A major theme in Artemis Fowlis the struggle between good and evil. Our protagonist, Artemis, is not a hero at all and is, in fact, an anti-hero. He has committed his time to plotting and executing criminal enterprises. This often leads him to acts of cruelty, as when he kidnaps the fairy Holly Short against her will. Despite this, as readers we often find ourselves rooting for Artemis. This is due to the fact that it is clear that he cares deeply about his family, as well as Butler and Juliet. He is driven by a desire to restore his family name.
Despite this, there are moments as Artemis Fowlprogresses that show that Artemis has the potential to feel compassion for others: "Artemis saw the pain in the creature's eyes as the hollow hypodermic plunged into her body. And for a moment he experienced misgivings. A female. He hadn't expected that. A female, like Juliet, or Mother. Then the moment passed and he was himself again" (75). In this scene, Artemis is surprised to find a connection between Holly and two people in his life that he cares about, Juliet and his mother. This causes him to feel a twinge of compassion, but he actively suppresses it in order to continue with his evil plan. This moment shows us that much of Artemis's is behavior is a choice—he chooses to act in the way that he does, and he is not innately bad. This suggests the potential for growth in Artemis—a growth that culminates in him giving Holly half of the ransom in return for healing his mother at the end of the story.
Nevertheless, throughout the book, Artemis and his cohort are the "bad guys." The "good guys," on the other hand, are Holly and the rest of the LEP—they are forced to fight and negotiate with Artemis in order to recover their kidnapped officer. On top of this, their way of life is under threat: Artemis's knowledge that the People exist could potentially cause a disastrous fairy-human war. Furthermore, the People are much more connected to nature than the humans, and they often look down upon the human race for how they have mistreated nature throughout history.
The "good guys" however, are not always exactly good—Lieutenant Cudgeon and Mulch Diggums show us that even those who are fighting on the right side are not completely moral beings. Because of this, the line between good and evil is constantly blurred throughout the text. Every character, no matter which side they are on, is a complex individual who is capable of both evil and good deeds. Perhaps the only truly moral character within the text is Holly, who seems to maintain a strong sense of what is wrong or right throughout the novel. This leads her to advocate for Artemis, Butler, and Juliet's lives in the last moments of the novel, despite everything that they did to her.
Artemis's name reflects the ambiguity between good and evil within the text. His first name, Artemis, is an allusion to the Greek goddess Artemis. She is the goddess of the hunt, the wilderness, wild animals, the Moon, and chastity. Like the goddess, Artemis the character is a hunter—he and Butler hunt down Holly and kidnap her for their own monetary gain. The gun that Butler uses to capture Holly emphasizes the sense of hunting in this scene: "Butler followed his lead, popping the cap on his weapon's starlight scope. This was no ordinary dart rifle. It had been specially tooled for a Kenyan ivory hunter, and had the range and rapid fire capacity of a Kalashnikov" (72).
Artemis's last name, Fowl, plays off of the hunter contained within his first name. "Fowl" are birds that are hunted. While Artemis is the hunter, Fowl is the prey. Therefore, within Artemis's name, there is the potential for great power—that of a hunting goddess—as well as loss of power—that of an animal which has been hunted. Throughout the text, we do not know if Artemis's plots will succeed, a fact which has been suggested to us simply by his name. "Fowl" also contains an illusion to Artemis's character: it is a homonym of "foul," which means evil, wicked, or sinful. This points to Artemis's general state of being: someone who is wicked on purpose, because he is intelligent enough to do so without facing harsh consequences.
Fatherhood is an important theme throughout Artemis Fowl, particularly because it helps explain Artemis's motivation to do dastardly deeds and explains the relationship between Artemis and Butler.
Artemis's father, who is also named Artemis Fowl, has been missing for almost a year: "It was Artemis the First, our subject's father, who had thrown the family fortune into jeopardy. With the breakup of communist Russia, Artemis Senior had decided to invest a huge chunk of the Fowl fortune in establishing new shipping lines to the vast continent . . . The Russian Mafia did not take too kindly to a Westerner muscling in on their market, and so decided to send a little message. This message took the form of a stolen missile launched at the Fowl Star on her way past Murmansk. Artemis Senior was on board the ship, along with Butler's uncle and 250,000 cans of cola" (28-9). While Artemis does not touch on how much his father's disappearance has hurt him, it is understandable that such an event would affect him greatly. It is the motivation for why he wants to steal the People's gold: "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).
While Artemis's father has not returned home in almost a year, Artemis maintains the hope that he is not dead and in fact will one day return. However, at the start of this story, he tells Butler to turn off the live feed of the CNN homepage from where it is projected onto Artemis's study wall. This is an indication that Artemis is ready to accept that his father may be lost forever. Butler is surprised when Artemis tells him to do so: "The manservant started. The CNN site had been running for almost a year. Artemis was convinced that news of his father's rescue would come from there. Shutting it down meant that he was finally letting go. . . . Butler took the liberty of patting his employer gently on the shoulder, just once, before returning to work" (30).
