Archer's Goon

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Archer's Goon
Cover of Archer's Goon.jpg
First edition
Author Diana Wynne Jones
Cover artist Dave Eastbury
Country Great Britain
Language English
Genre Children's Fantasy novel
Publisher Methuen
Publication date
1984
Media type Print
Pages 241
ISBN 0-416-49260-6

Archer's Goon is a 1984 fantasy novel by Diana Wynne Jones both for the young adult and adult markets. It was nominated for the 1985 World Fantasy Award for Best Novel and is listed as an ALA Notable Children's Book, an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, and a Boston Globe-Horn Book Award Honor Book.

Plot summary[edit]

Thirteen-year-old Howard Sykes lives in an English town with his parents, Quentin, an author and professor, and Catriona, a music teacher; his sister Anthea, always called "Awful" because of her constant screaming; and Fifi, the family's au pair. Their life is interrupted one afternoon when an unnamed huge person, "somebody's Goon" as Fifi describes him, comes into their home and announces that he has come to collect the two thousand words that Quentin owes somebody called Archer.

It transpires that thirteen years ago Quentin undertook to write two thousand words of nonsense quarterly and give them to Mountjoy, a town official. In return he was promised an exemption from city taxes. The Goon says that the latest two thousand didn't get to Archer. Quentin irritably writes a replacement set and gives them to the Goon, who goes away—but the next afternoon, he is back, as they were a repeat of what had been done previously, and the agreement specified that they must not be a copy or paraphrase of anything he had done before.

The Goon takes Howard to see Mountjoy, who reveals that the town is secretly run by seven wizard siblings: Archer, Shine, Dillian, Hathaway, Torquil, Erskine, and Venturus. Each one "farms" (i.e., collects a portion of taxes from) some aspects of the town's life and industry (for list, see below). Mountjoy has instructions from an unknown superior to post the words, but does not know who the actual recipient is.

Mountjoy's revelation starts the Sykes family on a quest for the sibling who is the actual user of Quentin’s words. The Goon takes the family to meet Archer, who believes that Quentin's words are restricting him and his siblings from leaving town. His aim is to acquire a sample of the writing so that he can figure out how to lift the restriction, in order to take over the world. On learning of Archers ambitions, Quentin becomes convinced that the restrictions are a thoroughly good thing, and stubbornly refuses to write them any more.

Other siblings, like Archer, also want to acquire samples of Quentin’s words for the same purpose and they all start putting pressure on the Sykes family. Gas and electricity is cut off, the shops are closed to them, their bank accounts are frozen, and all of Catriona's musical instruments play themselves, full blast, as does the radio and TV. Torquil, who farms music and therefore is Catriona's effective boss, threatens that she would lose her job if she does not get Quentin to write him two thousand words; Fifi, who is in love with Archer, attempts to get the words for him; Shine sends a group of boys known as Hind's Gang, led by one Ginger Hind, to follow Howard and Awful and briefly kidnaps the two to use them as leverage, though the Goon and Torquil quickly come to the rescue. Hathaway (roads and transport, archives and records) sends a messenger to collect the words, but Quentin locks up his typewriter and tells the messenger to have Hathaway write the words himself; the street outside the Sykes house is subsequently dug up and re-paved over and over again as a form of punishment.

When Quentin receives a letter from the town demanding payment of a huge amount in back taxes, Howard and Awful decide that they have to seek help from Hathaway, who lives 400 years in the past. The children visit him in his Elizabethan household by going through a white door at the back of the museum. Hathaway proves to be very reasonable, stops the street digging, and promises to help about the taxes. He also tells Howard that Catriona and Quentin found him (Howard) as an infant and adopted him, which proves only to add more to the boy's troubles.

With Hathaway out of the running, Erskine is the next most likely candidate as the "user of the words". The Goon takes Quentin and the two children through the sewers to the Erskine's sewage installation outside the city limits. It would have been only a short walk above ground, and when asked why he took them through the sewers, the Goon admits that he can only leave the town through the sewer or by rubbish truck. Quentin realizes the Goon is, in fact, Erskine.

