Artemis Fowl

Artemis Fowl Summary and Analysis of Chapter 2: Translation


This chapter explains the events that led up to Artemis finding a sprite in Ho Chi Minh city. A few years earlier, he had been searching on the internet when he discovered "hundreds of references to fairies" from all over the world (18). Though these references varied, they all had notable similarities, leading Artemis to believe that there was a hidden family of fairies still in existence. Several of these stories mention a Book that fairies carry with them, which contains their secrets. Artemis spent many months compiling a database with as much information about the fairies as he could and put out an advertisement on the web looking for contacts who might know about fairy whereabouts: "Irish businessman will pay large amount of U.S. dollars to meet a fairy, sprite, leprechaun, pixie" (19).

The only thing keeping Artemis from reading the Book immediately is the fact that it is written in Gnommish, the fairy language. Once he gets home, he wants to start working on it immediately, but he first goes to check on his mother, who has been bedridden for almost a year. As he approaches his mother's room, he sees Juliet, Butler's sister, sitting on the stairs. She tells Artemis that his mother has thrown her out of her room because she left a gap in the curtains. Artemis finds his irate mother. He is relieved that she recognizes him. She tells him that she has been hearing voices and her mood escalates until she finally throws him out of her room. He can hear her terrified sobs as he descends the staircase.

Back in his study, Artemis attempts to translate the Book. He runs it through several computer programs to no result. He prints out the pages of the book and pastes them on the walls of his study in order to give them a better look. He tries to compare the characters to those of many different languages, with no luck. Finally, he compares the characters to ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs and there is a match. Artemis realizes that the Gnommish characters in the Book are similar to Egyptian hieroglyphics, but they are not an exact match, meaning he will have to translate them by hand. After several hours, Artemis has decoded the Book, but finds that the English translation is incomprehensible.

Artemis refuses to give up, recognizing that the translation of each character was correct and therefore it was the order of them that was wrong. He tries several different ways of reading the manuscript, before realizing that they are written in a circle on the page, with arrows pointing the direction in which each page should be read. Finally, Artemis gets part of it to make sense—the introductory poem of the Book. Artemis is exhausted, and he calls Butler and Juliet to help him finish the task.


In Chapter 2, we are finally told Artemis's objective for finding out more about the fairy race. He wants fairy gold and to restore his family name after his father went missing nearly a year before: "The Fowls were not left destitute, far from it. But billionaire status was no longer theirs. Artemis the Second vowed to remedy this. He would restore the family fortune. And he would do it in his own unique fashion" (29). The narrator reveals to us that after Artemis's father has gone missing, Artemis's mother, Angeline Fowl, has become bedridden and has lost her sanity, leaving Artemis effectively orphaned: "[Angeline] hadn't seen the light of day in a long time now. Then again, should she miraculously recover, emerging revitalized from her bedchamber, it would signal the end of Artemis's own extraordinary freedom" (20). Here, readers must toe the line between empathizing with Artemis for losing both of his parents and understanding that he is clearly an amoral person that does not care about the wellbeing of others: "Gold, of course, was the objective. The acquisition of gold. It seemed the People were almost as fond of the precious metal as humans. Each fairy had its own cache, but not for much longer if Artemis had his way. There would be at least one of the fairy folk wandering around with empty pockets by the time he'd finished" (29).

In his mission to exploit the fairies (referred to in the passage above and by the fairies themselves as the People), Artemis gets to work in Chapter 2 on decoding their sacred Book. As Chapter 2 tells us, every fairy carries a copy of the Book: "Several stories mentioned a Book carried by each fairy. It was their bible, containing, as it allegedly did, the history of their race and the commandments that governed their extended lives. Of course, this book was written in Gnommish, the fairy language, and would be of no use to any human" (19). The existence of such a Book highlights the difference between Artemis and the fairy race and relates to the larger conflict of human vs fairy that we see throughout the novel. The Book determines a set of rules that every fairy must live by. We will see these rules in action in later chapters, but the most important one for the purposes of this story is that no fairy may enter a human dwelling without being given permission, or else they are forced to give up their magic. These rules are stringent and universal. They have been passed down for centuries and are meant to ensure the continued well-being of the fairy race as a whole. This Book connects all fairies, as they all live with a common moral framework that guides their actions. In contrast, Artemis lives by no particular moral framework. In fact, it seems as if he has no morals at all. Because of this, he is allowed to move freely in the pursuit of his own self-interest while fairies are much more limited. This makes Artemis, and humans in general, very effective predators when it comes to the fairy race. We will see how this will play out as Artemis and Holly Short (our novel's second protagonist) meet face-to-face in Chapter 4.

For those with an interest in linguistics, or the way languages work, the extended description of Artemis translating the Book in Chapter 2 might catch your attention. Artemis mirrors the process by which real-life linguists and archaeologists try to decode ancient or unknown languages. His first step is trying to find a human language that might be similar to Gnommish (the fairy language and the language the Book is written in). This causes Artemis quite a headache, since Gnommish is an extremely old language and it seems to be unlike any language spoken across the globe today. However, he finally finds success when he compares Gnommish to Egyptian hieroglyphics: "Artemis opened the ancient language file on his Power Translator and selected Egyptian. At last. A hit. The male symbol was remarkably similar to the Anubis god representation on Tutankhamen's inner-chamber hieroglypics" (24). From this similarity, Artemis is able to make inferences about the way that Gnommish and Ancient Egyptian might have evolved: This was consistent with his other findings. The first written human stories were about fairies, suggesting that their civilization predated man's own. It would seem that the Egyptians had simply adapted an existing scripture to their needs" (24). Ultimately, Artemis is able to use the Egyptian hieroglyphics as a kind of code, which allows him to begin to translate the Book. He has the finest technology at his disposal, which helps his process, but he ultimately needs to do the bulk of the translations by hand.

One thing that this section might teach us is the kinds of decisions that someone makes when they are trying to solve a puzzle. The translation is incredibly difficult at first: "The Book was proving far more stubborn than Artemis had anticipated. It seemed to be almost actively resisting him. No matter what program he ran it through, the computer came up blank" (23). However, Artemis refuses to give up and does not get discouraged: "This book was testing him, and he would not allow it to win" (25). By thinking creatively and maintaining a level head, Artemis is finally able to translate the Book. It shows us that not only does Artemis have many privileges at his disposal—his wealth, his intelligence, his access to the best technology—he ultimately succeeds because of his perseverance.