On Artemis Fowl: Because Reluctant Readers Like Heists Right?

Twelve-year-old Artemis Fowl is a millionaire, a genius, and, above all, a criminal mastermind. But even Artemis doesn’t know what he’s taken on when he kidnaps a fairy, Captain Holly Short of the LEPrecon Unit. These aren’t fairies of bedtime stories; these fairies are armed and dangerous.

Artemis thinks he has them right where he wants them … but then they stop playing by the rules. — [X]

Let’s get real: everybody likes a good heist story.

Artemis’ story may not begin with a heist but each book in the series has a wonderfully exciting criminal plot to take us on a journey from Artemis’ adolescent years to the brink of adulthood.

I thought of Colfer’s books for this month’s theme of “book for reluctant readers” because:

  • I knew someone would bring up Harry Potter and Janet’s post made many of the points I wanted to make and then some.
  • Artemis was in my life before Harry– which makes Artemis my “gateway” book.
  • I hate to bring this up because I don’t believe in gendered books but I must admit to the irrational behaviour of my male classmates in middle/high school: they preferred Artemis “Bad Boy Genius” Fowl to Harry “Often Swooning” Potter. I can not believe I’m saying this, but *rolls eyes hard* yes *eyes get stuck that way* I do think Artemis Fowl can get boys to start reading.
  • Harry Potter made me very excited about the minutiae of the wizarding world and all I wanted to read was … well, Harry Potter. Not a bad thing at all. But Artemis Fowl made me excited to explore books that blurred genres together as expertly as Colfer did. It made me want to read everything. It’s good to have books of both kinds on your bookshelf, I think. (Especially if you want to be a writer.)

Those reasons, of course, are just the tip of the iceberg. The reluctant reader in your life likes action movies? Well, good, because there is never a dull moment in this series. Your RR likes fantasy? Have I mentioned the fairies? Your RR likes sci-fi, you say? I’m sorry, did I not mention that the fairies are severely teched out?

Artemis Fowl was such a huge part of my teenage years and, to some extent, my undergraduate life* that I’m kind of having trouble describing the series without resorting to shaking you and yelling, “Why wouldn’t you pick this series up?” I mean, it is so easy to love. The characters are so interesting, the writing is smart and funny and never talks down to kids, the plots are thrilling, the magic and the science coexist in ways that I haven’t ever seen in books before, and the world-building is magnificently done.

Artemis himself, a prodigious boy with daddy issues, may be the showrunner but it is the array of people he chooses to be surrounded by that make him who he is. With the help of the Butler siblings (who are in charge of everything from cooking for the Fowls to their security), Captain Holly Short (who is torn between really disliking this infuriating child to understanding that he needs a friend), the centaur Foaly (who is, arguably, as smart as Artemis and gains the boy’s grudging respect), and Mulch Diggums (who is a, er, uniquely skilled kleptomaniac dwarf who bonds with Artemis over their shared inclination to steal), we see Artemis move from scrape to scrape, slowly growing up to be less snotty, more empathetic, less jerk!genius, more radical!genius.

As a matter of fact, apart from maybe Mulch, all the characters are written with such depth. With Arty, we see his cold brilliance slowly turn into something warm but equally sharp because yes, people can be extremely smart without having to be detached robots *glares at BBC’s Sherlock*. With Butler we see a hulking muscle man who is smart, creative, and a rather good father figure and brother. In Holly’s we start off with a good cop– someone who fought hard to be the only female in the LEP– who is revealed to be a superb person as well as a brave fighter. With Juliet we start with what should have been a Strong Female Character who lacks in dimension but end up with a very real girl who wants to make her own destiny rather than follow in her brother’s footsteps.

I’m also gonna go ahead and state for the record that Colfer is actually one of the few male writers whose female characters have the same complexity and badassery as his male characters, whether we’re talking team good or team villainous. He also tackles issues like hypermasculinity and messes with gender roles so cleverly, you barely notice it when you read it the first time around.

