Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Chapter-by-Chapter: The Reptile Room, Chapter 7

Things have taken a definite turn for the worse for the Baudelaires since the last chapter!

What Happens?

Olaf suggests that Uncle Monty was bitten by a snake and then orders the children into the jeep so he can take them away to Peru. Luckily for the children Olaf crashes the jeep into Mr Poe's car on the way out of the grounds. They try to convince Mr Poe that Stephano is in fact Olaf, asking him to show him his ankle with its eye tattoo. When Stephano complies they discover that his ankle is completely bare.

Thoughts as I read:
This chapter is another one which begins with a long thin picture. It shows a big old fashioned boat with sails and what looks like William Shakespeare as the figurehead. This further complicates the question of just when this series is set. I do like these more detailed pictures though. I could look at them for ages trying to spot interesting things in them, like the seagull standing on the post in the foreground.

The children are disturbed by Stephano who appears at the doorway. The word 'brummagem' is defined here, which I'm glad about because I, like Klaus, did not know what it mean. For those who are interested it means 'fake'. We know that Stephano is fake because he's blatantly Olaf in disguise.

As distressing as this scene is, there's some wonderful description here. ''''You-'' Violet began to say, but her throat fluttered, as if the fact of Uncle Monty's death were food that tasted terrible.'' I don't think I need to say anything about this because it's just a perfect explanation.

Olaf plans to take the Baudelaires and run. He's obviously gone a few days without a drink because he wants to be the first passenger onboard the boat, so he can get a bottle of wine.

The children are clearly in shock. They're not really taking in anything that Olaf says. Klaus asks Olaf why he did it. Obviously Olaf isn't going to answer that question properly. He points out that Monty have a snake fang mark on his face, he was clearly bitten by a snake. He's in a room full of snakes and poisonous creatures, it should be obvious what happened.

Violet and Klaus desperately try to regain their control on the situation. Klaus wants to call the police but when he attempts to leave the room Olaf stops him. And Olaf knows exactly how to stop him, remember the massive mushroom knife? When he's done threatening Klaus, Olaf says ''Now, get in the damn jeep.'' This surprises me because it's a kids book and that's not the sort of thing you expect to hear in a children's book. The text kind of points this out.

Knowing what Olaf is capable of, the children follow Olaf's instructions and get into the car. Violet's sadly remembering the last conversation they had with Monty. It's a typical moment of regret. The last time they were with him they didn't really get to talk to one another and she can't even remember thanking him for taking them to see the film. It's a sad little moment and one which most people will recognise. I think everyone has them, wishing they could go back and do things a little differently, say things that were left unsaid.

Unfortunately for the Baudelaires the jeep starts up right away and he starts to drive them away from the happiest place they've been in since their parents died:

"It is a curious thing, the death of a loved one. We all know that our time in this world is limited, and that eventually all of us will end up underneath some sheet, never to wake up. And yet it is always a surprise when it happens to someone we know."

I also love the bit that follows this which describes this realisation as being like going upstairs and finding there's one less step than you're expecting. And that's exactly how the Baudelaires feel right now.

We then get almost a page of all of the questions that the children have running through their minds. They are probably all the same sorts of questions that the reader would have right now; what's going to happen to them? What will Olaf do to them? What about their money? Plus a few more.

Luckily for the Baudelaires this is the moment when Olaf crashes into another car. At this moment the suitcase on Violet's lap flies into the windscreen and breaks it. Despite being involved in a serious car accident, this is actually a lucky occurence for the Baudelaires.

We get more of what I would imagine is considered profanity to American readers, though for people in the UK it really isn't. ''Blasted furnaces of hell!'' from Olaf. I kept getting into trouble when I went to Atlanta at the age of twelve because of my use of the words 'damn' and 'hell' which were big no-nos.

The other person's car is just as badly damaged as the jeep and the driver is clambering out and coughing a lot. Remember Mr Poe was going to come back with the children's belongings? Aren't we glad to see him? Well no, not really, given his track record for helping the children when Olaf is around, but I suppose we can give him the benefit of the doubt.

Olaf threatens the children, presumably because he remembers Poe's past reputation just as well as we do. He has no intention of letting them get away from him and so assures them that they'll all be back in the car and on the boat in no time at all.

Violet is filled with confidence though and manages to escape from the car and attact Mr Poe's attention. I quite like the conversation that follows:
"It's all of us, and we're so grateful you ran into us like this."
"Well, I wouldn't say that," Mr Poe said. "This was clearly the other driver's fault. You ran into me."

