Fans of all ages are preparing for the release of the sixth 'Harry Potter' book.
By KAREN MACPHERSON
It's going to be the world's biggest book party.
From Singapore to Boston, from London to New Delhi, millions of children and adults will gather Friday evening at bookstores to count down the minutes to the 12:01 a.m. release of "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince."
Some cities, including Naperville, Ill., Wilmington, Ohio, and San Mateo, Calif., will transform their downtowns into giant Potter parties, complete with locations -- such as Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and Diagon Alley -- from the best-selling books.
San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom has proclaimed July 15 to be "All-Potter's Eve" in his city, while the Ottaker's bookstore chain in Great Britain will temporarily re-name itself "Pottaker's."
"Harry Potter" author J.K. Rowling will kick off the global celebration of the teen wizard's adventures at Scotland's Edinburgh Castle. At the stroke of midnight, she will read from the newest book -- the sixth in the series.
"The phenomenon that is Harry Potter is completely unprecedented in publishing," said Diane Roback, children's-book editor for Publishers Weekly. "The size of the first print run [of Book Six], the scope of the demand, the age groups the books appeal to -- it all crosses any kind of line you can think of."
Even before its release, the 672-page "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" has broken all kinds of publishing records -- most set by Book Five, "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," when it was published two summers ago.
For the new book, Scholastic ordered an initial printing of 10.8 million copies, up from 8.5 million for the fifth book. That's one "door-stopper" for every two of the nation's 5- to 14-year-olds, according to School Library Journal.
By comparison, Doubleday printed 2.8 million copies of an adult blockbuster novel, John Grisham's "The Broker," earlier this year.
The nearly 11 million books in that first run will be added to the 270 million copies of "Harry Potter" books, in 62 languages, already in print worldwide.
Sales of the audio version of "Half-Blood Prince," which will be released simultaneously with the books, also are expected to be huge. Listening Library has ordered a record first printing of 635,000 copies of the book, which again will be narrated by Grammy winner Jim Dale.
Not everyone, however, is a "Harry Potter" fan. Some conservative Christians have criticized the books for what they believe is the promotion of anti-religious magic focused on witches and wizards.
Then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger -- now Pope Benedict XVI -- blasted the boy wizard two years ago as "a product of evil," contending that the books can lead to "a subversion of Christianity in the inward being."
Most recently, a councilman in Northern Ireland, Roy Gillespie, labeled the series a "cult" and urged parents to boycott the Potter parties, saying the midnight time chosen for the parties is "suspicious."
Millions of children, however, will be wide awake and counting down the minutes until they can read the latest chapter in the life of Harry and his best friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger.
In the new book, Harry will be 16 and in his sixth year at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. As Harry has gotten older, the books have gradually taken up teen themes, including romance.
Since Harry has broken up with his first girlfriend, Cho Chang, many readers are interested to see if he gets a new love interest. There's also interest in seeing if Ron and Hermione act on what seems to be their mutual attraction.
"Rowling provides types who we recognize," said Philip Nel, associate professor of English at Kansas State University and author of "J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter Novels: A Reader's Guide." "The world they inhabit may be fantastical, but the characters are realistic."
It's likely that Book Six also will include a major battle of good vs. evil; the last chapter in Book Five was titled "The Second War Begins," and Harry and other main characters were readying themselves for a fight with the forces of the "Dark Lord."
Rowling has given a few hints about what else readers may expect to happen.
One character will be killed, and although Rowling refuses to say who it is, she has reassured fans on her Web site (www.jkrowling.com) that Harry definitely will survive to the seventh and final book.
However, she added: "I am not going to say whether he grows any older than that because I have never said that."
Asked at last year's Edinburgh Book Festival which character she'd like to be for a day, Rowling replied: "Definitely not Harry, because I would not want to go through it all. I know what is coming for him, so there is no way that I would want to be him.
"At the moment, I would not want to be any of them, because life is getting quite tough for them."
Demand for the books keeps heating up, and may be further fueled by the movie of the fourth book, "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," which is due in theaters later this year.
Like the previous two books, even the printing of Book Six is shrouded in secrecy.
In the United States, Scholastic is counting on booksellers to honor the July 16 12:01 a.m. embargo. Anyone who attempts to break the embargo won't receive any further copies of the books.
Bookstore officials mainly are just thrilled to have so much attention focused on a book. "We plan to sell through our entire order of 450 [books]," said Valerie Koehler of the Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston.
One question remains: Will the books survive once the marketing hype dies down?
Children's-book expert Leonard Marcus thinks so. Although he classifies the "Harry Potter" books as "good, not great," Marcus also thinks that they're here to stay.
"It would take magic to make them disappear," he added.