I always wanted to read books when I was too young for them. I read the Hobbit when I was seven because a theatre company were coming to our primary school to perform it and I didn’t want them to spoil the plot for me. Immediately I begged my parents to let me read the Lord of the Rings, but they were insistent that I would enjoy it more if I waited until I was older. Eventually we compromised – I could read LotR when I was eight. I started on my eighth birthday and had finished all three just over a month later.
It was later that year that I read Harry Potter, and I was probably at the perfect age to start reading the first one. But that was also probably the year I picked up Artemis Fowl in the local library – and hated it.
Having read ‘Stormbreaker’, I think I was expecting the main character to be the good guy. The guy in the title – this Artemis Fowl – he’d be like Alex Rider. He’d be the hero who saved the day. And he wasn’t. Suddenly, I was reading a book where the character I was supposed to like was a horrible person who kidnapped a fairy and held her hostage for gold.
I read an interview several years ago where Eoin Colfer said he’d never intended Artemis Fowl to be the main character. He was just the evil guy that Holly Short had to face. But eventually Artemis developed a conscience and more of Eoin Colfer himself started to go into him, and then he became more of a hero.
I like thinking about this. I like trying to work out where the book would have started if Holly was the main character and Artemis just the antagonist, and how it would have panned out. I like to think about which sections would not have been included and which would have been extended. That’s probably a writer thing, especially as I’ve been thinking a lot about point of view and voice recently, but it’s interesting to me.
At eight years old I couldn’t bring myself to like a character who didn’t have the same morals as me. You have to remember, I was brought up on Narnia and the Lord of the Rings, where it’s pretty black and white who is the good guy and who is the bad guy.
I took the book back to the library and thought no more about it for two years. When I was ten, a friend gave me a boxed set of the first three Artemis Fowl books for my birthday. By then I had forgotten that I’d ever tried to read the books, so I started reading the first one with an open mind. Several aspects of it seemed vaguely familiar, and by the time I was halfway through I was pretty sure I’d read it before.
But this time I liked it.
I remembered, later, that I’d tried it before. I remembered why I hadn’t liked it.
Now that I was older, I was interested in the idea of a bad guy being the main character. I was interested in the idea of redemption and I knew more about character development. I fell in love with the Artemis Fowl series and I followed them through right to the end.
At eight I was just too young to understand the beauty of a complex character like Artemis Fowl. Other eight-year-olds would have got it, but I was innocent and, despite my adventurous reading habits, quite young for my age in many ways. Now I’m proud to read Artemis Fowl books on the bus, even though others would dismiss them as children’s books. I don’t care who knows that I read them.
I think that probably Artemis Fowl was one of my first encounters with a slightly morally ambiguous character – ambitious of Eoin Colfer, when you consider his main audience. He taught me to love heroes that were flawed and villains that were heroic.
And so I am glad that after hating the books the first time I read them, I picked them up again with an open mind and tried again, when I was older. When I got it. But it raises the question: how many other books that I disliked in the past would I like if I read them again now? How much have I missed by reading things too young?