesterday were nine small boxes.

Some were packed in plain, brown cardboard and others were marked with a sorcery-like font asking: Who is the half-blood prince? However, inside each was “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” the latest, 672-page installment in the Harry Potter book series, which has captured the interest and imagination of fans of all ages.

“The customers are eager to get the Harry Potter books,” said Ms. Tutt, who delivered the books in Falls Church, just hours after their post-midnight release to an eager, worldwide audience. “It’s a good, light escape, and everyone needs that.”

Ms. Tutt, who labored yesterday under cloudy skies and oppressive humidity, expected that mostly children would be awaiting the arrival of a children’s book. But four of the first five customers who answered their doors were adults, a testament to the series’ wide popularity.

“Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” author J.K. Rowling’s sixth installment in the seven-book series, is expected to smash the one-day sales record of 5 million in 24 hours, set by the fifth book in the series.

Ten million copies, including 2 million in Miss Rowling’s home country of Britain, were expected to be sold in the first 24 hours of sales.

Jim Cochrane, 68, is eager to read the latest in the series, which he got hooked on through his son.

“I like them, but I’m sort of like a kid myself,” he said when Ms. Tutt arrived.

Just a few blocks away, 10-year-old Jeremy West was already waiting for his copy, despite having bought one with mom Kristen when the books went on sale yesterday morning.

Still, he thanked Ms. Tutt, saying his mother had been “hogging” their first copy.

Ms. West, who by mid-morning was in the middle of chapter seven, said the sixth book nicely ties together the first five.

Jeremy expects he will take about two months to read the entire book, but neighbor Brian Barlett, 47, estimated he would finish his copy by last night.

Mr. Barlett is recuperating from surgery and has been looking forward to something to do.

“It’s a good read,” he said. “My nephews read it, too, and we talk about it.”

Signaling the demand for the book, Amazon.com, which includes Borders bookstores, had 1.5 million pre-ordered copies, and Barnes & Noble had more than 1 million copies.

The mania over the stories of Harry Potter, a young orphaned wizard’s tales at Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry, has been fueled mostly by word-of-mouth and tight security about the book’s plot.

Even yesterday, after stores opened, carriers were instructed not to leave the books outside if the recipient wasn’t home or didn’t have a large enough mailbox to hold it, to avoid theft of the special delivery.

Ms. Tutt was glad most of the Harry Potter fans on her route were home.

“It’s nice seeing the smile on customers’ faces when they see their book,” she said.

Ms. Tuff recalled that everybody was home when “Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix,” the fifth book in the series, was released in 2003.

“No one left home until they got their book,” she said.

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