When the first two Harry Potter novels came out in the late 1990s, Cinda Webb would sit in the upstairs hallway of her Irvine, Calif., home and read aloud as her two sons drifted off to sleep, visions of wizards dancing in their heads.
Her younger son, Jon, now 14, quickly became entranced and devoured all five books. But her older son, James, now 17, lost interest around the third volume.
So Webb and Jon will join 200 other bleary-eyed Harry fans at a bookstore for the midnight Saturday release of the sixth book, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince."
James will likely be home, sound asleep.
"It’s about a little wizard boy, and when you’re a teenager you’re just not caring what happens to the guy with the wand," says James, whose diet of nonfiction and the occasional mystery make Harry just so much kid stuff. "I just wasn’t caught up with them. I never put on a cape and had a wand myself."
If the publishers of author J.K. Rowling’s books have a challenge beyond how to spend the Harry Potter windfall, it is in trying to keep the series compelling for original readers who were 10 to 12 years old when Harry was introduced in "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone" but who are now heading off to college, jobs or even the war in Iraq.
VERGE OF ADULTHOOD
While Rowling has hit upon a formula of aging Harry as the series progresses — he was 11 in the first and is 16 in the new one — it’s unclear how interesting he will be to older teens on the verge of adulthood.
With a planned initial printing of 10.8 million copies — up from 8.5 million for the fifth book — Harry’s American publisher, Scholastic Books, is investing in its optimism that people like James Webb are rare.
"Of course, we’ve lost some, but I don’t believe we’ve lost (a lot of) readers," says Barbara Marcus, executive vice president of Scholastic.
The first book is the series’ top seller, and the number in print decreases for each succeeding title even as the initial print runs have increased.
Pre-orders for "The Half-Blood Prince" are at a record pace at Barnes & Noble, with more than 750,000 books sold, which the retailer says is far ahead of the pace for the last book. More than 600,000 books are preordered through Amazon.com.
"We’re just starting to see things take off from a customer-anticipation standpoint," says Amazon.com spokeswoman Kristin Mariani.
To help build anticipation — and boost marketing — stores are banned from selling the books before midnight Saturday.
GROWING MORE COMPLEX
From the start, Rowling has planned a series that would become more complex as it went on.
"It’s the kind of depth and sophistication that can be appreciated by an older age group as well as a very clear and compelling plot line that draws in the younger children," says Arthur A. Levine, the Scholastic editor who signed the series.
As it is, Harry has sparked massive changes in children’s publishing, proving that kids will lay aside their GameBoys and Xboxes for novels that rival "Anna Karenina" for length.
A LITTLE LESS BUZZ
In fact, Harry’s success has spilled over onto others, such as T.A. Barron’s "Merlin" and "Avalon" series, and the planned "Inheritance Trilogy" by Christopher Paolini, 19, who began writing the first installment, "Eragon," when he was 15.
C.S. Lewis’ classic, "The Chronicles of Narnia," has also seen a resurgence.
Yet so far, some bookstore owners and young readers say the advance buzz for the new Potter book isn’t as intense as it was for the last one.
"I’m just not feeling the urgency," Uhl says. "The anticipation is there, but it’s not with the older readers as much as it is with the younger readers."
Read about Harry Potter-related events in East Valley Life.