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Children, Creepy Middle-Aged Weirdos Swept Up In Harry Potter Craze

HOLLYWOOD, CA—Harry Potter And The Sorcerer's Stone, the hit film about an orphaned boy and his pals at Hogwarts School Of Witchcraft And Wizardry, continues to break box-office records, casting its magic spell over children and creepy middle-aged weirdos alike.

Young <i>Harry Potter</i> fans at a showing of the film.

Just ask Corey Molland, a Downers Grove, IL, 11-year-old who made his own Harry Potter costume, complete with Nimbus 2000 broomstick, to wear to the film's opening night. "I've seen the movie four times already," Molland said. "And I want to go see it again tomorrow."

Or Corey's neighbor, Kurt Furmanek, an unmarried 40-year-old who has seen the film 11 times, always in a homemade Ludo Bagman costume.

"It's terrific, as good as I'd hoped," said Furmanek, munching from a bag of Bertie Botts' Every Flavor Beans while waiting in line at a local multiplex Monday. "Granted, it's not perfect: They left out a number of key scenes and characters, like the second Quidditch match and Peeves. And some of the details were off, like how they said the boa constrictor was from Burma when it was from Brazil. But all in all, it's remarkably faithful."

There are many possible explanations for Harry's broad appeal: a troubled world's need for a little bit of magic, the way the franchise taps into powerful good-versus-evil mythologies, the chance it offers overweight 47-year-olds to retreat from their dreary adult lives into an idealized fantasy childhood. But whatever it is that makes us wild about Harry, one thing is clear: The fantastical universe created by author J.K. Rowling speaks to the child in all of us, whether young or way too old.

You can see it in Lisa Werner, a Pueblo, CO, 13-year-old who has read all four Harry Potter books three times and keeps an ever-growing scrapbook of magazine articles related to the books and films.

Not-so-young <i>Harry Potter</i> fan Kurt Furmanek in his basement bedroom.

"Harry Potter books are the ultimate books ever!" Werner said. "I wish there were real chocolate frogs that jumped when you tried to eat them."

And you can see it in Denver's Lynne Ritchie, a childless, 42-year-old legal secretary who named all six of her cats after students in the Gryffindor and Hufflepuff houses.

"I had my doubts when I heard that Chris Columbus was chosen to direct, but I have to hand it to him," said Ritchie, who owns more than 150 Harry Potter toys, including the hard-to-find Powercaster Electronic Spell-Casting Playset. "He did a great job bringing Rowling's vision to the screen, particularly the Quidditch match and the living paintings at Hogwarts. I can't wait for Chamber Of Secrets."

Maybe it's Harry's underdog qualities that make him so appealing. Or maybe it's the way wondrously magical things seem to burst from every page that makes the books so compelling to the likes of San Diego's Gary Minton, 41, who appeared as "Harry Potter Geek" on a recent episode of Comedy Central's Beat The Geeks game show.

"There's never been anything like Harry—it's simply a phenomenon," said Minton, creator of the "Unofficial Hermione Granger Fan Page" and whose house neighborhood children have been warned never to enter. "And the movie is perfect, especially the casting of Emma Watson as Hermione. She's even prettier than I imagined. I hope she reads the Hermione Granger fan fiction I sent her."

Child-development experts and arrested-development experts agree that Harry Potter's impact on society has been enormous.

"What J.K. Rowling has done to foster literacy in a world where it was declining so steadily makes her a true hero," child psychologist Dr. Sandy Wexler said. "But for adults, it's a different story. Retreating into a child's fantasy world is one of the most distressing preliminary signs of becoming unhinged, even when the books are as richly imagined and engrossing as the Harry Potter series."

Added Wexler: "Incidentally, do you think Snape is a Death Eater? I know he helped Harry out in Book One, but I have this theory."

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