Bewitched and Besotted by Book 7

By Fredrick Kunkle and Delphine Schrank
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, July 21, 2007

For a seventh time, Harry Potter held the world in his spell.

At 8:04 a.m. yesterday in New York, where the boy wizard's broom first landed at a U.S. publishing house, "Harry Potter Place" stirred to life at the headquarters of Scholastic Corp. with the arrival of the seventh and final copy of J.K. Rowling's spectacularly popular series. Fans were treated to a giant Whomping Willow, a Muggle board and a Knight Bus, modeled after the "violently purple" triple-decker in the books.

Music swelled as the Knight Bus churned down a narrow alley at the end of a national tour, discharging six children in black Hogwarts gowns who held books one through six. Then came Arthur A. Levine, the U.S. editor who snagged the rights to publish Potter here for a mere $100,000. In his hand was the first signed U.S. edition of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" inside a transparent lockbox.

Then all seven volumes were deposited into another lockbox designed to look like a Pensieve, or stone basin for storing thoughts and memories. With the wave of a wand and a cloud of fairy dust, a digital clock began ticking. For the next 15 hours, 44 minutes, and 18, 17, 16, 15 seconds, and on until midnight, Potter fans would not move forward with their lives.

From London to Leesburg, legions of fans, many dressed like Potter characters, lined up outside stores and attended parties while awaiting the book. Downtown Silver Spring and Old Town Alexandria turned into late-night witching alleys as fans counted the minutes to midnight.

"There are other good books out there, but this one seems to be the most captivating of all," said Peter Adler Ash, 12, at a Borders bookstore in Silver Spring. Wearing a pointy sorcerer's hat plastered with silver stars and moons and carrying a wand, Peter said he began reading the series when he was 6. He said he was a little worried that Harry and some of his other favorite characters might perish in the climactic battle with the evil wizard Lord Voldemort.

"I hope that he will live, but nobody knows. I mean, how can J.K. Rowling make him die?"

Pottermania, which has been building for the better part of a decade, peaked last night. The phenomenon is familiar to anyone who has not "disapparated" (disappeared) from the planet since "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" appeared in the United States in 1997. Orphaned after his parents are killed by Voldemort, Harry lives a Cinderella-like existence of abuse and neglect with relatives until age 11, when he is summoned by a message-bearing owl to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. There, Harry encounters a marvelous host of classmates and instructors, villains and heroes, with Dickensian names and supernatural powers. While learning the basics of potions, dorm life and frat house-like rivalries, he also discovers that he must face Voldemort in a decisive battle in which one must kill the other.

Drawing on influences from myth and legend as well as such contemporary sources as Roald Dahl, C.S. Lewis and even "Star Wars," the books teem with magical delights and terrors, such as Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans, Whomping Willows, Avada Kedavra spells, Quidditch and Horcruxes. The books also became progressively darker, offering readers an adolescent identity quest within an epic struggle between good and evil.

To some, navigating Rowling's sometimes-pedestrian prose is like undergoing a Cruciatus Curse: a form of torture. But to many, many more, the books have become a beloved rite of passage.

"I think there's a very resonant story at the core of it: good versus evil," said Andrew Pendergrass, manager of the Patrick Henry branch library in Vienna.

The series has been credited with inspiring a generation of young readers, especially among boys. More than 325 million copies of the first six volumes have been sold. Five Potter movies have been made, including "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," which opened this month. They have grossed more than $4 billion.

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