Archer’s Goon, Diana Wynne Jones

March has whizzed by in a whirlwind of cherry blossoms and other even lovelier events, doing me a great disservice by never letting me catch my breath long enough to schedule a post about a Diana Wynne Jones book for the Diana Wynne Jones March operated by the wonderful Kristen of We Be Reading. March has happened so fast I didn’t even remember to relish March 4th, the only day of the year that’s a command. Ordinarily I say “March forth!” with tedious frequency on that day, and this year I forgot. Sigh. March, you whirlwind vixen.

Archer’s Goon, fittingly enough in a post that began with a time gripe, is a book about the constraints of time. Howard’s father Quentin, a writer, has for years written 2000 words each month and sent them to a friend called Lovejoy as a way of keeping his creative juices flowing. This month, an enormous Goon turns up at the house demanding the 2000 words, which Quentin says he has already sent. The Goon says that Archer — apparently Lovejoy’s boss — hasn’t received the words and demands to have them. Howard’s family is gradually beseiged by a group of seven siblings (Archer, Dillian, Shine, Hathaway, Torquil, Erskine, and Venturus, and yes, I have read Archer’s Goon often enough that I know those names in order by heart) who run various aspects of the town, are confined to stay within the town limits, and inexplicably seem desperate to acquire Quentin’s 2000 words.

As with many Diana Wynne Jones books, Archer’s Goon did not immediately take its place in my heart as a DWJ favorite. Because I apparently can’t talk about Diana Wynne Jones without saying “She’s better on a reread,” I’ll say it again. There are never too many times to say it! Diana Wynne Jones is better on a reread. And Archer’s Goon particularly is better on a reread. The plot is fairly complicated, and because it takes a while for most of the basic questions to be resolved, I missed a lot of the small, fun stuff about Archer’s Goon.

And the small fun stuff is what makes it so great. The power-mad siblings persecute Quentin relentlessly to make him give in and send them the words, and the things they invent to do, within their own spheres of power, are really funny and terrible. It’s brilliant fun how Diana Wynne Jones gradually lets you see the dynamics between the siblings: that Archer hates Dillian and Dillian hates him right back, but Dillian and Torquil are sort of allies. Sibling dynamics are DWJ’s best thing, and the Archer’s Goon siblings are, if not my favorites, at least in my top two. It’s between them and the Dark Lord of Derkholm family.

Moreover, the end of Archer’s Goon is one of the best and most satisfying endings of any of her books. A common and true complain about DWJ is that her endings can feel a little rushed and confusing, but not with Archer’s Goon. The characters realize things that they’ve been building up to realizing all along. The questions that were raised at the beginning get resolved. The good guys put paid to the bad guys. And the climactic fight is just so, so funny. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but suffice it to say that I can never read the scene without picturing Diana Wynne Jones at her typewriter giggling madly as she wrote it all out. It’s the best.

As many longtime readers know, I am the hugest Diana Wynne Jones fan. As you may also know, she died last year, in March. I am so grateful for all the books of hers that we do have, and I am terribly sad that there won’t be any new ones forthcoming. But if you haven’t read anything by her, you are in for a treat.

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33 thoughts on “Archer’s Goon, Diana Wynne Jones

  1. This is one I’ve tried and just didn’t get very far. Maybe I should give it another go. I agree with you- DWJ’s endings tend to feel rushed, sometimes a jumble. I have the same impression of Robin McKinley’s endings, too- sometimes I feel like I don’t know what happened!

    • Ooo, big yes on Robin McKinley! Beauty is the only one of her books that feels like a truly coherent whole. However, I have gotten more comfortable with Sunshine as the years have gone by and I’ve reread it. I felt like it was completely unresolved the first time, and now it seems to work better as a novel.

  2. Oh. I missed Diana Wynne Jones March! Drat! Also, I am now in a mild state of panic because I realized that my copy of The Dark Lord of Derkholm is still packed, and I don’t know where.

    But I agree: Archer’s Goon is great, and best on rereading.

    • Huh! I used to find the title completely offputting. I was like, what does that even mean?, and I could only think of “Little Bunny Foo-Foo” and how I never knew what the Good Fairy exactly turned Little Bunny Foo-Foo into.

  3. I did NOT know about any Diana Wynne Jones March, and now I’m very sad. That would have been perfect. Like you, I am a huge fan; she is my all-time favorite ever. And Archer’s Goon is very near the top for me–I was a teenager when I first read it and don’t remember what my first impression was (I do remember learning that Torquil and Erskine are actual boy names!).

    Bookwyrme, I sympathize–a while back I realized my copy of Homeward Bounders was missing and I was very distressed. Luckily I got it from the library for a reread, but imagine my relief when I recently discovered it in my sister’s room!

    • Well, you are not too late for the Fire and Hemlock readalong! It’s being hosted at the same blog later in April when the reprint of Fire and Hemlock comes out. Join us comrade!

      Torquil is a real name? I knew about Erskine because of Erskine Caldwell but Torquil sounds so made up.

