"Harry Potter success spawns Artemis Fowl fever"
by Nigel Hunt (Reuters, April 27, 2001)
LOS ANGELES - Take a preteen boy, add goblins, leprechauns and hidden treasure, stir it up in a plot with the magic words "Harry Potter made lots of money" and as the smoke clears you have a dumbfounded Irishman holding a large pot of gold.
"Artemis Fowl" is to be published internationally during the first week of May amid a $250,000 marketing campaign. It will also be a major motion picture from Miramax films. The author, schoolteacher Eoin Colfer, has never before even been published outside his native Ireland.
"It has been a huge shock," Colfer told Reuters in an interview, clearly uncomfortable with his sudden success and the time it involves him spending away from his wife and 3-1/2 year old son.
Published reports say the book's rights have sold in 18 countries for advances totaling more than $1.5 million.
Advanced publicity cites the novel as a rival for wildly popular boy wizard Harry Potter. It seeks to fill a void because British author J.K. Rowling not expected to produce her fifth Harry Potter novel until next year.
But Artemis Fowl and Harry Potter are almost opposites: Harry is a good guy fighting his evil enemies while Artemis is an anti-hero, kidnapping a leprechaun and stealing secrets.
"Nearly every book with a hint of anything magical about it is compared to Harry Potter. They (Artemis and Harry) are both smart guys, both approaching puberty and they don't really have any parental support," Colfer said.
"But as regards story and personality and characters they are poles apart," he added.
Artemis Fowl, the main character, is 12 years old, one year older than Harry when he was launched on his adventures. Artemis's father is missing and his mother is mad. Harry's parents are dead.
Colfer, who had not read Rowling's novels until after he had completed Artemis Fowl, said he was continuing a tradition dating back to heroes such as Batman.
"It's an old engine to free up the characters," he said.
Colfer said he was very inspired by the comic books he used to collect as a child. "My style owes a lot to that. I like to keep the action rolling," he said.
The book is about a battle between Artemis and an array of fairies, dwarfs and trolls seeking to rescue the true hero of the novel, kidnapped leprechaun Holly Short.
Holly Short is a James Bond-style special agent minus the amorous adventures and the martinis. Her "Q," a centaur called Foaly, provides such advanced technology to the fairies that the casting of spells seems almost incidental to their power.
"I love all the James Bond films so there is definitely an element of that," Colfer said.
Artemis' main weapons are brains and vast amounts of money, neither of which may endear him to the average preteen at whom the book is aimed.
"I always loved the bad genius. I loved that character. I always felt the villain was the most interesting person in the book," Colfer said.
Late in the book, however, Artemis finally begins to show human frailty with which children of all ages can identify. His yearning for his missing father and compassion for his grieving mother may also strike a chord among the millions of children in broken homes on both sides of the Atlantic.
"Throughout the book he (Artemis) is definitely going on a journey," Colfer said.
Colfer taught 10-year-olds in county Wexford until he was suddenly thrust into a new world of interviews and publicity tours. He is currently taking two years off while he works on a second Artemis novel. He plans a trilogy.
"I went to Los Angeles, traveled in limousines and was put up in big hotels but it was nice to come home to the real world," Colfer said, noting he regretted having to spend large chunks of time away from his family.
Colfer says he has no desire to move to Hollywood and is trying to persuade Miramax to film the movie in Ireland.
"All the locations I had in mind when writing the book are in Ireland," he said, noting the inspiration from Artemis' impressive home as a big manor in county Wexford.
It will take a bit before the literary world finds out if Artemis Fowl appeals as much to preteens as it does to publishers' desperately seeking another Harry Potter.
If the answer is yes then Colfer may be forever thrown into an alien world, where leprechauns and fairies are few and far between while agents and publicists are numerous. It might be a mixed blessing with a pot of gold at the end of the literary rainbow.