Thursday, 19 February 2015

Chapter-by-Chapter: The Slippery Slope, Chapter 12

The last chapter of The Slippery Slope ended with Violet, Klaus and Quigley digging a pit in order to trap Esme Squalor in the hopes of being able to come up with some sort of prisoner exchange agreement with Count Olaf. In Chapter Twelve we’re going to find out how well that works out for them.

What Happens?

Esme spots the green smoke at the bottom of the waterfall and decides she’s going to go get herself some cigarettes. She toboggans down the waterfall but as she reaches the bottom the kids decide that they can’t let her fall into the pit. So they come out wearing masks and tell Esme that they’ve not gotten rid of all of the volunteers in the area, then they climb back up to Mount Fraught with her. Back up there they demand that Olaf hands over Sunny but he doesn’t see why he should do that, until Violet tells him something that she knows he wants.

Thoughts as I read:

Chapter Twelve’s image features a woman, who I’m going to assume is Esme Squalor, wearing a super puffy and frilly dress. It’s covered in a flame pattern, which is another clue to the fact that this woman is Esme. I’m guessing she’s getting all ready for the False Spring celebration.

In this chapter Snicket explains about the origin of the phrase ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ and goes on to explain that ‘Mount Fraught Syndrome’ is the opposite of this. Rather than growing closer and closer to her captors, Sunny is coming to hate them more and more. And who can blame her? They’ve got her sleeping in a casserole dish at the top of a freezing cold mountain. She’s not managed to get any more information by eavesdropping either since everyone seems to be on to her as whenever she gets close to them, they change the subject. She does at least manage to make the false spring rolls which are quite a hit.

One of the things that Sunny found in the boot of Olaf’s car was a large eggplant and she did not use this in the meal. Instead she hid it but as she rolled it past the car the white-faced women caught her. In response to the question of what she was up to Sunny says ‘Aubergine’ which is translated as ‘I’ve concocted a plan involving this eggplant, and it doesn’t matter if I tell you about it because you never understand a single word I say.’

Then Olaf appears with Esme and they’re all dressed in their finery. Olaf’s got a new suit decorated with eyes like on his tattoo and Esme’s is covered in red, yellow and orange triangular shapes like flames, with black lace at the top like smoke. Olaf is so excited that he can’t contain himself and announces that he can’t wait to see ‘the Hotel Denouement in flames’. This must be the last safe place that they’re planning to burn down!

Esme also mentions the fact that there will be lots of eagles in the sky but is distracted by her craving for a cigarette. One of the white-faced ladies points out green smoke coming from the bottom of the waterfall. Esme really wants to go down and get herself some more green cigarettes but Olaf suggests that he send Sunny down to get them. Sunny eagerly agrees with this proposition but Esme doesn’t trust her.

Esme’s got a plan anyway, she’ll sled down the waterfall and it’ll hardly take her any time at all. Sunny’s response, ‘Drat!’ really says it all, but we still get a translation anyway ‘That is exactly what I was planning on doing.’ So Sunny is sent to her casserole dish to prevent her from seeing any of Olaf’s preparations while Esme hops on the toboggan and heads down the waterfall. I’m not too sure how she was planning on getting back up again though.

Down at the bottom of the waterfall Violet has spotted Esme on her way down. So the plan is in action now and the three children get into position ready for Esme’s arrival. They’re still not feeling very happy about what they’re going to do. I don’t think that’s a good way to go into a plot to capture someone, if they’re not happy doing it then it might not work so well.

While they’re huddling behind the archway Klaus notices a phrase under ‘V.F.D. Library’, it says ‘The world is quiet here’. Violet feels like it’s familiar to her somehow, but she can’t think just what it is. It is quiet there, they’ve realised. The smoke has scared away the snow gnats and without the snow gnats, Quigley points out that the salmon will starve, since that’s what they eat. And this will have a knock on effect as this will mean that the Mortmain Mountain eagles will not have anything to eat. This reminds me of the food chains we used to draw up in biology at school. Basically if you alter one link in the chain, all the other links will suffer.

