Thursday, June 19, 2003


Like magic, local fan gets early Potter fix

The Gazette

Wednesday, June 18, 2003


Steve and Melissa managed to get their hands on Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix on June 12 even though the book is not scheduled to hit stores worldwide until this Saturday.

Whether it's luck, a mistake or maybe a little magic, a copy of the newest Harry Potter book is in the hands of a Montreal woman before its official release.

Melissa, who spoke to The Gazette on the condition her last name not be used, bought Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the highly anticipated fifth volume in J.K. Rowling's series, on June 12 at a Wal-Mart on the South Shore.

Book 5 in the Harry Potter series isn't scheduled to hit stores worldwide until this Saturday.

But two more copies were bought by a friend within an hour of Melissa's purchase, just as the books were being taken off the shelves.

"I think it's just pure luck," Melissa said in an interview in the Gazette newsroom yesterday.

The soon-to-be bestseller lay on the table in front of the 23-year-old. Yesterday, she was on page 567 of the 768-page book.

News of the novel's early circulation caused a stir at Raincoast Books, the Canadian publisher of Harry Potter books.

Melissa's boyfriend, Steve, who also didn't want his last name published, called the company and Scholastic, the U.S. publisher, to tell them he had the book.

"I could tell they didn't believe me at first," said Steve, 27, yesterday.

As a test, a Scholastic employee asked Steve to read from the second line on page 73.

He did.

Then the companies asked him if they could have the book back. Raincoast Books even offered to pay $5,000 for the three books, Steve said.

But it wasn't his book to give.

"I asked Melissa, and she said she wasn't finished reading it," Steve said.

"I want to finish it. After I'm done, I don't care," Melissa said.

The $5,000 offer could not be confirmed with Raincoast.

An embargo on the book prevents anyone from selling it before June 21, said Allan MacDougall, president and CEO of Raincoast Books, the Vancouver-based publisher.

"Anybody who has sold it is in violation of a worldwide contract," he said.

"If there are any breaches by any store in the contract, we will take action."

That would mean reserving the right not to supply the store with Harry Potter books in the future, he said.

"It's probably human error," MacDougall said.

A manager at the Wal-Mart in St. Constant would not comment on the matter and referred questions to Wal-Mart Canada headquarters in Toronto. No one could be reached for comment last night.

Raincoast will seek a court-ordered injunction preventing the store or individuals from releasing any information about the book before the release date, MacDougall said.

He added that the company has already prepared the paperwork for such an occasion, after a recent Harry Potter-related incident in England.

A printing plant worker pleaded guilty in May to stealing pages from the unreleased novel. Donald Parfitt, a forklift operator at Clays Ltd. in Bungay, eastern England, claims he found the pages in the parking lot as he was leaving work May 5.

Harry Potter has been a sensation since the release of the first book in 1998.

Boy-wizard mania escalated to magical levels for the debut of the fourth book, Goblet of Fire, in 2000.

Bookstores across the continent organized release parties, some opening their doors at midnight to let in lineups of eager readers itching for the continuing story.

Melissa, who has read all of Harry's adventures, knew the fifth book was coming out soon but didn't know the date.

So she wasn't shocked when, on the afternoon of June 12 while walking by the book aisle in the Wal-Mart near her work, a familiar name caught her eye: Harry Potter.

"Hmmm," she thought to herself as she leafed through the book's pages, "I don't think I have this one yet."

She took the book to the cash register, paid $29.83 before taxes - Wal-Mart's price compared to the regular cost of $43 - and walked out.

No questions asked.

Later that same day, she told a co-worker's wife about the purchase. The woman went and bought herself and Melissa's friend a copy, just as employees were taking the books off the shelves.

Melissa said her only regret about the early find is that she's going to have to wait longer than everyone else for Book 6, since she plans to finish reading this one by Saturday.

"It's really good," she said. "It refers to the book before, so you don't get lost. It's very hard to put down."

But the true testament to the book's quality comes in a sentiment often voiced by those who love Harry Potter books:

"I'm sad it's going to end," Melissa said.

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