Monday, 23 February 2015

Chapter-by-Chapter: The Grim Grotto, Chapter 1

We’re all ready to begin the eleventh book in The Series of Unfortunate Events. We ended The Slippery Slope with young lovers Violet and Quigley being separated and the Baudelaire children drifting down the Stricken Stream to some new place. In this book we’ll find out exactly where they’re heading.


What Happens?

The Baudelaires are stuck on the toboggan as it travels down the Stricken Stream with no way of steering or stopping it. Just as they head into dangerous water and start to worry about falling off, a periscope appears and the toboggan bumps into the top of a submarine. They knock on the hatch and after correctly giving the password, they climb inside, where the person waiting knows who they are.

Thoughts as I read:

As it’s a new book we’re kicking off with another dedication to the deceased Beatrice:

For Beatrice -
Dead women tell no tales.
Sad men write them down.

I think that one really speaks for itself.

This book opens with an image from below the water. Up close is a fish but way above it were can see the bottom of the toboggan that the Baudelaires are riding on. Klaus is looking over the back of it. There’s not really much more that we can see in this picture, besides another fish in the background.

After a great deal of time examining oceans, investigating rainstorms, and staring very hard at several drinking fountains, the scientists of the world developed a theory regarding how water is distributed around our planet, which they have named “the water cycle.” The water cycle consists of three key phenomena – evaporation, precipitation, and collection – and all of them are equally boring.

I had to study the water cycle about three or four times at school, starting in primary then again and again over the years through secondary school, each time in greater detail. I think I could still draw the diagram showing the process.

This is really just Snicket’s way of explaining that it would be better to read something that will put you to sleep, rather than something that will upset you. The thing that will upset you in this scenario is the latest story in the continuing adventures of the Baudelaires.

For some reason this book feels the need to reintroduce the main characters again, just in case we forgot who they are. I like to think that anyone picking up this book has read the last ten books in the series, and if not they they deserve to be confused. But for the sake of clarity, Violet’s now nearly fifteen and likes to invent stuff, Klaus is the middle child who likes to research stuff, and Sunny is no longer a baby and was previously known for her sharp teeth but has recently branched out into developing her culinary skills. And all of them are stuck on a toboggan floating along the Stricken Stream trying to work out what they will do next.

Violet isn’t sure how to slow down the toboggan so Klaus helpfully tells her that it’s best if she doesn’t because if they fall into the water it’s so cold they might not survive. Sunny reminds him ‘Quigley’ to remind her brother that Quigley is still in the water and perhaps it’s best that they don’t remind Violet of the fact that it’s highly likely that her new boyfriend is going to drown or freeze to death.

They don’t know where Quigley was trying to tell them they would meet. Since they were all planning to head to the Hotel Denouement I would say that would be the place to go. Klaus checks his notes and says as much. It’s time to recap what they know about V.F.D. Answer: not so much, except that there is a very important sugar bowl somewhere in the world.

So the children turn back to musing about where the toboggan will take them. Klaus gives his sisters an impromptu lesson on the water cycle which Sunny responds to with ‘Tedium’. Fewer and fewer of Sunny’s phrases are being defined now that she’s not a baby any more and I think it’s fairly obvious how she feels about the water cycle. That said, when Violet mentions Olaf following them, Sunny’s next phrase ‘Esmelita’ does need a definition, it means ‘Along with Esme Squalor and Carmelita Spats.’

Their only real option at the moment is just to sit tight and see where the Stricken Stream takes them. Sunny’s not too keen on this idea (she says ‘Passive’) but there are few other options available to them at the moment. Eventually they head out into an open area and notice some scraps of newspaper blowing around them. Sunny says ‘Subjavik’ which means that from up here it’s hard to make out what they can see down below.

Basically what we’re looking at right now is the hinterlands, post-fire. And it’s only when Violet wonders who would have set a fire here that they realise who did it. They did. Sunny gently reminds her sister by saying ‘Caligari’. Remember the end of the book before last? Olaf handing Klaus a burning torch and told him to burn down the fortune teller’s tent. Well, it evidently spread. This obviously prompts another moral dilemma for Violet and even Sunny’s ‘Noblaym’ meaning ‘But it’s still not our fault’ doesn’t help things seem any better. They did it because Olaf told them to, but they still did it and it’s still wrong. Violet’s going to need an awful lot of counselling when all this is over to get past all this guilt she’s going to be carrying around.

At this point the toboggan starts to reach choppier waters. Violet’s still thinking of Quigley when Sunny tells her ‘Selphawa!’ which I’m fairly certain means ‘think of your self for once’ but which is translated as ‘We can’t think about Quigley now – we have to think about ourselves.’ They’re in danger of being thrown into the water, so out comes the hair ribbon and Violet starts pondering how they can steer the toboggan in the water.

It comes to her after a moment. They can use the runners! The only unfortunate bit of this plan is that they are attached to the bottom of the toboggan. Sunny’s reaction is ‘Imposiyakto?’ which means ‘How can we get to the bottom of the toboggan?’ Violet doesn’t reply to her with ‘I have to think of everything’ which I expect I would say if I was in her shoes. Instead she checks her pockets but establishes that the bread knife is long gone.

Then a metal eye appears out of the water with the V.F.D. insignia on it. Violet immediately identifies it as a periscope, so there must be a submarine somewhere close by, e.g. right below them. Sure enough the toboggan stops and there’s a hatch right next to them. After a moment’s debate about whether or not they should knock Sunny says ‘Taykashans!’ meaning ‘It’s our only chance to travel safely through these waters’ and leads the way in pounding on the hatch. She then yells ‘Shalom!’ while her siblings call ‘Hello!’

A voice from inside asks if they are ‘friend or foe?’ The insignia means there’s some doubt as to whether or not they are friend or foe, it might be an eye like on Olaf’s tattoo or it might be the volunteers’ logo. In the end it’s Sunny who casts the deciding vote. She says ‘Obvio!’ which sounds like a spell from Harry Potter but actually means ‘There’s only one answer that will get us into the submarine’ and goes with the ‘friend’ option.

This time the voice replies that they need the password. This is a little trickier for the children as they have no idea what it’s likely to be. Violet takes a guess though and says ‘The world is quiet here’ which proves to be exactly the password the person inside the submarine is looking for. The hatch opens.

Inside the voice says ‘Enter, Baudelaires’ and the children head inside. I have to wonder how it is that the person inside knows who they are.


We’ll find out tomorrow.

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