Note: Throughout June, I’ll be re-reading and reviewing books by Diana Wynne Jones. There are definitely spoilers below, so tread with caution if that’s something you’re concerned about.
Archer’s Goon is the very first DWJ book I ever read. I picked it up from my middle school library and was intrigued by the beginning (“The trouble started the day Howard came home from school to find the Goon sitting in the kitchen”). And then I was enchanted by the weird and lovely world I found myself in. Although I have come to love many of DWJ’s books, I do have a soft spot in my heart for Archer’s Goon because of this.
I noticed several of the threads I’ve been pulling out in other DWJ books showing up here as well. Howard’s family–both of Howard’s families–have that sense of being both complicated and even at odds, while also being warm and ultimately loving. Obviously this doesn’t hold true for all of Howard’s original family, but even there, Hathaway and Torquil balance the others out to some extent.
Another check: intergalatic evil overlords. Actually, in this case, we don’t know exactly who or what the family is, aside from the fact that they have vast though not unlimited powers and don’t age in the same way as normal humans. Also in this case, DWJ shakes things up a little bit by adding in Howard/Venturus, Hathaway, and Torquil, who at least have some sense of responsibility to others and things they shouldn’t do.
And one of the big ones I’ve noticed through several books is the character, usually the main character, who is hidden from both others and even themselves. This thread is pretty central here, as Howard spends most of the book unaware that he is actually Venturus. He believes that he’s simply Howard Sykes, and yet underneath he’s also puzzling over the problem and when he discovers that he’s also Venturus, it doesn’t exactly come as a surprise.
On the other hand, common threads don’t mean that DWJ simply repeats stories–each has something new to add. In this case, one of the new threads is the sense of cyclical time. There’s a feeling that all of this has happened before, and may happen again. But more specifically, the main characters have spent the last 26 years caught in the town, trapped by Venturus. There’s also the fact that Hathaway is called Hathaway and lives in the past and has a daughter named Anne who marries a man named Will; they’re not actually Anne Hathaway and Will Shakespeare, but there are quite deliberate echoes.
If what I’ve said so far sounds a bit English essay-ish and intellectual, it’s because I found that while I really enjoyed reading this one (I have an especial soft spot for Awful), and while I still remember quite vividly reading it for the first time and reaching the twist and having this feeling of the world changing around me, it hasn’t ever really sunk in the way some of DWJ’s other books have. Howl’s Moving Castle, Fire and Hemlock, the Dalemark Quartet–those are all heart-books for me. Archer’s Goon is a smart and fun book that I’m happy to re-read when I think of it.
All the same, it is a book that I truly like and appreciate. I’m fond of Howard, and of the family interactions, and of Ginger Hind. I’m not very comfortable with the depiction of Shine, for several reasons. Nonetheless, between my nostalgia and the real strengths of the book, this is one I’ll certainly return to.
Book source: public library
Book information: 1984, Greenwillow; middle grade