Module 5–Fantasy and Science Fiction

Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer

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Summary

Artemis Fowl is an extremely rich 12-year old genius.  His family has fallen on hard times after his father disappeared and Artemis is determined to get the family out of the hole.  After much research he has recently discovered the world of fairies and with the help of his bodyguard, Butler, he is going to attempt to steal the riches of the fairies.  In his pursuit he kidnaps Captain Holly Short of the LEPrecon Unit, which doesn’t turn out the way he thinks it will.  The fairies are armed with weapons just as good if not more advanced then the ones Artemis has created.

Colfer, E.  (2001).  Artemis Fowl.  New York:  Talk Miramax Books.

My impressions

I loved this book, which I actually listened to on audio.  My sister had recommended this book, but many of my friends said they could not get through it.  I decided that I would try the audio and I am so glad that I did.  Nathaniel Parker is the narrator and he does a phenomenal job.  There are so many different accents and dialects throughout the book (British, French, Russian) and he knocks it out of the park.  Maybe this is why I enjoyed the book so much, but I can’t wait to find out what happens in the rest of the series.  The high speed chases, the futuristic gadgets and the action kept me hooked from start to finish.

Reviews

We interrupt this New York Times Book Review for a special bulletin: There are fairies at the bottom of the garden. They are armed and dangerous. This latest invasion occurs in a fantasy called ”Artemis Fowl,” by an Irish writer, Eoin Colfer. Stylishly packaged in a jacket of golden foil, each page subscripted with a second text in invented runic letters, the book follows in an oddly resilient literary tradition of fairy interference in human affairs.

With august antecedents including ballads like ”Tam Lin” and plays like ”A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” the subgenre took new strength from the 19th-century work of Grimm and Andersen, and grew to encompass tales of nonsense and moral instruction alike. Many of Sylvia Townsend Warner’s wry, bitter stories for adults, collected in ”Kingdoms of Elfin,” appeared first in The New Yorker. Both C. S. Lewis and L. Frank Baum called their children’s novels fairy tales. The disparate works share a common feature: the fairies’ morality is different from human sentimental do-goodism. But move over, Tinker Bell: here come the fairies and the humans in ”Artemis Fowl.” They’re another generation entirely.

Years ago, Paul Heins, genteel and scholarly editor of The Horn Book Magazine, advising critics to come to their task refreshed and open-minded, relied on a pair of courteous questions: What is the author trying to achieve? How well does he or she succeed?

One doesn’t have to search far for the author’s intention in the much-ballyhooed ”Artemis Fowl.” The publicity kit is larded with comparisons to Harry Potter, pressing home the golden commercial possibilities in this summer without a new book by J. K. Rowling, and describes the book as ” ‘Die Hard’ with fairies.”

Before questioning whether a ” ‘Die Hard’ with fairies” is suitable, desirable or even tolerable for young readers, let’s finish Paul Heins’s assignment: How well has the author done at fulfilling his aims?

D’arvit! as the fairies say expletively (the translation is not provided as it would only provoke censorship, the author tells us), D’arvit!: Colfer has done enormously, explosively well.

Artemis Fowl is a 12-year-old Irish criminal mastermind gifted with psychological cunning and technological expertise. He is not so much crippled as liberated by a total lack of moral compunction. Or so he’s described. Since Artemis’s father is missing and his mother is loopy with sedatives, generous readers may be inclined to cut Artemis some slack. The plot concerns the boy’s successful efforts to locate and steal a book belonging to a real fairy. Artemis cracks its codes and learns the secrets of the vast underground fairy civilizations, and he harnesses this knowledge to steal what is sometimes known as the legendary gold at the end of the rainbow — the otherworld’s Fort Knox.

The fairies, however, fight back, and their military stratagems occupy most of the book. The campaign is conducted by Leprecons, fairies engaged in ”Lower Elements Police Reconnaissance.” These are specially trained forces whose job is to retrieve rogue fairies from the earth’s surface and avoid potential discovery by the Mud People — that is, us.