I keep hearing that kids like to read characters who are slightly older than them. I don’t know if this has been true for me, but Artemis has this way that makes him him seem so grown-up that even an adult RR would probably enjoy the series. Think a fun roller coaster ride through a prodigy’s teenage years but with kidnappings and fairies and fart jokes? (Gosh, this is the second post in a row that’s had me mentioning fart jokes … Hmm. I wonder if there are books where girls fart?) If you feel intimated by the size of the novels though, here are some tips:

  1. You could, if you like, stop reading at book three. THOUGH I WOULD NOT RECOMMEND THAT. Book four involves a very scared Artemis which you don’t get very often and is rather fun to behold. Book five involves a lot of imp puns and a plot that, for once, isn’t Artemis’ fault and has him scrambling to catch up. All you need to know about book six is TIME TRAVEL AND LEMURS! Book seven has Arty dealing with a magic induced mental illness. And book eight … made me cry. It was the perfect conclusion to the series. If you stop at book three, you’d be missing out on a majority of Artemis’ character development.
  2. You could also try the audiobooks? Nathaniel Parker is, hands down, one of my favourite audiobooks narrators. Listen to a sample here. (Stop at 2:58 if you don’t want spoilers!)
  3. You could start with the comics as a way to ease into the novels?

There’s something for everyone in this series. I don’t know how you get RRs to actually go to a library and pick up a book, but if you could, direct them to Artemis Fowl. They really won’t regret it. And once they’re really into the series– and they will be– don’t forget to gift ’em with a copy of Artemis Fowl Files.

*The last book was released in 2012 when I was completing my BA and getting ready to start my MA in Children’s Literature. My roommate and I spent every moment in the kitchen reading aloud as one cooked or listening to the excellent audiobook as we dealt with dishes. By the end, we missed Arty and Co. so much that we sent a letter and some fanart and … we actually heard back! Eoin Colfer is literally the nicest author I’ve ever interacted with. *ahem* Okay. Wow. This was a very long aside. I swear to you I’m not being paid by Penguin/Disney for this post. I just really, really miss Artemis. (Though I am very excited for Colfer’s new book Imaginary Fred.)

16 responses to “On Artemis Fowl: Because Reluctant Readers Like Heists Right?

  1. I’m reading through this series right now, actually, at 24 years old. The character development (and writing in general) is so good that I’ll literally get lost in the prose and forget to follow the plot on occasion. Which is impressive, because the plot itself is awesome.

    Never found another writer who can make you care about a character in 10 words or less. I don’t know how he does it.

    • Aww, I agree! Colfer is a talented writer! :) (And age is so irrelevant! AF is one of the few of my childhood faves that I can re-read without cringing too much. Happy reading!)

  2. This series has been on my TBR list for awhile now! Thanks for this post! I will have to put it at the top of my list now! Very informative! :)

  3. Reblogged this on Samantha Gordon and commented:
    1) Somehow I fell out of the loop and didn’t know there were any AF books after The Opal Deception
    2) I know the plots can lean a bit toward the formulaic and I don’t care
    3) I just remembered how much of a literary crush I had on Artemis and Holly as a kid
    4) This post brings up some great points about Harry Potter in its counterargument
    5) Now I’m upset about all the things in HP that weren’t fleshed out after the initial world-building
    6) I’m going to have to request copies of the rest of the AF books from my library and read them over the next couple of days

  4. Well if the spectacular cover art didn’t sell me, this review certainly did! This series is most definitely going on my TBR list. well done on a fantastic, informative,and insightful review

  5. Yessss, I love this post celebrating Artemis Fowl! These are books I still reread regularly. I’m by no means a reluctant reader, though I have no idea how I got into the books (the description never appealed to me yet for some reason I bought the first one at a Scholastic book fair), but I’ve loved them since there were only two books. I hope kids are still picking them up. I miss the original covers, though. I liked the shiny, bold patterns.

  6. It was interesting to see how the Artemis covers were adapted across the Atlantic – the UK ones were more quietly abstract, decorated with rune-like symbols. I especially liked your comment, book warrior, about your undergraduate years. Classic child and adolescent books have a habit of following us about, no matter what our age. And while the endless bang-and-crash action of a film such as ‘The Hobbit’ sends me to sleep, the actual book still wakes me up with its brilliant heists.

  7. Pingback: Summer? Young Readers? Book Warriors to the Rescue | MDellert-dot-Com·

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