Erskine has the three locked up as a way of exerting even more pressure on Quentin, but they manage to escape with the help of the aforementioned Ginger Hind, who insists that he needs Howard's help to be free from Shine. Howard now must find the seventh brother, Venturus, who lives in the future. Howard identifies Venturus's hiding place by going to a half constructed building, i.e., to a place that will exist in the future. As he runs from Erskine's men, he frantically wishes to Hathaway to send him a bus, and lo - one appears. He asks Archer for money for the fare, Shine to cause a distraction, and Dillian for a police car to stop Shine's "distraction", which goes a little over the top; all of these things miraculously appear and Howard makes it to Venturus's hideout.

As he climbs up the stairs of the half-finished building, Howard discovers that each step ages him. On a mirror is scrawled the foreboding message, "THIS IS THE SECOND TIME". Howard eventually realizes that he himself is Venturus, who has been building a fantastic spaceship inside his home in the future. Venturus had twice, to get himself out of design problems with his spaceship, sent the whole town back thirteen years through time, accidentally transforming himself into a small child in the process. That small child was adopted (twice) by Quentin and Catriona, who named him Howard. The six siblings could not leave the town all that time not because of Quentin's words, but because their parents laid it on them to protect Venturus, and as long as Venturus–Howard was too young to realize his magical powers, they had to be close by to protect him.

Torquil, Hathaway, Erskine, and Venturus, who understand that civilization would likely crumble if one of the seven gained ultimate control, evolve a plan to send the other three (Archer, Shine, and Dillian) off to deep space in Venturus's newly constructed spaceship. They do this by convincing each of the three that the rest had plotted against each other and would put their final plan into action that night in Venturus's spaceship. They all board the ship, which Howard–Venturus has programmed for a one-way trip to Alpha Centauri, and it takes off. The remaining siblings have no plans to rule the world – but Howard, now Venturus, still worries about what Erskine and Awful may get up to in the future. He decides he will stay with the Sykes family so he can help keep Awful in check and Erskine decides to travel the world, making for a pleasant ending.

The siblings and their domains[edit]

  • Archer: Money, power (electricity and gas).
  • Shine: Crime, industry.
  • Dillian: Law and order, fire brigade (with Erskine)
  • Hathaway: Roads and transport, records and archives
  • Torquil: Music, sport, shops. Religion (never stated, but clear from context).
  • Erskine: Water and drains, fire brigade (with Dillian). Garbage (never stated, but clear from context).
  • Venturus: Housing, education.

All seven farm the taxes.

Reception[edit]

Weird Tales reviewer John Gregory Betancourt praised the novel as "a witty little urban fantasy [and] a delight to read."[1]

Writer Neil Gaiman has said that the novel is probably his "favourite children's book [he has] read as an adult."[2]

Television adaptation[edit]

In 1992, the book was adapted as a six-part TV series by the BBC. Of the experience, Diana Wynne Jones says:[3]

I was quite closely involved, actually, because the producer (Richard Callanan) was a very nice man and he wanted to get it as close to the book as possible. Both of us had to sit around the table and persuade the scriptwriter (Jenny McDade) to make it close to the book. When she started it couldn’t have been further from the book. It got closer and closer and closer and they got most of it in. They couldn’t get some of the stuff at the end in but they did a fairly good job - I think the scriptwriter actually didn’t enjoy herself at all. They asked me whether I’d like to write scripts but, so far, I haven’t found it appeals. It’s a very different way of thinking, of telling a story. I was talking to somebody who is, primarily, a scriptwriter but who’d also published his scripts as novels and he says he has to write the script first and then the novel from the script. I would have to do it the other way around, I think.

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ "reviews," Weird Tales, Spring 1988.
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ Interview with Diana Wynne Jones by Meredith MacArdle