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A literary dogfight broke out over Britain's prestigious Whitbread book prize Wednesday with word that Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney came close to being beaten by the tale of a schoolboy wizard.

The Whitbread judges broke with precedent by letting it be known that J.K. (Joanne) Rowling's "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" finished just one vote behind Heaney's much-acclaimed translation of the Anglo-Saxon epic "Beowulf."

Organizers of the rival Booker Prize already had accused the Whitbread award of "dumbing down" after Jerry Hall, the Texas model and former wife of Rolling Stones singer Mick Jagger, was appointed to the panel of judges.

That suspicion was reinforced in the minds of critics when it became apparent that the latest Harry Potter -- a children's book -- came close to scooping the $38,000 prize.

One judge, author Anthony Holden, said awarding the prize to the Potter books would have been a "national humiliation."

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