Revisiting childhood books is a gamble. Sometimes you pick up on complex ideas that previously went unnoticed, helping you appreciate the novel more, but if you’re unlucky, you question why you ever enjoyed reading it. Following our discussion of fantasy fiction a few months ago, Scott decided to put Artemis Fowl to the test and see how it held up over time.
As we arrived at Scott’s place for the meeting, we were graced by a platter of fairy bread—a childhood favourite with obvious ties to Artemis Fowl’s magical underworld of mythical creatures.
As you may recall, back in April when we discussed Stephen King’s The Eyes of the Dragon, Scott publicly declared his love for high fantasy fiction such as The Lord of the Rings. But this discussion got him thinking, and he realised that one of his favourite fantasy books as a kid—Artemis Fowl—was actually low fantasy.
It holds a premise that quite obviously appeals to older children and teenagers, helping it become the award-winning series that it is. Artemis Fowl himself is a criminal child prodigy who has discovered the existence of fairies, kidnapped one, and now demands a wealthy sum of gold, threatening that he will reveal their existence to humans if it is not delivered. It essentially becomes a heist story, with the magical forces of elves, goblins and centaurs teaming up to rescue the abducted Captain Holly Short.
As a clear-cut low fantasy novel, Scott wanted to see why exactly he enjoyed this book so much. It’s not The Lord of the Rings, so what was it that drew him to it?
After a brief kitchen disaster involving an unreliable cooking pot, our main course arrived and we started to get some answers. Over a dish of Irish chicken with cabbage, potatoes, bacon and onion, we psycho-analysed Scott’s childhood. Unlike other young adult novels like Harry Potter or Divergent, there is no “chosen one” character who is destined to save the world in Artemis Fowl. Morality is ambiguous, as the narrator follows both sides of the story without judgement. For a teenage boy attending a conservative school where Harry Potter was banned for its depiction of witchcraft, this was the sort of story that helped him realise that the world is not simply split into good and bad people.
This was a book that my year 5 teacher also read to my class quite a few years ago, and even though I enjoyed it back then, it was not a story that I remembered very well over the years. Looking back on it, it is surprisingly complex for a book aimed at a younger audience; it has environmental themes in its portrayal of the druidic, nature-loving fairies, and there is no clear-cut villain to be brought down.
In spite of its brilliant world-building and thematic material, Cassie had some complaints regarding this character setup. For her, Artemis was not empathetic enough to even fulfill the role of the anti-hero, and in the end she decidedly felt more on the side of the fairies.
I had to agree a little here, as I personally didn’t care for the subplot regarding Artemis’ sick mother. It felt unnaturally inserted into the story for the sake of making Artemis not seem like a completely despicable person. There were also certain parts of the story that were stretching the limits of believability and breached into simplistic, rushed explanations—most noticeably, Artemis’ solution to survive the blue rinse.
This bio-bomb is set up as being an all-powerful, last-resort weapon, and so the simple explanation of falling asleep to survive it felt like it did little more than cheapen the impact that the blue rinse was expected to have.
Alec made a fair point regarding Artemis’ relationship with his mum; his character projects the typical cunning bad boy image, but balancing this with a soft spot for his mother is perhaps a significant reason why the book series is so popular with young boys. Like Artemis, they may want to prove their coolness to their friends, but deeper down they harbour a strong desire for parental love.
We started to wrap up our discussion while feasting on sticky date pudding, moving onto the topic of what a film version of Artemis Fowl might look like. As it so happens there is one currently in the works with Disney and The Weinstein Company, directed by Kenneth Branagh. The fact that an Irish director has been chosen to lead the way with this project made all of us immensely happy, as the story’s inherent Irishness underlies Artemis Fowl’s character and the magical mythology of the fictional world.
Scott reckoned that many of the fight sequences would translate to the silver screen even better than they were portrayed in the book, and considering the nature of these action sequences, I have to agree with him on this. With the unique assortment of monsters and spells, there is a lot of potential for visually engaging special effects and stunt choreography in a feature film of Artemis Fowl.
Rereading childhood books often feels like an entirely different experience to reading them for the first time. You tend not to get as swept up in the emotion of it, giving you a better sense of analytical judgement. Sometimes your childhood is ruined; sometimes you can appreciate it more. Fortunately in the case of Artemis Fowl, it certainly paid off.
Have you read Artemis Fowl? Tell us your thoughts on the novel in the comments below!
The Book Cook Look Club is a small Australian based book club combining three much-loved activities: reading, cooking and films. Declan, a member of the club, will be recapping his experience each month right here on The Nerd Daily!
BOOK | One person selects a book for everyone to read over the next month.
COOK | The book selector hosts a dinner party with a themed meal related to the book.
LOOK | We compare the film adaptation to its source material.