Thousands of would-be warlocks, sorcerers and ordinary, non-magical Muggles lined up outside bookstores from Sydney to Seattle on Friday, eager to get their hands on "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," the seventh and final volume in the boy wizard's saga.
In a now-familiar ritual that is part sales frenzy and part Halloween party, bookstores across Britain were flinging open their doors at a minute past midnight Saturday. Shops as far afield as Singapore and Australia were putting the book on sale at the same time; the U.S. was to follow from midnight EDT.
Harry's creator, J.K. Rowling, was giving a midnight reading to 500 competition-winning children in the grand Victorian surroundings of London's Natural History Museum.
For many, the place to be was Waterstone's bookstore on Piccadilly in central London, a traditional hub of Pottermania.
An assortment of wizards, witches and at least one house elf, from as far afield as Finland and the U.S., staked out their places on the sidewalk hours -- in some cases days -- before the midnight opening.
Some passed the time by jotting predictions for the final novel in notebooks, while others encouraged passing drivers to "Honk for Harry."
"This is the biggest Harry Potter party in Europe, so it's worth the wait," said Laura Halinen, 23, from Kuusankoski, Finland.
"Deathly Hallows" is the last book in a series that began a decade ago with "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone," the story of an orphaned boy who learns on his 11th birthday that he is a wizard. Since then, Rowling's books have sold 325 million copies in 64 languages, and the launch of each new volume has become a Hollywood-scale extravaganza, the AP reports.
A spokeswoman for Bloomsbury, publisher of the Harry Potter books, said the London-based company found the supermarket's discounting drive "absolutely astonishing."
"They are pretending to be Robin Hood but they are being the Sheriff of Nottingham as they only have one thing in mind," she said.
The discounting makes little difference to Bloomsbury in financial terms and could ultimately provide an additional bonus from higher proceeds. The publisher agreed its sale price with supermarkets and retailers months back and this does not change.
However a poll of 60 UK independent book stores earlier this week found many planned to stock the Potter book by buying from supermarkets and discount retailers rather than wholesalers.
Sales figures for the book, which hits U.S. shelves at 12:01 a.m./0401 GMT on Saturday to be available within days.
Online retailer Amazon.com said on Friday its global pre-order figure has reached 2.2 million, a 47 percent increase on the previous pre-order total achieved by "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince."
Amazon said on Tuesday it handled 20,000 pre-orders within 24 hours or one copy transaction every four seconds.
The book provides the final chapter in a cultural phenomenon credited with creating millions of young readers and capturing the imaginations of many adults, Reuters reports.
Prepared by Alexander Timoshik
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