Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Chapter-by-Chapter: The Slippery Slope, Chapter 11

It’s time for the next chapter of The Slippery Slope, book ten of The Series of Unfortunate Events. We’re onto Chapter Eleven after having seen Violet and Sunny reunited before being separated as Sunny is determined to eavesdrop on Olaf and the gang to find out more about their sinister plans.

What Happens?

Back down at the bottom of the waterfall Quigley and Violet meet up with Klaus who has worked out what the message left in the fridge might say. It’s very complicated but it seems to say that there will be a meeting in the safe place, which may be at sea, on Thursday. With this in mind they have to work out how to rescue Sunny and the only idea occurring to them is a prisoner trade; Sunny for Esme. First they have to catch Esme and to do that they’re going to need a pit, a really big pit.

Thoughts as I read:

The chapter image is actually a selection of images dotted around all over the page. There’s a tea cup, some jars of jam, a jar of olives, some lemon juice, a pickle in a jar and some mustard. I don’t think that this is food that Olaf and the gang are expecting Sunny to prepare, so I’m going to guess that we’ll be rejoining Klaus, Violet and Quigley at headquarters and we’ll probably be paying a visit to the kitchen. I may be wrong though. We’ll just have to carry on reading to know for sure.

Snicket kicks off the chapter by explaining that pictures showing people having bright ideas are usually drawn to show a lightbulb over their heads and that this is a symbol, like the eye was once a symbol for fire prevention. The reason that this is mentioned is because Klaus is at the bottom of the waterfall, holding a flashlight above his head to light the way for Violet and Quigley, but it looks like he’s had an idea. He probably has if his Verbal Fridge Dialogue has been successful.

The first thing Violet tells her brother is that they found Sunny, but this then means they have to explain why they didn’t bring her back down with them. Klaus also has to be told that Sunny has grown up a lot recently. This makes me think of the way that babies grow up in The Sims. I imagine at some point toddler Sunny has stood up and wobbled a bit, then spun around while sparklies fall around her, and suddenly she’s a child. Now I want to play The Sims.

Violet also tells Klaus about the two people who burned down the headquarters, their recruitment plan and the large net, as well as Sunny’s eavesdropping plan. Now it’s Klaus’s turn to tell them what he’s learned. We get to see all the bits from the beginning of the chapter (the teacup is being used as a paperweight). Klaus reads a bit of text that he found about Verbal Fridge Dialogue:

“‘Verbal Fridge Dialogue,’” he read, “‘is an emergency communication system that avails itself of the more esoteric products in a refrigerator. Volunteers will know such a code is being used by the presence of very fr--’”

This, Klaus suspects, was going to say ‘very fresh dill’, which means that someone was leaving a message in the fridge at the ruined headquarters. It gets more complicated from here. The person the message is addressed to will find their initials as follows:

“The darkest of the jams of three
contains within the addressee.”

So they need to consider the jams that have been left in the fridge to see if the message is actually intended for them. I’m not sure how you would address a message to Violet, I can’t think of any types of jam beginning with the letter ‘V’.

Meanwhile the children are realising that they were kind of being trained for this moment all along, what with Isadora’s poetry classes, Quigley’s cartography classes, Violet’s inventing skills and Klaus’s researching skills. Perhaps their parents have been preparing them for this all along!

And then we learn how the jam thing works. The darkest jam that was in the fridge was boysenberry (which is also the funnest to say). Someone’s written ‘J’ and ‘S’ in the top of the jam with a knife. So the jam isn’t the initial letter, it’s written inside. That makes more sense. Obviously the message is intended for Jacques Snicket or someone else with the initials J.S.

The next bit of the information Klaus found says:

“‘If necessary, the dialogue uses a cured, fruit-based calendar for days of the week in order to announce a gathering. Sunday is represented by a lone—’ Here it’s cut off again, but I think that means that these olives are an encoded way of communicating which day of the week a gathering will take place, with Sunday being one olive, Monday being two, and so on.”

There was a single pickle in a jar though. I wonder if that will be explained how that fits into this code. Anyway, the children decide that the olives mean there will be a meeting on Thursday. Today is Friday so the gathering must be next week… or yesterday. The children are obviously going with Thursday.

The next bit of information Klaus gathered says:

“‘Any spice-based condiment,’” he read, “‘should have a coded label referring volunteers to encoded poems.’”

I’m going to guess that mustard is the ‘spice-based condiment’ in this scenario. Luckily Klaus remembers an obscure poem by Algernon Charles Swinburne and after giving the other two a brief poetry lesson he mentions that he found a scrap of that particular poem in the ruins of the library:

“That no life lives forever;
That dead men rise up never;
That even the weariest river
Winds somewhere safe to sea.”

This is rather convenient and also rather miserable. My interpretation of this is that neither of the Baudelaire parents are going to be found to be alive, and that the meeting place will be along the Stricken Stream (stricken/weary?) and will be out at sea. Remember the mention of the submarine earlier?

Klaus doesn’t know how the lemon juice or the pickle factor into this. I still think that the pickle could be the way of telling the days of the week, making it a Sunday instead of a Thursday. But I’m not with them and they don’t have any more clues to help them decipher it all. Then Violet notices something written on the paper with the poem: sugar bowl!

And that’s something that’s been mentioned several times recently; up on top of Mount Fraught, Jacques Snicket mentioned it to Quigley, even Snicket mentioned it at least once.

But it’s not really much help. They still have to hope that Sunny finds out where the safe place is and they need to figure out how to rescue Sunny. Klaus speculates about whether they could trade Sunny for something Olaf loves, but all they can think of at first is money and fire which aren’t really things they can trade. The only other thing that occurs to them is Esme Squalor, which complicates things somewhat as for this plan to work they would need to be holding Esme hostage.

This is a rather villainous thing to do of course which does make the children somewhat uncomfortable. Quigley suggests that they could use the Verdant Flammable Devices as a lure as Esme thinks they’re cigarettes. So Violet starts thinking about the sort of trap she could build for catching Esme. The simplest she can think of would be to dig a pit then cover it so that Esme wouldn’t see it until she was standing on it, at which point she would fall through.

It’s a bit of a sketchy plan though. They’d have to use their hands to dig it, to carry the dirt away (Klaus suggests the pitcher they took from the caravan), they’d also need to make sure they didn’t get trapped in their trap (Quigley suggests his rope). Violet’s torn. As far as plans go, it’s probably pretty viable, but that doesn’t necessarily make it right. All the same, Violet decides that as Olaf has captured Sunny, they might have to capture someone to get her back. Klaus suggests that they’ll have to ‘fight fire with fire’.

So, with that settled, they decide they’d better get on with digging their pit. It’s not going to be particularly pleasant, especially not when they have to listen to Esme falling into it, but it’s the only plan they have at the moment. But as they spend all night digging their pit it doesn’t make them feel any better and they can’t help but feel a bit villainous, which is definitely not a nice feeling.

Said things would get worse before they got better, didn’t I?

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