‘Peter’s Room’, Part Seven

Chapter Eleven: The Dispatch is Delivered

One last bit of Gondalling, in which they finally arrive in Angora. Again, the plot doesn’t make much sense. Jason goes straight to the King because “the matter is of deepest urgency”, but when they meet, Jason doesn’t say a word about the evil Regent’s plots. Instead, he has a nice meal, then when he leaves, Rupert hands over the forged document and claims that he escaped before the Gaaldines could torture him. Rupert goes back to join the other Guards and is horrified to realise they’re about to go and meet the Angoran King, so Rupert’s treachery will soon be revealed. He must quickly kill Jason and escape to Gaaldine, although he wonders whether he’ll be safe there.

This is the point where Ginty says “Let’s get up and act this properly”, suggesting that sometimes their Gondalling was sitting and talking, and sometimes they acted it out.

Rupert/Patrick goes to kill Jason/Lawrie, who is shocked at Rupert’s betrayal but tells Rupert to “shoot me quickly and make your getaway” (in a way that Lawrie would never do). But just as Rupert is about to fire, the others rush in, now aware of Rupert’s treachery. Jason says Rupert must be taken home and tried as a traitor, which means he will burn at the stake. Rupert urges the others to shoot him now, but Malise/Peter says he couldn’t do that, indicating his broken arm from the battle (and Peter actually has a broken collarbone now, so the Gondalling foretold that) and Nicholas/Nicola says Rupert/Patrick deserves to burn (for Rosina, the geese and not caring when she fell off Buster). Rupert announces he will shoot himself and the children break out of Gondalling to discuss this.

Peter says suicide is “too easy” and Nicola wonders how Rupert can do that if he’s Catholic. Ginty wants to save Rupert by sending him into exile “and we could all go into voluntary exile with him”. But Peter thinks Rupert deserves to burn for being a “coward and traitor”. Patrick loses his temper and points out that Malise Marlow, the Civil War ancestor who supported Charles, actually betrayed his own side when the Royalists were losing and showed the Parliamentarians how to get into the Royalist castle. And then Patrick’s Royalist ancestor, Anthony Merrick, was captured and shot.

“There was a moment’s violent silence, loud with old betrayals and antique feuds and ancient enmities. And then Nicola said, ‘Lumme, what a heel!’ and the long dead things went back to their own place. Peter, very pale, said nothing.”

Then Patrick raises an actual pistol to his head to shoot himself, Nicola is frightened to see he’s wearing his Rupert face and, “panic-stricken”, bashes his wrist with the actual sword she’s carrying. The pistol falls and discharges, shooting a hole in the window beside Lawrie’s head and nearly hitting Rowan, who’s outside in the spinney. Because of course, when Peter checked the old pistols were safe, he didn’t do it properly. Didn’t I say that Peter and guns should never be allowed in the same place? Everyone hastily re-arranges the scene so that when Rowan arrives, they all look completely innocent, the pistol having fallen off the wall accidentally (although Lawrie is “quietly bleeding to death into her trousers pocket”). Rowan is not convinced, but can’t prove anything and at least she takes all the guns away. I’m just remembering when Peter was carrying around a pistol earlier, in case they met the neighbourhood drunk, and he playfully held it to Nicola’s head – imagine if it had gone off then. He’s so irresponsible!

Nicola, thoroughly fed up, announces she’s leaving Gondal, despite Lawrie saying she can’t, they need her and it’s “four to one”:

“I don’t care if it’s a billion to a quarter,” said Nicola, discarding family democracy at the same time as she put on her macintosh. “I think the whole thing’s quite mad. And I think those Brontës of Gin’s must have been absolutely mental, still doing it when they were thirty, nearly!”

Then Peter, who never wants to hear the word ‘Malise’ again in his life, banishes the others from the Hide. He takes the Malise paper and farm journals and “stuffed the whole thing away at the very bottom, underneath everything”, which is exactly how Peter always responds to trauma. Then he ponders how everything in the Hide transmogrified itself:

“The sovereigns had become farthings: Malise had turned from hero to villain: even the holiday itself had changed from whatever he’d planned into this Gondal nonsense: whatever Mr. Tranter might say, it did look as if Ted Colthard’s grandfather had–well–you never knew–”

Yes, Peter, let’s put all the blame on the devil on the roof. It couldn’t possibly have gone wrong due to your own character flaws.

