Hogwarts Wild

'Goblet of Fire' is so close and the Potter fever so intense that betwitched Muggles, and creative bookseller, are going mad about Harry

Welcom Back Potter

July 07, 2000|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

Pocket monsters and monster storms don't stand a chance against this kid. Summer's real blockbuster is a book and it's knocking out everything in its path. With the release of "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" just hours away, anticipation is building to kinetic levels among the book's young audience.

For them, New Year's will come half a year early tonight as celebrations around the world mark July 8 as H-day - the official release date of Book IV in the Harry Potter saga. At 12:01 a.m. Saturday Times Square in New York will light up with the message, "No more waiting. It's here." By then, a replica of the book's Platform 9 and 3/4 will be welcoming fans at London's Kings Cross Station, from which Harry departs every fall for wizard school.

Closer to home, more than a dozen special events are planned to toast the arrival of J.K. Rowling's latest installment. Bookstores from Bel Air to Annapolis are staying open late - or opening extra early - to capitalize on the frenzy.

"This thing has taken on a life of its own," says Zany Brainy's regional spokeswoman, Rebecca Feaster. "We knew it was going to be big, but we had no idea it'd be anything like this.

"People have asked about our policy on sleeping outside," Feaster says. "People want to know how soon they can get into the stores."

More than 3,000 Zany Brainy customers locally have pre-ordered copies, an unprecedented event for the chain, Feaster says. All five of its area outlets will open two hours early at 8 a.m. for the predicted rush.

Some area retailers aren't waiting for the light of day, but taking a cue from pop music releases and opening seconds after midnight. That way they can be among the first to sell the book while technically abiding by the publisher's demand that no copies of "Goblet" be available before Saturday.

"A little before 12 we'll have a countdown and wheel out the books with two armed guards," says Lori Sellers, community relations manager for Barnes & Noble in Ellicott City. Employees there will toast "Goblet" decked out in capes, glasses and wizard hats provided by corporate headquarters. On hand will be a total of 1,400 books of which nearly half are pre-orders.

To the north, costumed employees and a Potter-style candy shop will entertain young customers awaiting midnight at the Bibelot in Timonium. They'll have butterbeer (a goblet of root beer with butterscotch candy on the side), packets of Every Flavor Beans and lots of chocolate. They're even preparing for the die-hards who don't appreciate their improvisation.

"If a pedantic 10-year-old says, `This isn't an Every Flavor Bean,' we can say, `Well, Muggles aren't allowed at Honeydukes,'" says Juliana Wood, Bibelot director of marketing and events.

The store plans to "stay open as long as it takes to make sure anyone with the burning desire to purchase `Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire' gets it," says Wood. Once the books become available at 12:01 Saturday, she expects the first 45 minutes to be the busiest, with activity tapering off after an hour.

Not every area bookseller is going Hogwarts wild. "We're not jumping on that bandwagon," says Margaret Hutson, manager of the Book Rack in Timonium, which has received 50 pre-orders. "The momentum will carry itself. There's no need to fan the fire - not to diss the fire, it's a great fire - but it will propel itself without our help."

Likewise, the Children's Bookstore in Roland Park isn't hosting any special events, but the shop where author Rowling made her only local appearance last year is bracing for a rush on Saturday. "People will probably be waiting at the door," says co-owner Shawn Nocher. "People have already come in every day asking about it, even people who have pre-ordered." The shop stopped taking pre-orders two weeks ago to make sure copies were available for walk-ins, too.

Children's Bookstore received the final shipment of its precious goods yesterday. While stores in other parts of the country are reportedly keeping "Goblet" beneath trap doors, there's none of that cloak and dagger action here. "They're stashed away but we trust our customers more than that," says Nocher.

As to the 700-plus pages (weighing 2.7 pounds) that customers will have to go through, "They love it so much they'll be excited it's so big," says Nocher. "It's really changed reading for a lot of kids who didn't think they'd ever read, especially boys who have struggled with reading. Parents and kids are discussing books together."

"We've never seen anything like it," she adds.

While some are burning holes in their wallets shelling out the suggested retail price of $25.95, others can dig into their pockets for their library cards and get the same thing for free.

Baltimore branches of the Enoch Pratt library will have 143 copies of the book ready to check out on Saturday, says Pratt spokeswoman Judy Cooper. Surprisingly not one of the books has been reserved.

"I just couldn't believe it," says Cooper. "It's a mystery to me, unless the people who want it want their very own copy."

Baltimore County's public library system, which spans 16 branches and one mobile unit, bought 540 copies of Book IV and currently has 265 people on its waiting list.

The books will "be there Saturday unless a thunderbolt strikes them down," says Lila Wisotzki, coordinator of materials selection.

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