In many ways, Artemis goes about his daily life in his father's shadow. They share the same name; our protagonist is actually "Artemis the Second." Artemis also works in his father's old study. However, according to Butler, Artemis is not simply his father's son: "Butler nodded appreciatively. Always two steps ahead, that was Master Artemis. People said he was a chip off the old block. They were wrong. Master Artemis was a brand-new block, the likes of which had never been seen before" (16).
The theme of fatherhood therefore allows us to get to know Artemis better, as it gives us an explanation for his motivations. It also helps to explain the relationship between Butler and Artemis. As the narrator tells us earlier in the book, Butler and Artemis's relationship with each other is complex: "The current Butler had been guarding young Master Artemis for twelve years, since the moment of his birth. And, though they adhered to the age-old formalities, they were much more than master and servant. Artemis was the closest thing Butler had to a friend, and Butler was the closest Artemis had to a father, albeit one who observed orders" (16). Despite the fact that Artemis the First is missing, then, Artemis has found a father-figure in Butler. This relationship will be put to the test as the novel progresses, particularly near the end, when Juliet's life is in danger. However, Butler steadfastly stays by Artemis's side, which makes Artemis more powerful than he could be alone.
Both Artemis and the LEP have extensive technology at their fingertips. Often, these technologies are pitted against each other, as Artemis continually tries to outsmart his adversaries. In fact, it is thanks to technology that Artemis is able to exploit the fairies in the first place. The internet helped him discover the existence of the People, and a computer program helps him translate their Book into modern English: "Artemis believed that with today's technology the Book could be translated. And with this translation you could begin to exploit a whole new group of creatures. . . Artemis was perhaps the only person alive who could take full advantage of his recent acquisition. He still retained a childlike belief in magic, tempered by an adult determination to exploit it. If there was anybody capable of relieving the fairies of some of their magical gold, it was Artemis Fowl the Second" (18-9). In Artemis's capable hands, technology becomes an extremely destructive weapon: "Artemis could hear the blood pumping in his ears. He had them. They would be ants beneath his feet. Their every secret would be laid bare by technology" (28).
On the People's side, Foaly is the genius behind the technology that keeps Artemis on his toes. Thanks to Foaly, the People believe their technology is more advanced than the Mud People's: "Not only had Foaly built their communications network from scratch, but he was also a pioneer in the field of flare prediction. Without him, human technology could very easily catch up with the fairy brand" (85). Foaly's technological advancements come head-to-head with Artemis's technology throughout the novel as each character tries to outsmart the other. Eventually, it is Foaly's over-confidence in fairy technology which allows Artemis to win: Foaly believes that there is no escape from the blue rinse, but Artemis has found a way to survive.
The only character in Artemis Fowl who seems to be wary of technology is Commander Root. Root is an older fairy who has been around long enough to remember the days that fairies merely relied on their magic to get the job done. In some ways, he prefers this older way of life: "Back in the shillelagh days, there were no fancy polymer harnesses, no auto thrusters, and certainly no external monitors. It was just gut instinct and a touch of enlightenment. In some ways Root preferred it like that. Science was taking the magic out of everything" (91-2).
Gender is an important theme throughout Artemis Fowl, particularly when it comes to Holly Short. Holly is a fairy who works as a leprechaun for the LEP Recon unit. She is the first girl to ever hold this post, which creates turbulence with her boss in the workplace: "Commander Root was the cause of Holly's distress. Root had been on Holly's case since day one. The commander had decided to take offense at the fact that the first female officer in Recon's history had been assigned to his squad. Recon was a notoriously dangerous posting with a high fatality rate, and Root didn't think it was any place for a girlie. Well, he was just going to have to get used to the idea, because Holly Short had no intention of quitting for him or anybody else" (32). Holly is making history in her own way: she is trying to prove that anybody can be an officer for LEPrecon, no matter their gender. This, however, creates obstacles for Holly, who has to complete her daily duties and prove that she belongs there at the same time.
Holly thinks that Captain Root gives her a hard time simply because she is a girl. For example, he yells at her when she is just a few minutes late to work: "Holly could feel her face coloring. She was barely a minute late. There were at least a dozen officers on this shift who hadn't even reported in yet. But Root always singled her out for persecution" (35). However, as Captain Root explains to Holly, this means that Holly is under more pressure than any of her officers. She has to prove to others that she belongs where she is. "'You are the first girl in Recon. Ever,'" he tells her. "'You are a test case. A beacon. There are a million fairies out there watching your every move. There are a lot of hopes riding on you. But there is a lot of prejudice against you too. The future of law enforcement is in your hands. . . . You have to be the best you can be, Short, and that has to be better than anybody else'" (36-7).
