There has to be some other explanation for the Harry Potter success besides “It was about witches and wizards”. You know how those guys who played Dungeons and Dragons got more tail than professional athletes? You don’t know that? It must be true, because this wizarding franchise is cool to the tune of billions of dollars. The Lord of the Rings never took off from the get-go like Harry Potter did, despite being (IMHO) the greatest fantasy series of all-time. (The reasoning for this one isn’t as obscure: kids weren’t meant to read The Council of Elrond. No one was. Seriously, who was editing Tolkein’s book at that point? Is it the same guy who edits Tarantino’s movies?)
My personal theory is that Harry Potter was the most perfect blend of literary fiction and genre fiction to date. (Magical realism is different. I hear your talk about A Hundred Years of Solitude and wholeheartedly agree.) It seems like a flawed theory because I’m doubting kids are telling their friends, “Rowling does a nice job of balancing Harry’s character development with the external pressures of the plot”. But perhaps — and there’s a Malcolm Gladwell chapter to back me up on this — kids can conceive of and be affected by the distinction between genre fiction and literary fiction before they can actually put it into words.
It has to be something greater than peer recommendation. You can’t get kids to turn out in droves and sell millions of copies in one night when they’re books for God sake.
Each book is three times as expensive as a movie ticket, they take at least six hours longer to enjoy (if you lock yourself in your room and Harry-binge like I did), and there’s no stimulus of sound or video. I think Inception is the most creative venture to come about in the last seven years and I can’t bring others to watch it if they didn’t already want to see it. It’s a movie; it should be the easiest sell ever in the On Demand era. I might just be a poor salesman, but I doubt it. (Hey-o, CutCo.)
Back to that Malcolm Gladwell chapter: in The Tipping Point, Gladwell wrote about the history of Sesame Street’s then-unparalleled success as a children’s show. What the creators discovered was that kids don’t have a short attention span like we thought they did. In fact, as long as the material was engaging, their attention span far surpassed that of adults. J.K. Rowling is one rich lady today because she was the first to meet kids at their true intellectual level. That opened the door for other writers to do the same and in crept Stephanie Meyer, who utterly insulted them.