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Wild Over Harry
‘I couldn’t stop myself from finding out the end first’
Mike Collett-White and Justin Grant

London/New York, July 21
The seventh and final Harry Potter book flew off the shelves on Saturday as fans the world over poured into stores or waited for the first post to discover the fate of the boy wizard.

J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” looks set to become the fastest selling book on record based on early estimates, following months of hype and a carefully orchestrated launch designed to maximize sales and suspense.

Internet leaks of the book’s contents and newspaper articles containing spoilers appear not to have dampened enthusiasm among readers old and young, thousands of whom dressed as characters from the book for the midnight openings.

Some could not wait to see what lay in store for the characters they have grown up with over the last decade.

“I couldn’t stop myself from finding out the end first,” said Vineet Sharma in Mumbai.

In Johannesburg, Liezl van Rensburg added: “I usually read the last page first, but this time I’m going to try not to.”

In London, thousands of die-hard Potter followers from dozens of countries dressed as witches, Hogwarts heroes, Death Eaters and plain non-magical Muggles for the midnight launch.

Many more awoke at dawn in Australia and India to snap up early copies. In New York, two teenaged boys disguised as wizards ran around with brooms between their legs, pretending to battle each other in a game of Quidditch.

Social worker Julia Schafer, 26, stood at the back of a line that stretched around the block, anxiously waiting to find out her hero’s fate. “I would really hope that Voldemort dies. The evil has to end,” she said.

In Australia, an avid fan had to be rescued from a lake in Canberra on Friday after he dived in to rescue a pre-purchase receipt necessary to pick up his book.

In Pakistan, a bomb scare in the southern port city of Karachi forced a shop to cancel a Potter event.

Book store chains in Britain said first-night sales outpaced those of the sixth Harry Potter volume, and “Deathly Hallows” looks set to become the fastest selling book ever.

“We’ve sold 100,000 copies in the first two hours across the business in the UK,” said Fiona Allen of Waterstone’s. “That has outstripped anything we’ve sold before.”

Online retailer Amazon.com received 2.2 million pre-orders for “Deathly Hallows”, up 47 percent on book six, and 12 million copies were printed for the U.S. market alone.

The excitement came despite plot leaks on the Internet, some of which proved to be genuine. A mistake by one U.S. online retailer also meant up to 1,200 copies were sent to buyers several days early.

Rowling, credited with putting the fun back into reading for millions of children and adults, said she was “staggered” when two U.S. papers ran reviews on Thursday.

Just 13 years ago, the 41-year-old was an unemployed single mother, without a publisher or agent, but is now the world’s first dollar billionaire writer after the success of her novels and Hollywood movies based on them.

The first six books have sold 325 million copies worldwide.

(Additional reporting by Krittivas Mukherjee in Mumbai, James Macharia in Johannesburg, Sylvia Westall, Serena Chaudhry in London, Michael Smith in Sydney and Imtiaz Shah in Karachi) — Reuters

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Speed-reading critics rush reviews
Mike Collett-White

London, July 21
Spare a thought for the reviewers of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’’. The seventh and final book in the boy wizard series was released at one minute past midnight, British time, today.

And in the age of instant reaction and online blogs, newspapers wanted an opinion in time for editions the same morning.

The British version is 608 pages long, meaning critics were forced to race through the pages to meet their deadlines as newspapers received no advance review copies.

Several relied on versions leaked on the Internet or hard copies appearing mysteriously pre-publication, and even those who made it into yesterday’s papers knew they had lost the race.

When the New York Times and the Baltimore Sun ran reviews on Thursday, author J.K. Rowling was furious. Readers of the latter could argue that it heavily hinted at the answer to the most burning question of all — does Harry die at the end? Mainstream media broadly avoided spoilers today, although the Daily Telegraph’s online review featured a separate link to a plot synopsis containing many big secrets.

But most critics agreed that the hype surrounding the blockbuster book was justified.

Britain’s bestselling daily Sun tabloid employed speed-reading champion Anne Jones to write its review. She took just 47 minutes and one second to read the U.S. version, but still had time to conclude: ‘’Without being too critical, the plot does seem to be a bit complicated, but I would not change a word. ‘Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows’ is a real page-turner.’’

Kate Muir, reviewer for the Times of London, also admitted to speed-reading the book, but was impressed nonetheless.

“This chest-crusher of a book ends the Harry Potter series with a bang,’’ she said. “The plot hatched over 17 years of writing clicks into place, loose ends interlocking, all as complex as a magical lock at Hogwarts Castle.’’ Muir, like others, peppered her review with references to older literary traditions, including Arthurian and Greek myth, and remarked that evil Voldemort’s methods were reminiscent of the Nazi Holocaust.

Her main complaint was that some passages were a “bit of a snooze unless you are a Potter-junkie’’.

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