  4. Ahhh I love Archer’s Goon! My favorite part is Torquil making all the noise and driving everyone up the walls. And Awful! Awful is one of my favorite DWJ characters ever. One of her funniest and best all-around books, definitely.

    • My favorite part is when Torquil turns out to be nice. And Awful figures it out because they are basically similar. And when Torquil and Hathaway become friends again! Awww. Basically anything with Torquil cause he’s my fave.

  5. Oh! I am exactly halfway through Dark Lord of Derkholm and I am loving it so much. And you are so right about the sibling dynamics (actually, family dynamics in general — she is so good at them, marriages and parents and divorces and siblings and all) in it, even though I had trouble keeping all the griffins straight at first. It’s a rollick, that’s what it is.

    • There are a LOT of people in Dark Lord of Derkholm to keep track of. But she does, ultimately, do an awesome job differentiating the griffins. You don’t get a great sense of Elda, I don’t think, but then Elda gets her own book, so that’s all right.

  6. I have never read any of her books, but you’ve done such an amazing job convincing me that I need to read this one! I just went over to my huge list and added it right to the top with a note that says: Must Read! Thanks for sharing this wonderfully enthusiastic and enticing review with us. I know I am going to love this book.

    • YAY! Oh, I really hope you like it! If you don’t like it right away, I beg you will not give up on Diana Wynne Jones. Her books are varied and wonderful and I feel like everyone would like at least one of her books, if not more. Oh gosh oh I hope you like this. Oh I really hope you do.

      (If you don’t — I warn you ahead of time — I will comment on your review post to say “But Diana Wynne Jones is better on a reread anyway”, which is true facts from real life.)

  7. I definitely need to get a copy of Archer’s Goon asap. I’m trying not to rush through the remaining books I haven’t read (hence so many re-reads this past month) but since I finally got to Eight Days of Luke, I get to choose a next new one. And we are going to have to study the DWJ re-read phenomenon because I raised my rating on every single re-read I did! I wonder if it’s that her characters stay with you so that, on revisit, you feel like you are reuniting with an old friend or beau (or even enemy) that you’ve missed terribly.
    Thanks for participating in DWJ Month and I hope we can at least get you in on the discussion for F&H later this month!

      • The one I own but haven’t read is the story collection Unexpected Magic and I haven’t read The Tough Guide to Fantasyland from start to finish yet. I started the first Dalemark book once but the timing wasn’t good for me so I still need to read that series. Deep Secret and The Merlin Conspiracy. Hexwood. The Ogre Downstairs. Wild Robert. A Sudden Wild Magic. And this one. 🙂 Still quite a few but it doesn’t seem like enough!

  8. Can’t believe you forgot to say “March forth.” I even thought about you saying it. You can tell people you said it, but only in my head which is pretty special.

    PS I’m thinking about selling my soul and getting a nook. But I want to make a case out a book for it if I do. A musty one. Then it will be the best of both worlds.

    • Hahahhahaha. I usually do say it! MARCH FORTH. I’m sad I missed it.

      Whoaaaa. A Nook, really? Did you try out Mumsy’s and just find it to be irresistibly amazing?

  9. Archer’s Goon was the first DWJ book I ever read, and I read it out loud to my son who must have been oh ten or eleven. We loved it. I guess reading out loud means you have to go slow and enjoy the details. Although we neither of us really understood what happened at the end, but then it was our first DWJ and we weren’t prepared for a DWJ ending. I remember it very fondly, though, as it was such a quirky and funny read, two qualities both my son and I really, really like.

    • It’s a good read aloud book! I read a lot of DWJ books out loud to my little sister over the years, and I remember thinking that Archer’s Goon was a fantastic book for reading aloud.

      (Actually, part of the reason I love DWJ so much is that I read most of her books out loud to Social Sister at some point.)

  10. My experience of DWJ began with ‘Wilkie’s tooth’ and ended with ‘Charmed Life’. I think I read around a dozen of her books. One day, twenty-five odd years later, I thought of her again and checked out the children’s section of my local bookshop. It was a big surprise to see her still writing, still being read, and how she’d built a reputation based on books that I’ve never even heard of – e.g. ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’.

    I still prefer her old stuff, but I think that has more to do with me than her. Most of her books from that period involved the interaction of a familiar reality with the mythical, rather than out-and-out fantasy. ‘The Cart & The Cwydder’ being the only exception I can think of.

    Like you say, her endings sometimes fall a bit flat, but a lot of her books really do benefit from re-reading. ‘Dogsbody’ is a case in point. I re-read it again and I was surprised how much I enjoyed it, especially the bit where the two smarmy cats get their come-uppance!

    • I think she had her best run in the early-to-mid 1980s. That’s when she wrote all the ones I love the best (with the exception of The Year of the Griffin, because I love school books).

      Dogsbody is one that it took me years to love! I reread it at least three times before it and I became friends.

  11. I was very disappointed that March 4th was on a Sunday. I really wanted to tell everyone I work with, as well as every single person who came into the library, to March forth. Oh, well. Next year.

    I haven’t read Archer’s Goon yet! I will have to. Soon.

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