Then there’s a nice scene between Nicola and Rowan, in which Rowan is leaning on a gate, “Saying ‘Aarrh’ to the crops. It makes them grow,” and Nicola discusses her plans for the rest of the holidays:

“Then I think I’ll have elevenses and then I’ll get Buster and go for a ride. And tomorrow, if that’s all right with you, I’ll come up to the lambing pen.”

Good for you, Nicola. And I hope the rest of your holidays are much better than the first bit.

Lawrie blames everyone else, but she’ll be fine, Gondalling away by herself in her bedroom. Patrick and Ginty are the most upset by the abrupt end of Gondal. Ginty says, “You could sort of find out how people feel when things happen to them, couldn’t you?”, which is what fiction does and suggests Antonia Forest isn’t completely against Gondalling. And Patrick says:

“I wish we could have gone on long enough to find out [what Rupert decided] … once we really got going, what was happening to Rupert felt much more important than anything that was happening to me … we could have gone back to before all this happened and seen why Rupert got like this … Anyway, it was much more fun being Rupert than me.”

So Gondalling did seem to have a psychological benefit for Patrick – it allowed him to consider how other people thought and felt, which is not something he seems to have done before this. After all, the only real danger they faced from Gondalling was due to Peter’s irresponsible attitude to guns. A winter holiday of escapism is not going to cause much harm to most children.

Ginty and Patrick are very sad that “from now on ordinary everyday life will have to serve”, but I don’t have too much sympathy for them, because they both have youth, good health, good looks, lots of money, servants and their very own ponies. And the book concludes with Patrick suggesting, “Let’s get The Idiot and Catkin and go for a ride.”


I can absolutely see why Victoria University has chosen Peter’s Room as a set text for their children’s literature course. Apart from being an enjoyable read, there’s so much to explore within the text, especially about the role of fantasy and fiction in children’s (and adults’) lives.

My personal favourite bits were the discussion about the Brontës, the talk Rowan and Nicola had about careers, and the scene with Nicola, Buster and the fox. I found the Gondal bits fairly tedious. I can see why they had to be there, but did they have to be so badly written and clumsily plotted? Of course, the children were ‘writing’ those bits and wouldn’t be expected to be brilliant at it, but I wondered if the clumsy prose reflected Antonia Forest’s opinion of High Fantasy. Did she like Lord of the Rings and Narnia and those sorts of books? I’d guess not from this book. I also got the impression that despite her stern warning about the dangers of Gondalling, she’d had a fair bit of daydreaming experience herself. And after all, she lived inside the imaginary world of the Marlows for decades.

The next Marlow book is The Thuggery Affair. Oh dear. Perhaps it’s not as bad as it sounds…

‘Peter’s Room’ by Antonia Forest
‘Peter’s Room’, Part Two
‘Peter’s Room’, Part Three
‘Peter’s Room’, Part Four
‘Peter’s Room’, Part Five
‘Peter’s Room’, Part Six

12 thoughts on “‘Peter’s Room’, Part Seven”

  1. I don’t think Peter has the monopoly on being irresponsible with guns. Patrick held a gun to his own head and was about to pull the trigger. ‘Just think what a huha there’d have been’ says Nicola with a certain amount of understatement – I think the papers might have had a field day with ‘MP’s son kills himself while playing role-playing game’. Ginty would have got to play out her Patrick ‘dying in her arms’ fantasy, but she might not have liked it as much as she expected. Mind you, Patrick never seems very grateful about having his life saved.

    Family democracy went out the window when Ginty got a PONY for her birthday.

    As for Thuggery, you could actually skip it quite easily. Nothing in it impacts on the next book, at least not in the way that MATT provides psychological back-story for Peter’s Room. Thuggery is definitely a Marmite book, although there are bits of it that are rewarding.

    1. Yes, Patrick should have been more sensible – but he trusted Peter when Peter claimed to have checked the guns. And yes, considering it got into the newspapers immediately when they got stuck on the cliff, imagine if Patrick had shot himself! I wonder how sad Mrs Merrick would have been. She doesn’t seem to like him much…

      I am still annoyed about Ginty getting a pony for her birthday, whereas poor Nicola has to wear an out-of-date uniform to school and a horrible white net dress to the party. I don’t see why they couldn’t at least have dyed that dress a more flattering colour. That wouldn’t have cost much (or anything at all, if they used a natural dye).

