My Favourite Book
C.S. Lewis wrote “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe” back in 1950, the second book in his “Chronicles of Narnia” series. When I read this at the age of 8 I was enchanted by the notion that one could step into a wardrobe and discover a completely different world within it; it felt possible. The net result was that I not only fell in love with the story but my creativity and imagination received a huge kick-start; I started writing.
When I needed to find a book to compare to Lewis, I had an instinctive pull towards Eoin Colfer’s “Artemis Fowl”, written in 2001. The 8-book series had received terrific reviews and many years ago, I had been compared to Colfer by a publisher I once submitted a book to. I had a very personal reason to read it.
“Artemis Fowl” is a contemporary fantasy title and only 75 pages longer in length to Lewis. Both books sit within a series, although Colfer’s is the first title of eight and Lewis’s the second of seven. Lewis presents his story across 17 chapters. Colfer writes his story through 9 chapters plus a brief Prologue and Epilogue. And there is 51 year age-gap between them.
Both books are set in the present day. Lewis sets the scene:
“This story is about something that happened to them when they were sent away from London during the war because of the air-raids. They were sent to the house of an old Professor who lived in the heart of the country…”
We don’t learn any exact details from this paragraph other than to assume the story to be set in the late 1930s-early 1940s, the period of the second World War, because children were not evacuated during the previous Great War.
The location of the house is remote, which creates a feeling of abandonment; the four children – Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy – are literally miles away from normality, their family and loved ones. Lewis doesn’t suggest a relationship between the children and the Professor; they have been sent away to a strangers house.
The house is described as “very large”, large enough to need a housekeeper and 3 servants, and the children soon see the potential for adventure:
“…I tell you this is the sort of house where no one’s going to mind what we do. Anyway, they won’t hear us. It’s about ten minutes’ walk from here down to that dining-room, and any amount of stairs and passages in between.”
This isn’t the main setting, though, and within five pages, Lewis has taken Lucy, the youngest of the children, through a wardrobe in an otherwise empty bedroom to the secret world of Narnia.
Whilst we do return to the main house fleetingly to see the other main characters discover the wardrobe and subsequently Narnia, it is within this other, more magical world that we stay and where the adventures truly take place.
For Colfer, “Artemis Fowl” opens in the largest city of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh. It is the present day and the book has its feet firmly in the twenty-first century. Colfer indicates that his lead character has previously travelled:
“I hope this isn’t another wild-goose chase, Butler,” he said, his voice soft and clipped. “Especially after Cairo”
From the start, the book feels more worldly-wise and less naïve than Lewis. Colfer makes observations of the far-eastern city that places the reader directly in amongst the cultural buzz:
“The mopeds parted like fish in a giant shoal. There seemed to be no end to the crowds. Even the alleyways were full to bursting with vendors and hagglers. Cooks dropped fish heads into woks hissing oil, and urchins threaded their way underfoot, searching for unguarded valuables. Others sat in the shade, wearing out their thumbs on Gameboys.”
We don’t stay in Vietnam for long, however, and by the second chapter, we are introduced to “Fowl Manor” in Dublin. We don’t get a full description of the property but instead get to piece together our own impressions of the building. We learn that it has a wine cellar – Mulch Diggums, a dwarf, has to tunnel up into its wooden floors – and during the troll invasion, Colfer eludes to a Tunisian rug, a tapestry and an antique suit of armour. Artemis’s observation room is set up in the study:
“It was a traditional enough room – dark oak and floor-to-ceiling shelving – but Artemis had jammed it with the latest computer technology.”
We also get a small insight into the grandness of the building when Captain Short flies around:
“She skimmed the banisters, emerging into the portico below a stained-glass dome.”
The other setting for “Artemis Fowl” is the world in which the fairies occupy; Haven City. This is a world set deep within the earth where all manner of fairies, elves, gnomes, centaurs and trolls live. We learn that humans (Mud People) live “topside” and the only way fairies get there is by riding titanium eggs through chutes propelled by the earth’s magma streams; think volcanos erupting.
Colfer keeps us mainly at Fowl Manor, though, and this is one striking similarity between the two books; their predominant locations are set within the confines of a large house in the countryside.
Characters & Relationships
In “The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe”, Lewis’s four main characters are the sibling evacuees Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy Pevensie, written here in age order from eldest to youngest. We are not told their exact ages perhaps quite intentionally to allow us to determine this for ourselves, but typically their ages have been discussed as being between 8-15 years.
The children are well-behaved, polite and respect their elders. Susan demonstrates a maternal role in the absence of their parents when they arrive at the house, which is not appreciated:
“…it’s time you were in bed.”
