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The Artful Dodger is like the Street Urchin, except that instead of being The Woobie that makes you want to take him up in your arms and care for him, he seems perfectly happy to take care of himself. Oh, he'd let you take him home, just don't expect him to be there next morning. Or any of your valuables. In Real Life, a child who lives on the streets experiences horrors most of us could not even imagine, but in some fictional works, a child on the street lives a happy-go-lucky life and practically thrives. (Although this may just be a coping mechanism.)

He is exceptionally street smart, and can take care of himself better than most adults, being a bit more experienced in the field. He is usually a criminal. Not the poor, innocent child who hates having to steal out of desperation, but the whip-smart trickster. The adult protagonist may feel sorry for him and try to help him at first, but it will usually turn out that the adult actually needs his help. He often has some sort of unique knowledge or skill that the protagonist needs in some circumstance, such as how to access any part of the city through the sewer system.

He'll probably start out as a pest, but he'll turn out to be one of the Hero's most powerful and stalwart allies when the chips are down. He's characterized by sarcasm, cynicism, skepticism, incredible resourcefulness, and a charming fascination with violence, but in the end he's likely to succumb to the temptation of family life with the Hero and his Girl, even if his life on the street was clearly more Awesome. He's also fairly likely to die by Taking the Bullet for the Hero. In this case, the Hero will retroactively adopt the Kid, for instance by putting his own surname on the Kid's tombstone. Can grow up to become a Satisfied Street Rat, but the Dodger is more of a trickster where archetypally the Street Rat is more of a cutthroat.

Usually male, but there are a few exceptions. This trope is just about the opposite of Truth in Television. (Though, Chaos Theory being what it is, something close has probably occurred at least once in human history, and probably quite a few hooligans want you to think that they are.)

Examples of The Artful Dodger include:


Film

Literature

  • Being the Trope Namer, The Artful Dodger is the epitome of this trope … until his boss's Gambit goes awry, the police search his home and he gets deported to Australia,
  • Sherlock Holmes had a whole gang of these, called the Baker Street Irregulars, to help him search for things or people all over the city.
  • Talen in David Eddings' Elenium/Tamuli 'verse has one of these - a street-urchin with enough talents to classify as a borderline Marty Stu (eidetic memory, incredible artistic skills, unbeatable in lockpicking and pickpocketing, highly intelligent, does complicated math in his head despite having little formal education...)
  • Parodied in Night Watch with young Nobby (specifically a parody of Gavroche below, since most of the book is a Deconstruction of Les Misérables).
  • Discworld also has an Artful Nudger. Nobby was one of these in his childhood. When he gets sent to the past in Night Watch, Vimes (and presumably, Sergeant Keel, who was Vimes' actual mentor in the original timeline) immediately hires him on as an informant when they cross paths, recognizing the utility of small cheeky street urchins (what with having known Nobby for most of their mutual lives).
  • Jamal from The Drifters.
  • Lyra of His Dark Materials is a rare female example. Well, she just acts like this despite having a good place to stay. Later on, when she really ends up on the street in a strange city, she finds it's not so fun.
  • Kimball O'Hara, eponymous hero of Rudyard Kipling's Kim.
  • Beyond the Western Sea has two, Fred No-name and Ralph Toggs.[1]
  • Jimmy the Hand from Raymond E. Feist's Riftwar Cycle.
  • Mike from Maximum Ride. The readers meet him in the first book in New York City. But he proves useful in the third book when he sends a chain message about Fang mission.
  • Huckleberry Finn was pretty much this, though moreso in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.
  • Lupus in The Roman Mysteries
  • Raych Seldon starts as this in the Foundation prequels.
  • Gavroche in Les Misérables.

