Behind the ''Harry Potter'' mania
Behind the ''Harry Potter'' mania -- We follow the frenzy surrounding the release J.K. Rowling's sixth book about the infamous boy wizard
Platform 9 3/4 is dimly lit and stuffy on this midsummer night as cloaked figures bustle back and forth, the din of the crowd broken only by the occasional explosion of spells gone right. As a man with a thick beard lovingly strokes a dragon, a tiny wizard points his wand at a nearby girl and yells, ”Eat slugs!” And seated on a bench in front of an enormous candy-colored locomotive, a 14-year-old Dementor named Jeremy deadpans, in a soul-sucking monotone, ”I’m so excited I wet my pants.”
So much for fantasy. Welcome to the reality of Duluth, Minn., where on July 15 the indie bookstore Northern Lights invaded the Lake Superior Railroad Museum to celebrate the midnight release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the penultimate book in J.K. Rowling’s world-conquering wizard series. It’s all the proof anyone needs that the Potter Express is still — amazing as it sounds — gaining momentum. But if you’re looking for more concrete evidence, try this: 6.9 million copies of Half-Blood Prince were sold across the U.S. in the first 24 hours, shattering the record set, naturally, by the last Potter book. The stunning sales and reviews are good news for U.S. publisher Scholastic, not to mention for the movie franchise that has sold $2.6 billion worth of tickets worldwide — the fourth film, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, opens Nov. 18, and the fifth begins production soon after that. But perhaps the best news is that on July 15, thousands of families around the world waited in line waaaay past their bedtimes. . .to read something.
Not many got their books brought in on a caboose, though, like the crowd in Duluth. When the doors open there at 10 p.m., a bird expert is carrying a screech owl, as dozens of Hermiones with aggressively teased hair stare in awe. The portrait of the Fat Lady at the entrance demands passwords (”Uh, please??” tries one desperate visitor), a Sorting Hat places nervous kids into houses, and an eerie glow emanates from the Divination table. By 11 p.m., the Chocolate Frogs wear off and some of the younger wizards curl into little cape-wearing balls on their parents’ laps, but older fans are still going strong, like 62-year-old Bill Kepler, dressed in head-to-toe finery as Godric Gryffindor. ”He’s seldom dressed like a Muggle,” explains his compatriot Renée Pinkerton, a perfect Rowena Ravenclaw.
But once the midnight madness is over; once the caboose pulls in, with Harry waving from the back and a warm glow inside the car illuminating stacks of glorious books; once all 800 attendees collect their copies, a procession that takes 40 minutes; once all the spines have been cracked, the first sentences read aloud — what is left to say? Of HBP‘s sales record, Scholastic exec Lisa Holton remarks, ”We’re ecstatic.” When asked if the night was a success, Northern Lights’ owner, Anita Zager, breathlessly answers, ”Yes.” Nick Huelster, 16, stares sleepily at the 652-page tome and sighs, ”I can’t deal with this right now.” Slowly, wands are gathered, youngsters awakened, and as the fortune-teller gives one last reading, everyone heads home to let the phenomenon begin again.