Friday, 27 March 2015

Chapter-by-Chapter: The Penultimate Peril, Chapter 8

Friday means a double dose of A Series of Unfortunate Events. Last chapter saw Violet, Klaus and Sunny puzzling over the information that they gathered while they were apart, before meeting a mysterious man who looked like Frank or Ernest but wasn’t either of them. Today we should find out just who he is.

What Happens?

The mysterious man introduces himself as Dewey Denouement. Dewey shows the Baudelaires where a massive collection of information gathered by volunteers has been stored. Then Jerome Squalor and Justice Strauss show up and there’s a happy reunion of sorts as the children are filled in on all the things we suspeced and now know to be true. Dewey reassures the children that with all the volunteers gathered together they will be able to stop Count Olaf once and for all. Except when they head back inside they find someone waiting for them.

Thoughts as I read:

The picture for this chapter is of a line of men marching along the bottom of the page. There’s seven of them and they are carrying pickaxes and shovels. I will resist my temptation to call them the seven dwarves. The first six are marching while the last one is just strolling along out of step with the others. One notable guy in the middle is wearing a top hat and tails. I have no idea who they are or where they are going.

On to the actual chapter itself. Snicket teaches us the meaning of the word ‘denouement’:

“Denouement” comes from the French, who use the word to describe the act of untying a knot, and it refers to the unraveling of a confusing or mysterious story, such as the lives of the Baudelaire orphans, or anyone else you know whose life is filled with unanswered questions. The denouement is the moment when all of the knots of a story are untied, and all the threads are unraveled, and everything is laid out clearly for the world to see. But the denouement should not be confused with the end of a story.

Obviously the denouement isn’t the end of the story, otherwise we wouldn’t have another book to read after this one!

And I think that those men marching across the bottom of the previous page might have been the seven dwarves after all, because Snicket illustrates his point by referring to the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (the denouement of that story being what we believe to be the end, because the real end occurs when Snow White is grievously injured in a horse riding accident). Perhaps this is telling us that the denouement of this story will happen in the second to last chapter, in which case we’ve still got about a hundred pages before we reach that point.

Meanwhile the Baudelaires have followed the mysterious man out of the hotel to the pond where they learn that he is Dewey Denouement who is the Quasimodo of the family, only without the deformities. He hides in the shadows and winds the clock. He knows a bit about V.F.D. as well, like the fact that at one time anyone could join, but it all ended just before he turned five when he and his brothers were taken.

Violet asks they were taken and Dewey tells them it was to the headquarters, well, he doesn’t but the children gather as much. That night Dewey’s parents died in a fire. Sounds like a familiar story. Apparently the schism has grown worse over the years which is how it’s reached the point we’re at now. The children ask why they weren’t taken and Dewey points out that they were; Olaf got them in his clutches and was very reluctant to hand them over to anyone else.

Klaus wants to know why no one told them anything, a very valid question, and is just told that this is how the world works. Dewey reminds us of the poem about the elephant and how if everyone only has little pieces of information (or elephants) they’ll never know or understand the bigger picture.

But on Thursday everything will change, everyone will gather together, share what they know and they’ll be able to identify all the volunteers and villains once and for all. It sounds like it’s going to be a massive disaster. Dewey’s been responsible for gathering information from all the ruined libraries we’ve come across in the book, and organising them into a massive library. The children can’t help but wonder where this is stored and Dewey explains it’s as big as the hotel.

Sunny figures it out, managing to speak in perfect mirror speak, she says ‘Aha!’ (only backwards) and points to the reflection of the hotel in the pond. There are underwater rooms in a mirror version of the hotel which are perfectly flame-proof (what with being underwater and all). Violet’s confused about why Dewey is telling the children this, but Dewey believes they should know considering all the information they’ve been able to gather. This means they probably know a lot more than many people at the hotel, and considering we know what they know, I don’t think that’s very much!

