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Archer's Goon by Dianna Wynne Jones

archer's goonAll power corrupts, but we need electricity.

At last, on my sixth try, I've read a Dianna Wynne Jones novel that isn't a love story. Is that why I didn't like it as much as the others? Not that I disliked it. It just didn't really capture my fancy, even as it kept me turning the pages to see what happened next.

It starts out feeling like a mundane story in which something decidedly odd pops up. The eponymous Goon, who is huge and apparently simple-minded, shows up at the Sykes household and gradually reveals that he's there on behalf of someone named Archer, who demands that Mr. Sykes write 2000 words for him. Nobody knows what this is about, and we're trying to figure out just what kind of person this weird Goon character is and why he is pestering a perfectly normal middle class family. Slowly we discover that we are in a fantasy novel, and magic begins to exert itself on and in the characters. Even more slowly we discover that some of the characters aren't what they at first seem to be, and we are deep in a conflict between seven magical siblings who want to rule the world.

What works here, as in all of the DWJ books I've read, is the very organic sense of magic and the fantastic that she has. The magic siblings are said to "farm" various aspects of the world -- transport, power, sewers -- and this very odd use of the word "farm" gives a tantalizing feel for a unique approach to how magic is wielded. Jones ties magic to writing, and makes the conceit fresh and funny. Once again she gives us a large cast of well-delineated characters who clash and collaborate, cower and charge and change their minds. The problems of the adolescent protagonist, Howard, are a mixture of the commonplace (bullies, violin practice) and the bizarre, and Jones' sympathy for the trials of growing up are a strong anchor for the more fantastical issues that arise. Her sense of humor and snappy dialogue are as good as ever.

In fact, I'm not quite sure why Archer's Goon felt slight to me. It could be because it's pitched more to the comedy end of the story spectrum, and it just doesn't feel as serious as even something like Howl's Moving Castle, where Sophie's vulnerability and separation from her family is constantly an issue. Archer's Goon has no real sense of danger, perhaps. It felt as though it were aimed at a younger reader than the other ones I've read.

cpt_buggernuts says BBC did an adaptation of this for TV back in the '80s. That would be fun to see, although she went on to say, "given it probably had a budget of about forty pence I can't imagine that it'll have aged well." Anybody else seen it?


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 22nd, 2013 02:47 pm (UTC)
It turns out it's all on youtube!


I haven't rewatched any of it yet, so can't say whether it's dated as horribly as I feared.
May. 22nd, 2013 03:16 pm (UTC)
Cool! Thanks for the pointer. I've seen a few comments around the intertubes expressing fond regards for the show. Apparently DWJ was consulted during the production, and she thought it ended up being pretty close to the book.
May. 23rd, 2013 03:25 pm (UTC)
Watched a couple of these last night. Both of them cut off a couple of minutes before the end, which was frustrating. Other than that, they did seem very true to the books, and in the second episode we start to see some of the fantastical stuff (e.g., Archer's machinery), which was pretty well done.
Jun. 1st, 2013 10:56 am (UTC)
Watched all but the fifth episode of this (that one appears to be broken) after downloading it from YouTube and I have to say I quite enjoyed it. It perhaps helped that I'd not read the book and so had nothing to compare it to. I still thought the acting was pretty decent and what effects were used seemed decent enough.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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