Olaf isn't going to stand for that though. He assumes the character of Stephano again, there's that 'brummagem' word again, and apologises to the banker calling him 'Mr Foe'. Poe corrects him, but there is a case for saying that Mr Poe is an enemy of Olaf, therefore making him a Foe. Somehow I don't think it's relevent though so I'll try not to get too sidetracked.

Mr Poe wants to know why Stephano has the Baudelaires with him but before Klaus can explain, he's told off for interrupting. Seriously, the adults in these books really need to give the children a chance to speak now and again. They're all about the old addage of 'be seen and not heard' and it's really not working out too well for them.

Stephano identifies himself as Dr. Montgomery's former assistant but before Mr Poe has a chance to dwell on this we have a nice big picture to celebrate being more or less halfway through the book. This one takes up the whole of page 102 and shows Monty slumped over in the armchair. There's a big picture of a snake on the wall and one on the back of the chair as well. The chair is surrounded by bookcases and looks like quite a nice place to be if it wasn't for the dead body currently occupying it.

Mr Poe wants to know whether Stephano was fired. If only! So it all comes out that Monty is dead, apparently of a snakebite. And so the web of lies is spun; Olaf/Stephano was taking the children to town with him in search of a doctor, obviously they were too upset to be left home alone with a dead body.

Once again Klaus interrupts to contradict Olaf and is treated as though the shock has left him distressed and confused. It's a situation of 'be quiet while the adults are talking' and Klaus is forced into silence.

Olaf suggests that Mr Poe go on up to the house, while he takes the children to find a doctor. I love Sunny's response ''José!'' which apparently means ''No way!'' I think that's one of the first instances of what she says clearly being linked to a phrase or a name. I think we'll be seeing more examples of that from now on.

Luckily Mr Poe is a practical thinker and suggests that they might call a doctor from the house. So everyone has to trek back up to the house, though Klaus once again speaks up, this time refusing to get back in the car with Stephano/Olaf. Can't really blame him, can you?

Mr Poe's car won't start: "I'm afraid the engine is quite dead," Mr Poe called out.
"And before long," Stephano muttered to the children, "you will be too."

What follows is comical enough that it should've raised a flag for Mr Poe. It's so blindingly obvious that Stephano/Olaf doesn't want to let the children out of his sight, you'd think Mr Poe would be curious about why that is. In the back and forth it's established that Mr Poe's car is dead and there's no room for him in the jeep. Mr Poe needs to take the children's suitcases up to the house, though really you'd think those would be the least of their worries as they've been making do without them for a week now. Mr Poe suggests putting the luggage in the jeep and walking up to the house with the children, but Stephano is concerned about getting lost and so needs a Baudelaire with him to prevent anything happening. Mr Poe points out how ridiculous this is.

And so Violet points out that Stephano doesn't want the children to be alone with Poe. This is kind of a dangerous thing to say but unfortunately, rather than asking Violet he directs his question towards Olaf. Olaf is now calling Mr Poe 'Mr Toe'. Honestly? Would you really trust someone who can't get a three-letter name right?!

But Violet plows on anyway. She tells Poe that Stephano is actually Count Olaf and he's abducting them. At this point you might expect Mr Poe to seriously consider what the children are saying, to look at Stephano for what he really is, to question why he is so determined to get the children on their own and away from the house. But given Mr Poe's actions in the previous book you probably won't be surprised to see that he does none of those things.

Olaf as Stephano questions whether he looks like Olaf and Mr Poe, who is unable to see through this flimsy disguise, says that he doesn't because he has a beard and no eyebrows, entirely unlike Olaf who had no beard and one eyebrow. Violet, a child, points out how those things could've come about, namely that hair both grows and can be shaved off.

Then Klaus comes up with something that's a lot harder to change. The ankle tattoo. Remember the eye that kept watching us all the way through the first book? Well maybe it's about to come in useful here.

Deciding to humour the children, Mr Poe asks if he can reveal his ankle, mostly just to shut the Baudelaires up. To our surprise, Stephano/Olaf complies, even asking which ankle they wish to see. He then proceeds to lift his left trouser leg as everyone watches:

The pant leg went up, like a curtain rising to begin a play. But there was no tattoo of an eye to be seen. The Baudelaire orphans stared at a patch of smooth skin, as blank and pale as poor Uncle Monty's face.

Ooh, what a twist! Is it wrong that aside from thinking how apt it is that an actor raising his trouser leg is likened to theatre curtain is as a description in that line, the only other thing I can think of about that is the fact that Olaf evidently shaves his legs as well as his eyebrows. I think that makes him even weirder.

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