Monday, 7 July 2014

Chapter-by-Chapter: The Reptile Room, Chapter 6

We’re sailing through this book now. By this time next week we’ll be right near the end.

What Happens?

Uncle Monty takes the children, and Stephano, to the cinema to see Zombies in the Snow. The children convene in Violet’s room to try and figure out what they can do about Olaf, unsuccessfully. Olaf comes to the door in the morning to take them to Peru, when the children point out that he won’t be going on the trip he invites them to go see Monty in the Reptile Room. When the children reach the Reptile Room, however, they get a shock; Monty is dead, apparently killed by a snake bite.

Thoughts as I read:

This chapter actually begins with a whole page dedicated to part of the picture which continues across the bottom of the next. Remember Zombies in the Snow got a mention before? Well this clearly an image from that film. It’s a bunch of footprints in snow which lead up to what is presumably a zombie walking through said snow. We know it’s a zombie because it looks kind of skeletal and it has a carrot for a nose. And it’s dressed for the weather in a long coat, scarf and a top hat. Quite smart for a member of the undead.

Bad circumstances have a way of ruining things that would otherwise be pleasant.

Which is evidently how the Baudelaires are feeling when they see the film Zombies in the Snow. They’ve spent a fair bit of time in the Reptile Room with Stephano/Olaf watching over them, knowing that there is nothing that they can do to solve the situation they’ve found themselves in. Then Stephano gets to go to the cinema with them and the car is too small for them all, so Sunny has to sit on Stephano’s lap.

Olaf is his usual unpleasant self. He sits in the middle of the row in the cinema and doesn’t share the popcorn. The bastard.

The description of the movie is interspersed with little details about how the children are feeling and what they’re thinking about. The children can’t think how Olaf/Stephano is actually going to make it onto the boat to Peru without a ticket. It’s like an extreme version of the standard repetition, each child thinking about their own particular worry about Stephano/Olaf; even little Sunny is trying to figure out exactly what is going on.

On the other hand the film sounds quite interesting. It’s set in an Alpine fishing village and the zombies manage to break through the barrier constructed to stop them. Eventually a milkmaid named Greta makes friends with the zombies and simply asks them to stop trying to eat them. Nobody thought of this sooner, presumably because when you’ve got the undead trying to eat your brains, you’re saying things like ‘Ahh! Run away! They’re trying to eat my brains!’ not ‘Can we please sit down and talk about this?” Anyway, Greta’s solution works, so they are all able to celebrate May Day together. So at least it has a happy ending, despite all the dead people.

The children are so distressed that they can’t bring themselves to talk to Monty about anything and head up to bed. This time the children decide to spend the night in the one room because at least that, if nothing else, will make them feel better. Klaus sums it up quite well when he likens being separated to being in a jail cell. His sisters agree, with Sunny contributing “Tikko” to the conversation.

They all decide to hang out in Violet’s room, which she doesn’t feel anywhere near as enthusiastic about anymore. Klaus observes that she’s not been working on her inventions and Klaus hasn’t been reading as much either. It’s all because of Olaf being back on the scene. I know that feeling, when I’m miserable I really struggle to read. Violet does point out that Klaus spent the whole night reading about nuptial law a little while ago and she invented a grappling hook, so sometimes Olaf does have his uses.

Luckily the children are together this time and so they decide to club together and try to figure out what’s going on and how to fix things. They establish that what they know is that Olaf wants the fortune and that once he has it he won’t need the children any more. Sunny says “Tadu” which means “It’s a loathsome situation in which we find ourselves.” Aww, poor Sunny.

Violet establishes that Olaf can’t be planning on killing them because then he couldn’t get the fortune. They decide that it’s unlikely that he’d try marrying Violet again, especially as he mentioned something involving an accident and going somewhere that they can’t trace crimes. But Monty tore up the ticket so he can’t be planning on doing something to them in Peru. Sunny says “Doog!” which is just a general cry of frustration. None of them can see what is coming here. I share Sunny’s frustration although mine is because I know what’s coming up and the children don’t and I just want to reach into the book and yell at them.

We get another little moment where Snicket breaks into the action to tell the reader that he recommends they close the book and stop reading now. He suggests that we might believe that the children figured out what was going on and Stephano was arrested, saving Monty’s life, and allowing them all (except Olaf) to live happily ever after. Alternatively we can pretend that the Baudelaire children’s parents were never killed in a fire and all this is a dream. I’m not going to do that though, then again, that’s what is for.

The children sit in the room, silently, all night until they’re woken by a knock that conjures up images of nails being hammered into a coffin. Olaf opens the door to collect the children to begin the journey to Peru and there’s only enough room for himself and the children in the jeep.

Once again the children point out that Olaf isn’t going to Peru since he doesn’t have a ticket anymore. But Olaf drops a bomb, it’s Monty who’s not going. When the children query this, Olaf tells them to go ask Monty what’s going on. He’s in the Reptile Room.

We get a fair amount of foreshadowing here “The hallway was strangely quiet, and blank as the eyes of a skull.” Then “Aside from a few creaks on the steps, the whole house was eerily quiet, as if it had been deserted for many years.” This is not going to end well.

The children open the door to the Reptile Room and it’s dark as the sun is just rising. They slowly walk through the room and we get another reminder about the nature of dramatic irony. “They remembered Uncle Monty’s promise: that if they took time to learn the facts, no harm would come to them here in the Reptile Room.” We’re building up to the big reveal now.

In the dark of the library end of the Reptile Room the children can see a ‘shadowy mass’ so Klaus turns on the light to see what it is, which might have been a sensible idea from the start rather than squinting around in the morning half-light.

Even someone who hasn’t read this book before can probably guess what that shape is going to be. It’s Uncle Monty of course. And he’s dead, mouth open, eyes wide, and just under one eye is a pair of fang marks.

Poor little Sunny. “Divo soom?” she asks and pulls at his clothes to wake him. But there’s no answer. And Snicket uses this moment to point out that Monty had been right; the Baudelaires haven’t been harmed in the Reptile Room. But he has. Physically harmed at least, I’m not so sure that they’ll be leaving this experience without a fair few extra emotional scars!

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