And little people know when little people fight,
We may look easy pickings but we've got some bite!"
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 (or any of your valuable possessions) to be there next morning. 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 (probably no longer terrified by such horrors).
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.
If the Artful Dodger is working for someone (as the original did), expect his boss to be some variety of The Fagin.
Usually male, but there are a few exceptions.
- Berserk: Isidro is a hot-headed kid who ran away from home in search of adventure, and since then he has supported his vagrant lifestyle through thievery, demonstrating the ability to carry off absurdly large amounts of stolen food and valuables inside his clothes. Even after joining Guts' new group and gaining some stability he still occasionally pickpockets people and shoplifts from merchants.
- In Pokémon XY, Serena's Pancham starts out as this. He loved to perform, and would steal props to use when performing in private. But he was embarrassed by his interest in performance to the point where he'd act out and ruin public performances if he drew too much attention to himself. When Serena wanted to take him in and tap his talent, he did not make it easy, though she eventually defeated and captured him in battle.
- The teens Torr and Tarra in Swordquest are twin orphans who survive on the streets through stealing.
- The title character of Disney's Aladdin (not so much in the original Arabian Nights). He seems to be more grown up, but since his age is never revealed, it can be assumed that he is just a teenager of about 17 or 18.
- Tony Toponi from An American Tail fits this trope well. He's a streetwise orphan mouse who Fievel meets in a sweat shop. After they bust out Tony helps Fievel find his family.
- Dodger from Disney's Oliver & Company is on the cusp of this trope; mostly because he's much older (thanks to being voiced by Billy Joel), not to mention being a dog. Of course, he is a literal expy of the trope namer.
- Vanellope von Schweetz in Wreck-It Ralph lives in Diet Cola Mountain in Sugar Rush, and sleeps under candy wrappers. She finds the Hero's Duty medal and teases Ralph, which prompts him to make a deal to help her become a regular member of the Sugar Rush starting lineup in exchange for getting his medal back. When they get to the go-cart factory, King Candy has a "Stay Out" poster on the door, banning Vanellope. Due to her glitching and King Candy controlling the memory banks, she gets bullied by the other racers, telling Ralph that if she became a regular racer, they would treat her with more respect.
- Phillipe in Ladyhawke is in his late teens and is perfectly fine with being a petty thief and a purse-cutter. The film opens with him escaping from an inescapable dungeon, then instantly going back to thievery. He's shown being perfectly capable of fending for himself throughout the entire story.
- In Solo, Han Solo claims to have "been running scams on the streets since [he] was ten".
- '71: The young boy that happens upon Hook and navigates him through the hostile streets of Belfast is a good example. His precocity and ties to the Protestant paramilitaries make him a particularly bold little dude, scolding men twice his age when one makes the mistake of taking him lightly by naming his uncle (apparently a high level member in a paramilitary group).
- Oliver Twist:
- 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 as the Artful Nudger (specifically a parody of Gavroche, since most of the book is a Deconstruction of Les Misérables). When Vimes gets sent to the past in Night Watch, he immediately hires Nobby 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).
- 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.
- Beyond the Western Sea has two, Fred No-name and Ralph Toggs.note
- Jimmy the Hand from Raymond E. Feist's Riftwar Cycle is introduced as a clever young member of the Mockers who knows his way around the streets and sewers of Krondor. In the Serpentwar books, it's mentioned that when now-Duke James threw out his grandchildren onto the streets for a while to remind them of just how well they had it in the palace, they thrived by their own wits and ended up with a controlling interest in a brothel.
- Isaac Asimov's Prelude to Foundation: Raych, a charming alley kid (his mother is briefly mentioned) in the Dahl sector, initially demands a knife as payment for leading Seldon and Venabili to Mother Rittah. Seldon is able to convince him that a computer that teaches him to read is more valuable, and pays him that way. They repeatedly have to haggle with Raych to ensure they get what they want from him, and eventually adopt him as their child.
- Gavroche in Les Misérables - but Hugo investigates the source of Gavroche's lifestyle, and its probable end. Gavroche springs from parents (the Thenardiers) who are cutthroat and depraved, but also incredibly resourceful. Hugo describes Gavroche's quick mind and high spirits, but says that though he's slipped through the cracks all his life, he's on the cusp of outgrowing the life he lives. Then, he might ally with the noble cause of the Friends of the ABC (who include a few working-class idealists in their ranks), or else, Hugo compares at least one vicious and brutal thug in M. Thenardier's gang to a grown up Gavroche. As it turns out, he dies at the barricade before he can grow up for either good or ill.
- Any number of Horatio Alger, Jr. characters. His first (and arguably best) children's novel, Ragged Dick, is the archetype of Alger's street hero books.
- Arya Stark/Cat of the Canals in A Song of Ice and Fire becomes this after she escapes to Braavos.
- The main character of Terry Pratchett's Dodger is both a tribute to Dicken's version and a Deconstruction of the trope.
- Young Locke Lamora of the Gentleman Bastard series was a classic Artful Dodger despite actually living under realistically miserable conditions for a street urchin. (Seriously, The Thiefmaker's hill is awful.) He's just that happy to take others' stuff.
- Jan from The Silver Sword is a classic example, who ends up becoming a hero by the end of the book as he saves Edek from drowning.
- Briar of the Circle of Magic books by Tamora Pierce started out this way, he was even named Roach by the leader of his street gang. However this life is in no way romanticized, as by the start of the book he had experienced routine hunger, gang wars, physical abuse by police and other adults, had been arrested three times and was on his way to punishment labour (which it was implied he would not survive more than a couple of years) before Nico found him.
