The Farmington Public Library has become a “chamber of secrets” this week with contents as closely guarded as “the sorcerer’s stone.” It’s likely the delivery man had no idea of the precious cargo he delivered to the library Wednesday in that unassuming cardboard box.
Librarian Liz Perry took it and signed her name promising she would keep the box’s contents in a secure location shielded from sight like the “prisoner of Ascaban” until after midnight tonight. That’s when “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” is officially released, the sixth in the popular series of books about the young wizard. Wednesday, the library received three of the five copies they ordered.
Pre-orders of the book have broken all records. Amazon.com has been taking them at a rate of more than one a minute since the book’s release date was announced last December. Scholastic, the U.S. publisher of the book, printed 10 million of them. Compare that to a book by best-selling author John Grisham with a first printing of about 2.5 million.
The new book is expected to take up where 2003’s “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” left off. It will tell the story of Potter’s sixth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. While it will still be the story of the battle of good and evil, the details have been shrouded in secrecy. The idea is that readers and reviewers will be forced to crack open their books all at once. The anticipation is almost more than many mere muggles (non-magic folk) can bear.
“It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before,” said Perry, “I practically had to sign my name in blood to get them (the books) before Saturday.”
The hype over Harry’s sixth adventure has spilled over onto the Internet. There are sites where fans can muse about what might become of the teenage wizard and his pals.
Since the first book, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” in 1998, more than 102 million copies of the books in the series have been sold. They’re read by older elementary children as well as adults. Their popularity has never waned. Author J.K. Rowling promises only one more book in the series.
At the library, the first five books of the series have been flying off the shelves. Perry says faithful followers of the young wizard’s life scramble to refresh their memories of the story before the new book comes out. Other readers are new to the Potter story.
“I think people like it because Harry is a kid other kids can relate to,” said Diana Stuart, who teaches a course on children’s literature at Mineral Area College. “The story lines are exciting, and the magic makes it more exciting.”
In the fall, she will teach a new class on young adult literature and the first Potter book is the first book she will assign her class to read.
“Harry is part of this generation’s pop culture,” she said. “Like ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ it features good triumphing over evil. I think it’s destined to be a classic.”
Her son agrees. Thirteen-year-old Chris Stuart has read all the books and plans to get the newest one the day it comes out.
“I can identify with Harry,” he said. “If the new book is like the others, I won’t be able to put it down until I’ve read the whole thing.”
At the Wal-Mart SuperCenter in Desloge, Stationery Manager Tammy Elders said the books would likely be on display near the front registers just after midnight. She expects to sell out.
“I don’t know how many we’re getting because the company places the order,” she said. “We’ve taken pre-orders, though, and if it’s like the other Potter books, we’ll sell them quickly.” For the last month, the Farmington Library has had a sign counting down the days until the book’s release. Shortly after Angela Lee opens at 9 a.m. Saturday, she expects their five copies to be snapped up quickly from the “Junior Fiction” section.
“You know, I’ve never read a Harry Potter book,” she said, “I guess maybe I should.”
It’s not likely she’ll get the chance for awhile because the staff has been told to keep their hands off the hot reads and let the library patrons have first crack at them.
“Those who get them Saturday can check them out for two weeks, but because they’re new releases, they can’t renew them,” explained Perry.
In addition to the hardback copies, she hoped to have a C D and cassette tape version, as well.
Some Christian groups have criticized the Potter books. The author of a book called, “Harry Potter – Good or Evil” said Pope Benedict is among them.
Gabriele Kuby has published statements from letters she said were written to her by Benedict in 2003 when he was a cardinal. She said he wrote that the books seduce young readers and “distort Christianity in the soul” before it can grow properly. The Vatican has previously appeared to approve of the books, saying they help children understand the difference between good and evil. The Pope is vacationing and the Vatican has had no comment.
The Harry Hoopla is expected to crank up again in November with the release of the movie based on the fourth book, “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.”