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Eoin Colfer (1965-)


Described by its author as "Die Hard with fairies," the young adult fantasy Artemis Fowl burst onto the book scene in 2001, set to take over where the "Harry Potter" books left off and to make its creator, Irish school-teacher Eoin Colfer, the new wunderkind of children's literature. As Kate Kellaway noted in the London Observer, a line from the novel about a boy in search of fairy gods—"Irish people skulking around rainbows hoping to win the supernatural lottery"—was prescient. Kellaway remarked, "What Eoin Colfer did not know at the time was that he was about to strike gold himself." Colfer's humorous, high-tech fantasy about a twelve year old who kidnaps a leprechaun started a bidding war among publishers, was optioned for a film, and has been projected as the first in a series of novels about young Mr. Fowl. "It's just like a dream," Colfer told Heather Vogel in a Publishers Weekly interview. "[A] fellow from a small town gets a big break. You never think it's going to happen to you."

The second of five sons born to school teachers, Colfer grew up in Wexford, in the southeast of Ireland. His mother, Noreen, was a drama teacher and actress while his father taught primary school and was an artist and historian. "Understandably," Colfer wrote on his Web site, "there was never a shortage of discussions, projects, artistic pursuits, or stimuli for the Colfer boys." They spent memorable summer holidays at the seaside village of Slade where Colfer's father was born. Young Colfer attended the grammar school where his father taught and early on developed a love of writing and of illustrating the stories he penned.

In secondary school, Colfer continued with his writing and began to read widely, enjoying especially the thrillers of Robert Ludlum and Jack Higgins. At a dance at a local girls school, he met his future wife, Jackie. Inspired by his parents, Colfer decided to go into teaching, entering a three-year degree course in Dublin to qualify as a primary school teacher. In 1986, he returned to his native Wexford to teach, writing by night, both stories and plays, many of which were performed by a local dramatic group. He also wrote a novel which he sent to publishers "with visions of black sedans pulling up to the house the next day," as he told Jeff Chu in Time Atlantic. "I thought I was the best writer on the planet." However, the publishers did not quite agree. Colfer's breakthrough was put on hold.

In 1991, Colfer and Jackie married, and the couple left Ireland for four years, teaching in Saudi Arabia, Italy, and Tunisia. When they returned to Ireland in the mid-1990s, Colfer and his wife settled once again in Wexford, and he resumed teaching, squeezing in writing after school. A son was born in 1997, by which time Colfer had begun processing some of the experiences of his four years abroad and saw how they might very well fit into a juvenile novel, an obvious fit for this teacher who was familiar with the reading habits of the young.

The result of Colfer's labors was his first published novel, Benny and Omar, brought out by Dublin's O'Brien Press in 1998. The novel recounts the madcap adventures of a young Irish boy and his Tunisian friend in North Africa. Benny Shaw is a champion athlete at Saint Jerome's school in Wexford, Ireland, and is quite content with his life. Then his parents tell him they have decided to move to Tunisia where the locals have never heard of his sport, hurling. The village school where Benny ends up "is taught by feel-good hippies and filled with students actually bent on learning," according to Linda Bindner in School Library Journal. Benny is miserable until he meets up with Omar, a street-smart kid who lives by his wits and takes Benny under his wing. Benny at first loves the thrill of the havoc they cause, going from one scrape to the next until he meets Omar's younger sister, a drug addict in a local institution, and he suddenly understands the costs of Omar's life. Benny sees that his friend's life is much more tragic than he at first thought.

Bindner felt that Colfer does a "masterful job of mixing humor and tragedy" in this "funny, fast-paced read . . . that takes a wonderful glimpse into some very non-American worlds." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly similarly found that Colfer "smoothly layers adventure, moments of poignancy and subtle social commentary, and his comic timing is pitch-perfect." Booklist contributor Frances Bradburn also had praise for this first novel that became a bestseller in Ireland, calling it "an interesting and eye-opening study in contrasts" and a "comic adventure" that "likely will spawn a sequel."

