Sturm und Drang
In hindsight, Butler should have realized it would only be so long before his charge grew bored with life within the manor. Artemis Fowl I had made sure the Fowl estate was well stocked with the finest things their fortune could afford: the kitchen had aromatic spices from every inch of the globe; the library was practically bursting with esoteric texts; the walls were adorned with beautiful tapestries and paintings. Artemis Fowl I had beaten the world down so that it fit within the stone walls of Fowl manor, and in theory, his wife and son had to want for nothing. When Angeline had been younger, Butler remembered her leaving on weekend trips to visit her family or friends, but after her son was born, it seemed like she was content to retreat into the beautiful dollhouse her husband had fashioned around her. Perhaps the reality of who her husband was and where she lived had finally sunk in, Butler mused, carrying the tea tray. At least inside she didn’t have to think about the sectarian violence broiling in Northern Ireland, or the heating-up Cold War, or the vile things her adoring husband had done to pay for their life in the manor.
Butler poked his head into the Fowl study, rapping a hand against the door frame. At the desk inside, Artemis Fowl II was curled up in his father’s ornamented leather armchair, nose buried in a book. The boy’s ears perked up at the sound, but he didn’t look up from his reading.
“You weren’t at lunch,” Butler remarked, stepping inside.
“I apologize,” Artemis said, his young voice cold and clipped in a way Butler had never stopped thinking of as strange. “I was busy.”
You’re seven years old, Butler thought, setting the tray down on the mahogany desk. Busy?
“Your mother missed you,” he said instead, and Artemis lowered his book, eyes almost guilty.
“I promise that I will be at dinner.”
“You should eat,” Butler ordered, pushing the tea and toast closer to the boy. Artemis hesitated for a moment, but he finally obliged, taking a small bite out of the portion of the toast with the least amount of jam on it. Artemis chewed thoughtfully, setting the food back down on the plate and pointedly nudging it away. Butler pressed his lips into a thin line. Thank Christ that at least Juliet wasn’t a picky eater.
“May I ask you a question, Butler?”
“Where does Father go when he leaves on business?” Artemis inquired, and Butler sighed. He moved the tray on the table, making room for him to rest his weight against the desk.
“He’s on a business trip, Artemis. He’s told you this.”
“Where does he go, though? He won’t tell me what his ‘business’ is.”
Butler shrugged. “Your father told me the same thing.”
Artemis looked at him shrewdly. “I don’t think I believe that, Butler.”
“That’s too bad,” Butler admitted. “Because that’s all I’m going to tell you.”
“You work for me, though,” Artemis argued, brow furrowed. “If you do know more, then you must tell me.”
Frowning, Butler leaned back. “I protect you. I work for your father.”
Sensing that he’d offended, Artemis tried to backpedal. “I… no one will tell me, Butler. Why? I simply want to know more about my father.”
His bodyguard considered Artemis' plea.
“I’m sorry if I seemed dismissive,” Artemis wheedled, prodding further. “I’m… I’m just curious.”
Despite being fully aware Artemis’ apology was motivated more so by ulterior motives than it was by genuine compunctions, Butler softened.
“I know you must miss him,” he relented.
Artemis perked up, sensing he’d succeed in wearing down Butler’s earlier decision.
Butler ignored the voice of Madam Ko in the back of his mind. He wondered if he could absolve himself for a brief moment of weakness surrounding his bodyguard principles.
Artemis was just a boy, Butler thought. And a smart one at that. He doubted that there was a child on earth that could be satisfied with simply artifacts from the outside world.
Reaching to ruffle his charge’s hair, Butler almost smiled at the way Artemis scrunched up his face.
“Why must you and Mother persist in doing that?” Artemis complained.
“Just another grown-up thing, I guess,” Butler ventured, humming good-naturedly when Artemis scoffed.
“What are you reading?” Butler asked after a moment, changing the subject. Artemis glanced back at his book, debating his next course of action. Finally, his excitement surrounding the book he’d been reading won out over his desire to continue pushing Butler regarding his father.
