Friday, July 15, 2005

11:39am est

Fans await Harry Potter release

Harry Potter
The first fans will get their hands on Harry Potter just after midnight
Harry Potter fans around the world are eagerly awaiting the release of the sixth book about the boy wizard.

Bookshops in 15 countries - including the UK, US, Brazil and the Philippines - will open at 0001 BST on Saturday.

Author JK Rowling is to read from the book, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, at Edinburgh Castle at midnight, in front of 70 children.

All the children won competitions to report on the event on behalf of newspapers from across the globe.

The cub reporters will be collected from a reception at the City Chambers by 12 carriages drawn by black horses adorned with black ostrich plumes.

Fire-eaters and jugglers will line the Royal Mile as they proceed to the castle, whose Queen Anne building has been dressed to resemble the entrance hall of Harry's school Hogwarts.

Rowling will make her appearance from behind a secret panel to read from the first chapter of her book, a copy of which will be given to each child.

Sylum Mastropaolo
US boy Sylum Mastropaolo was sold the book by mistake

Live footage of the reading will be shown on a large screen on the esplanade outside for more than a thousand other youngsters.

The same footage will be broadcast live at Barnes and Noble bookshop in Manhattan, where actor Jim Dale - who reads the audio versions of Rowling's books in the US - will host a launch party.

It is one of more than 5,000 that will take place across the States.

The biggest will be held at Mount Prospect, Illinois, where more than 10,000 fans will participate in a range of Potter-related activities.

Book chain Waterstone's is expecting 300,000 people to queue at its UK stores to be among the first to buy the book.

Attractions include face-painting, magic shows and reduced Potter performances - condensing the first five volumes into five minutes.

In New York, the world's biggest toy shop - Toys R Us in Times Square - will be transformed into the Hogwarts Academy.

Gordon Brown
Gordon Brown had high praise for JK Rowling

Other countries, including India, will also hold events to mark the occasion.

In Australia and New Zealand, the choreographed release will take place mid-morning local time.

Saturday is expected to become one the biggest book-buying days of the year, with 10 million copies set aside for the US market.

It is anticipated that more than two million copies will be sold in the UK alone.

The Royal Mail says it has been inundated with internet orders for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

'internet history'

More than 150 extra trucks will distribute copies from retailer warehouses to 1,400 delivery offices in order to ensure that customers are not disappointed in the morning.

"Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is set to make internet, as well as literary, history by becoming the biggest-selling single item ordered online for delivery on a single day," said a spokesman.

But the run-up to the book's release - the penultimate in the series - has not been problem-free.

One boy in the US, Sylum Mastropaolo, was sold a copy of the book by mistake on Monday, but he and his parents returned it to the shop.

A court order was issued in Canada banning the disclosure of the story's contents after a number of the books were sold by mistake.

And in the latest leak, a man who claims to have bought the book in a shop in Indianapolis has described the plot as "shocking".

Excitement mounting

Rumoured plot developments include the return of Moaning Myrtle the ghost, the reappearance of Lord Voldemort's assistant Wormtail and a romance for Harry.

There is also speculation that a recurring character will be killed off, with Hagrid, Professor Dumbledore and Harry's Uncle Vernon among those tipped for the chop.

With excitement mounting for the book's publication, Chancellor Gordon Brown has said he thinks Rowling has "done more for literacy around the world than any single human being".

Mr Brown and Works and Pensions Secretary David Blunkett have contributed to an ITV1 programme being broadcast on Friday evening to mark the publication of The Half-Blood

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