Our adrenaline is kept primed by the promises of impending violence, though mercifully most of it is sidestepped. The fairies employ an arsenal of technological devices more state-of-the-art than any budding mercenary could hope for — it’s the stuff that 12-year-old tech-geek dreams are made on. And the slick descriptions do possess their own mesmerizing power. ”The centaur pointed to a live feed from the Eurosat, which was displayed on a large plasma screen. ‘This red dot is the troll. He’s moving toward Martina Franca, a fortified town near the city of Brindisi.’ ” Heady stuff, although the Leprecon commander admits that science is ”taking the magic out of everything.”

But science and technology perform their own kind of spells. If magic wands and invisible cloaks have given way to iris-cam implants — well, fairies have to get with the times, too. This doesn’t bother me, nor that the prose is cliched. I’m troubled by the fact that though the prose lacks luster, it doesn’t lack lust: a spicy, nonerotic, slobbering bloodlust.

In a nervy and unnerving marriage of style and substance, Colfer adopts the rhythms of macho banter from television police dramas, Hollywood espionage thrillers and B-grade buddy war films. Here’s a troll making toward a hoped-for feast of human flesh: ”Once you’ve had open-air meat, it’s hard to go back.” Or: Fowl’s aide-de-camp, a bodyguard named Butler, reads Guns & Ammo for entertainment. He’s a loyal goon. He proudly packs a Sig Sauer pistol as well as knives, a two-shot derringer, garrote wire, etc., all lovingly itemized. Ready to do serious battle, ”Butler hunkered down . . . and checked his safety catch. Off. Good. Come and get me, fairy boys.”

Lines like these are other than clever. They’re insidious. They appeal to a real but ugly appetite. It’s a shame to report it, but ”Artemis Fowl” has been rinsed clean of anything approaching genuine magic.

Sure, I admit that introducing today’s 12-year-old boys who have been raised on ”too much damned TV” to the merits of ”Mary Poppins” or ”The Wind in the Willows” is itself a sort of ”Mission: Impossible.” But in ”Artemis Fowl” we’re treated to graphic descriptions of dwarf flatulence and vomiting into a closed helmet. If you have a reader curious about the uses and abuses of power, go back to the masterly ”Wizard of Earthsea,” by Ursula K. Le Guin, or the darkly complex ”Dark Is Rising” series, by Susan Cooper, or even the terrifying and funny sci-fi fantasy ”The Ear, the Eye and the Arm,” by Nancy Farmer. The truth is, fairies in their essence are said to possess glamour, a word that originally meant something like charm — the ability to bewitch. Hardware may intrigue, caustic belligerence may be sexy to a contemporary 12-year-old, but neither ingredient bewitches. Despite a brave and promising premise, ”Artemis Fowl” is charmless.

Nonetheless, young readers may thrill in seeing that the clandestine mysteries of faerie are, like all aspects of our culture, subject to decay in the light of day. Even the fairest of the Leprecons are a far cry from the twiggy-limbed creatures in the shrubs of Arthur Rackham’s drawings. But that’s what the author intended: ” ‘Die Hard’ with fairies.” ”The movie rights alone will be worth a fortune,” one character admits. What Colfer has done, and very ably, is to pitch a great movie idea. Pure gold, in fact.

Gregory Maguire, co-director of Children’s Literature New England, is the author of the ”Hamlet Chronicles” series.

 

Maguire, G.  (2001, June 17).  Children’s Books (Review of Artemis Fowl).

Suggestion

I have a lot of excitement for this book and would definitely include this in a middle school book talk.  For the book talk I would create a book trailer, which I am already imagining how to lay it out.

If I did a program with this book, I would try to collaborate with the Radford University or Virginia Tech science departments.  Artemis created and built all of his gadgets and it would be fun to have the teens create something (like a robot) with the help of some actual scientists.

The Lightning Thief  By Rick Riordan

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Summary

Percy Jackson is a 12 year old boy.  He lives with his mother and stepfather (whom he does not get along with).  He has started at a new school because of some trouble he got into at his last school.  While on a field trip with his new classmates he discovers that things are not as they seem as his pre-algebra teacher turns into a Fury and attacks him.  With the help of his crippled friend Grover and his Latin teacher Mr. Brunner he escapes.