Artemis spun the novel around, allowing Butler to examine it properly. “It’s a collection of short stories by Kenzaburō Ōe. Right now I am on ‘Lavish Are the Dead’.”
Butler nodded, picking up the work and mentally filing the name away. He was nearly positive Artemis fell very short of the intended age demographic.
“What’s it about?”
Artemis’ eyes lit up. “The subject material varies, but the tone is similar between the stories. Ōe’s style is very derivative of French existentialists. I like him more than Sartre and Camus, however.”
“Camus wrote ‘The Stranger’, right?” Butler surmised, looking at Artemis for confirmation. “Read that book during university. I’ve never forgotten the way the author described the old man’s sickly dog. Poor animal,” Butler reproved, tsking.
Artemis nodded. “Yes, that was Camus. ‘Lavish Are the Dead’ is similarly macabre in the service of its philosophy.”
Butler thumbed to the first page of the short story to which Artemis referred. He narrowed his eyes, reading silently. Artemis continued on, unconscious of Butler’s increasingly deepening frown as the man scanned through gruesome paragraph after paragraph.
“I suppose it can be read in many ways. One view would be that it’s a meditation on the forgetting of the Pacific War, despite the violence’s profound impact on the cultural psyche. However, it could also be read as the submerged presence of the Korean War in Japanese society, memory, and culture. I’d argue both critiques come mainly from the perspective of the intellectual establishment, be it that it is both Ōe and the protagonist studied French literature at the University of Tokyo.”
“Artemis,” Butler said slowly, resisting the urge to rub his temples or to throw the offending text from the room. “This is about dead bodies being kept in the medical faculty of a university.”
His charge tilted his head, blinking owlishly. “On a literal, textual sense, I suppose so, yes.”
Butler made a face, putting the book down. “It’s not appropriate for you. It’s… too much. You’re too young to be reading something like this.”
“I asked Father. He’s the one who brought it back from Tokyo,” Artemis offered lightly.
Butler floundered, unsure.
To push the matter, Butler would have to either insinuate the Fowl patriarch was so absentminded as to not curate the reading material of his son or he would have to insinuate that the man had made an incorrect call in judgment. Either would be a challenge to Artemis Sr.’s authority. Either would be making a statement on which of the two had more of a say over Artemis’ behavior. An absentee father or a paid caretaker — Artemis was beginning to test the waters of which of the two men had more of a claim to be the male figure to whom he deferred, Butler realized.
Artemis watched Butler, waiting for a response.
“I see,” Butler noted, being careful to keep his tone even. Artemis’ eyes widened, a motion that would have been nearly imperceptible had Butler not been searching for a reaction on the boy’s face.
The surprise vanished from Artemis quickly, and his eyes narrowed. “Oh?”
Rising, Butler pushed the book back towards Artemis. “Yes. If he approved the book, then I am fine with it.”
“You have no further opinion on the matter?” Artemis pressed.
Butler shrugged. “I’m just your bodyguard. Is my private attitude towards the matter necessary?”
A completely bullshit statement.
Butler knew that.
Artemis knew that.
Hell, it was likely even Artemis Sr. knew that.
Butler blamed Artemis Sr., just a bit. Usually, the Fowls and Butlers were closer in age. As eerily as the young Fowl might present himself, it was hard to not feel parental twinges towards the boy when Butler’s primary duties as a bodyguard were mundane things — things like keeping Artemis from skinning his knees around the house or preparing meals for him and Juliet. The Major and Artemis Sr. were unambiguously boss and bodyguard, but Butler, who had to force himself to not subconsciously categorize both Artemis and Juliet as his kids, and Artemis, who knew his father as a visitor to the house instead of a permanent fixture? Their dynamic was undoubtedly more fraught, unspeakably more complicated to unpack.
But Butler couldn’t bring himself to give words to his failure. To do so would make it irreversible. It’d be the final nail in the coffin he’d fashioned for himself.
