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Harry Potter casts a spell on the world

potter
 

July 18, 1999
Web posted at: 5:09 p.m. EDT (2109 GMT)

(CNN) -- Everybody's wild about Harry.

J.K. Rowling's blockbuster best sellers "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" and "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" follow the exploits of an orphan delivered on his aunt's and uncle's doorstep and forced to sleep in a closet until his 11th birthday.

On that glorious day, Harry is rescued from a life of ill treatment at the hands of his odious relations by an invitation from wizard Albus Dumbledore to attend The Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry, delivered personally by a giant named Hagrid, who rides a flying motorcycle.

Not only that, but Harry quickly finds out that the people of the wizardry clique (usually invisible to plain muggles like you and I) consider him a modern-day hero because as an infant he was marked for death by the evil wizard known most commonly as You-Know-Who (they don't even like to say his name!) and yet he survived with little evidence of the attack other than a lightning bolt scar on his forehead. Unfortunately, Harry's parents, wizards themselves, died in the attack. As Hagrid put it:

"Now, yer mum an' dad were as good a witch an' wizard as I ever knew. Head boy an' girl at Hogwarts in their day! Suppose the myst'ry is why You-Know-Who never tried to get 'em on his side before ... probably knew they were too close to Dumbledore ter want anythin' ter do with the Dark Side.

"Maybe he thought he could persuade 'em ... maybe he just wanted 'em outta the way. All anyone knows is, he turned up in the village where you was all living, on Halloween ten years ago. You was just a year old. He came ter yer house an' -- an' --"

Hagrid suddenly pulled out a very dirty, spotted handkerchief and blew his nose with a sound like a foghorn.

"Sorry," he said. "But it's that sad -- knew yer mum an' dad, an' nicer people yeh couldn't find -- anyway ...

"You-Know-Who killed 'em. An' then -- an' this is the real myst'ry of the thing -- he tried to kill you, too. Wanted ter make a clean job of it, I suppose, or maybe he just liked killin' by then. But he couldn't do it. Never wondered how you got that mark on yer forehead? That was no ordinary cut. That's what yeh get when a powerful, evil curse touches yeh -- took care of yer mum an' dad an' yer house, even -- but it didn't work on you, an' that's why yer famous, Harry. No one ever lived after he decided ter kill 'em, no one except you, an' he'd killed some o' the best witches an' wizards of the age -- the McKinnons, the Bones, the Prewetts -- an' you was only a baby, an' you lived."

At the Hogwarts School for Wizardry and Witchcraft Harry not only finds friends and a few terrible enemies, but he also becomes the star of the Quidditch team (sort of like soccer), scoring points while riding a broom far above the ground; helps to hatch a dragon; and finds magic in everything from classes to meals. Above all else, he finds he has a destiny to fulfill -- one that others would kill to stop.

Like her own character, J.K. Rowling's life has the luster of a fairy tale. Divorced and living on public assistance in Edinburgh with her infant daughter, she began writing "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" on napkin scraps in a cafe. She got a grant from the Scottish Arts Council to finish the book and sold it to Bloomsbury and Scholastic Books. Then the accolades began to arrive. "Harry Potter" won the British Book Awards Children's Book of the Year and The Smarties Prize. Rave reviews have appeared on both sides of the Atlantic, and book rights have been sold in England, France, Germany, Italy, Holland, Greece, Finland, Denmark, Spain and Sweden.

A third book, "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban," will be released September 8, and Heyday Films has acquired the rights to the first two novels.

To date, "Sorcerer's Stone" has sold several million copies, and Scholastic pushed publication of "Chamber of Secrets" up three months due to public clamor. It debuted at No. 1 on "The New York Times" best-seller list, and her two books are ranked Nos. 2 and 3 on the "Wall Street Journal" list this week, behind only "Hannibal" by Thomas Harris.


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