The Artful Dodger is a character in the Charles Dickens novel Oliver Twist. The Dodger, whose real name is Jack Dawkins, is a pickpocket, so-called for his skill and cunning in that respect. As a result he has become the leader of the gang of child criminals, trained by the elderly Fagin. Dickens describes him thus:
He was a snub-nosed, flat-browed, common-faced boy enough; and as dirty a juvenile as one would wish to see; but he had about him all the airs and manners of a man. He was short of his age: with rather bow-legs, and little, sharp, ugly eyes. His hat was stuck on the top of his head so lightly, that it threatened to fall off every moment--and would have done so, very often, if the wearer had not had a knack of every now and then giving his head a sudden twitch, which brought it back to its old place again. He wore a man's coat, which reached nearly to his heels. He had turned the cuffs back, half-way up his arm, to get his hands out of the sleeves: apparently with the ultimated view of thrusting them into the pockets of his corduroy trousers; for there he kept them. He was, altogether, as roystering and swaggering a young gentleman as ever stood four feet six, or something less, in the bluchers.
In the BBC adaptation of Oliver Twist in 2007, the Artful Dodger is shown to care deeply about Nancy. He is shown to have been very upset about her eventual death and is also shown to be slightly jealous of not being Nancy's favourite when Oliver is being nursed by her after being shot.
Ultimately the Dodger is caught with a stolen silver snuff box on his person, convicted as a "lifer", and is sent to a penal colony in Australia. The Dodger fails to handle his adversity well, roaring in the courtroom "I am an Englishman, where are my rights?" or similar terms where he considers himself a "victim of society". The judge shows little patience for the Dodger's charades, and orders him out of the courtroom immediately after the jury does not take long to convict him of the theft.
The nickname "Artful Dodger" is still commonly used to refer to someone who is good at avoiding responsibility or the consequences of his or her actions. "Artful Dodger" is also Cockney rhyming slang for "lodger".
Dickens had first used a similar term in his previous novel, The Pickwick Papers. At the close of Chapter 16, Sam Weller refers to the recent schemes of Mr Jingle: "Reg'lar do, sir; artful dodge."
The role of the Artful Dodger has been played by several notable performers. British actor Anthony Newley played the character in a 1948 film adaptation of the story. The role was amplified in the musical Oliver!. The part was first played by Martin Horsey (actor, director and author of "L'Chaim"), and later by Tony Robinson, Davy Jones,Steve Marriott and Phil Collins among others. Elijah Wood also portrayed the character, and most recently he was played by Harry Eden in Roman Polanski's big-budget 2005 film version.
Others to have played the role in amateur productions include Ben Elton and Robbie Williams. In Walt Disney's 1988 animated feature film version of Oliver Twist, Oliver and Company, the character of the Artful Dodger was changed to a streetwise anthropomorphic mutt simply named Dodger. The voice was provided by musician Billy Joel.