With the last Harry Potter book coming out, and the Order of Pheonix hitting the big screen next month I've been catching up on the books.
I have to say that I haven't gotten to the 6th one quite yet because I was sidetracked by a series of books about another special youth - who frankly, has blown me away. I'm talking Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer.
I am not ashamed to say that, despite him being half my age, I have a huge crush on Artemis Fowl. I can't wait until somebody wises up and makes a movie version. I think that in alot of ways they are better than Harry Potter and would make better movies (for one thing they're shorter).
So, how can I say that Artemis Fowl is better than Harry Potter? The are very similar in the idea that the main character is a very special teenage boy and a story that takes place both in our world and in a special magical other world. What I think that Artemis has over Harry is: 1) the author has an ability to show everything and 2)over arching character development.
Show don't Tell
J.K. Rowling tells us alot about what is going on - think of the last few chapters of every HP book. They all end with an explination of events. Huge chunks of pages are nothing but one charcter explaining to another what has been happening through the whole book. Think Goblet of Fire - fake Moody is given verita serum and spends a chapter explain his duplicitness. But go back even to the first one - Philosopher's Stone, or the second Chamber of Secrets where Dumbledore sits Harry down and goes through a whole schpeel about what he's been through all year. Order of the Pheonix? Same thing.
Artemis Fowl is boy genius. He's smarter than just about everyone on the planet so yeah, he's got to explain some stuff for the rest of us. But, the difference is that Colfer manages to weave it seamlessly into the narration so that by the end of the book we know everything that has been going on - even the "mystery" parts of it. Sometimes he shows us the same action from multiple vantage points, sometimes it comes through in Artemis' thoughts, and yes sometimes it comes with a bit of the denoumont. The great thing is it is always done naturally and not in huge amounts of one character "telling" another.
Harry Potter did change in his books, don't get me wrong. The Order of the Pheonix is proof of that. I don't know a single person who has read this book and thought "Wow, Harry turned into such a prick." As I was reading it the first time I was forcibly reminded of my older brother at that age and I knew, J.K. Rowling has a teenager in her house - or did at one point and remembers what it was like. She captured that turbulant age during puberty like no other writer. But despite his melancholy and turbulant attitude, Harry hasn't really changed as a person. Neither have his friends, neither have any of the characters really.
What I like about Artemis Fowl is that in the fifth book (the latest) he is not the same boy he was in the first book. In book one Artemis Fowl he is the wealthy son of a missing business man and mother who has gone off the deep end, and an evil mastermind genius. His entire goal in life is to make as much money as possible. It is the Fowl family creed in fact and he is trying in his father's absence to carry on that creed. To that end he kidnaps a fairy (well, an elf really) and holds her for ransom. Colfer does an amazing job of creating a whole new world of fairies, sprites, elfs, dwarfs, pixies etc - he even explains the Leprechaun myth in a way that is both entertaining, smart and fits perfectly in this new realm he created. By the fifth book Artemis at 15 is going through puberty, he is noticing girls, but he's also reforming his character. He is no longer the money for money's sake selfish boy he was. We see it with the end of book one in a simple act of choosing family over some money and it subtely grows as Artemis does. He starts to develop a conscience.
Artemis isn't the only character who changes either. Notably it's his body guard Butler, who next to Artemis, does the most in terms of character development. Readers always see the special relationship between guard and boy, and see how Butler does blur the line a bit, but as the two go through these adventures together Butler changes from the stoic "always protect the charge no matter what" to a person wrestling with decisions about trust and letting Artemis go. Some of this comes through events which happen to Butler. Physical changes ultimately take their toll and lead to emotional and mental changes as well.
Then there are the People (as in the Little People - but they're not little to each other). Holly, the elf which Artemis kidnaps in book 1, is a permanent character from then on, and a few others also make repeat apparences, like Mulch the dwarf, and Foley the centaur. None of them are safe from real honest reactions to events that change them, for better or worse, into different people as the books wear on. I can not say that of Harry Potter - despite all he has been through he seems never to learn a lesson.
If all of the Harry Potter books have flown off of your library shelves I recommend you take the hint and pick up Artemis Fowl instead.
Artemis Fowl: the Arctic Incident
Artemis Fowl: the Eternity Code
Artemis Fowl: the Opal Deception
Artemis Fowl: the Lost Colony
I also recommend the audio books. The narrator Nathanial Parker is amazing. Like the narrator of the HP books, he gives voices to all the characters. He does the accents perfectly - Artemis is Irish, there are British and American characters, and each type of fairy is given a different quality of voice. I like Nathanial Parker better too, because he is younger. The Fairies that Colfer has dreampt up are not the old world fairies with flowy dresses and flowers in their hair. They are by far technologicaly superior to humans and ultimately very modern. This is a very different feel from Harry Potter's wizarding world and Hogwarts.