Dewey’s busy complimenting all of their assorted talents because he’ll need people who can invent and research and cook after Thursday. Sunny’s pleased with this and says ‘Efcharisto’. So we learn that Hal is ‘sort of’ a volunteer, Charles has been looking for the Baudelaires and wants to help them as well, so people do care about them, despite it seeming otherwise at times.

Klaus mentions the fact that they were responsible for destroying Madame Lulu’s archival library but Dewey tells him they are ‘noble enough’ and ‘That’s all we can ask for in this world’. The little group stands together crying while Snicket goes off for a page about how wrong Dewey was with this statement, giving examples of all the things that we might ask for and how this is probably one of those things we’re not likely to get if we ask for it.

At this moment a taxi shows up with two people in it. Two people who recognise the Baudelaires, it’s Justice Strauss and Jerome Squalor, which prompts Sunny to point out ‘J.S.!’ which makes me feel silly for not making the connection to anyone we’ve seen before. These two have been looking for the children ever since they parted company and have been following messages which they both thought were intended for themselves, so perhaps this means that they weren’t intended for either of them. This will complicate things if there’s another J.S. around here somewhere!

“I was inspired by my wife,” Jerome confessed, removing his Vision Furthering Device. “Wherever I looked for you, Baudelaires, I found selfish plots to steal your fortune. I read books on injustice in all the libraries you left behind and eventually wrote a book myself. Odious Lusting After Finance chronicles the history of greedy villains, treacherous girlfriends, bungling bankers, and all the other people responsible for injustice.”

Odious Lusting After Finance = O.L.A.F. Subtle.

There’s a little round of back patting as they all tell each other how noble the other one is because the adults tell the children they’re not as noble as them, which prompts that phrase again: ‘noble enough’. Even though the adults let them down in the past, well, I wouldn’t say Justice Strauss did but Jerome certainly did.

When the Baudelaires thought about the harm that each J.S. had done to them, it was as if they had gotten a bruise quite some time ago, one that had mostly faded but that still hurt when they touched it, and when they touched this bruise it made them want to stomp off in a huff.

I have a bruise on my leg at the moment and I have no idea where it came from. I only discovered it the other day when I prodded it wondering what the greenish mark was on my leg. I didn’t stomp off in a huff but I was annoyed at myself for poking something that was that sore!

Basically the Baudelaires don’t stomp off, they have a hug and forgive everyone and it’s all very touching but Dewey points out that there are things which must be done now. Jerome and Justice Strauss have been looking out for crows but it’s too dark to see anything. These are the crows which are carrying the sugar bowl which will be shot down by enemies so that the sugar bowl goes into the funnel leading to the laundry room. Do try to keep up!

It was Dewey who gave Sunny the Vernacularly Fastened Door device, that means Violet must have encountered Ernest and Klaus met Frank (Frank was the good one, wasn’t he? or are they both bad? I’m still confused).

“You know about all the villainous people who are lurking in the hotel?” Klaus said, equally incredulously.“Yes,” Justice Strauss said. “We observed rings on all the wooden furniture, from people refusing to use coasters. Obviously there are many villains staying the hotel.”

It’s barbaric!

They even already know about the Medusoid Mycelium. Violet feels like they’re not needed after all. There’s a bit more about the plan there as well because only Dewey knows how to unlock the Vernacularly Fastened Door (which if my understanding of these tropes has taught me anything means that Dewey won’t make it to the end of this book alive) and once all the villains are gathered in one place they’ll be able to prosecute Olaf and his cohorts. That’s part of the reason for the volunteers gathering like this, the Baudelaires will be safe from Olaf once and for all.

So not going to happen!

The clock agrees with me because at this moment it chimes one o’clock. Wrong!

The adults are all confident that this is going to solve everything, but as Snicket says, the Baudelaires weren’t born yesterday:

Neither were you, unless of course I am wrong, in which case welcome to the world, little baby, and congratulations on learning to read so early in life.

They know that it’s not going to be as simple as the adults think it is.

And they’re right.

Because as they head back into the hotel they come face to face with the one person they’ve spent eleven and a half books trying to escape.

Yup. It’s Olaf!

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