When the Harry Potter books were well underway, a few other books began to appear that seemed to be taking advantage of the YA desire for fantasy novels along similar lines: stories that involved older kids or younger teens from our own world who suddenly discovered that there was a magical dimension to the world that remained hidden from everyone else (especially adults). One of the main series that started in the midst of Pottermania was the Artemis Fowl series.
It’s about a wealthy, pre-teen genius boy who discovers that the denizens of the old Faerie world of the legends (primarily Irish) had really existed but had just moved underground to create a whole new society there, when they came into conflict with humans. Artemis, being a self-proclaimed criminal mastermind, calculates how to find this fairy world, reasoning that he should be able to trick that society into handing over the legendary “pot of gold” that has been talked about in so many tales and myths. He manages to capture Holly Short, an elf who is the first female captain of the Lower Elements Police Recon squad (LEP Recon. Leprecon. Get it?), and demands a large amount of fairy gold as a ransom.
And so it all begins! In the five books I have (naturally I don’t have all eight; when do I ever have a complete set??), we watch Artemis get more and more human and, more importantly, humane. Even while he retains his deviousness, he comes to appreciate and even love the citizens of Haven City, below ground (including such characters as Foaly the technowizard centaur and Mulch Diggums, a member of the dwarf race who burrow underground in a most…interesting way). And most of all, Artemis appreciates that the existence of Haven City and all the fairy races must remain a secret from humanity, lest other humans try to exploit the magical races and end up destroying them. So the fairies and Artemis do a great deal for each other over several years, and Holly Short develops a lasting friendship with Artemis and his brilliant and worldly-wise bodyguard, Butler, with all his underworld connections and martial arts skills.
I have friends who think that the Artemis Fowl books were just a “ripoff,” of sorts, of the Harry Potter books. The first Fowl book was published flush in the middle of the Potter popularity. And the series, as my friends are swift to point out, isn’t nearly as unified and deep in its ideas. Nor, they say, is it written all that well.
Frankly, I don’t agree, and I don’t care anyway.If this series were a clear copy of the storyline from the Potter books, that would be a different matter. (She says, shuddering at the horrible memory of The Sword of Shannara and the plot of The Lord of the Rings.) It’s true that this series takes up figures from legend and folklore and brings them into this world. So did the Narnia books. So do a lot of other books. And yes, the main character starts out about the same age as Harry Potter. (Artemis, too, was eleven years old at the beginning, and given that there are three more books after the ones I have, he’s likely to end up about the same age as Harry did.) It is said that there are only, really, about seven or eight basic storylines in the world, and that every story ever told is a variation of one of them. It doesn’t bother me that there are some similarities between stories. A pre-teen discovers a secret magical world connected to this one–how different could you make it, really?
And as to this series’ “not being written very well”…well, that has been a big complaint from people who don’t like the Harry Potter books too. (“She’s really not a very good writer.” How often I’ve heard that from people! The adults, that is, who weren’t sitting eagerly waiting for the next book or the next movie.) Neither of these series is grand, High Literature. But who cares? Eoin Colfer tells a really good story for the people who enjoy this sort of tale, and he adds some good laughs into the mix as well.
So I had a really nice trip through this part of the top shelf of my SF&F bookcase.
If you’re an Artemis Fowl fan yourself, it might interest you to know that Disney is supposedly developing a movie. If so, I can’t wait to see it!
And check out my own description, three years ago today, of an evening with Eoin Colfer at the Toronto Public Library.