July 12, 2005 08:15 AM

He’s four days away from his big debut, and experts are already declaring him the champ of the summer – ahead of Tom Cruise’s Worlds warrior, Christian Bale’s Batman, Johnny Depp’s Willy Wonka or any and all of the Fantastic Four.

He’s Harry Potter, whose sixth and latest adventure, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, has already topped the pre-order sales record of his previous Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – or any other book ever sold by Barnes & Noble, Borders and Amazon.com, the three retailers have announced.

To meet the demand for Half-Blood Prince, the book’s U.S. publisher, Scholastic, set the first printing at 10.8 million copies, up from 6.8 million for Order of the Phoenix.

For Harry‘s 12:01 a.m. Saturday debut, Barnes & Noble execs say that more than 1 million pre-ordered copies are awaiting fans at the chain’s 821 stores and through its Web site. As of early Monday, Amazon’s reserve list had hit 853,899 copies in the U.S. and about 1.2 million copies worldwide. Without providing specifics, a Borders spokeswoman tells Newsday that Half-Blood Prince was the company’s all-time most-reserved book.

Still, even happier than the booksellers must be one Emerson Spartz, a 19-year-old from Indiana who in a Harry-themed contest has won a trip to Scotland this weekend for a one-on-one interview with Harry’s creator J.K. Rowling.

The novelist herself called Spartz – who runs a fan site called Mugglenet.com – to deliver the good news that he’d be winging her way. “At first, I thought it was extremely odd,” Emerson told his hometown paper, The News-Dispatch of Michigan City. “I thought, ‘Why would she want to talk to me?'”

Yet doing Spartz one better, Owen Jones, a 14-year-old from Wales, won the chance to do a Q&A with Rowling on British TV, having competed against thousands of other young fans in a contest called “The Quest for the Ultimate Harry Potter Fan.” That interview is also slated for this weekend, in a Sunday TV special called Harry Potter at the Castle: The J.K. Rowling Interview.

“Some of the questions were really hard,” Jones said, according to published reports. “I feel ecstatic to have won.”

As for the interview ahead of him: “I told the judges I would like to ask her if Harry Potter’s life was a kind of childhood fantasy for her, and of course, what’s going to happen in the next book.”

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