- Sara-Kate from Afternoon of the Elves fancies herself to be this, lying and stealing to keep herself and her ailing mother "safe" from outsiders and preserve their makeshift life together. It backfires in the end.
- Skif from Take a Thief is an adept street rat and thief who, at first, lifts food from the rich to feed himself, and later joins up with The Fagin's gang to live in decent comfort while pilfering valuable items. Most of his original gangmates also get out decently, however. This phase of his life comes to an end when his home is burned down by an arsonist, catapulting him into adulthood early and driving him to become a true master thief, and later leading him to the Heralds.
- Magpie from Renegades is a young girl living on the streets and making money pickpocketing. This lasts until Adrian catches her trying to rob Nova, and takes her to the Renegade headquarters so that she may be reformed - something she's not happy about, even though they give her food and bed.
- Doctor Who:
- Nancy of the episode "The Empty Child" is a lesser example; although she used the clever tricks to survive which are trademark to this trope, she was anything but happy-go-lucky.
- 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 in Battlestar Galactica 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. Support worker Mike Milligan collects him from the police station and runs into Tracy who just published her first book followed by this discussion:
Mike Milligan: 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! note
Mike: [after Tracy's explanation for being in the station] You published your own book with Cam's money?! Tracy, how could you?
Tracy: [defensive] Cam's a writer! She'll understand! I'll pay her back when the book sells.
Mike: [facepalms] Oh, Tracy...
Liam: So Mike, I think I'd better stick with the artful dodger thing for now. What d'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.
- Albert on Little House on the Prairie was portrayed as this type of urchin, stealing or conning people to get by when he was first encountered living on the streets of Winoka. Though he found a home with the Ingalls' family and was portrayed as more or less straight-laced after that, Albert was not above using his street smarts to con people in subsequent episodes. For example, he gave a sob story in "Men Will Be Boys" to get food and shelter, pretended to be buying for a relative in "The Odyssey" only to take off with the goods and convinced Mrs. Oleson in "Author, Author" that his adoptive grandfather's memoirs contained racy material so that she would agree to sell the book in her store.
- Parallax: Francis Zapmeister is a textbook example. The third episode is even called "The Artful Dodger".
- In Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition, this is a popular build for Rogues. The artful dodger is dexterous and charismatic, and an ideal build for halflings.
- Gavroche of Les Misérables — this example is a great deal straighter than the one in the book. He also gets some of the best Greek Chorus lines, which The Movie only enhances — "This is the land that fought for liberty, now when we fight, we fight for bread! That is the thing about equality: Everyone's equal when they're dead."
- 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 Wretched Hives in the galaxy despite being of an age, attractiveness level, species, and gender that would have normally railroaded her into slavery and / or prostitution.
- Nathan Drake from the Uncharted series is one as a teenager, until Sully "adopts" him as a protégé.
- Wirt from the original Diablo took to thieving soon after being kidnapped and tortured by demons and losing his leg. He's a quite sullen boy who sells rare items that he steals from others, though he tends to charge a lot for them.
- This is an achievement for Scout in Team Fortress 2 - taking over 1000 damage while invincible. In addition to being a baseball reference it references his backstory, where he's the youngest of eight brothers who happened to form themselves into a gang simply out of boredom.
- In The Elder Scrolls series' backstory, Barenziah, the Lost Orphaned Royalty future Queen of Morrowind, spent her youth after escaping from her foster family lying, stealing, and sleeping around. She actually enjoyed it and would even join the Thieves' Guild.
- Maeve from Paladins Is not only an Artful Dodger by definition, hailing from "The mean streets" while being very skilled in thievery and knife fighting, one of her Legendary cards is even called "Artful Dodger".
- Davis Pickle in Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel! is a 10-year-old orphan boy who makes his living scavenging bits of useful technology from the wreckage of Dahl spaceships and installations on Elpis. He actually does pretty well for himself, being clever and nimble enough to outmaneuver other scav gangs, and has enough money to hire the player characters and other subcontractors.
- Shift from BoxxyQuest: The Gathering Storm walks a blurry line between this and Satisfied Street Rat. Hes a bit older than youd expect from the former, being in his late teens or early twenties, but hes cheerful and not nearly as cutthroat as youd expect from the latter. In either case, life in the streets suits him just fine, until he gets recruited into your party.
- 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.
- Raggamuffin Amelie from Semi-Auto Semla is a bit of a Deconstruction of this trope. While she's a hyperactive, cheery ball of theft and zany schemes, it's repeatedly shown that these antics of her do her more harm than good. Furthemore, it's implied that her happy nature is just a coping mechanism for the horrors she's seen on the streets.
- Sylvester in Twig becomes this after he deserts the Academy of Evil. He doesn't lack for money or comforts, since he knows how to get them, and if he needs something he steals it. This stands in stark contrast to other homeless children in the setting who are closer to the Street Urchin archetype, lacking Sy's background as a Child Soldier with access to a Psycho Serum which gives him an edge.
- Peep from Jimmy Two-Shoes, who gleefully uses his Sticky Fingers to rob Miseryville blind. Appropriately, his dad runs the local Honest John's Dealership.
- In ThunderCats (2011), The Thunderkittens are lower-caste slum-dwelling Trickster Twins who manage to survive fairly well in the Fantastic Ghettos of Thundera. As a Magical Flutist, Wilykit puts their marks into a trance while her brother Wilykat uses a Five-Finger Discount to rob them blind. Their skill at what they do helps keep them cheery and optimistic.
- 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.