Monday, 8 September 2014

Chapter-by-Chapter: The Austere Academy, Chapter 1

Are you sitting comfortably? Good, because we’re about to begin the first chapter of The Austere Academy. I foresee the next three weeks being difficult ones in the typing department as, despite going to a school with Academy in the name, I seem to have a problem when it comes to typing it. I apologise in advance for any instances of ‘Acadmey’.

What Happens?

Mr Poe takes the Baudelaires to Prufrock Preparatory School; they are very nervous which isn’t helped by a girl named Carmelita Spats constantly bumping into them and calling them ‘cakesniffers’. The school looks less than inviting, in part due to the buildings being shaped like headstones. Mr Poe sends the children off to see Vice Principal Nero and leaves them at the school as Klaus figures out what the school’s motto is.

Thoughts as I read:

As usual we start the book with a dedication to Beatrice. This one says:

For Beatrice -
You will always be in my heart,
in my mind,
and in your grave.

I don’t know about you, but I think that’s my favourite ones so far.

Then we’ve got the first picture of the book. It features a girl who is either very tall or we’re look up at her from the ground. Judging by the ringlets I’m going to say she’s the girl from the front cover, she has the same stuck up look about her. Behind her is a massive archway with fancy columns (I remember studying different types of columns in art but I’m not about to hazard a guess as to what sort these are). The archway has the words ‘MEMENTO MORI’ which I’m guessing is the school motto, which is strange considering it basically means ‘remember you’re gonna die’. Not like that’s something the Baudelaires need to be reminded of. Speaking of the Baudelaires, there’s a bunch of children passing through the archway and the last one has glasses so I’m guessing that’s Klaus.

As we got a big picture on the previous page, we don’t get one on this one. Instead we get a description of a girl called Carmelita Spats who is the most unpleasant person in the world. She is decidedly unlike the Baudelaires who, by contrast would receive a medal for overcoming adversity. We then also get a recap of the events which led to them becoming the wards of Count Olaf. We’ve been over this before so I won’t repeat it now.

We’re reminded of all the awful thing that Olaf has done to the Baudelaires as well as the fact that this is a sad, depressing, etc. story that we’d be much better off putting down and finding something nicer to read. Once again I have to marvel at this approach because if someone tells me I shouldn’t do something, it makes me want to do it just that little bit more. What better way to hook me into a story?

Anyway, by page 4 the story is starting in earnest. Carmelita Spats is pushing the Baudelaires out of her way and calling them ‘cakesniffers’ which is a word we are going to be hearing a lot in the coming pages. Meanwhile the Baudelaires are watching a bunch of children who seem to be running around aimlessly on a lawn.

Shyness is a curious thing, because, like quicksand, it can strike people at any time, and also, like quicksand, it usually makes its victims look down.

Aw, poor Baudelaires. They’re having a mild attack of shyness at their first day of school at the Prufrock Preparatory School. I wonder if we’ll learn about the children’s education prior to their parents’ death. I’m guessing they were homeschooled personally.

Mr Poe is delivering the children to the school; doing a stellar job as usual in his role as executor of the Baudelaire parents’ affairs. It never seems to occur to him that the children might be feeling nervous about being handed over to live in yet another new place. We’re also, as is becoming customary with the opening chapters of these books, reminded of the favourite hobbies of each of the Baudelaire children. All together now: Violet’s the inventor, Klaus likes to read, Sunny bites stuff.

Klaus had known for all twelve of his years that his older sister found a hand on her shoulder comforting – as long as the hand was attached to an arm, of course.

Hehe, has there ever been an occasion for him to test this, I wonder.

Sunny speaks up here to say “Marimo!” meaning “I hope there are plenty of things to bite at school, because biting things is one of my favourite things to do!” Just in case you’d forgotten. I do have to wonder about the logic of sending a baby (who, for the record, is only slightly larger than a loaf of bread) to a boarding school. I wonder if that’s addressed here too.

Mr Poe, who has apparently been a big fan of the Harry Potter books and Enid Blyton’s works, knows that the children are quiet because they cannot contain their excitement at being sent away to boarding school. I’ll admit, I always harboured a bit of a desire to go to boarding school as a child. I blame Enid Blyton and J.K. Rowling! The children are evidently anxious about whether they will fit in and if they will be allowed to express their own unique identities, after all, they can’t leave at the end of the day.

We, and the Baudelaires, are advised that Mr Poe found it hard to get a school to take all three of them (especially considering one of them is a baby, I presume) and also lets them know that there’s an ‘advanced computer system’ which will kept Olaf away from them. The Vice Principal is called Nero which I realise should remind me of the Roman Emperor but it just reminds me of big black rat (before Wicket) called Nero, who was a lovely little guy.

Carmelita Spats appears again, once again calling the Baudelaires ‘cakesniffers’. Mr Poe is totally oblivious as usual as it puts him in mind of pastry. It’s funny how certain words have certain connotations. I could waffle on about concordance and stuff here, but I won’t, suffice to say that ‘cakesniffers’ sounds like a mean sort of word and I think it’s safe to assume that this is how she intends it.

You know how last week they had the Carbuncle Award for the worse building in Britain? Well, Prufrock Prep could’ve been entered into this. Snicket suggests that it was designed by a ‘depressed architect’. We get a full description of the buildings as well as the archway we saw at the beginning with its ‘Memento Mori’ motto. Oh, and the buildings conjure up images of headstones, because nothing says ‘quality place of learning’ like a school that looks like a graveyard.

Once again the Baudelaires are going to be left to their own devices as Mr Poe sends them off to see the Vice Principal on their own. Poe is a busy banking man and has important banking things to be getting on with away from them. Despite feeling horribly neglected and abandoned, the Baudelaires thank Mr Poe (or in Sunny’s case say “Terfunt”) and watch him go.

Klaus then has a go at translating the motto, after Violet helpfully points out that it doesn’t look like English (Sunny agrees with her “Racho” which makes me think of Sherlock Holmes with ‘Rache’ which also wasn’t English). Klaus explains that Memento Mori is Latin for ‘Remember you will die’ which impresses me because I knew that. Yay for random Latin knowledge!

Snicket reminds us that all of us are going to die, that people are dying even as we read this page (such a cheerful book) but also points out that this isn’t necessarily the sort of thing that children want to be hearing on their first day at a new school.

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