Live Action TV

  • Nancy of the Doctor Who episode "The Empty Child" may be considered a subversion. Although she used the clever tricks to survive which are trademark to this trope, she was anything but happy-go-lucky. It could be considered a Deconstruction of this trope.
    • Adric, one of the Doctor's companions in the Classic Series, was originally intended to be an "Artful Dodger" character; Matthew Waterhouse even assumed he would have to put on a Cockney accent when auditioning for the role. However, subsequent scripts deviated from this, resulting in a character whom many fans came to regard as one of the most annoying companions in the series.
  • Boxey on the new Battlestar Galactica Reimagined was going to become this, until the character was written out due to a lack of time for the planned development.
  • Liam in Tracy Beaker Returns. Mike collects him from the police station and runs into Tracy who just published her first book followed by this discussion:

 Mike: See Liam if you want to get on in life, maybe we could have a little less artful dodger and a bit more Tracy Beaker

Liam: I am like Tracy we both got nicked (that's arrested for the rest of us).

Mike: You published your own book with Cam's money, Tracy how could you?

Tracy: Cam's a writer she'll understand. I'll pay her back when the book sells.

Mike: Oh, Tracy...

Liam: So Mike, I think I'd better stick with the artful dodger thing for now, what do you reckon?

  • Captain Marvelous and Luka Millfy of Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger were this in flashbacks to their childhoods.
  • Parodied in The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff with the Artful Codger ("codger" being British slang for an elderly person), who has spent his entire life with a gang of urchin kids because he failed the exam to graduate to "vagabond" or "ne'er-do-well"
  • Parker had this as her back story on Leverage as she had left the foster system as a teenager after spending six months in Juvie. Notable in that she managed to pickpocket one of the best thieves in the world and later became his apprentice.
  • Phoebe Buffay in Friends may well have been an Artful Dodger in her teens. She had to live on the streets from the age of 14 and is unlikely to have been an instance of The Woobie judging by her character during the series. In one episode it's revealed that she once mugged a young Ross Geller.

Real Life

  • Colton Harris-Moore, more commonly known as the Barefoot Bandit. He started living in the wild at the age of seven, and would break into vacation homes; stealing blankets, food and water before disappearing into the forest for days. His first conviction for stolen property came at age 12, and by the time he was 13, he had three more. He's suspected of about 100 thefts in Washington, Idaho, and Canada, including bicycles, automobiles, LIGHT AIRCRAFT, and SPEEDBOATS. He most likely learned how to fly small planes by reading aircraft manuals and playing flight simulator computer games. He was captured in the Bahamas: he'd stolen a small plane and flown it down there, then was captured by police after they shot out his speedboat's engine during a FRIGGIN' HIGH-SPEED WATER CHASE. He is nick-named the Barefoot Bandit (or Barefoot Burglar, if you prefer) because he would filch items from stores whilst barefoot and painted footprints on the floor to taunt police... In April 2010, 20th Century Fox bought the rights to make a movie about him.

Tabletop Games

  • In Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition, this is a popular build for Rogues. The artful dodger is dextrous and charismatic, and an ideal build for halflings.

Theater

  • Gavroche of Les Misérables. (His original in the novel is accompanied by too much deconstruction to count as a straight example.)

Video Games

  • Marco from Skies of Arcadia.
  • Mission Vao from Knights of the Old Republic. She's very cheerful, good at picking locks and pockets, looks out for her Wookiee buddy (she's the brains, he's the brawn), an excellent scout (high stealth), and higher on the Karma Meter than the party's Jedi. And grew up in one of the filthiest WretchedHives in the galaxy despite being of an age, attractiveness level, species, and gender that would have normally railroaded her into slavery and / or prostitution.

Webcomics

  • Lil' Ragamuffin in Guttersnipe is a parody of this trope, a street girl fanatically devoted to the "urchin life" and proud of her "unfancy" living situation.
  • Rabble-Rouser (real name Reginald) in RPG World counts. He's actually Diane's little brother that was actually abandoned in South City as a baby because his father was a human and his mother was a monster. They used a magic spell to make Diane look more human because otherwise they wouldn't be allowed to keep her. The spell didn't work so well on Rabble-Rouser, so he was left to grow up on the streets.

Western Animation

Notes

  1. "Look at his togs, Fagin," said Charley, putting the light so close to Oliver's new jacket as nearly to set him on fire.
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