Chicago Tribune: It's a safe bet that millions of Muggle children across the globe were afflicted with sleep deprivation Saturday morning after wearing themselves out overnight at what best can be described as Potter-palooza, an intense celebration for -- of all things -- a book release.
Not just any book, but "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," the sixth in the acclaimed series about the young student wizard and his battles against evil that has sold 270 million copies. And that was before the midnight release of the latest volume, which had a record first printing in the U.S. alone of 10.8 million.
Sure, the hype was enormous and grows with each new release. Sure, the gurus at Scholastic Inc., Harry's American publisher, cleverly milked the anticipation with elaborate security arrangements to prevent the plot from leaking and the planning of 5,000 coast-to-coast Potter release parties. There was even a countdown clock that kids could download to their computers to track the seconds until they were allowed to crack open their own (list price $29.95) copy.
But the amazing thing about the Potter phenomenon is not that multitudes of youngsters have gotten caught up in a media-driven frenzy. The amazing thing is that they didn't stay up into the wee hours to be the first in line for a new "Star Wars" movie or screaming their lungs out at a Britney concert.
They were reading.
There is real magic in the Potter books, beyond the fictional magic of the Hogwarts boarding school where Harry, Ron, and Hermione learned to cast spells, ride brooms and battle fiends. In an age where the Internet, video games, and iPods compete for kids' attention spans, the neat prose and intricate plots crafted by author J.K. Rowling demonstrate that young people still look forward to spending quality time with the well-written word.
And the appeal has now proved to be lasting and to cross generations.
The last Potter, released in 2003, left Harry confronted with a terrible prophecy about Lord Voldemort, the Darth Vader of the wizard world who killed Harry's parents and etched a burning scar into the orphan's forehead. It was said that Voldemort, so feared among wizards that most refer to him only as "He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named," would confront Harry in a struggle that would end in death for one of them. Which one was not clear, and that was the cliffhanger.
If you want to know what happens next, wake up your groggy kids. They probably already know.