When I first picked up this book at the age of 11, little did I know the adventures I was about to embark on. Holly's warning was quite right: "Stay back human. You don't know what you're dealing with." I really didn't, and the warning would foreshadow the emotional upheaval I would experience later on in the series. But back to the happy beginning of Artemis II's moral journey.
Eoin Colfer is a genius. In this book, he blends both literature and film, creating a story that appeals not only to a lover of fantasy, but an avid fan of action movies. You have the common archetypes of fantasy: fairies, elves, trolls, dwarves, and even gnomes, as well as the danger, tension, machismo, and classic villainy of the greatest action films. "Die Hard with fairies," indeed.
But that's not why this novel is successful; anyone can take different elements of art and media, and force them together. No, the brilliance of Colfer's story is that he creatively re-invents these elements. The criminal mastermind becomes a twelve year old boy, suffering moral confusion, who kidnaps a fairy for ransom, to restore his family's honour and fortune. And the fairies? A crack military team set on getting their comrade back, keeping their gold, and preserving the livelihood of their secret underground race. Curiously enough, both genres are based on the suspension of belief (i.e. one man can take out a highly trained military squad, and magic can freeze time), which might be why it works so well.
Another lovely aspect of Artemis Fowl is its moral ambiguity. Simply put, it isn't as easy as you would think to classify the heroes and villains. Artemis, the mastermind and kidnapper, is clearly the traditional villain, and yet his motives are very family-oriented. He needs the gold to restore his family's fortune, and he needs his family's fortune to find his missing father. Furthermore, Artemis is willing to give up a portion of the gold to Holly, in the hopes that she can use her magic to heal Artemis' mother of her emotional and mental breakdown (caused by the disappearance of her husband). While it doesn't change the immorality of his actions, it does influence how one classifies Artemis Fowl. Rather than being a cold, arguably sociopathic, individual obsessed with wealth, he becomes a boy trying to save his family at all costs. A criminal certainly, but also a hero or anti-hero, in his own wonderfully unique way.
Then we have the LEP (Lower Elements Police): the fairies fighting to rescue Captain Holly Short, and ensure the survival of the People (the fairy race). Their plan was to send their recon unit to stake out the Fowl home, and discover a way to retrieve Captain Short, and mind-wipe the humans, thus resolving the situation as non-violently as possible. Unfortunately, Butler (Artemis' bodyguard) dispatched the fairy soldiers, leading to negotiation, and a further reconnaissance by Mulch Diggums (a dwarf). The point is that the fairies resorted to the most peaceful strategies, and traditionally speaking, they would be classified as the heroes of the story (particularly Holly, the hostage). But, when forced to kill Fowl or lose their gold, the LEP resort to a bio-bomb (it kills only living matter). To be fair, there was also the issue of ensuring that Artemis couldn't exploit their race in future.
The fact remains, though, that both parties resorted to Machiavellian principles (the ends justify the means), and both felt they were doing what was right. The only definitive hero is Holly Short, and yet the way Colfer has written this book, we almost wish Holly hadn't interfered with Artemis' plans. Though a kidnapper and extortionist, we end up rooting for Artemis as much as Holly. Which just goes to show how subjective morality can be.
Literary analysis aside (and I could have gone on about much more than morality), Artemis Fowl is just fun to read. It's exciting, thought-provoking, funny, and potentially overwhelming. Once you enter Ho Chi Minh City with Artemis and Butler, you're ensnared in this epic battle between fairy and human, culminating in a touching gift from an unwitting mother to her son. Fundamentally, this is the tale of a boy coming to know who he really is, and the man he can become. The true beauty of this story is that it’s the most boring in the series. Happy reading and I sincerely hope I'll see you in The Last Guardian.