66 pages 2 hours read

Eoin Colfer

Artemis Fowl

Fiction | Novel | Middle Grade | Published in 2001

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Summary and Study Guide


Artemis Fowl (2001) is the first of 11 fantasy novels in the Fowl Adventures series. It was written by Eoin Colfer, an Irish writer, and details the titular character’s attempt to restore his family’s fortune by kidnapping an elf named Holly Short. Taking place in Colfer’s home country of Ireland, the novel is also his first foray into the fantasy genre. The novel explores themes of community, environmentalism, and the line between magic and science.

In 2010, Artemis Fowl was chosen by readers as the favorite Puffin Books title of all time. It also received favorable reviews from The New York Times Book Review and Time. Colfer has also written The Wish List (2001), The Supernaturalist (2005), The Legend of Spud Murphy (2006), Half Moon Investigations (2006), and Airman (2008), among others.

Content warning: This study guide contains discussions of violence and abduction, alcohol use disorder, and use of drugs (sleeping pills) to force compliance without consent.

This study guide refers to the 2001 edition published by Scholastic, Inc.

Plot Summary

The Prologue opens by explaining that Artemis Fowl is an account of the titular character’s “first villainous venture.” It positions Artemis as a devious young prodigy and informs the reader that this story is the best way to get to know the boy.

The story begins with 12-year-old Artemis Fowl traveling with his bodyguard Butler to Ho Chi Minh City. Following the lead of an informant, they find a fairy, and Artemis tricks her into giving him her copy of The Book of the People, rules and guidelines that govern fairy life. However, he also gives her a helpful injection to cure her of alcohol use disorder.

Back home at Fowl Manor in Ireland, Artemis gets to work translating the Book. He first began searching for the fairies two years prior and came across numerous references to this text. He also lies to his mother Angeline, who has been bedridden with anxiety since the disappearance of Artemis’s father in a shipping accident. Artemis hopes to restore their family’s fortune, also lost in the shipping accident, by taking gold from the fairies. Soon, he translates the Book and formulates a plan.

In Chapter 3, the narrative shifts to Captain Holly Short, an elf and an officer for the Lower Elements Police (LEP) reconnaissance squad, the law enforcement body protecting fairies in their underground home. Holly is the first female officer, and she feels a lot of pressure to perform well. Her boss, Commander Root, threatens to pull her off recon, but when an alert comes in that a troll has reached the surface, Root begrudgingly sends Holly.

Holly hears a call for help in a human village. Considering that call as the necessary invitation to enter a human dwelling, Holly saves them from the troll. She runs out of magic, however, and cannot use her powers to shield herself from the humans. When Root arrives, he tells her to leave immediately to complete the Ritual to restore her magic: planting an acorn from special ancient oak in a new location. She flies to Ireland to fetch an acorn, but Artemis, who has discovered the Ritual and is lying in wait for a fairy, appears and kidnaps her.

Underground again, Commander Root goes to see Foaly, a centaur, who is monitoring Holly’s equipment. Foaly reports that they’ve lost contact with Holly. Reviewing the footage from her helmet, they realize that she was abducted. Following Holly’s locator beacon, Root arrives on a whaling ship, only to discover that Artemis planted the locator on the vessel as a decoy along with a bomb. He escapes.

At Fowl Manor, Artemis greets Holly and manipulates her into thinking that she revealed everything about the People—the collective name for fairies—under the influence of truth serum. Holly, feeling guilt, is distraught.

The LEP erect a temporary headquarters aboveground and plan their siege of Fowl Manor. Commander Root at first refuses to use the blue rinse, a biological weapon that would destroy life inside the estate without hurting its surroundings, since Holly is inside. He sends in a group of recon officers, whom Butler swiftly defeats.

Root and Foaly use a time stop to remove Fowl Manor from the normal flow of time. Root also goes in to negotiate with Artemis. The boy demands one ton of gold, and Root threatens to use the biological bomb. However, Artemis insists that he knows how to escape the time stop (and therefore, the blue rinse). Artemis tells him that no fairy is welcome in his home while he is alive.

Resorting to unorthodox tactics, Root sends in Mulch Diggums, a dwarf who has given up his magic and can therefore enter a human home without an invitation. Diggums is also a criminal. Inside, Diggums finds Artemis’s copy of the Book, which explains how Artemis knows so much about fairies. Tunneling out, Diggums fakes his own death and escapes.

Holly slams her bed against the concrete floor, revealing soil. She completes the Ritual and restores her magic.

Lieutenant Briar Cudgeon, a fellow LEP officer, tells Root that he is taking charge of the operation and sends a troll in to kill Artemis and his cohorts. Butler is nearly killed fighting the troll, but he is saved by Holly’s healing magic. It gives him his strength back, and he defeats the troll.

Since Cudgeon’s plan failed, Root is put back in charge. With only a little time remaining on the time stop, Root gives Artemis the gold. Artemis sends Holly out with half of it, having made a deal with her for a wish. The fairies do not believe that Artemis will escape the time stop.

Artemis gives Butler and Butler’s sister champagne laced with a sedative. After the fairies initiate the blue rinse, they try to go inside, thinking Artemis is dead; everyone but Holly begins vomiting, signifying that the boy is still alive. He has won; the fairies leave.

Artemis explains that normally one must leave the time stop in the same state of consciousness it was entered. Because of Artemis’s sedative, they fell asleep, slipping out of the time stop and returning to the normal flow of time. When Artemis finds his mother, he sees that Holly granted his wish and restored Angeline’s health. Artemis is grateful. He realizes that he will have to plan his future schemes more carefully.

In the Epilogue, Dr. J. Argon reveals that this narrative is the Lower Elements Police’s case file on Artemis Fowl and that this is only the first on many adventures he has with the fairies.

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