Colfer did indeed reprise Benny for the 1999 Benny and Babe in which the irrepressible protagonist is back in Ireland and visiting his grandfather in the country for When Benny is on summer holiday visiting his grandfather, he meets tomboyish Babe, and they attempt to set up a bait business and form a loyal bond when it is threatened by a tough competitor. (Cover illustration by Angela Clarke.) the summer holiday. Benny is considered a "Townie" by the local kids and has trouble finding a buddy until he meets up with the village tomboy, Babe, who has proven herself with the tough boys of the area. She and Benny hit it off, working together in Babe's business of finding lost fishing lures and flies and then reselling them. Things are going great for Benny and Babe until the bully Furty Howlin decides he wants part of their business. "Humor, sensitivity, and candor underscore this coming-of-age story that features incredibly well-drawn characters," wrote Renee Steinberg in a School Library Journal review of Benny and Babe. Steinberg went on to note that Colfer's second novel "has it all—an absorbing story, vibrant characters with whom readers will surely identify, and an on-target narrative voice." Benny and Babe was nominated for Ireland's prestigious Bisto Children's Book of the Year Award.

Next, Colfer turned his hand to a series for young readers aged five to seven. Ed Cooper is the character that figures in each of the titles: Going Potty, Ed's Funny Feet, and Ed's Bed. These tales find Ed alternately learning how to use a strange new toilet, having to wear corrective shoes, and dealing with a bed-wetting incident. In 2000, he also published The Wish List, a somewhat bizarre tale of "life, death and an unexpected hereafter," as Colfer described the novel on his Web site. Winner of a Bisto Merit Award, the book tells the story of an angry adolescent girl, Meg Finn, who sets out on a short-lived career of crime. Killed in the first chapter, Meg is given the rest of the novel as a chance to redeem herself; a moral tug of war ensues as the forces of good and evil battle for her soul. School Library Journal critic Janet Hilbun found The Wish List "an entertaining and compelling read," while Booklist's Ilene Cooper called the work "surprisingly thought-provoking."

Dealing with fantasy of a sort for The Wish List, Colfer was encouraged to try more of the same, but this time with more humor and with the possibility of reaching a larger audience. As was noted on Colfer's Web site, "every child Eoin Colfer has ever taught will testify to his love of traditional magical Irish legends. They will also attest to his innate ability to make these legends come alive for them on a daily basis. It was in this genre he found his inspiration, but then took a unique slant on this well known underworld civilisation." Colfer blended this world of fairies and leprechauns with another constant interest, the Die Hard movies of Bruce Willis. "I really liked . . . [the film's] self-deprecating humor," Colfer told Vogel in Publishers Weekly. "They were big-budget action movies, but very much tongue-in-cheek, and I wanted to create an adventure with one foot in the comedy zone." So Colfer sat down to see how he could put these two genres together and knew that he had to do so employing a protagonist "original and different enough to make his mark and not just be the latest in line of clean-cut heroes," as he remarked to Vogel. He decided on a "a bit of a villain," and set him to kidnap a leprechaun and demand a ransom in gold. "The twist being that these weren't the fairies you were used to reading about, but were actually quite futuristic," he explained. "It all fell into place after that." Colfer admitted to Vogel that he did not consciously set out to write a book that would appeal to both kids and adults, but he did "make a conscious effort to engage clever kids. The book doesn't talk down to them."

The finished manuscript, Artemis Fowl, was sent to a London agent in hopes of breaking out of the more confined Irish market. No one was more surprised than Colfer when his agent let him know that a bidding war on the novel was won by Penguin Puffin, with a sixfigure film deal sold to Miramax in the United States and rights sold in at least twenty other markets. The total package meant well over a million dollars for the book even before publication. "I was on yard duty worried about kids trying to blow their noses on my pants and others trying to jump off the roof, and I got this Crafty twelve-year-old Artemis Fowl plots to steal the gold from the fairy folk in Colfer's cunning novelistic mix of magic and twenty-first century technology. (Cover illustration by Tony Fleetwood.) message," he told Matthew Dorman in Hollywood Reporter. "I understood all the words, but I didn't really know what it meant when I put them all together."

