Monday, 18 August 2014

Chapter-by-Chapter: The Miserable Mill, Chapter 1

Here we are onto the fourth book in The Series of Unfortunate Events. As these ones haven’t been adapted into a film I’m hoping I won’t be too influenced by outside sources while I’m reading it. I don’t actually remember very much about this book, and even less about the later ones.

What Happens?

Mr Poe takes the children to Paltryville by train to meet their latest guardian, a man whose name is utterly unpronounceable. The children are dropped off at the station and told to head for Lucky Smells Lumbermill, Mr Poe is not coming with them. The town is as to be expected but when they come to the Lumbermill they notice that one of the buildings in town looks eerily familiar and can’t help but wonder if this is some strange coincidence…

Thoughts as I read:

Another book, another funky dedication:

To Beatrice -
My love flew like a butterfly
Until death swooped down like a bat
As the poet Emma Montana McElroy said:
“That’s the end of that.”

Such a touching sentiment. And out of curiosity I googled Emma Montana McElroy, apparently she was an eight-year-old girl who won a competition to be featured in a SoUE book. I can’t find much information to back that up, but it’s a nice idea.

In the opening picture of the book it appears that the children are travelling by train to their latest place of residence. They look pretty miserable, as is to be expected really. Violet and Klaus sit side-by-side, he’s cleaning his glasses and she’s looking out the window with Sunny on her lap. All they can see out the window are trees. They’re being escorted by Mr Poe who we can barely see, but we know it’s him because we can see a handkerchief and the Finance page of a paper. And that’s about all I can say about this picture really.

And once again we get a quick reminder of the sort of books these are:

Sometime during your life – in fact, very soon – you may find yourself reading a book, and you may notice that a book’s first sentence can often tell you what sort of story your book contains.

Couldn’t help but immediately find myself reminded of the opening of The Hobbit. Snicket gives a couple of sample book openings which are as far removed from this book as The Hobbit is. Despite the book technically already having begun with the above sentence, Snicket starts over with:

The Baudelaire orphans looked out the grimy window of the train and gazed at the gloomy blackness of the Finite Forest, wondering if their lives would ever get any better.

I don’t even think you need to read any more of this book to know that the answer will almost certainly be NO!

Because with any series you’re going to get that one person who decides that the best place to begin the series, regardless of how clearly the book numbers are marked upon the spine, is with the fourth one we have to have a quick recap of what has happened so far. For those of you who haven’t been paying attention for the last few weeks, the Baudelaires lost their parents in a very unfortunate fire and since then things have gone from bad to worse. And that’s not about to change any time soon.

The latest Baudelaire guardian lives in a place named Paltryville which sounds about as pleasant as Lachrymose Lake. The train tracks, as we saw in the picture a few pages back, are surrounded by tall bare trees with very few branches. This sets off Violet’s inventive mind as she tries to come up with a way to climb trees even when there are no branches, Klaus is wondering if the mosses on the forest floor are edible, while Sunny is, as usual, wondering if there is anything available to bite.

Mr Poe, true to form, thinks the forest looks really nice. He’s always a bit blind to things that are right in front of his nose otherwise he might have been a little bit quicker to recognise Count Olaf each time he showed up in another ridiculous disguise. Mr Poe is a pretty useless executor for the Baudelaires and he’s basically warning them not to cause any more trouble (because it’s obviously their fault that Olaf keeps showing up and trying to abduct/kill/generally harm them) because he’s not Vice President in Charge of Coins and doesn’t have time to be running around after them. This is their last chance, otherwise it’ll be boarding school! Anyone seen the next title in the series? Yup, we know how this will end then don’t we.

When Klaus asks the name of their latest guardian Mr Poe makes a quick attempt at the name “His name is Mr. Wuz – Mr. Qui” before giving up because it’s ‘long and complicated’. He’s so good at preparing these children for all these new and scary situations that they are experiencing. They’re staying with some random person and he can’t even tell them who it is. Wonderful!

To add insult to injury, when Klaus suggests letting him look at the name to figure it out Mr Poe refuses, telling him it’s too difficult for a children. Sunny shrieks “Ghand!” meaning “But Klaus reads many complicated books!” to no avail.

Remember how Mr Poe all but abandoned the children with Aunt Josephine. Well, this time he’s trying to get even less involved. The train to Paltryville only stops once a day so he’s not even taking the children to their new guardian. They’re to walk to the Lucky Smells Lumbermill by themselves to meet this guy with an unpronounceable name.

Mr Poe makes another attempt at the name “Mr. Bek – Mr Duy” and later “Mr. Sho – Mr. Gek” I have no idea what this surname could be unless it’s also written in an unintelligible scrawl or Mr Poe can’t really read. He then tries to reassure the children that Count Olaf is not going to find them. He’s passed along a description of Olaf and his host of associated. To remind up of these he runs through them as well, because it’s been a couple of books since we’ve seen some of them; there’s a bald guy with a long nose, two women with white faces, a hook-handed man, and a large person who may be either a man or a woman.

Sunny’s response to Mr Poe’s assurance that they can always contact him at the bank is pretty accurate, “Casca” meaning “That’s not very reassuring.” How many times has he told them that before and how many times has he actually been any help? They’d be better off flashing semaphore signs at the moon for all the good he’s done them.

Within a few minutes the kids are kicked off the train and it’s off, leaving them alone in Paltryville. We’re now told about how people use guidebooks to learn more about the places where they visit. Paltryville is not one of those places. None of the shops have windows, there’s a post office with a shoe hanging from the flag pole. There are no trees, just piles of newspapers. And a tall wall with Lucky Smells Lumbermill on it, with a gate to enter. It sounds like a really nice place.

And the sign that says Lucky Smells Lumbermill is made of the most disgusting thing imaginable; chewing gum. Lovely. That basically means that other people’s saliva is just smeared all over it. Ergh! Although it should be noted that Sunny has more than a passing interest in the shapes of the toothmarks in the gum.

There is one other building that Klaus notices, one which shakes the children more than a little. None of the children really believe themselves as they suggest it’s a coincidence (or in Sunny’s case “Varni”). It’s an oval shape and there’s a bunch of sticks on the top, it’s painted brown with different coloured circles within it in white, green and with black steps to the black door. In case it’s not clear from this description, it looks like a giant eye.

Oh, and that eye looks suspiciously like Count Olaf’s tattoo.

It’s bound to be a coincidence, right?

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