NEW YORK -- Children and adults, unwilling to wait until morning, swamped bookstores across America into the wee hours Saturday, eager to read the latest exploits of Harry Potter, the boy wizard.
The midnight Friday sale of ''Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire'' rolled through the country at stores offering parties, refreshments and, in some cases, sleepovers. Web-based companies like Amazon.com and Kozmo.com gave others the chance to get the books as fast, if not faster, from their homes.
''Do you feel like you're entering Willie Wonka's factory?'' asked Peter Glassman, owner of Books of Wonder in Manhattan, as he opened the store to buyers minutes before midnight.
Outside, Dave Lambert, 28, and Kathleen Soule, 36, of Hoboken, N.J., said they were fans of the first three Potter books.
''Early on she created characters you can relate to,'' Lambert said of author J.K. Rowling. Soule agreed, adding that the books ''don't talk down to children ... and they don't talk down to adults either.''
In suburban Los Angeles, more than 100 children showed up at a Border's store in Santa Clarita, Calif., two hours before midnight for a party that included a trivia contest, scavenger hunt and readings.
Kids got a lightning bolt stamp on their foreheads on the way in, a nod to the unusual birthmark of the books' title character. A few of the kids showed up costumed as Harry Potter complete with thick, round glasses and tall magicians' hats.
Like most of the parents at the Santa Clarita event, Debbie Jelen, mother of 7-year-old Kali, was willing to give herself up to the hype. ''I'm excited that it's helping her to learn to read books,'' she said.
''We're going to get started tonight,'' said Tricia Pace, mother of Tovia Gehl, 8, in Seattle. ''My mother has read them and my brother has read them -- and he's 50 and a priest.''
At Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, N.C., Margo Arrowsmith, 52, said she was buying the book for herself. ''The writing just keeps getting better,'' she said.
At a Barnes & Noble in Towson, Md., a suburb of Baltimore, the book was sold only to customers who had reserved copies.
''We're in line for nothing,'' said a disappointed Jennifer Moulton, who was with her daughter, Brianna, 13. ''We started to order online at Amazon, but we thought this would be more convenient, which turned out not to be true.''
The unusual scene left several bookstore workers in awe.
''It's unbelievable,'' said Kim Fetty, manager of Taylor Books in Charleston, W. Va., of the late night crowd there. ''I've never seen anything like it. It's not just the kids. Adults are crazy about this book, too. Harry is a classic underdog and most everyone likes to see the underdog win.''
Pat Smith, manager of the largest Barnes & Noble in Iowa, said she had underestimated the crowd at the West Des Moines store.
''I knew there would be a big turnout, I just didn't know how big. I'm figuring 700 to 800 people. I gave out at least 500 tickets for the line,'' Smith said.
The store had 1,200 books, which she expected would be sold out by midday Saturday.
At another Barnes & Noble store in Chicago, Louren Mack, 11, held the 734-page book and said: ''It will last me about a week. They are really hard to put down.''
The Wild Rumpus book store in Minneapolis, Minn., was pummeled by a heavy storm that knocked out power fifteen minutes into the sale, forcing workers to manually run credit card slips.
''It's the perfect Harry Potter night,'' said Grace Vermeer, 12, standing in the rain outside the store. She said she had planned a sleepover party with five friends.
Hordes of fans also swamped stores in London, where Harry's latest travails went on sale at midnight Friday.
Scores of kids waited outside a Waterstone's bookstore in Piccadilly Circus to buy their 640 pages of excitement at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. (The U.S. version is longer because it has a different type face.)
Like Waterstone's in Great Britain, some stores in the United States invited youngsters to bring sleeping bags and await the witching hour.
The Chapter 11 store in an Atlanta mall hosted about 150 people to a pajama party.
Jonathan Lathbury, of Atlanta, said he, like his son Jason, 6, enjoys the books.
''I've got caught up in it. I'm having the same problem everybody else is. He (Jason) goes to bed and I keep reading,'' Lathbury said.
Amazon.com employees at warehouses in Seattle stacked books floor to ceiling preparing to ship a minimum of 250,000 copies the first day.
The company's Web site had tallied up more than 347,000 sales -- more than six times the existing prepublication record set in March by John Grisham's latest novel, ''The Brethren.'' New York-based Barnes & Noble said it already had 360,000 pre-orders and expected to break records for first-day and first-week sales for any book in the company's history.
''Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire'' occupied the top spot on both Amazon's and barnesandnoble.com's best seller lists.
The first print run by the book's British and U.S. publishers totaled 5.3 million copies.
Some bookstores broke the embargo set by U.S. publisher Scholastic Inc. and began selling copies early.
Tom Schuppe, an independent bookstore owner in Stockton, Calif., said he had not signed an agreement with the publisher to make his customers wait. By Friday morning, he had sold out of his 50 copies.
But at the heart of the excitement was the story itself.
''It's everything you dreamed about when you were young,'' said Masaka Fukouka, 29, outside a Manhattan Barnes & Noble. ''The candystores, learning to fly, it's like going back to your old dream.''
On the Net:
Scholastic Inc.: http://www.scholastic.com/harrypotter.
Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com
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