While Quigley and Klaus are discussing the finer nuances of food chains, Violet is still trying to work out just what it is about ‘the world is quiet here’. She thinks she is remembering it from before Klaus was born, when her parents might have sung them to her. And then she realises that what they’re doing may be a mistake.

“I know we agreed,” Violet said, “but if V.F.D. really stands for Volunteer Fire Department, then they’re an organization that stops fire. If everyone fought fire with fire, the entire world would go up in smoke.”

Quigley’s still all for trapping Esme while Klaus gets a little more philosophical. Eventually he says that they’ve built an abyss and that’s something monstrous. So now they’re having a dilemma, if they’re not going ahead with the plan then they need to some up with an alternative and quick.

And at that moment, Esme arrives at the bottom of the waterfall and heads towards the the Verdant Flammable Devices. Violet makes her decision and, grabbing a mask, steps forward to warn Esme that she’s about to walk into a trap. When Esme asks who she is, Violet responds that she’s a volunteer, which comes as a bit of a surprise to Esme considering that there should be any more of them left here.

Next up Klaus grabs a mask and reveals himself, telling Esme that the volunteers don’t need their headquarters to survive. He’s not lying either, because the next generation of volunteers seem to be stepping up to fight the battle against evil. Esme’s not deterred either and she steps forward to threaten the children, but Quigley follows the Baudelaires’ lead and grabs a mask to face her as well. He warns her that if she gets any closer she’ll fall into the trap, which hopefully means that if she does fall in, they can’t feel too bad because they’ve done everything they can to warn her.

Esme doesn’t fall in though. She does uncover the trap and actually congratulates them on it. This pretty much proves that digging a trap is obviously an evil thing to do, considering how much she approves of it. The children go right on to explain that they planned to trade her for Sunny. This prompts a debate about the ‘greater good’ and ‘villainous treachery’.

After slinging some insults back and forth for a moment. Violet announces that she intends to get Sunny back by talking to Olaf. It’s a little bit outlandish really, personally I can’t see that tactic working very well. No one really knows what Violet is planning, least of all Violet, but she’s planning on the climb up to the peak giving her some time to figure out what they’ll do when they get there.

Esme reveals that she hasn’t figured out how to get back up to the top of the mountain. Really didn’t think that through very well, did you genius? She actually asks the children, who she keeps calling idiots, how they’ll get back up to the top. Quigley says that Violet will invent a way. He hasn’t said her name, but by saying that he might as well have just hung a sign around he neck that says ‘THIS IS VIOLET BAUDELAIRE’ but obviously Esme is pretty self-centred so I don’t think she’s capable of putting two and two together.

Violet’s figured out that they can use the fork method to climb the waterfall again, towing Esme on the toboggan behind them. It’s not an easy climb and it’s not helped by Esme helpfully calling out ‘Mush!’ to make them go faster. I’d be inclined to cut the rope and let her figure out her own way up there.

As the children climb Snicket speculates about all the things that the children will never experience in the V.F.D. headquarters. They had all sorts of things in there, like an ice cream shop! We also learn about the origin of the pickle in the fridge from the last chapter:

The Baudelaires would never do any of these things, any more than I will ever see my beloved Beatrice again, or retrieve my pickle from the refrigerator in which I left it, and return it to its rightful place in an important coded sandwich.

I’m glad that we’ve solved one mystery at least.

Meanwhile the children are still trying to figure out what they’ll do at the top. Quigley suggests that they could tell Olaf he’s surrounded but Violet points out that it’s unlikely to work because Olaf would be able to see all around so would know he wasn’t really surrounded.

And soon they reach the top and find Olaf is waiting at the top with his two mysterious friends. At first they think that these are some of the people they’re expecting so Esme has to break it to them that they missed a couple of volunteers. This shuts them up for a minute and so the children try to get what they came from. They just demand Sunny Baudelaire.

Olaf asks a very pertinent question:

“And what makes you so certain,” he said, “that I’ll give you my prisoner just because you say so?”

Violet thinks for a minute and you know that Olaf thinks he’s won. Then she says something that he doesn’t expect to hear, that they know where the sugar bowl is.

Except I don’t think that she really does.

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