[An editor and I] were having that conversation that has come up 100,000 times among science fiction and fantasy professionals: "Why is Harry Potter so successful when it doesn't contain a single element that has not been done many times, and done just as well, by established fantasy writers?" ...Read the whole thing. Mainstreaming genre can seem a dicey proposition. Those of us raised on it love those incidental details, the endlessly complicated stuff of world building. They're what cause us to curl up on the couch with The Lord of Rings or The Left Hand of Darkness or Neuromancer, and stripping them away just to reach a wider audience feels like sacrilege or the removal of some vital essence. I get that. Yet I've also known hipsters who view unpopularity as a mark of artistic integrity, the sign that their art has truly arrived. I find myself wanting to tell such folks that, you know, it might mean your efforts about as much fun to digest as a brick. Sometimes the market is right. For my own part, I love genre largely because of its stylistic inclusiveness, its willingness to suss out and steal from every area in the literary landscape. I'd hope such openness would extend not only to the stuff aficionados adore, but also to the everyday reader's sort of books.
JKR's clever instinct, the editor said, was to postpone the point where you need to learn a complex background in order to continue following the story. By then you would have absorbed so many small, easy-to-learn, easy-to-digest details that when you finally got to the Big Lesson, it wasn't intimidating.
I imagine it's like moving to some exotic foreign country. You land in their capital and they say, "To buy food here, you must recite the names of the Emperors of the Fourteenth Dynasty." You'd starve to death before you had time to memorize them all.
But if you only had to memorize one emperor per month for the first year, you wouldn't starve.
(Picture: CC 2010 by Profound Whatever; Hat Tip: io9)