As it’s Friday, here’s a second chapter from A Series of Unfortunate Events, The End. In Chapter Nine we followed the Baudelaires into the arboretum and discovered Ishmael’s secret hidey-hole along with his own personal diary of the island, which include an entry which appears to have been written by Mrs Baudelaire. Unfortunately they were discovered in there, so now we’re going to find out just what’s going on here on the island.
Ishmael tells the children all about his past and how the pasts of the Baudelaire parents are intertwined. It seems they were the facilitators before he arrived and a schism forced them to leave. Ishmael argues that he does what he does because he wants to protect the colonists and he wants to prevent another schism from dividing them all. The Baudelaires want to take a look at the book which his parents wrote, but Ishmael gently tells them their parents wouldn’t have wanted them too and then leads them out of the secret room.
Thoughts as I read:
I love the picture for this chapter. It’s of a big book, lying open with a ribbon as a bookmark down the right hand side page. It’s pretty detailed as well, there’s the same sort of stripy binding as there is on the spine of this book, though it looks a little more well-thumbed than my copy of The End. The writing is just squiggles though, unless it’s some other V.F.D. code.
Sure enough the person hanging out in Ishmael’s hidey-hole is Ishmael himself and when Violet catches sight of him, she’s reminded of a time before Sunny was born when she and Klaus had had a row about taking the rubbish out. This prompted her to invent something to do it for her in the future, to prevent arguments with her brother, and her mother showed up in her room and Violet wasn’t sure whether her mum was angry or smiling, but she gave Violet a cup of tea which reminded Violet it was her turn to take out the rubbish.
Why this is important I’m not entirely sure? Except that they can’t tell whether Ishmael is smiling or frowning at them; he certainly doesn’t give them anything to drink. When he turns on the light they see that he has a funny look on his face and tells them Baudelaires always ‘rock the boat’. The kids fire questions at him and he doesn’t answer any of them.
Instead he tells them about a time when he was a schoolteacher and he had a child in his class with ‘scraggly dark hair and just one eyebrow’. Violet guesses that this was Olaf, but Ishmael tells them that this child was a girl (who only had one ear) who lived in a house which was owned by someone who killed a man with a cantaloupe grown on the Lucky Smells Melon Farm. Klaus guesses that this links to Sir, but Ishmael tells him that the farm was owned by a pair of brothers and one of the two was murdered in a village and some children were accused of his death. Sunny guesses that this was Jacques, but again, Ishmael is talking about someone else.
Ishmael continues on, explaining that the student in his class wouldn’t drink the tea her guardian made for her and mentions a fish themed restaurant. Violet guesses ‘Cafe Salmonella’ which is obviously wrong; Ishmael says no, it was the ‘Bistro Smelt’ which is a good name for a restaurant though I suppose it depends what it smelt of. Then there’s mention of a ship to Peru which wasn’t the Prospero, well, it was but at the time it was known as the Pericles. Sunny interrupts with ‘Yaw’ which I suspect means that she is growing bored, but is translated as ‘Ishmael’s story is tangential’.
But Ishmael insists that in order to answer these questions he has to make them understand why he likes his tea bitter and what important conversation he had with a waiter and all the other things that followed along afterwards which apparently make the story nonsensical without knowing them.
Clearly in order to understand one story you must know them all:
“But you can’t read every story, and answer every question,” Klaus said, “even if you’d like to.”
Oh Klaus, that is so true. There are so many times I’ve bemoaned the fact that I can’t read all. the. books. to Mr Click.
So it seems that at one point the Baudelaire parents were the island’s facilitators and they had a hand in getting a water filtration system set up along with the library. They even wanted to build a passageway between the island and a marine research facility which means that following the passageway they’re in would take them part of the way to Anwhistle Aquatics, though it remains unfinished. Ishmael is pleased it was never finished because otherwise the Medusoid Mycelium could have reached the island. I’m guessing now wouldn’t be the time to tell him the it kind of already has.
