It's going to be the world's biggest book party.
From Singapore to Boston, from London to New Delhi and Toledo, millions of children and adults will gather Friday evening at thousands of 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 - like 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'' and keep all of its 136 stores open to sell the new Potter book.
So far, the folks who run the Web site potterparties.com have pinpointed nearly 1,700 celebrations around the world, including in Amman, Jordan, Sofia, Bulgaria, and Johor Bahru, Malaysia. That count actually is low, however, as Scholastic, the American Potter publisher, is distributing materials for 5,000 U.S. bookstore parties alone.
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 begin to read from the newest book - the sixth, and penultimate, in the series whose unusual blend of fantasy, memorable characters, and bawdy humor has captivated readers around the world.
"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. It's definitely the biggest publishing event of the year.''
Even before its release, the 672-page Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince book has broken all kinds of publishing records - most of them set by Book 5, 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.
Just pre-orders of the sixth Potter book at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and Borders are expected to surpass the more than one million orders for the fifth book. These chains, joined by others like Wal-Mart, have deeply discounted the $29.99 price of Book 6, which is being sold for as little as $16.60 in some places.
The nearly 11 million books in the first print run of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince will be added to the 270 million copies of Harry Potter books, in 62 languages, already in print worldwide. Publishers actually ran low on paper for other books when the last two, lengthy Harry Potter books were printed; that may not be a problem this time, given the lesser length of Book 6.
Sales of the audio version of Harry Potter and the 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 audiobook, which again will be narrated by Grammy winner Jim Dale.
"This is the largest printing and sale of a book since Gutenberg, since books first started to be printed,'' said Anita Silvey, a children's book expert and author of The 100 Best Books for Children. "It's the greatest publishing story ever told, and it's still being written.''
Ms. Silvey compares the hoopla over Harry to the "tulip mania'' that gripped Holland in the 17th century. "At the end of the market insanity, however, we were left with a beautiful flower,'' she said. ""I think that will be the case with the Harry Potter books. After the market frenzy is gone, people will still have a lot of really wonderful books to read.''
Leonard Marcus, another children's book expert, believes much of the excitement over the Harry Potter books is due to "the quality of the narrator's voice. It reminds me of [Charles] Dickens - there's a feeling of being at a party with a wonderful, storytelling host, and you just want to hear what that storyteller will tell you next.''
Mr. Marcus, the author of a forthcoming book on fantasy writers, adds that the Potter books "are in their own category. It's hard to separate the books from the phenomenon that has grown up around them.''
Not everyone, however, is a Harry Potter fan. Some conservative Christians have vehemently criticized the books for what they believe is the promotion of anti-religious magic focused on witches and wizards.
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, also 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.''
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.
Because 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.''
Meanwhile it's likely that Book 6 also will include a major battle of good vs. evil; the last chapter in Book 5 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.''
Ms. Rowling has given a few hints about what else readers may expect to happen in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. One character will be killed, and although Ms. Rowling refuses to say who it is, she has reassured fans on her Website (www.jkrowling.com) that Harry definitely will survive to the seventh and final book.
But she added: "I am not going to say whether he grows any older than that because I have never said that.''
In addition, Ms. Rowling has declined to say who is the "half-blood prince,'' but does acknowledge that it's neither Harry not his evil nemesis, Lord Voldemort.
Demand for the books keeps heating up and may be further fueled this year by the fact that a movie of the fourth book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, is due in theaters later this year.
Many of the original Harry Potter readers, however, now are in their late teens and early 20s. While some of these readers may have grown out of the series, others remain excited about the books, said Barbara Marcus, president of children's book publishing at Scholastic.
Barbara Marcus is one of the few in the world who has read the sixth book. Like the previous two books, even the printing of Book 6 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 more copies of the books.
One question remains: will the books survive once the marketing hype dies down? Leonard Marcus thinks so. Although he classifies the Harry Potter books as "good, not great,'' He also thinks that they're here to stay.
"It would take magic to make them disappear,'' he added.
Contact Karen MacPherson at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-662-7075.