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Harry Potter-mania

Bookstores anticipate huge midnight sales of J.K. Rowling’s fourth fantasy novel

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Tonight may mark the first time in parental history that kids all over will be encouraged to stay up past their bedtimes.

Rest a little easier, Potter fans; the big day has finally arrived. "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" hits bookshelves tonight at the stroke of midnight — and not a second earlier — in what is being called one of the biggest book releases of all time.

Move over, Dec. 25; July 8 has taken over!

"This is huge," said Karen Paul of The Children's Hour bookstore in Salt Lake City. "There's something very magical about these books."

"Kids have been asking about this book since the last one came out," said Pam Phillips, manager of B. Dalton in the Cottonwood Mall. "I tell them to let (author J.K. Rowling) write it first."

If a Potter-like owl brings you your messages, you've probably already heard, but if you're just a "Muggle" and possess no magical powers, listen up:

Bookstores across the nation and along the Wasatch Front are staying open a little later tonight in order to satisfy the immense appetite of fans who are busting at the seams to get their hands on Rowling's fourth book about Potter's adventures at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

"I have three on order for me — one for my brother and sister and one for me," said Lydia Martinez, who works in the children's section of Barnes and Noble Bookstore in Layton. "If I didn't get one for each of us, there would be a big fight over it — and I'd win. I can't wait for (tonight)."

Kids who normally dislike reading are delving into the books, and grandparents are buying the children's fantasy for themselves, all for the imaginative world they present. Flying broomsticks, moving chess pieces and a cloak that makes Harry invisible bring out the kid in all — big and small.

Besides, who wouldn't love a kid with a lightning bolt on his forehead?

"In some ways we wish we could all be Harry," said Kristen Comarell of Deseret Book in the Cottonwood Mall. "Geez, I have an aunt who is 50 that reads them."

Jacob Garcia, 7, of Layton said he likes to imagine himself in the midst of Harry's magical world. "I like when (Harry) looks in the mirror and sees his parents, even though they are really dead," Garcia said. "I like magic — the flying brooms and stuff like that."

Jacob's father, Gabriel, said he is going to stay up late and do the "Potter thing" with his son tonight. "It's an adventure for the kids. The books have become like a Peter Pan-type fantasy to them," he said.

In order to get their books by Potter Day, stores had to sign an affidavit promising they wouldn't sell the $25.95, 752-page book before 12:01 a.m., July 8. Kiddie book publisher Scholastic Inc. has threatened to cut off future deliveries of Potter to any store that sells the book prematurely.

"I think Scholastic is keeping it that way so it's a surprise for kids," Phillips said. "But they are being really tight with it."

As of 9 a.m. Wednesday morning, online bookseller Amazon.com had pre-sold 310,907 copies of the book. The store promised its first 250,000 customers the book would be delivered by Saturday morning — at no extra cost.

"It's pretty unbelievable; we've never had pre-orders like this," said Lyn Blake, general manager of the Amazon.com bookstore. "It's 6 1/2 times more than any book we've ever pre-sold in the past."

To give people an idea of the madness, Blake said, the last Potter book was pre-ordered by 40,000 people. Amazon.com's biggest pre-seller ever was a science-fiction book that pre-sold around 43,000.

"It's an interesting story for all ages," said Blake, who has read all three books. "People like Harry because he's the kind of underdog they can empathize with."

Security at Amazon.com's warehouses is so tight you'd think President Clinton was making a visit. First of all, Blake said, the books are being kept very high off the ground so no one will get the urge to sneak a peek. Secondly, the books are roped off with security cameras all around to keep a close eye. And to top it off, employees have to check in and out when they enter and exit the warehouses.

"We've got it covered — I think," she said.

Rowling has given a few tidbits about the coveted fourth book to keep readers' hearts pumping. We'll find out soon who the girl in Harry's life is, that someone close to him dies and the book also depicts the World Cup Quidditch game (a sport played with broomsticks).

Interestingly enough, Potter was conceived a few years ago on a napkin in a local cafe in Edinburgh, Scotland, by Rowling, who was a struggling single mother at the time. Soon after, she started writing the first of what she says will be a seven-book series.

The first book, "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone," made its debut in Great Britain in 1997 and was later renamed "The Sorcerer's Stone" for audiences in the United States. "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" came thereafter, and last fall, Rowling's third book, "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," hit shelves around the world.

Since then, Rowling has graced the cover of Time Magazine and appeared on "The Rosie O'Donnell Show." Her books have spent a combined 98 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list and have made Rowling an estimated $15 million, according to Forbes Magazine.

The first three books have sold more than 30 million copies in 31 languages, and that number is about to go up with the release of the fourth, which has an initial run of 3.8 million copies — the largest first printing in the history of domestic publishing.

And just because Harry's image isn't on everything from toilet paper to Happy Meals yet, don't worry — it will be soon. Warner Brothers has hired Chris Columbus ("Home Alone," "Mrs. Doubtfire") to direct the first of what could be many Potter movies. The filming begins this October in England, and the movie will hit theaters around Christmas 2001.

The New York Times is saying that Potter could ultimately become the first "billion-dollar boy" of merchandising. Warner Bros. Worldwide Consumer products has licensed more than 45 companies — including toy giants Hasbro Inc. and Mattel Inc. — to produce Potter paraphernalia.

All this for a kid with knobby knees and thick, round glasses.

"(Harry) clearly works for everyone and appeals across sexes, too," said Amazon.com's Blake. "Rowling will be able to keep us engaged. As children grow up, he will become a part of them. Harry will be around for a long time."

E-MAIL: ptruman@desnews.com