From its pre-publication success, Artemis Fowl proceeded to publication. Anti-hero Artemis is something of a boy genius and the last in a long line of a famous crime family who have lately fallen on hard times. Enlisting the help of his bodyguard, Butler, Artemis determines to restore the Fowl family wealth by capturing a fairy and then holding her ransom for all of the legendary fairy gold. He kidnaps Captain Holly Short, a leprechaun from LEPrecon, a branch of the Lower Elements Police and absolutely the wrong mark for Artemis to choose. He is set upon by a "wisecracking team of satyrs, trolls, dwarfs and fellow fairies," according to a reviewer for Publishers Weekly, who want to rescue Holly. These rescuers employ a good deal of elfin technology in their pursuit, while Artemis has to translate the arcana of the fairy folk's sacred book, employing a computer.

Reviewers made the inevitable comparisons to the "Harry Potter" books, as both have twelve-year-old protagonists and both employ types of magic. However, there the similarity ends. Colfer, in fact, had not read the "Harry Potter" novels before writing Artemis Fowl. Critical response was as varied as the plot of the book itself. Some found the novel less than successful. A Horn Book reviewer, for example, felt that Colfer's "revisioning of the fairy world as a sort of wisecracking police force . . . steal[s] focus from the one truly intriguing character, Artemis himself." The same reviewer noted that there is "a lot of invention here, but it's not used enough in service to the story, and may be deployed to better effect in the feature film." Daniel Fierman, writing in Entertainment Weekly, felt that things turn "leaden" in the final "Die Hard-style standoff," and also found comparisons to J. K. Rowling's work specious, concluding that this demonstrates the difference "between a great children's book and a simply good one." Andrea Sachs, reviewing the novel in Time, wrote that "parents who might be worried about their children's reading a book glorifying extortion don't know the half of what's wrong with Artemis Fowl." Sachs felt that the writing "is abysmal." Writing in School Library Journal, Eva Mitnick found Artemis to be "too stiff and enigmatic to be interesting," while the contributor for Publishers Weekly concluded that "the series is no classic in the making."

Other critics found more to like in the novel. Library Journal reviewer Jennifer Baker commented that the "quirky characters and delightful humor . . . will undoubtedly delight American readers." Baker further described the novel as "fun to read" and "full of good humor." Family Life's Sara Nelson similarly called the book "action-packed" and "perfect for long, lazy summer days." Yvonne Zipp noted in the Christian Science Monitor that after a slow first chapter, "the action kicks into high gear and never stops." Time International's Elinor Shields added to the chorus of praise, describing the book as "pacy, playful and very funny, an inventive mix of myth and modernity, magic and crime." And Kate Kellaway in the London Observer found Artemis Fowl "a smart, amusing one-off" with "flashes of hitech invention."

Artemis Fowl goes into action for a second time in Artemis Fowl: The Arctic Incident, in which the brilliant criminal teenager returns as does Colfer's magical underground world of fairies, trolls, satyrs, and gnomes who usually find themselves on the other side of the fence metaphorically from the "Mud People," or humans, who chased them underground. In the first installment, Artemis thought he had lost his beloved father, but via a video e-mail he sees a man who looks like his father sitting in the Arctic wasteland of Russia. Artemis wants to rescue this man, but not before he turns to his former enemies for some magical assistance. Meanwhile, below ground things are in a state of chaos after someone arms a band of trolls who wreaks havoc on the citizenry. Certain clues lead Captain Holly Short to Artemis, and in a turnaround from the first adventure, she kidnaps him in hopes of stopping the chaos. When she discovers Artemis is not responsible, the two former enemies join forces to fight both battles. Colfer's guntoting, motorized fairies are back in action.

"Once again," noted a reviewer for Publishers Weekly of this second installment, "the roller coaster of a plot introduces a host of high jinks and high-tech weaponry as Colfer blends derring-do with snappy prose." Writing in School Library Journal, Steven Engelfried found "the action . . . brisk, with fiendish plots, ingenious escapes, and lively battle scenes."

