Spellbound by Harry Potter


For Harry Potter fans, yesterday was all about waiting. The wait for stores to open and the fourth installment of the best-selling series by J. K. Rowling to go on sale.

The kids, the parents, the booksellers. From Bel Air to Columbia, they waited.

Because as they all knew very well, yesterday was the official release date of "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire."

Some waited for the bewitching hour of midnight while others arose shortly after dawn to get their copy of the young wizard's latest adventures and partake of the accompanying festivities.

Vacations had been canceled and trips to summer camp postponed for this 734-page, 2.7-pound book with a suggested retail price of $25.95.

Not since "Gone With the Wind" had a best-selling book swept the nation the way Harry Potter has, booksellers said. The first three titles dominated best-seller lists last year and have sold more than 21 million copies in the United States. In the United States and Great Britain, a record-setting 5.3 million copies of "Goblet's" first edition were printed.

Booksellers opened as much as two hours early yesterday and offered Potter-theme breakfasts, contests and magic shows that continued throughout the day.

Borders Books and Music in Towson was host to two sold-out Hogwarts breakfasts for 120 Harry Potter fans.

The breakfast drew a younger set than the events held when the book was released at 12:01 a.m. yesterday. Children as young as 3 dined on a $3 breakfast buffet of pastries and "magic" jellybeans while magician Tim Hall worked the room with a hat that could make any kid a wizard.

"Harry Potter is someone who doesn't have everything, so people can relate to him," said 10-year-old Helen Behnke-Hanson of the book's hero, who is an orphan despised by his foster family. "But he also does great things, so people admire him."

During breakfast, excerpts from the new Rowling release were read aloud. Portions of the second chapter launched a mystery that includes three dead bodies and the ominous close, "Voldemort and Wormtail had been talking about someone they had killed, though Harry could not remember the name ... and they had been plotting to kill someone else ... him!"

The audience was silent. Then, after some nervous laughter, they applauded.

At the Zany Brainy in Columbia, which opened two hours early at 8 a.m., one youngster practically jumped in place as he waited. "I'm really excited. I think I can read this in two and a half weeks," Jack Plowe, 9, of Columbia. "That's why they call me 'Reader Boy' at school."

He noted his resemblance to one of the main characters, Harry's close friend Ron Weasley. His mother, Emily Frosch, said three generations in their family share a love for Harry. "His grandparents first saw the books in England and brought them back for us, and now we've got all the English versions of the books, too," Frosch said.

The daytime events were somewhat more subdued than the midnight celebrations - perhaps because the young customers were more rested or simply less anxious about their hero's exploits.

Late Friday night, a snaking line wound through Ellicott City's Barnes & Noble, starting at the front row of cash registers and ending in the children's section at the store's back corner. Parents waited in line while their children frolicked. One woman held a broomstick.

"This is our Nimbus 2000," said Jan Stokley, 48, of Catonsville as she showed off her version of Harry's flying broomstick.

"I have two children here in costume," she said. "We love Harry Potter, and we had to get the book. I enjoy the fact that they have so much fun with the story." Holding a "Star Trek" paperback she said, "I have my escapism; they have theirs."

Kids wearing black, round Harry Potter glasses were revved up by the anticipation. Stokley's daughter, Caroline Mekusick, 10, chose a black robe to make her statement, and like the studious character Hermione, carried several books resembling those on the curriculum of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Having read all three books, more than 1,000 pages, she said, "I really want to know who dies. The suspense is killing me!"

Other youngsters wore uniforms of wizards and witches. Jenny Kahl sported a navy blue fleece robe sprinkled with stars and moons. The 10-year-old reached into her pocket and unveiled her secret potion wrapped in a satin cream bag. She said she whipped it up in her bathroom but wouldn't reveal the secret ingredients.

Kids and adults alike had waited hours in bookstores at 12:01 a.m. yesterday to buy it, facing lists of more than 500 people who had already reserved copies. Likewise, online booksellers had made record pre-publication sales.

By 1:30 a.m. yesterday, the store's 1,200 Potter customers had cleared out several cartons of "Goblet" editions.

In comparison, the table of books at the Towson Library looked conspicuously full. Eleven hours after the book hit the market, 10 copies were still available.

Baltimore County public libraries strove to meet the demand by circulating 541 copies of the book in 16 branch locations countywide. More than 200 were reserved before the book's release.

About a dozen people waited for the Towson branch to open at 10 a.m. yesterday.

"We took an extra effort to make sure the book got on our shelves at the very earliest moment it could," said library manager Jennifer Haire.

With the games, giveaways and hype, it's understandable why kids were wild about Harry and the release of his latest escapades. But parents had their reasons, too."[Harry Potter] has gotten my kids really interested in reading," said Debbie Kahl, 44, of Ellicott City. "It's a complicated enough plot that it really held [my daughter's] attention. It opened up their imagination and the whole issue of good and evil."

Peggy Pasquarella of Ellicott City is amazed at the change in her 8-year-old son's reading habits. She recalled coming home one day and "I just thought, why is it so quiet? Then I realized it was because all the boys were here reading." Her son and his friends were engaged in a reading contest on the Potter books.

"Attending a literary event and getting a book that's a first release is a way of encouraging reading," said Shanae Murray of Pikesville. She and her husband, Frank, surprised their 9-year-old daughter, Morgan, with a reservation for a pre-release party and a copy of the book.

"It makes you excited if you've already read half of a book and you wonder what's going to happen next," Morgan Murray said. "Your parents say, 'Goodnight, it's time to go to sleep,' and then you dream about it."

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