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Archer’s Goon

March 13, 2013

On the way back from Cape Girardeau, where my mother and I followed a carefully-designed program for “riotous living” that included shoe-shopping and the consumption of lobster tails, I read Archer’s Goon by Diana Wynne Jones.  I took it along because, especially in the wake of making my list of books for middle-schoolers, I knew I wanted to read more by DWJ, and as it’s DWJ March, this is the time.

Archer’s Goon struck me as more of a children’s book than some of her others, which is not a criticism from someone who has as many shelves full of children’s books as we do.  It does create a different sort of expectation, though, and that expectation was fulfilled by the events of the plot.  A town is run by seven wizards. The seemingly innocent children you meet in the beginning turn out to be more resourceful than even they knew they could be. The “goon” of the title turns out to be more than you expected. It’s all good fun, and there are some nice surprises; I am especially fond of the way the character of Hathaway is revealed, and I love a letter he sends, complete with the old-fashioned long s (the one that looks like an f).

Along the way there are some delightful things. One of my favorite parts is the protagonist’s family dynamics—when his father asks his little sister to make him a cup of tea, the father has to specify: “with boiling water and two tea bags and only milk in the cup. Curry, mustard, pepper and vinegar are strictly forbidden.”  This reminds me of the rules we made when we shared a townhouse in Maryland with our friend Miriam, like “no fires except in the fireplace” and “sharp knives in the back” (of the dishwasher).

From the first moment the protagonist, who likes to design space ships, sees his first real space ship, I knew the secret of his identity, which made me feel smart. This is another way in which this is a good children’s book; it does things like that just for fun.

In the end, some of the secrets depend on family dynamics, like how an older sibling always acts to his next-youngest siblings. Even if you don’t come from a big family, as I certainly don’t, it’s nice to imagine yourself in one of those places.  And it’s one of the many ways this author makes you feel included, as if the book itself is a kind of family, and you’re invited to see into some of its secrets.  It’s an absolutely delightful children’s book that I wish I’d read earlier, but better now than never.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. March 13, 2013 1:04 pm

    Archer’s Goon is one of my favorite DWJ’s. Maybe I need to hunt down a copy again,…

    • March 14, 2013 3:10 pm

      I notice there are a number of used ones at Amazon, Alibris, and other places…it doesn’t bother me a bit to buy a used book after the author’s death; I think copyright should expire with an author.

  2. March 13, 2013 1:14 pm

    For a moment there I wondered if your shared townhouse in Maryland housed a murder cult.

    • March 14, 2013 3:12 pm

      That was the joke of the saying, of course.
      You’ve hit upon another joke we had, though, which was that if Miriam wanted to get married and move in next door, perhaps we could get the neighbors to vacate by sitting on our stairs and plotting their murder loudly so they’d hear it through the thin wall. (We did not do this, but we joked about doing it.)

  3. March 13, 2013 4:28 pm

    I’m just about to read it! I read Charmed Life last night, and have never read Archer’s Goon, and everyone seems to love it, so it’s next. So I read your review hoping you didn’t give too much away, and you didn’t. Thanks! And very good review, too. DWJ had so much fun writing stories about magic and children, didn’t she?

    • March 14, 2013 3:14 pm

      It does seem like she had fun, especially with the secrets. And yes, I was very careful not to give them away–hence my references to “the protagonist.”
      I really love identity issues and jokes with the protagonist’s identity; one of my favorite books has a first-person narrator who doesn’t even know there’s any question about his identity until more than halfway through.

  4. March 13, 2013 5:46 pm

    Oh yea! I keep forgetting it is DWJ month. I think I will go RIGHT NOW to the library website and see what I can get my hands on fast.

    • March 14, 2013 3:15 pm

      My library has a lot of them, so I hope yours does, too.

  5. March 13, 2013 6:58 pm

    I’m interested that this one read more to you like a children’s book than many of her others. I don’t disagree, but I just hadn’t case it in those terms in my head. All of her books read like — just weird, in a way, sort of outside the usual realm of targeting kids of a certain age, so that I never end up thinking about what “level” book they are. Hm. I guess if I had to say, I’d say that the Chrestomanci books read the most like children’s books, and probably Dogsbody and Eight Days of Luke.

    • March 14, 2013 3:38 pm

      Especially the parts about growing up and not knowing who you will be, even physically–how your feet will look, and how tall your siblings will be in relation to you–seemed to me elements of a children’s (vs YA) book.

  6. aartichapati permalink
    March 14, 2013 9:50 pm

    I always miss participating in DWJ month, but I am always happy to know that she wrote SO MANY BOOKS and that I still have so many of them left to discover 🙂

  7. March 15, 2013 4:49 am

    This was the first DJW I read to my son when he was younger. We really enjoyed it although I recall that the ending was confusing in good DJW style. I really wish I recalled the book well enough to ask you to explain it – but it must be a good 6 years since I read it and the details have gone.

    • March 15, 2013 9:32 am

      I know it’s hard to make time for re-reading, but I take an even greater pleasure in re-reading books I read to my children, because there’s an added dimension of how they reacted.
      The confusion you remember has to do with the protagonist’s identity, I think.

  8. Kai(Fiction State of Mind) permalink
    March 18, 2013 4:57 pm

    Great review! I have to add that to my TBzr pile 🙂

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