Within hours of finding this information out, Percy’s mother is kidnapped by one of the gods and he is led on a mission to save her.   While killing a Minotaur, he is injured and wakes up three days later at Camp Half-Blood, a camp for boys and girls who are just like Percy, half human and half god, a demigod.   He finds out that Grover and Mr. Brunner are in fact a satyr and centaur, respectively.   With the help of his friends from camp he faces down god after god while trying to figure out whom his father is while also trying to keep Poseidon, Zeus and Hades from starting a war.

Riordan, R. (2005).  The Lighting Thief.   New York:  Hyperion Books for Children.

My impressions

I enjoyed this book very much.  I love how Riordan combined humans and Greek gods together.  I am originally an Anthropology major, with a focus on Ancient Greek culture.  This was a fun way to go on an adventure at the same time learning about Ancient Greece and the gods.  I thought the interactions between the characters were believable and I wanted to go to Camp Half-Blood myself.  I can see why children of all ages would love these books.

I was not a huge fan of the movie.  The Director left out a bunch of important stuff and changed details around.  Normally I can handle this and expect it, but for some reason I didn’t approve of this movie.

Reviews

Harry Who?

By POLLY SHULMAN

Boys love action heroes. Entertainers from Homer on have known how to enthrall the barely bearded with tales of derring-do, whether their chase scenes are powered by wind, oats or rocket fuel. Two new adventure stories cleverly draw on great examples of this tradition: the Greek myths, which gave us the word “hero,” and the Arthurian legends, which celebrated honor equally with courage. Both follow a more recent model – Harry Potter – in taking as the hero an ordinary boy who at first seems set apart from his peers, not by any special talent but by his painful home life and his difficulties fitting in.

Percy (for Perseus) Jackson, the narrator of “The Lightning Thief,” lives with his mother and abusive stepfather, the aptly named Gabe Ugliano. He never knew his real father. A troubled student teetering on the brink of special ed, he suffers from dyslexia and A.D.H.D. – or at least, that’s what his guidance counselors have always told him. But after his pre-algebra teacher turns into a harpy and tries to kill him, his mother risks her life taking him to a summer camp where she hopes he’ll be safe. There he finds out just how special he really is.

“The letters float off the page when you read, right? That’s because your mind is hard-wired for ancient Greek,” explains a fellow camper, gray-eyed Annabeth. “And the A.D.H.D. – you’re impulsive, can’t sit still in the classroom. That’s your battlefield reflexes. In a real fight, they’d keep you alive. As for the attention problems, that’s because you see too much, Percy, not too little. Your senses are better than a regular mortal’s. . . . Face it. You’re a half blood.”

So is Annabeth: her mother is the goddess Athena.

The Greek gods didn’t die just because people stopped believing in them, Chiron, a counselor at the camp, tells Percy. (Yes, that’s the Chiron, the centaur who taught Hercules.) They couldn’t – they’re immortal. Alive and as irritable as ever, they storm and quarrel, especially over the children they’re forever having with mortals. And these days it’s just as dangerous to be a demigod as it was in the days of ancient Greece, when jealous immortals would target their spouses’ mortal children or angry uncles would take out family differences on their weakest relatives.

As one of those half-human heroes, Percy must master his powers, learn his true parentage, triumph over his enemies and avert an Olympian battle that threatens to overwhelm the earth. That may sound like a tall order for a middle schooler, but Percy’s up to it. After all, this is the boy who strangled a snake that slipped into his cot during naptime in preschool.

“The Lightning Thief” is perfectly paced, with electrifying moments chasing each other like heartbeats, and mysteries opening out in sequence. The action never feels gratuitous; it draws its depth from the myths at its source. “If you were a god,” Chiron asks, “how would you like being called a myth, an old story to explain lightning? What if I told you, Perseus Jackson, that someday people would call you a myth, just created to explain how little boys can get over losing their mothers?”

Yet the old stories do explain lightning; similarly, “The Lightning Thief” creates a model of a boy who gets over losing his mother and transforms his limitations into powers. Many readers will find parallels between the quarrels of the gods and those of the adults around them. What child hasn’t felt at the mercy of mighty, unpredictable beings?

