Potter Fans Await Harry Swansong, But Leaks Threaten Surprise

Harry Potter fans queue outside a bookshop in central London as they await the release of the latest book by JK Rowling entitled Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows (AFP Photo)

Excitement mounted among Harry Potter fans worldwide Friday as the clock ticked down to the release of the last instalment of his adventures, but a growing tide of leaks threatened to mar the event.

With only hours to go before the 2301 GMT publication of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" in most of the world, queues grew outside bookstores which were braced for a record demand for the seventh, swangsong Potter tome.

And the frenzy surrounding the launch triggered a last-minute price-war as booksellers sought to get a bigger slice of the massive market for the book, which will finally reveal whether or not Potter dies.

"Harry Potter has reignited children's passion for reading," said a spokesman for British supermarket ADSA. "Our colleagues and customers are gearing up for the biggest book launch we've ever seen."

The book's initial release time is a minute past midnight in Britain, the home of boy wizard Potter and the setting for his adventures.

In Asia, all-night parties and Hogwarts Express-style train trips were among the hundreds of events planned.

In Muslim Bangladesh, where Friday is a holiday, customs offices stayed open specially to ensure fans got their books on time, while in Thailand the British ambassador was planning an early start to hand over the first copy of the book.

But the book's worldwide release is threatened to be overshadowed by the controversy over plot leaks which emerged despite tight security surrounding the book.

Author J. K. Rowling said Thursday she was "staggered" by the publication of reviews by The New York Times and others, and urged fans to "ignore the misinformation" circulating about the plot.

The book's US publisher Scholastic also said Thursday that it would take legal action against a distributor and a retailer who sent hundreds of copies to readers in advance of the release -- which in the US, plus Canada and Mexico, is later than the rest of the world, at midnight local time.

The New York Times review, written from a copy bought in the city Thursday, revealed that at least six characters die in the book, although it did not say which ones, amid fevered speculation that Potter himself could be among them.

The review describes the final pages of the book as "a big-screen, heart-racing, bone-chilling confrontation" and says it contains "an epilogue that clearly lays out people's fates."

For their part, several British newspapers either re-printed the review in full, or summarised it.

But leaks appeared in a number of other countries Friday, including France's Le Parisien, which revealed the fate of key characters by printing a summary of the epilogue -- albeit upside-down so that unwary readers could avoid the spoiler.

Similar epilogue revelations, mostly sourced to a copy posted on the Internet, were printed by Italy's Corriera della Sierre, an Austrian newspaper and the Czech mass-market daily Blesk.

The six Potter books so far released have sold 325 million copies internationally and have been translated into 64 languages, though the final tome is set to out-sell each of its predecessors.

   Rowling is hosting a signing and reading overnight Friday with hundreds of fans at London's Natural History Museum, while hundreds of British bookshops are hosting after-hours parties to which fans are likely to flock.

Having conceived of the story while on a train from Manchester to London, she wrote the first book as a single mother receiving state benefits, and has made an estimated one billion dollars (725 million euros) from the works, the first of which appeared 10 years ago.

British charity ChildLine said it was bracing for a surge in calls from distraught children after the final book is released, warning that the expected death of a key character would spark feelings of loss and bereavment.

British bookmakers Ladbrokes and William Hill have stopped taking bets on Harry's fate.

Source: AFP

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