Friday, November 25, 2011

Artemis Fowl

Title: Artemis Fowl
Author: Eoin Colfer
List: #59 on BBC Top 100
Worth reading? For an adult, not really.

The BBC Top 100 list is notable for the variety of books it includes. There are classics, recent novels, fiction written for adults, and juvenile fiction. When the BBC solicited nominations for its list, Artemis Fowl had only been out for two years. Since then, it has grown into a series of seven books, with the eighth and final book coming in 2012. The series is a children’s fantasy series, and each book ranges from about 250-400 smallish pages, with pretty large type. Based on that, the series really seems geared towards children not yet used to reading very much. However, the author describes Artemis Fowl as “Die Hard with fairies,” and indeed the action scenes and Gnommish* swearing seem to make the novel more appropriate for older children. The simplicity of the writing thus does not seem geared to the potentially somewhat older audience.

These characteristics are in stark contrast to other children’s fantasy novels that made it on the BBC list, including the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling and the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman. Both of those series are also clearly for children, but are easily read and enjoyed by adults without feeling like a children’s book. Not that there is anything wrong with a children’s book feeling like a children’s book. That seems perfectly natural, but I don’t think that such an obvious children’s book really belongs on the BBC Top 100 list next to classics like Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice. To be fair, there are other children’s books on the list, like the books by Roald Dahl and Jacqueline Wilson, that may be more appropriate companions to Artemis Fowl. It has been many years since I read Roald Dahl’s children’s books, so I can’t remember how childish they are. However, I do remember loving them and that my parents really enjoyed them, I still think they are wonderful and praise them whenever I get the chance, and I hope they will be read to or by my own future children. As for Jacqueline Wilson’s books, I have yet to read any of those so I will reserve judgment.

Even if I set aside the overt childishness of the Artemis Fowl books, I still think they are not that fantastic. The basic premise of the first book is that Artemis Fowl II, a twelve-year-old genius and criminal mastermind, wants to replenish his family’s wealth by cheating the fairies out of some of their gold. (Mind you, the Fowls are still wealthy—the “problem” is that they went from being billionaires to being millionaires.) With the help of his bodyguard, Artemis kidnaps a fairy who happens to be an officer in the fairy police force and demands a ransom payment. Mayhem in the form of rescue attempts and double crossing ensues.

So, yes, Artemis Fowl is an adventure story. And yes, it holds your attention. But… besides the use of fairies and fairy technology, it isn’t very creative. Every predictable moment from every action movie you’ve ever seen is in the first book (and the second for that matter). I don’t think the book made me think or taught me anything new, and I’m not sure that would be any different for a child. That said, it isn’t horrible. And there would be absolutely nothing wrong with a child reading this book because, after all, the most important thing, to me anyway, would be to instill the love of reading in a child. And if this book helps, then any future child of mine will be more than welcome to read it. As for me, I won’t be recommending this to any Harry Potter fans or other adult readers, and now that I’ve read the first two because I borrowed them at the same time from library, I won’t be reading the other six unless (and until) some future child of mine decides to read them.

*Gnommish is the language spoken by the fairies.

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