If Riordan were any less inventive, the symbols might seem heavy-handed. When Percy first meets Chiron, for example, the centaur is disguised as a Latin teacher who uses a wheelchair; when Percy learns his true nature, the wheelchair metamorphoses, revealing a horse’s body in a cage. But Riordan’s sense of humor rescues the book from didacticism. With 15 years’ experience teaching middle school, he understands what his readers will find funny.

When Percy’s best friend, Grover, reveals that he’s a satyr, Percy finally gets why Grover has such a bleating laugh. When Grover is struck by lightning in one particularly dramatic chase scene, Percy tells us: “I shook his furry hip, thinking, No! Even if you are half barnyard animal, you’re my best friend and I don’t want you to die! Then he groaned ‘Food,’ and I knew there was hope.” Grover later asks, “If you’re not going to eat it, could I have your Diet Coke can?”

He finds himself in the path of the Minotaur, who’s “seven feet tall, easy . . . bulging biceps and triceps and a bunch of other ‘ceps, all stuffed like baseballs under vein-webbed skin,” and wearing nothing but bright white Fruit of the Looms. When the half-dressed half man, half bull charges at Grover, Percy distracts him by waving his red raincoat and shouting: “Hey! . . . Hey, stupid! Ground beef!”

Though Riordan tosses off myths on every page, transforming them into contemporary episodes with magic worthy of Ovid, he has plenty left for what I hope will be a long series.

Like “The Lightning Thief,” “The Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp” has an unlikely hero – which is getting to be the likeliest kind. “I studied hard for my driver’s test, but I flunked it. So I took it a second time and flunked again, but I didn’t miss as many questions, so at least I was improving as a failure. Uncle Farrell pointed to my scores as proof I lacked the guts to achieve even something as simple as a learner’s permit,” the action begins, introducing a whole raft of themes: Alfred’s perception of himself as a loser, his discouraging home life, his stubborn determination and, of course, cars.

As a knight descended from one of King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table tells him: “Who can say what valor dwells in the soul unless the test comes? A hero lives in every heart, Alfred, waiting for the dragon to come out.” The boy who couldn’t get his learner’s permit is soon racing north from Florida to Canada in a Mercedes, a Ferrari Enzo, a stolen police cruiser (a Crown Victoria), a Jaguar, a Chevy Suburban, a helicopter and a horse, switching vehicles whenever the one he’s in smashes up, a nose ahead of bad guys riding (among other things) Suzuki Hayabusas and helicopters.

A ction adventures are always better with a MacGuffin. In “The Lightning Thief,” Percy and his friends have to recover Zeus’ stolen lightning bolt before the gods start a war over it. In “Alfred Kropp,” the stolen item is Excalibur, King Arthur’s magical sword, the most powerful weapon ever known. Its wielder cannot be defeated, which presents a problem to Alfred and his allies, the descendants of the knights of Camelot, sworn to protect the sword.

To make matters worse, Alfred’s the one who stole the sword and handed it over to the bad guys – before he knew they were the bad guys. That he was able to take it should give readers familiar with the Arthurian legends a hint about his mysterious paternity.

Unlike “The Lightning Thief,” though, “The Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp” draws little of its energy from its source myths. Yancey’s knights lack the melancholy poetry of their ancestors; they seem like something out of a video game, or at best a Hollywood movie. When Alfred checks out “The Once and Future King” from the library, he can’t get through it. T. H. White’s classic Arthurian novel may be slow going for kids who don’t like to read, but “The Lightning Thief” and the Arthurian legends themselves are proof that a story can have plenty of action without sacrificing depth.

Polly Shulman’s young adult novel, “Enthusiasm,” will be published next year.

Shulman, P.  (2005, November 13).  Harry Who?  (Review of The Lightning Thief).  Retrieved from

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/13/books/review/13shulman.html?_r=0&pagewanted=print

Suggestions

This book would be great to use during Ancient Greek teaching activities at school.  It would also be very fun to make a book trailer for.  I’d like to take a group of my after school kids and teach them about iMovies.  This book is one that many have read and would be a great starting off point for making book trailers.  It could become a monthly program and even turn into a contest.  I would also love to have a Camp Half-Blood event where we get to become a demigod for a day!

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