Because of her gender, Holly has to work even harder than her male colleagues. She also has less room to make mistakes—one mistake and she will be demoted. Root already threatens to demote Holly to Traffic duty in the beginning of Chapter 3, and a rogue troll is the only thing that allows her to keep her job. In this way, Holly is under a lot of pressure. When Artemis and Butler kidnap her in Chapter 4, Holly is not helped in any way by the fact that she is a girl. Artemis feels slight misgivings about kidnapping Holly, because she reminds him of Juliet and his mother, but he continues with his plan nonetheless. Despite this, Holly is highly intelligent and resourceful. She is eventually able to escape Fowl Manor and does so while being the most moral character in the novel. In the end, she earns Commander Root's approval and respect because she handles the situation at Fowl Manor so well.
Throughout Artemis Fowl, many of the characters take note of how polluted and damaged the earth is as a result of human activity. Holly notes that the majority of the fairy population is forced to live underground in part because of what humans do to the earth: "Since the humans had begun experimenting with mineral drilling, more and more fairies had been driven out of the shallow forts and into the depth and security of Haven City" (36). Fairies, however, are not specifically suited to underground life, and when Holly makes it to the surface, she marvels at how nice the fresh air feels: "How had the People ever left the surface? Sometimes she wished that her ancestors had stayed to fight it out with the Mud People. But there were too many of them" (49). The People are forced to live in a stunted environment as a result of the Mud People's abusive behavior towards any being that is not human, including mother earth.
Holly is much more in tune with nature than your average human. When she first makes it to the surface, she can sense the human pollutants floating in the night air: "Although she was enjoying the night air, Holly could taste traces of pollutants. The Mud People destroyed everything they came into contact with" (49). Similarly, while Holly flies toward the Ritual, she playfully interacts with a pod of dolphins and mourns how they have been harmed by humans: "She called out to the dolphins and they rose to the surface, leaping from the water to match her pace. She could see the pollution in them, bleaching their skin white and giving them red sores on their backs. And although she smiled, her heart was breaking. Mud People had a lot to answer for" (67). When Holly makes it to Ireland, she marvels at the natural beauty that still exists in the country. However, she believes that human intervention will soon change the landscape: "Ireland certainly was picturesque. Even the Mud People hadn't been able to destroy that. Not yet anyway. . . Give them another century or two" (71).
The Allure of Crime
A character that mirrors Artemis within the novel is Mulch Diggums. When Mulch is introduced, he is described as "a dubious individual, even by Artemis Fowl's standards" (155). He is a kleptomaniac dwarf who has devoted much of his adult life to crime.
Like Artemis, Mulch is after the many benefits that come from devoting one's life to crime: wealth and freedom. When the novel starts, Mulch is being arrested and sent into jail. However, he is recruited to help Holly's rescue mission in the hope that he will tunnel beneath Fowl Manor and break in. He is uniquely suited to do this job because he lost his magical powers many years ago as a result of his illicit deeds. Normally, fairies must be invited into a human's dwelling or they lose their power and must submit to the human's will. Because Mulch already has a record, he could in theory sneak around Fowl Manor and assist the LEP team.
Both Artemis and Mulch are seduced by the allure of crime. For both of these characters, the rewards greatly outweigh the risks. When Mulch is given his assignment, he has little choice as to whether or not he will comply. Root's team pulls him out of a jail cell where he is seconds away from getting harmed by a group of goblins. However, Mulch also has ulterior motives. He sees this job as a chance to gain his freedom: after investigating Fowl Manor, he fakes his death and tunnels away from Commander Root and his team. At the end of the novel, he also steals half of the LEP's gold, which will give him enough riches to survive for the rest of his life. He is not caught nor reprimanded: at the end of the novel, he gets off scot-free.
Like Mulch, Artemis has succeeded at the end of the novel. He has a large amount of gold now in his possession, and the fairies will leave him alone because he won. In the end, Artemis Fowl seems to hold an ambivalent view of crime. Two prominent characters—Artemis and Mulch—devote their lives to crime, and they both succeed in their endeavors.
In the final moments of the novel, it becomes clear which characters have honor and which do not. Holly risks her life to save Juliet from the troll, proving that she has honor, as Juliet helped Artemis kidnap and subdue Holly in previous chapters. Despite the fact that Holly helps save Butler's and Juliet's lives, however, Artemis insists on keeping her for ransom. He knows that this decision irks Butler, who like Holly, has a lot of honor: "Artemis didn't have to ask. He knew exactly what Butler was feeling. The fairy had saved both their lives and yet he insisted on holding her to ransom. To a man of honor like Butler, this was almost more than he could bear" (236).
Within Artemis Fowl, those characters who have honor—notably, Holly and Butler—are not any better off because they hold these qualities. In fact, they are sometimes put in even more danger because they try to do the right thing instead of simply looking out for themselves. In this way, the world inside Artemis Fowl is like our own, where individuals must make decisions within a complex and multi-layered world. Those characters who have strong morals are not always given the happy ending that they deserve.
Holly leaves Fowl Manor with her life, but the fairies are forced to hand over the ransom to Artemis. When she advocates for Root not to deploy the blue rinse over Fowl Manor, she is turned down. If Juliet had been killed, Holly would have held that death on her conscience. However, Artemis and his troupe survive, which means that Holly and the rest of the fairies are forced to pack up shop and head home.
Artemis Fowl Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Artemis Fowl is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.