Friday, June 5, 2015

Strong Female Character Friday: Holly Short (Artemis Fowl)

Today's post is a guest article written by Levi Sweeney from Primary Ignition!

I remember first getting acquainted with the Artemis Fowl series, written by Irish author Eoin Colfer, when I checked out the graphic novel adaptation of the first book from my local library. I’d heard of the series, but knew next to nothing about it. Once I read the graphic novel, which I soon found held no candle to the original, I was hooked… for a spell. 

Artemis Fowl is a children’s fantasy-action series which centers around the titular teenage criminal mastermind, his loyal bodyguard Butler, and a fairy policewoman by the name of Holly Short, along with many others. Riding the Harry Potter wave, the first book was released in 2001. Book one was a smash hit and the series saw a lot of success before concluding with an eighth installment in 2012. 

The series’ high point is undoubtedly in the fourth book, The Opal Deception, after which fans began to notice a steady decline in quality. However, the series still has a large fan base, and deservedly so. Eoin Colfer once described the series as “Die Hard with fairies,” and it’s every bit as fun and imaginative as such a description implies.

The Artemis Fowl books thrive on daring capers, rich emotion, and memorable and well-developed characters. Artemis is an anti-hero who goes from cold-hearted criminal to selfless friend. Butler is always there as Artemis’ conscience, but is also a loyal and formidable companion. 

Holly, however, is a little different. 

Holly is a Captain in the Reconnaissance division of the Lower Elements Police, a paramilitary body which enforces the law in a fairy society hidden under the ground from prying eyes. She’s a LEPRecon, if you will - Colfer’s terrible pun, not mine. She, like Artemis, faces a different developmental arc in every book. At least, in all the ones that were good. The last three books strongly deviated from this formula, but we’ll get to that later.

In the first book, Holly is portrayed as a bit of a “live wire.” That's how people describe her, at least. She's the classic cowboy cop, one of those fictional police archetypes that won’t go away no matter how implausible it actually is. But Colfer does something clever with Holly. He shows her paying for the reckless decisions she makes, and how she has to deal with the consequences trailing into the second book. Incidentally, these consequences are how she meets Artemis and Butler. Well, maybe “meets” isn’t the correct word. The correct phrasing would be, “was ambushed, drugged, and then kidnapped by.”

After escaping this debacle, though Artemis still outsmarted her and her compatriots in the end, Holly matures somewhat. In the second book, The Arctic Incident, she goes from blaming Artemis for putting her in a bad position in the LEP to developing a sort of camaraderie with him when they manage to help each other. By the end of the third book, The Eternity Code, their relationship is cemented into something approaching genuine friendship. Holly herself has gone from cowboy cop to responsible officer of the law. 

Then, their entire relationship is upended and twisted around. Quick SPOILER warning, but Artemis is mind-wiped by the LEP at the end of Eternity Code because he’s caused them some serious trouble. But in the fourth book, The Opal Deception, the baddie from the second book returns, bent on revenge and world domination. Holly is forced to resuscitate her relationship with a not-so-different Artemis, who himself becomes all the better from this adventure. 

Holly has had it good up to this point. She’s at the top of her game at her job, she’s about to be promoted, and she’s finally won the respect of her boss and coworkers. But when it all comes crashing down around her, the one person she thought was out of her life completely, Artemis, is the one who she needs help from. By the end of the book, they’re even better friends than they were at the end of Eternity Code. They are, in Holly’s words, “Bonded by trauma.”

Unfortunately, the train begins to run out of steam in the last four books (The Lost Colony, The Time Paradox, The Atlantis Complex, and The Last Guardian). In The Lost Colony, Holly is working with Artemis to take on another preteen criminal mastermind. Holly’s role in this book doesn’t have her on a particular emotional arc, but she gets a really cathartic moment with Artemis at the climax. Things escalate in The Time Paradox, where Artemis and Holly use magic to go back in time to get a cure for Artemis’ ailing mother which was destroyed by Artemis eight years in the past. This book actually really annoyed the base readership of the series by including the element missing from the rest of the books: romance. No spoilers, but I think you see where this is going.

Things go completely off the rails in The Atlantis Complex and The Last Guardian, and not in a good way. In between Paradox and Atlantis, Colfer wrote a sixth book to Douglas Adam’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, called And Another Thing… Fans have speculated that Colfer’s attempts to ape Adams’ writing style for that book may have leaked into his other writings, to a detrimental effect. The Atlantis Complex in particular may have suffered from this effect. Every other line is some kind of joke, and while the previous books were by no means light on humor, they weren’t in excess of it either. Not so with this book.

What does all of this have to do with Holly? It’s mainly how the plot of Atlantis is so Artemis-centric. All of the books obviously center on him, but Holly is usually cast as something of a second lead. She still is here, but she isn’t given a particularly significant arc as she was in the first four or five books. 

Even the ill-conceived romantic subplot with Artemis spawned in Paradox is harnessed merely to produce a running gag which is only mildly amusing, before being unceremoniously swept under the rug. Holly gets a slightly better deal in the final book, The Last Guardian, if only because she and Artemis have been working together for so long that the last book has to make a to-do about how they relate to one another personally. Even then such a concept is pulled off only lightly.

Holly had a lot of incredible moments in this series. But of all the crazy, cool stunts that Holly pulled off in these eight books, probably the most impressive of these was in The Arctic Incident, the second book. There, she comes up with a plan to rescue her grumpy boss Commander Root and Butler from a collapsed cave. It involves her and Artemis jumping onto a moving, irradiated train in the middle of a snowstorm. With anti-gravity belts. In Arctic Russia.  It's cool and impressive and ultimately makes it all the more disappointing that Holly's character is so let down by the end of the series.

So, what do we make of Holly Short? She’s tough, witty, and knows how to kick butt, yet she’s capable of vulnerability, empathy, and deep emotion. And most of the time, she’s the one who has to save Artemis. Even Butler owes her a few! I wouldn’t mind seeing some kind of crime or noir series, or at least a novella, focused on her. Now that would be real author’s saving throw for Mr. Colfer. 

Levi Sweeney works as a staff writer at Primary Ignition and is a college history major. He likes to work on his writing, read comic books and other books, and generally get stuff done. He's interested in helping out at his church and local nonprofits, and has big plans for the future. You can follow him on Twitter @levi_sweeney.