I read the first Artemis Fowl book in January, and just finished Artemis Fowl and the Opal Deception, the 4th book. One thing that struck me apart from the general genius of these books was the emphasis on the fairies’ nonviolence, even for the very clear ‘bad guys’. This is a discussion about nonviolence in children’s/MG literature.
I’d call myself a non-violent person. I truly believe that violence is not the answer to the world’s problems, and I think non-violent movements including America’s civil rights, New Zealand’s Parihaka, and India’s Independence movement are extremely important. Although I don’t know much about it, the Extinction Rebellion and general civil disobedience for the sake of climate change action (Greta Thurnberg, etc) seem like they’re at least galvanising action.
Children are taught not to hit each other. And the law is generally against violent acts by individuals–murder, assault, etc. Yet from movies to games to toys to books, things that promote violence are aimed at children. I could discuss all the reasons this is bad, and why my parents wouldn’t let me have toy guns, but I’m going to focus on literature. (Apologies. This post is already rambly)
Re-reading Artemis Fowl recently, I noticed how non-violence is emphasised. The fairies’ state-of-the-art weaponry is designed to stun, not kill. There are several mentions of the disgusting, horrible Mud People who try to invent things to kill each other. The fairies heal their enemies because they do not want deaths on their conscience. Opal Koboi, who is arguably the most evil of adversaries in Artemis Fowl, isn’t murdered after being captured, but sent to prison. Because the fairies are not savage, violent animals.
‘The fairies were, by and large, a peaceful people. He couldn’t believe they would harm anyone, even a Mud Person, on the basis of past crimes.’ Artemis Fowl: The Eternity Code
While I was reading this, it struck me how few adventure-type novels aimed at children and middle grade readers are nonviolent in this way. Especially the popular ones. And YA is equally bad. In Narnia they go right ahead and kill the evil rulers–it is their duty. In Percy Jackson things are vaporised by Percy’s sword left, right, and centre (although they supposedly reincarnate after a certain time in Tartarus). There are funny quips as the characters kill monsters with weapons, and several battle. The Inheritance Cycle is thousands of words about Eragon’s quest to kill a single person, and is full of war. Harry Potter has few deaths in the earlier books, but still centres around killing the bad guy; no chance for redemption (although I do think Harry Potter explores this somewhat). Alex Rider is full of horrible deaths for the bad guys–exploding helicopters, pushed out a plane into an engine, shot, etc. It’s hard to believe I read 7 or 8 of these books. Maximum Ride has a lot of hand-to-hand combat (I specifically remember Max kicking bad guys, breaking noses, etc. then flying off), and The Hunger Games is completely based on violence (although does explore how messed up this is to an extent). The Wings of Fire wikipedia page has 2 sections: one on characters and one on wars (Haven’t read it but my younger sister has). And don’t get me started on Illuminae, full of sanitised and somewhat gratuitous violence. You get my point… in children’s and young adult adventure/action literature, violence is almost ubiquitous. Assassins are celebrated (@Throne of Glass).
This is not to say that there are no violence-free books for children and young people. There are lots of contemporary, historical, and other books where violence isn’t condoned. But in the adventure/fantasy/sci-fi genre, it’s rare, especially for popular books.
And of course, there is still violence depicted in Artemis Fowl. There are threats and guns and fistfights, and explosions. It’s notable that although Butler often threatens with violence, he doesn’t really kill others. Some characters still die. (I haven’t read most of the books for a long while so I won’t give examples). But I guess my point is that it is interesting and cool that the fairies are against killing, and that this is an example that a book series doesn’t have to be violent to be successful.
For society and the world to become less violent, we need good legislation, more equality, diplomacy. But we also need violence to not be mainstream. And not being depicted as normal or admirable in books aimed at children and young people is part of that. Seeing nonviolence in Artemis Fowl made me think about how rare it is. I want to notice the violence I’m consuming in media. I want to feel uncomfortable about violence, especially in war. I want books to not use violence to show a character’s strength. I want books where collaborative, nonviolent action, not murder creates solutions.
There are a lot of other radical things in Artemis Fowl–mentions of the way the Mud Men (slightly sexist term but nothing is perfect) are ruining the environment, the horrific way humans kill animals for fur, one book revolves around saving a monkey, the fairies use clean geothermal energy, and at one point Artemis invents a sketchy geo-engineering method for saving the world’s glaciers.
‘How long before we’re in detonation range?’ Opal barked. to be honest, it was more of a yip. ‘ -Artemis Fowl: The Opal Deception
“All I wanted to do was bring down fair society as we know it, but oh no, you wouldn’t have it.” -Artemis Fowl: The Opal Deception
“Chocolate truffles are my passion, you know. All that time I was away, truffles were one of the two things I craved. The other was revenge. ” -Artemis Fowl: The Opal Deception
So yes, assassins and swords and guns and high-stress fights are fun to read about. But I think non-violence need to be emphasised more, especially in books for children.