A year older, Artemis Fowl returns for a third adventure in Artemis Fowl: The Eternity Code. This time, the teenager vies with a dangerous businessman over the supercomputer Artemis built using technology stolen from the fairy world. Hoping to earn a few dollars before destroying the C Cube machine, Fowl's plan to deceive the millionaire Jon Spiro crumbles as the businessman doublecrosses Artemis, threatening the existence of the fairy world. Calling again for help from his underground friends, the young trickster battles Spiro in a tale filled with "agile prose . . ., rapid fire dialogue, and wise-acre humor," remarked a Publishers Weekly critic, who predicted that "readers will burn the midnight oil to the finish." Writing in Booklist, Sally Estes favorably compared Artemis Fowl: The Eternity Code to the two previous books, claiming "the action is fast and furious, the humor is abundant, [and the] characterizations are zany."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Colfer, Eoin, Artemis Fowl, Hyperion (New York, NY), 2001.


Booklist, August, 2001, Frances Bradburn, review of Benny and Omar, p. 2118; May 1, 2002, Sally Estes, review of Artemis Fowl: The Arctic Incident, p. 1518; June 1, 2003, Sally Estes, review of Artemis Fowl: The Eternity Code, p. 1759; October 1, 2003, Ilene Cooper, review of The Wish List, p. 330.

Christian Science Monitor, March 22, 2001, Yvonne Zipp, "The un-Potter at the Rainbow's End," p. 20.

Entertainment Weekly, July 20, 2001, Daniel Fierman, review of Artemis Fowl, p. 62.

Family Life, June 1, 2001, Sara Nelson, "Summer Reads," p. 70.

Hollywood Reporter, May 29, 2001, Matthew Dorman, "Storybook Beginnings," pp. 14-15.

Horn Book, July-August, 2001, review of Artemis Fowl, p. 449; January-February, 2002, Patty Campbell, "YA Scorecard 2001," p. 117.

Library Journal, June 15, 2001, Jennifer Baker, review of Artemis Fowl, p. 102; November 1, 2001, Nancy Pearl, "Not Just for Kids," p. 160.

New York Times Book Review, June 17, 2001, Gregory Maguire, review of Artemis Fowl, p. 24.

Observer (London, England), May 13, 2001, Kate Kellaway, "Elf and Happiness."

Publishers Weekly, April 9, 2001, review of Artemis Fowl, p. 75; April 23, 2001, Heather Vogel, "'Die Hard' with Fairies," pp. 25-26; July 9, 2001, review of Benny and Omar, p. 68; April 15, 2002, review of Artemis Fowl: The Arctic Incident, p. 65; March 31, 2003, review of Artemis Fowl: The Eternity Code, p. 68; October 13, 2003, review of The Wish List, p. 81.

School Library Journal, May, 2001, Eva Mitnick, review of Artemis Fowl, p. 148; December, 2001, Linda Bindner, review of Benny and Omar, pp. 132-133; March, 2002, Renee Steinberg, review of Benny and Babe, p. 226; July, 2002, Steven Engelfried, review of Artemis Fowl: The Arctic Incident, p. 118; July, 2003, Tim Wadham, review of Artemis Fowl: The Eternity Code, p. 128; December, 2003, Janet Hilbun, review of The Wish List, p. 148.

Time, April 30, 2001, Andrea Sachs, "A Case of Fowl Play," p. 76.

Time Atlantic, May 7, 2001, Jeff Chu, "Legends of the Fowl," p. 56.

Time International, May 7, 2001, Elinor Shields, "A Magical Myth," p. 56.

Times Educational Supplement, May 11, 2001, Jan Mark, review of Artemis Fowl.


Artemis Fowl Web Site, http://www.artemisfowl.com/ (March 22, 2004).

Eoin Colfer Home Page, http://www.eoincolfer.com/ (March 22, 2004).*

Additional topics

Brief BiographiesBiographies: Ciara Biography - Wrote Out Goals to Elizabeth David (1913–1992) BiographyEoin Colfer (1965-) Biography - Writings, Sidelights - Personal, Addresses, Career, Honors Awards, Adaptations, Work in Progress