Ishmael says that when he arrived some of the islanders were planning to mutiny and leave the Baudelaire parents on the coastal shelf because they wanted to keep the island safe and cut off. Ishmael’s story kind of shows that history likes to repeat itself, doesn’t it? When they were driven away, Mrs Baudelaire was pregnant with Violet, which means that the islanders were perfectly happy to send a pregnant woman off on a dangerous journey. Kind of explains why Kit Snicket has had to wait so long for help, doesn’t it?
Sooner or later, everyone’s story has an unfortunate event or two – a schism or a death, a fire or a mutiny, the loss of a home or the destruction of a tea set. The only solution, of course, is to stay as far away from the world as possible and lead a safe, simple life.
Or, y’know, accept that sometimes bad things happen and learn to deal with it.
Ishmael’s plan for the island was to avoid any confrontation in order to prevent any more schisms from happening. Sunny replies ‘Jojishoji’ meaning ‘I don’t believe that abridging the freedom of expression and the free exercise thereof is the proper way to run a community.’ I love how much Sunny can pack into just a couple of syllables. She’s a very well spoken toddler.
However Ishmael does admit that while he doesn’t force anyone to do anything, the coconut cordial is a sort of opiate so he’s basically keeping his followers drugged in order to retain his control over them. I’m not sure drugging people is the best way to maintain control over them, they certainly don’t have much freedom if they’re stoned all the time!
But Ishmael does point out that people do occasionally leave. The Incredibly Deadly Viper left with two women, Thursday and some friends left but Friday was told that her father died because that was kinder than knowing her parents took opposing sides during the schism. Definitely kinder than the alternative. Sunny comments on this ‘Electra’ meaning ‘A family shouldn’t keep such terrible secrets’ which is clearly true.
As we’ve been told many times, eventually everything washes up on the shores of the island; it’s like a giant marine rubbish tip. So Ishmael has been able to follow the Baudelaires’ story. He’s happy for them to stay, after all they will be safe from all the bad things out in the world, though he’s not keen on Kit staying because the Snickets have been known to cause as much trouble as the Baudelaires. He does rather graciously say he will accept Kit if he must.
However we and the children know that Kit will want to return to the real world. The children aren’t so sure. Klaus asks if they couldn’t stay but have some of the items from the arboretum to help make life more interesting. They also criticise Ishmael for keeping secrets from the colonists, but he claims he’s had a hard life on the island because he’s had to document all the bad things about the world outside. Of course he didn’t really have to do that, so it’s not much of an excuse.
Sunny says ‘Gibbon’ meaning ‘We want to read this history, no matter how miserable it is’. But Ishmael won’t let him. He needs to keep everyone on the island safe. He brandishes a ring with a letter ‘R’ on it which prompts yet another long-winded story about its origins but which culminates in Kit Snicket’s brother (who I’m going to guess was Lemony) giving it to Mrs Baudelaire and her giving it back, the brother giving it to Kit, Kit giving it to Mr Baudelaire, who finally gave it to Mrs Baudelaire. Captain Widdershins found it in the ruins of the Baudelaire mansion and it eventually got washed up on the island. Which causes Sunny to ask ‘Neiklot?’ meaning ‘Why are you telling us about this ring?’ Yeah, I’m wondering that myself.
Basically the reason is because Ishmael wants to illustrate how there is much that the Baudelaire parents never told their children, obviously because they didn’t want their offspring to know these things about them. They did it to keep them safe. Ishmael claims that if they wanted the children to know, they would’ve told them. I’d argue that they didn’t live long enough to make that decision, perhaps they wanted to wait until the children were mature enough to deal with what they had to say. I think the children have come quite a way since the beginning of this story so deserve to know these things.
Ishmael hands Violet the ring and asks them to stay with him and let him take care of them, the way he cares for all of the islanders and leads them up out of the hidey-hole. As the children leave, they glance back at the title on the spine of the book.
It says A Series of Unfortunate Events.