Harry Potter

"Abracadabra! J.K. Rowling's magical Harry Potter books have cast a spell on kids around the world"

by Elizabeth Gleick, London ("Time Magazine", vol. 154, no. 4 July 26, 1999)

At Waterstone's in Birmingham, it was in a cage guarded by two mannequins dressed like Men in Black. At Blackwell's Children's Bookshop in Oxford, the staff tried chaining it up in the window for a few days, but kids kept borrowing stools and climbing in for a peek, so it was hidden away. And on the afternoon of July 8, stores around Britain were packed with children waiting for it. No, not for the newest set of Pokemon trading cards, but for a book: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the third installment of J.K. Rowling's entrancing magical mystery tales about a boy who is really a wizard. At exactly 3:45 p.m.--the moment of the book's eagerly awaited release, timed to the end of the school day--"there was a pause," says Tara Stephenson, head of children's sales and marketing at Blackwell's. "Then once the first one was sold, it was an absolute tidal wave."
Without any help from Harry's brand-new Firebolt broomstick, the books just flew off the shelves. The Birmingham Waterstone's sold 32 copies in the first 10 minutes. Blackwell's sold 92 in the first half hour. At Storyteller, in the small town of Thirsk in north Yorkshire, a staggering 56 were snapped up that first afternoon--"and we don't usually sell books in hardback at all," says store owner Judy Turner, who has taken to selling the book at cost rather than confront the "droopy faces" of those who cannot afford the $17 cover price. Less than two weeks after its release in Britain, the book has gone through 10 printings and sold 270,000 copies, outstripping its nearest competitor, Thomas Harris' Hannibal. "I haven't seen anything quite like this," says Caroline Horn, children's book editor at Bookseller magazine. "It happened in the playground."
Across the Atlantic, meanwhile, The Prisoner of Azkaban is not due to come out until Sept. 8, and kids are going berserk. It's not enough that there are more than 1.7 million copies of the first two books, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, in print in the U.S.; young readers want the new one, and they want it now. In the Henderson-Nold household in Berkeley, Calif., Nick, 12, and Will, 10, were so desperate for the next fix that Nick and his mother, Susan Henderson, went straight to the Internet, where they struck gold. More than a month before the Prisoner of Azkaban was available even in Britain, the Henderson-Nolds had ordered it from http://amazon.com's British subsidiary, amazon.co.uk, for about $19, including shipping. The book landed a few days ago, but it was a long wait. "Nick knew that July 8 date," says Susan, laughing. "It was impressed in his head."
A spokesperson at amazon.co.uk confirms that there has been "considerable interest" from overseas customers, which means that Scholastic, the U.S. publisher, is losing untold sales to British publisher Bloomsbury--an increasingly sticky issue of territorial rights raised by the borderless Internet. For now, Scholastic is bowing to copyright laws that permit the export of one copy per customer "for personal use." Says Arthur Levine, the series' U.S. editor: "It's not an issue I even want to talk about." In the future, though, he'll be taking no chances: the fourth Harry Potter will be released simultaneously in Britain and America next year.
The previously unknown and unpublished Joanne Rowling, 33, who lives in Edinburgh with her five-year-old daughter, is a bit stunned at her snowballing success. "I do feel sometimes as though someone has taken the lid off my stone," she confesses. "I feel very exposed." Shunning a press tour for the new release, she is busy working on the fourth of what will be seven books--one for each year Harry attends Hogwarts, his wizard school.
This year Harry turns 13, and he and his pals Ron and Hermione meet flying Hippogriffs and terrifying Dementors, prison guards who suck the happiness out of people; they take classes in Divination and discover new powers. But as Rowling, with her trademark humor and tight plotting, continues to mine her true themes of betrayal and loyalty, love and loss, the forces of evil are also encroaching. "Life is becoming a bit more fraught with anxiety generally," Rowling says. "And in book four, Harry gets introduced to his hormones." All of which will help Harry and his fans grow up together.