So he pushed the tea tray closer to Artemis, quietly getting up to leave.
Disappointed, Artemis moved to pick his book back up, returning to his previous activity.
Pausing in the doorway, Butler turned, faltering.
Artemis didn’t lower the book, but his eyes tracked Butler’s every movement like a hawk. “Yes?”
“Artemis,” Butler began, hand curling around the doorframe with uncharacteristic timidity. “Your father said he’d be home tonight. You can ask him about his trip at dinner.”
“...Will you be joining us?”
“I see,” Artemis commented neutrally, fixing Butler with a pointed stare.
Ignoring the way his feelings stung, Butler let his hand fall from the door, turning away.
“Make sure that you eat your lunch, Artemis,” Butler said at last, weary.
Both the toast and the tea remained untouched.
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about american literature... what do you mean when you talk about how it doesn't achieve catharsis? i'm curious; being from spain and reading like, lots of spanish or english authors (of the modern variety) besides lots and lots of manga and some japanese books lately i wonder about the difference (because at least tonaly and in the use of the words? the narrative? is easy to see) if it's a large answer, just a url or a book to start my own search would be great! sorry for bothering you
You’re not a bother at all!!
So, in part this is my opinion, so people are welcome to disagree. My experiences and personal tastes affect what I view as catharsis, and I don’t have the time for a complete essay, but I’ll do my best to explain ramble:
Catharsis is defined as the release of emotions, often repressed ones, brought about by a literary work. Aristotle coined it for use in tragedy, but it applies to all stories. It is somewhat dependent on the stakes of the story being told: Will Raskolnikov confess his crime? What happens to his family if he does? What about Romeo and Juliet? Will they ever be together? Will the feud ever end? When the story ends, hopefully or tragically, the emotions you feel are the catharsis. For me, they’re the very reason I read a story: I want to feel something.
Many probably do feel things from American lit. I just do not. Modern and postmodern literature in general struggles with adequate catharsis in a rapidly expanding world in which the stakes of everyday life are expanding as well. Plus, these are the major literary movements in the west that American novels have been around for.
Like, The Scarlet Letter has great themes and characters, but the ending doesn’t provide me with any kind of emotional release. Pearl wanders off, neither confirming nor reputing what everyone’s said about her, Hester isn’t much better–or worse–off than she was at the beginning. There’s an element of mediocrity to them, and a message about accepting the mediocrity (and I can think of a few cultural reasons why this might be). Faulker, Updike, Steinbeck, Nabokov, Vonnegut–there’s a lack of satisfaction as part of the message of mannnny of their novels, and a sense of “the world is how it is.” Choices lose their resonance, which as an existentialist, I scowl at. This is the way things are. Yay futility. For some the lack of catharsis is what they need/want from a story, because it reflects life.
That’s not what I’m reading a story for, however. I want the story to show me something, whether or not it’s realistic. I want it to have a journey myself when I read. It doesn’t have to have a clear message, either: the best stories are the ones you can still debate. But I want the journey to have meant something other than just “welp that’s it.”
I’ll also add that if you look at all those authors they tend to have the same character as the MC in almost all of their works and it is white man who seems put together on the outside but is having an existential crisis on the inside which means it may not quiiiiite resonate with someone of a different identity. Basically most protagonists in American lit are trying to be Jay Gatsby, but The Great Gatsby works because it’s a tragedy clearly brought about by not just a flawed system but also by the characters’ flaws, not because it just is. (Though again, clearly that resonates with a lot of people! But not with me.)
There are always exceptions, though. I do like Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, because it has catharsis, as does The Catcher in the Rye by Salinger. These are windows into the characters’ lives, but by the end you feel the part of the journey you took with the characters meant something. At least, I do. (and the MCs aren’t typical–a little tomboy girl and an angsty teenager who is a disaster inside and out). And I don’t get that feeling from a lot of American lit.
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