      1. You’re being very forgiving of Patrick there… every code of gun safety starts with “Every gun is a loaded gun” and/or “Never point a gun at anything you aren’t prepared to shoot.”
        I wouldn’t recommend shooting someone with an old pistol and then telling the police “Well, it’s not my fault – that 14-year-old well known for behaving like an idiot *assured* me it wasn’t loaded” 🙂

        1. Yes, that’s true. Although now I think about it, is there any scene that shows Patrick handling a gun? Would it be routine for a boy of his age and social class, growing up in the country, to have his own gun and know about guns? Mind you, you don’t really need to have done a gun safety lesson to know not to point a gun at anyone’s head!

  2. I think Thuggery is worth reading for the good bits. The plot is a bit suspect and the Ted Talk can be annoying if you let it be, but I can ignore it. I’ve probably reread it less than the others, but do so occasionally.

  3. For the sake of completeness, I think you should read The Thuggery Affair (despite no Nicola). If you don’t want to risk paying for it, I can send you my spare copy 🙂

    Is a Marmite book an acquired taste?

    I’d forgotten about Peter playing with the pistol while with Nicola. Jeez, Peter, grow up. Don’t they teach them responsible weapons handling in the Navy? Though actually, considering he has shot and killed a Nazi recently, he should have a fair idea what guns can do. (Squash it down, Peter, deep in the secret box where your psychiatrist can unearth it in twenty years…)

    1. I’ll buy The Thuggery Affair if Girls Gone By publish a new edition, just for the sake of completeness – but thank you for your offer! I’m sure there are some interesting bits in it.

      I recently came across “Marmite” as adjective on a UK site, where they were discussing a particular feminist YouTuber. It means you’ll either love something or hate it, although it can also mean ‘acquired taste’ (see this Virtual Linguist definition).

  4. I wonder why Nicola doesn’t say something to Peter about the gun held to her head. AF often uses Nicola as a guide to the reader as to what we’re supposed to think about characters and happenings. No character within the books ever says to Peter – for goodness sake, put that gun down, don’t they teach you anything at Dartmouth?
    An original child reader might not have realised that Peter was being really silly – I’m sure I didn’t when I first read PR.
    But as a plot device the guns work as a metaphor for the dangers of Gondalling. If everyone had been sensible about guns they would have been in a locked cabinet in the house and couldn’t have played a part in the story, so maybe common sense is sacrificed for the needs of the story?

    1. Nicola hates admitting she’s feeling pain or fear, especially to the person causing it – for example, when Foley was twisting her arm in the lighthouse or Peter was fighting with her in the kitchen. If you’re a Marlow girl and want to retain some dignity, you can’t admit to any weakness at all. But yes, why didn’t Captain Marlow give Peter a stern talking-to after Peter shot Jael? Unless the adults never found out about that? After all, the children cover up Patrick’s near-fatal gun accident.

      I get the impression that Antonia Forest wasn’t much concerned about constructing logical, hole-free plots. She’s brilliant at psychological analysis, so I love the scenes that involve the children sitting around the library or kitchen or walking to the shops and just talking. She’s not so good at complex plot structures or weaving in real-life politics, which is why The Marlows and the Traitor had such enormous plot holes (I mean, Nazi spies in England in 1948?). I think ‘guns as a metaphor for the dangers of Gondalling’ fits into this. It doesn’t make much sense (Why are all those weapons in that shed anyway? Why would everyone on the farm, including the farm manager who’s been there for decades, have left all that stuff there, including farm journals, which presumably contain helpful information?) but it’s useful for conveying her message.

  5. Aww, that read-through went far too quickly; enjoyable as always though.
    I like Peter and Lawrie despite both of them being annoying at times – well bits of them anyway. I think Peter will be OK with a bit more growing up and perhaps time away from family and the pressures of elder siblings successes.
    I like The Thuggery Affair but perhaps less than some others, possibly because the latter part is so focuses on Patrick. But when I re-read, I read all the series even if I do jump about a bit.
    There’s a lot to like in Peter’s Room and it’s needed for the continuity and understanding of things in the school books yet to come.

    1. Thanks, Sue. Yes, I hope Peter eventually grows up. He is only fourteen in this book. Hopefully he’ll get out of the navy soon and work out what he wants to do, independently of his family (although maybe not independently, if his plan is to work at Trennels).

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