“Trying to talk like Mother,” said Edmund. “And who are you to say when I’m to go to bed? Go to bed yourself.”
Peter is sensible and level-headed, whilst Edmund demonstrates an immature, spiteful nature that on occasions is cruel towards Lucy, notably when she returns from her first visit to Narnia. To save face, he lies about his first trip there despite meeting up with Lucy and ultimately, it is Edmund who betrays his siblings when he sides with the White Witch.
Lucy is our lead protaganist. She is trustworthy, honest and caring. Being the youngest of the four, however, isn’t easy and she struggles initially to get the other children to believe her discovery of another land:
“A jolly good hoax, Lu” he said as he came out again; “you have really taken us in, I must admit. We half believed you.”
“But it wasn’t a hoax at all,” said Lucy, “really and truly. It was all different a moment ago. Honestly it was. I promise.”
“Come, Lu,” said Pater, “that’s going a bit far. You’ve had your joke. Hadn’t you better drop it now?”
The Professor and Mrs Macready are both introduced early on and do not re-appear except for the Professor. To all intents and purpose, he is a kind old man who has given up his home to the children. They trust the Professor, confiding in him after Lucy’s supposed first trip to Narnia. He even suggests that Lucy’s experiences in the wardrobe may well have been real, which is certainly not expected.
Mr Tumnus is a fawn, part man, part goat, and meets Lucy shortly after she finds herself in Narnia. He seems kind and explains her new whereabouts but like Edmund has a deceptive side; he is under the White Witch’s spell to spy on and kidnap Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve and take them to her.
Queen Jadis, the White Witch, is the baddie of the story. She rules Narnia with a spell that makes a permanent winter smother the land without even the promise of Christmas. She can only remain Queen if the four children are turned to stone and prevented from sitting on the thrones at Cair Paravel, which would then overturn her magic.
Mr and Mrs Beaver meet the four children when they all arrive in Narnia and provide immediate safety, warmth and food. They lead the children to Aslan and remain by their sides assuming guardian-like roles.
Aslan, a lion, is the rightful King of Narnia. He has stayed away for many years until now. With the childrens arrival, he must overthrow the White Witch if he is to free Narnia from its icy grips and allow the four children to rule.
Lewis manages to combine human characters with personified animals and mystical creatures seemlessly and with such natural ease that as a reader, you forget that certain characters should not be talking.
Colfer introduces us to his lead character, 12 year old Artemis Fowl II, at the start of Chapter 1. He is a ruthless, highly intelligent criminal mastermind who is hell-bent on stealing fairy gold. He is fluent in fairy language “Gnomish” and is akin to a very young James Bond; not your average 12 year old. As long as his father, Artmemis Fowl I, is missing and his mother Angeline is holed up in her bedroom, Artmeis can continue his stealth-like, worldwide investigations into fairy life.
Domovoi Butler is Artemis’s bodyguard, man-servant and confidant. He has never left Artemis’s side since he was born and is highly trained in various skills, such as martial arts, self-defense, and cooking. Whatever Artemis asks of him Butler does.
Juliet Butler is Domovoi’s youngest sister and also works for the Fowl family, caring for Artemis’s mother, but later in the story keeps a close eye on the captured fairy. She too has been trained in martial arts. She isn’t as intelligent as Artemis or her brother.
Angeline Fowl is Artemis’s mother. She has become bedridden since the disappearance of her husband. She demonstrates a mixture of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, keeping herself in her room and reacting badly to light and Artemis calling her “mother”. Angeline is the only blood relative to Artemis in the book.
Captain Holly Short is a leprechaun working for the LEPrecon, the equivalent of the fairy police. She is the only girl in the LEP and has a strong persona.
Commander Julius Root is in charge of the LEP. He is an authority character and likes to assert himself.
He considers his position important, feels that he’s still the best, and doesn’t want anything or anyone changing that;
“I’ll call in Captain Vein. He’s our number one.”
“Oh no,” said Root. “For a job like this, we need our very best. And that’s me. I’m reactivating myself”
There are a handful of other characters associated with the fairies that play their part; Foaly the centaur whose LEP technician role bears him a similar persona to that of gadget-mad “Q” in the Bond stories. Mulch Diggums is a kleptomaniac dwarf, a wyly gifted criminal much like Artemis except that he’s spent many years in prison for his crimes; Artemis is perhaps one step further ahead. Doctors Cumulus and Argon are behavioural analysts in the Recon employed to assess Artemis’s behaviour and detect whether he lies at any point in his dialogues with them.
As an aside, it is from Dr Argon’s perspective that the Prologue and Epilogue are written; a damning character reference on Artemis which offers both an intriguing and original opening and conclusion.
