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Cash registers in Britain busy with first sales

Saturday, June 21, 2003

LONDON -- With a jangle of cash registers and a whoosh of witches' capes, bookstores across Britain rang up the first official sales of "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" just after the stroke of midnight Saturday, bringing the boy wizard's fifth magical adventure to a legion of adoring fans.

"I love it so much I get goosebumps," said 12-year-old Lisa Brummett of Mesa, Ariz., after hours of waiting at the WH Smith bookstore at London's King's Cross rail station to buy the thick new book, J.K. Rowling's first in three years.

"It's kind of nice to escape to a place a bit more magical," said her sister, Stephanie, 16, looking forward to the 768-page British edition, the longest yet in the tales of Harry and his pals at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. (The American edition has 870 pages but the same content.)

The girls' family had rescheduled their two-week tour of Europe to be in London for the launch.

A line of 100 or so eager fans trailed from the store into the station's cavernous arrival hall and contained an equal smattering of children, parents and Potter-mad adults.

Bookstore owners appeared as excited as their customers.

"It is like a concentrated burst of Christmas," said Wayne Winstone, children's books director for Ottakar's bookshop, which had 77,000 advance orders nationwide.

The book was being launched in Australia, South Africa and New Zealand at the same time as in Britain. And a Paris branch of WH Smith held a special late-night opening with a magician performing tricks and staff dressed as wizards.

Anticipation built in the United States, where the book was to be released at 12:01 a.m. EDT today.

Aspiring young wizards visiting a Barnes & Noble bookstore in Henderson, Nev., received a pair of Harry Potter glasses and were placed under the famed Sorting Hat to determine which house they belong to at Hogwarts. At a Borders in Chicago, youngsters made owl puppets and got their faces painted as they awaited the midnight hour.

Security remained high at most outlets. The 100 copies already reserved at the Westerville Library in suburban Columbus, Ohio, were being kept out of sight in the basement.

"We are afraid if we wheel them through the library when patrons are in the building we will start a frenzy," manager Annabell Burton said.

The twists and turns in the plot were guarded closely by the British publisher, Bloomsbury. Rowling insisted on preserving her surprises for readers. She did reveal that one of the central figures dies in the book, but said she has not even told her husband who the doomed character is.

Yet leaks occurred. A store in Fishers, Ind., and a New York health food store were among those that mistakenly put copies out for sale. The Daily News in New York City, which bought a copy and published a preview, is now facing a $100 million lawsuit from Rowling and her publishers.

In England, 7,680 copies of the book were stolen from a truck parked outside a warehouse late Sunday night. Earlier this month, a print worker was sentenced to 180 hours community service for attempting to sell three chapters of the book to a tabloid newspaper.

Harry is 15 in the new book, and Rowling has disclosed that he will get to be a real adolescent, with his share of anger and some confusion over girls. There is much emotional interplay in the new book, which goes well beyond the children's genre.

Early reviews praised the fifth installment. USA Today cited Rowling's "wonderful, textured writing." The Associated Press said, "It was worth the wait. And then some."

Harry was 11 in the first volume, "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" -- released in the United States as "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone." Published in 1997, it was followed each year by another adventure -- "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets," "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" and "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire."

Rowling's four Potter books have sold an estimated 192 million copies worldwide and have been published in at least 55 languages and distributed in more than 200 countries. Blockbuster movies were made of the first two books and the movie stemming from the third will be released next year.

Amazon.com had 1 million advance orders for the fifth book.


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