On reflection, both books have a similar number of characters all contributing to the storylines. One difference is that Lewis’s lead characters have a strong family bond whereas Artemis has an employed family to support him in his endeavours.
Lewis’s story is presided over by a young female lead who wants to see good triumph over evil. Artemis is a young male intelligent beyond his years whose ambition for criminal mastery could not be more different from the motives of the Pevensie children.
It is the use of language that presents the most apparent differences between these two tales.
Lewis’s book is very much “of it’s day”; the use of English is all very “jolly hockey sticks” and feels quite comical to read:
“We’ve fallen on our feet and no mistake,” said Peter. “This is going to be perfectly splendid…”
Aslan has an authorative, majestic quality about his speech:
“That, O Man,” said Aslan, “is Cair Paravel of the four thrones, in one of which you must sit as King. I show it to you because you are the first-born and you will be High King over all the rest.”
With the beavers, Lewis introduces old rhymes to explain Narnian folklore; perhaps a way of engaging his younger readers:
“Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.”
Colfer by contrast is far more up to date with his use of language. Artemis converses in an informed, clever way; you sense that he considers every possible outcome:
“A corpse is evidence, Butler. My way, the People will have no reason to be suspicious.”
“But the sprite?”
“I hardly think she will confess to showing humans the Book…”
Modern-day technology is a key component to the story, with gadgets, equipment, fairy transportation and time-stopping devices all making frequent appearances. Colfer has placed this story firmly in the twenty-first century and assumes very firmly that his audience will understand – and keep up – with him.
Artemis’s character is fluent in many languages but the most relevant is Gnomish the language of the fairies. Comparing the individual letters of Gnomish to Egyptian Hieroglyphs, he has developed a computer programme that can translate their texts and learn their secrets.
Colfer encourages the reader to try this for themselves by including text in Gnomish at the bottom of the pages which I thought was a superb touch. However, this wasn’t made clear in the book itself and I only discovered this on an Artemis fan website – http://artemisfowl.fangathering.com/media/gnommish-fonts/
“The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe” is a 1950s fantasy adventure that sees four young children discover the secret world of Narnia within the back of a wardrobe. In their modern day world they have fled the war in London to a huge country house; in this mystical world they are thrown into another battle but this time, a conflict where good must overthrow evil and a struggle that quickly becomes very personal.
With the guidance of talking beavers and a friendly yet initially deceptive fawn, they are led to Aslan the true ruler of Narnia. Edmund is the only child to meet the wicked White Witch who bribes him with Turkish Delight in the hope of bringing his siblings to her. As the Narnian war commences, the children are caught up in a terrible fight to save their kingdom; they are fighting to reclaim their rightful places on the stone thrones at Cair Paravel as the Kings & Queens of Narnia.
“Artemis Fowl” is a contemporary fantasy story centralised around the titular character, who is a criminal genius. At the age of 12. With his father’s disappearance comes an opportunity for Fowl to replenish the family’s lost millions; by stealing fairy gold. With years of studying, plotting, and devious globe-trotting adventures, Artemis along with his personal bodyguard Butler, acquires fairy Books.
He translates these from Gnomish, the fairy language, using his own computer software and in the process, gains all the information he needs to out-smart the fairy magic. He even blackmails them into giving up their gold by kidnapping one of their leprechauns. However, the fairy police the LEPRecon do not give up without a fight.
They do their best to out-wit Fowl. They even employ behavioural psychologists to learn if Artemis is bluffing with his threats to avoid the otherwise lethal bio-bomb. The plot is savvy, funny and fast-paced with hints of Albert Broccoli-inspired gadgets and espionage.
This has been a really enjoyable assignment. It has given me the opportunity to revisit an all-time favourite childhood book and compare it with a new title that I have been meaning to read for some years.
The Lewis story, whilst wonderful to read once more after so long, felt extremely dated, mainly because of the language used. The storyline still feels as magical as it did when I was younger, though, and because of this, I don’t feel that it has lost any of its appeal.
“Artemis Fowl” was a brilliant read and I didn’t want it to end. I have invested in the following seven books in the series because I’m now fully engaged in the character and his endeavours.
The storyline is as strong as Lewis’s but I didn’t get the same feeling of wonderment that I did when I journeyed back to Narnia.
The fairy world that Colfer has created didn’t feel as magical. He places them underground, with exciting methods of transporting themselves to the surface, but I didn’t feel this environment had as much atmosphere as a snowy woodland. That said, I did really enjoy this title and it offers a very modern-day twist to traditional fairy-tales. I loved the intrigue, the spy element, the detection, the gadgets, the humour. At times I loved Artemis’s cockiness, but in equal measure disliked what lengths his greedy ambition takes him.